Q&R: Emerging? Progressive?

Here’s the Question:

Brian, it seems to me that Emerging Christianity and Progressive Christianity are similar in many ways. What are the unique distinctions and is there any thought of a convergence, in spite of what differences there may be?

Here’s my Response:

As with many questions, the best answer to this one is “it depends” – on what you mean by Progressive.

There is what I call an “old religious left” or “old progressivism” that had many strengths and made many contributions, especially in the first 2/3 of the 20th century. It opened the way for new possibilities to emerge. It was basically one vital wing of a modernist, colonial, institutional version of Christianity.

In this way of thinking, “left” and “right” were two ways of being traditionally modernist and colonial. Each fought the Enlightenment in some ways and embraced it in others. Each supported the state in some ways and resisted it in others. Each sought control of institutions, albeit for slightly different reasons. The left emphasized charity and institutional loyalty, and the right emphasized personal salvation and private piety, each to the near-exclusion of the other. The right defended biblical inerrancy and the left rejected it, but both opted for an understanding of Christian faith that worked well within the assumptions of modernity.

What I understand “emerging” or “emergence” to refer to is a critique of the modernist colonial mindset and an attempt to move beyond it. In this way, it differs from both old left and old right and yet respects and draws from their resources.

Many people use progressive in a different way. For them, progressive contrasts to conservative, regressive or change-averse.

In this sense, conservative/regressive/change averse says the best days are in the past, things are getting worse, and we must hold the line, resist the decay, and stop the slide down the slippery slope. Power and privilege must be conserved among those who already have it, because evil rivals are trying to steal away what has been rightly and justly earned.

And in this sense, progressive says better days are possible, we can (with God’s wisdom and power) help create a more just and beautiful world, we’ve already slid down the slope along way and need – yes, to strive not to sink further, but more – to climb higher. Power and privilege must be more widely distributed because much of what is possessed by today’s elites was gained through unjust means.

You might say that for conservatives, the greatest danger is losing the progress that has already been gained, and for progressives, the greatest danger is failing to seize the progress that is within reach now. If this is what you mean by Progressive Christianity, then yes, I think it and Emergence Christianity are on the same path, or better said, they are making the same path as we move forward.

This post was cross-posted from Brian McLaren’s blog at brianmclaren.net. 

About Brian McLaren

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, pastor, and networker among innovative Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists.