What is a Progressive Anyway?

This post is by Bo Sanders a self-confessed progressive who will sketch how he distinguishes progressive from liberal.

Questions: Who are the progressives? Who are the liberals? Do liberals see themselves as progressives?

Roger Olson caused some ripples last week when he posted “Why I am not a Liberal Christian”.  Then Scot McKnight went and took it even farther with “What is a Liberal Anyway”  and said: “Evangelicals have successfully made “liberal” a pejorative term. So today many liberals call themselves “progressives.”

My contention is that saying progressives are really just liberals who don’t like the ‘L’ word is like saying that athletes and baseball players are really just the same thing. While baseball players are athletes, not all athletes play baseball. It’s an inexact statement. They aren’t exactly the same thing.

There is as big a difference between liberal and progressive as there is between evangelical and emergent. There may be some overlap, but to equate the two is unhelpful.

Here is the most basic definition I can provide – it comes from John Cobb, the greatest living American theologian:

  • Liberal simply means that one’s experience is a valid location for doing theology.
  • Progressives are liberal folks who have learned from Feminist, Liberation and Post-Colonial critiques. *

We all read Roger Olson’s 6 point definition last week, but when it comes to liberals there is something more categorical that would be helpful for our current distinction. Liberal is simply a constellation of positions and answers to question that were established in the Enlightenment.

Liberal is a settled matter. It has accepted the basic inherited framework to be the as-is structure and conceded the basic ground-rules as given.

Progressive on the other hand is to question, to wrestle, and to push. Progressives don’t  necessarily think that all progress is good and certainly don’t think that history is inevitable.

Liberals are predictable -because the matter is settled. If one takes the basic considerations handed down from enlightenment concerns, liberals are just the other side of the coin from conservatives. Take any issue – miracles, Biblical authorship, other religions, etc. – you know exactly what you are going to get from both conservatives and liberals.

They have been doing this dance with each other for a long time. One takes the high road and the other takes the low. One makes a move right. The other secures the left. This is why they are both easy to pigeon hole and caricature.

Maybe an example would be helpful. Let’s take economics.

Capitalism is the default economic theory of the Western (liberal) society. While conservative and liberal Christians would believe different things within a capitalistic framework (tax brackets, incentives, government programs, and social involvement) what is not in question is capitalism itself. The system is both beneficial and unquestioned to both teams. Like Yankees and RedSox fans stress how much the dislike each other and the opposing team’s tactics, what is never in question is the goodness of baseball in the first place. That is assumed.

Progressives call the system into question and call out a different set of concerns. Issues of globalization, free trade, deregulation and disparity come in.

Liberals want a slightly nicer, kinder, more equitable, more accessible version of capitalism than conservatives do. Progressives question the whole enterprise and may go so far as to say that the ethical teachings of Jesus about how were are to treat other humans are incompatible with the workings of the capitalist machine.

We could do this with any number of issues. My only point is that progressives are not liberals shying away from the ‘L’ word because it has been made a pejorative.

So even if you just want to say that progressives are aggressive liberals, that would be more accurate.

Liberals concede the rules of game, they just want to pick the better of the provided options. Progressives question the as-is possibilities of the given structures. This causes progressive to engage in critical examination and to re-evaluate both the road ahead and the road that delivered us here.

*  He said this during a Homebrewed Christianity interview for episode 101.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.thinktheology.co.uk/blog Andrew Wilson

    America’s greatest living theologian? :)

  • Brian

    Andrew, I thought the same thing.

    And when I hear the word “post-colonialist” I tire, fast. Someone should have never let this word out of academia.

  • Doug

    In my circles, the folks who label *themselves* “progressives” would be altogether unable to recognize themselves in this article.

  • http://Www.theparsonspatch.com Mark Stevens

    So a liberal, if they stand next to a progressive is a conservative or maybe even a fundamentalist? ;)

  • Doug

    It appears to me that “progressive” is a word that means whatever you want it to mean. And while Bo (who characterizes himself as a “progressive”) would understandably like the word to be less vapid than that, getting the world to fall in line with one’s preference (particularly when it comes to adopting a word sense) is typically an exercise in futility.

  • Jim

    “Progressives call the system into question…” and…..?

  • Norman

    I wonder what you would call someone who wants to return to the purity of Religious expression that one believes has been usurped and adulterated for hundreds of years. That is essentially what Christ, the apostles and Paul was all about. They were progressives seeking change to the status quo. They were following in a great line of protesters (OT prophets) who didn’t like the decrepit hierarchal establishment they were under.

    Now days if someone wants to follow that similar pattern that once again has been lost that person is described differently and often pejoratively.
    One man’s liberator is another’s heretic.

  • Doug

    @Norman,
    I get what you are saying, but (unfortunately) I also know some folks who, latching on to “progressives [are] seeking change to the status quo” bit, conclude that change==progress without any concern for consequences. Not a particularly Godly message, that.

  • Phil Miller

    I take Progressive to mean a well-educated, well-meaning white person who thinks they know what’s best for everyone…

    Only partially kidding, but, I too tire quickly when I read words like “post-colonial”.

  • http://loud-time.blogspot.com Dave

    I guess I would argue that evangelicals also (ought to, at least) call the system into question. The original argument was that progressives aren’t evangelicals, and that evangelicals and liberals (or progressives in disguise) are at odds with one another. I’m still not willing to concede that.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    Hm – I think I see what Bo is trying to do, but I’m not sure this helps clarify things. Both progressives and liberals would assume that one’s experience is a valid location from which to do theology; is he saying, then, that progressives differ from liberals in that they privilege certain locations (post-colonialism [simpliciter? chastened? what of Tom Oden's recent contention that historic Christian orthodoxy, for instance, actually *is* African theology?], feminism [whose feminism? what about womanist or black or ecofeminist theology?], liberation [again, whose?]) whereas liberals would not privilege those locations?

    In my mind, the advantage liberals have (in the conversation as Bo has framed it, which I think could be questioned) is that they are at least methodologically clear & consistent. Same would go for “conservative” (and let’s be clear that to use this word to denote a monolithic group is suddenly to create a phantasm). The challenge I would have to progressives as outlined here is: How do you decide which social locations are valid locations / experiences to incorporate into your theology? And aren’t you actually practicing a sort of colonialism if you make any theological claims that fail to take into account some of these locations in a robust way, since failing to heed a location is in some way to privilege other locations that you do heed? I’m not meaning to be snarky, I would be interested to hear someone respond to these questions.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @Rory (11) I would agree with you that liberals have an advantage in that sense that methodologically it is clear & consistent. Progressive – in that sense – is a messier business because it is not conceding those established frameworks.

    I would disagree with your concern about a type of ‘colonialism’ by failing to included a location or concern. Colonialism is control from a distance. So no to that idea. BUT I do know what you are trying to show concern about and that is a matter of concern. It is part of the dangerous dance that progressives do. It is part of why there is so much controversy. It is not systematic or formulaic. That is kind of the point! ;)
    hope that helped -Bo

  • http://www.dualravens.com/ravens Patrick O.

    “Liberal simply means that one’s experience is a valid location for doing theology”

    How very Modern of Cobb. And narrowly defined. Says very little at all. Liberal does not mean that one’s experience is a valid location for doing theology. It simply doesn’t. It would be better to say it means one’s experience is the primary, and possibly only, location for doing theology. But that’s not sufficient.

    I think it’s fair to say that Paul’s experience with Christ was a primary motivation of his theology. Go down the list throughout history. Experience has been involved in just about every tradition. Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed. Pentecostals spoke in tongues and said the power of God is active even still in doing miracles. The conversion experience itself is a defining moment many conservative approaches.

    That’s not where the argument was back in the day. The Liberal vs Fundamentalist argument wasn’t primarily about experience, it was how experiences were interpreted through a pre-established notion of reality that then affects how specific issues in Christian theology are interpreted and adopted, with the Liberal tending to move outside classically orthodox positions in either openly rejecting them or interpreting them to mean something rather different. Meaning it was about the conclusions and the lens through which experiences were interpreted, which tended to be from a very individualistic, Enlightenment driven perspective on God and the World.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @Dave (10) That is why I am trying to clarify that progressives are not just liberals who don’t like the L word. It is really important to see the progressive is an approach – whereas liberal is a constellation of commitments left over from past centuries’ concerns!

    Once that it established, you can be more clear. I know plenty of evangelicals (an identity) who are attempting a progressive approach. Progressive in that sense is not the same kind of label – or marker – as evangelical or liberal.

    @Phil (9) Sorry to hear you say that – even jokingly :p This is why I want to make the distinction to clearly. IF progressive is what I am saying than it will be both more rigorous and less prescriptive. What you are talking about is all too apparent in liberal circles – I will give you that – and it is why a distinction needs to be made.

    -Bo

    Tiring of post-colonial is certainly a privilege that comes from ones position.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @ Patrick O – we are not saying entirely different things. Cobb was giving a quick (and generous) definition of liberal. And you have outlined well what has been the historic contention. My point is that now liberal has become as constellation of commitments. -Bo

  • scotmcknight

    Bo, who are the liberals today? who are the progressives?

  • http://relevancy22.blogspot.com Russ

    Thanks Scott and Bo for your observations. My response is to ask if whether an Evangelical Christian may be progressive? Here’s the link – http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2013/02/can-evangelical-christian-be-progressive.html. I still am looking for a broader definition of Christianity than what present day Evangelicalism can give. And much prefer the term Emergent Christianity as it is evolving.

  • Andrew

    Bo, my friend you are simply creating labels from how you define/differentiate these things in your own mind. To describe “liberals” (which covers such a huge spectrum of beliefs/positions) as people whose beliefs are “settled” and not open to question is extremely faulty IMO. Yes, some liberals are as dogmatic as their conservative bretheren, but overall liberals are usually not as dogmatic simply because that doesn’t gel with the liberal mindset. One reason why the liberal movement in the U.S. has always failed to maintain the solidarity of the conservative movement (although conservatives are beginning to fragment themselves, but that’s a separate topic) is that minds that trend liberal are cautious to proclaim absolutes and questions are always welcome . .to a fault if one is trying to organize an effective movement/get things done. To try to discern progressives and liberals . . your descriptions of progressives pretty much runs throughout the entire liberal framework. They are not one and the same so much as intrinsically interwoven.

  • metanoia

    Using John Cobb’s definition, I have to ask a couple of questions:

    “Liberal simply means that one’s experience is a valid location for doing theology.” At what point does experience factor into the equation of doing theology to the point of trumping orthodoxy?

    “Progressives are liberal folks who have learned from Feminist, Liberation and Post-Colonial critiques.” But isn’t this where the the debate gets sticky? It is what is extrapolated from these worldviews that is highly debated. Whatever is “learned” must stand the challenge of vigorous debate. A “theology” that has as one of it strong planks in the platformm experience, must continually be challenged as the experiences change.

    If as Sanders suggests, there is a difference between progressives and liberals, there seems to be a number of liberals who are masquerading as progressives.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @Andrew (18) I am not debating that they are interwoven and at points overlapping. What I am saying is that one (liberal) is constellation of loyalties or answers to Enlightenment questions – the other (progressive) is an approach. They are not the same thing.
    If you can’t see the difference, perhaps you have not spent enough time around these camps :) or perhaps you simply haven’t recognized what you are looking at because of your compartments?

    @ metanoia (19) there very well may be so masquerading … what I am asserting is that progressive MAY come up with some of the same answers as liberals – but HOW the got there is different. That difference is significant and telling … because it opens the possibility that they will come to different answers as well. All I’m saying is that they are not exactly the same thing.
    Like athletes and baseball players. There is some overlap but you are not exactly describing identical groups.
    Is that helpful? -Bo

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @scotmcknight (16) I might point to Marcus Borg as the quintessential liberal. Jesus walking on water or rising from the dead is answered by a loyalty to physics. I have heard Borg answer direct questions about Bible texts by talking about the laws of science. THAT is a commitment to Enlightenment frameworks. It is settled and predictable.

    I would hold up Joerg Rieger as a progressive voice. He writes on the Bible, economics, empire, politics, etc. He may or may not believe some of the same things a Borg … the difference is his APPROACH. He is simply not asking the same questions or loyal to same constellation of positions. -Bo

    http://www.amazon.com/Joerg-Rieger/e/B001HN375Y/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1361208041&sr=8-2-fkmr1

  • http://calebturner.blogspot.com Caleb

    The term “Liberal” defines Christianity in relation to the state.

    The term “progressive” defines liberal Christianity in relation to the eschaton.

  • Toy Adams

    Liberal or evangelical identities point to the way in which one systematically believes. A liberal may interpret biblical texts in light of science and an evangelical might interpret it with room for a naive supernaturalist lense. To the contrary, a progressive means one isn’t asking the same questions in the sense that progressives seek new meaning from the text or from faith. Liberals and evangelicals are ways that one interprets one’s historic faith. Progressives seek to go beyond that and see what new meanings and concepts can come from today. To me progressives means one approaching the historical faith in such a way as to deem new insights, thus to progress. It’s a very theopoetical approach to scripture and a very existential approach to the historic faith. At least that’s my conceptualizing of the terms and the way I approach them.
    -toy

  • EricG

    It strikes me as strange to define liberal today by reference to an approach from 100-200 years ago. Sure, it is true that at the time folks like Schleiermacher and those that followed him used experience as foundational; and those commitments led them to specific disagreements with those who viewed revelation as foundational (fundies or evangelicals back then) and to the staking out of specific positions in specific fights at certain times. But we live in a post-foundational world today – do any “liberals” really fully take that old approach (I haven’t come across many who fit Bo’s description)? Take Borg, who Bo identifies as liberal – I don’t think he would view experience as truly foundational (he is surely post-foundationalist), and would presumably dispute that he hasn’t “learned from femininist, liberationist and post-colonial critiques.” Borg in fact refers to himself as progressive. So I don’t think Bo’s delineation of progressive vs. liberal is well accepted or defined.

    But more importantly, with all this talk of liberal vs. conservative/progressive in the past week or so, we are leaving out what is perhaps the most interesting category – post-liberal theology – which is much better defined, and in which there is room for substantial dialogue and agreement with evangelicals who aren’t fundamentalist; post liberal theology has many affinities with the approach of many who are on this blog, the emerging/emergent folks, etc.

  • Robin

    I am confused…was the allusion to capitalism supposed to be an actual dividing line between liberals/conservatives/progressives in the Christian sense.

    I am a conservative Christian. My theology depends very little on my location (as much as I can help it)and primarily on what I believe to be the properly exegeted meaning of revelation. If I heard a good sermon that convinced me that Jesus was a communist, I am becoming a communist…not because I am a progressive, but because I am a conservative and when I think scripture tells me to jump I ask how high.

    So there are a multitude of issues where I will completely ignore the “conservative” political view or not line up with who you would expect…because of how I interpret scripture. It is my conservative view of scripture that makes me politically progressive in some areas.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @Robin (25) Yep! You are almost exactly proving my point :) Your approach is perfectly in line with a conservative loyalty. Yes, you may end up holding a couple progressive positions politically … but it is because of your APPROACH.
    This is my point. You talk of revelation. That is really important to conservatives – and for good reason! That’s their game.
    But that is NOT how either liberals or progressives approach the issue. They are up to something else. Liberals have a different set of loyalties. As do progressives.
    I’m glad you wrote in -Bo

  • http://www.krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    “Liberals want a slightly nicer, kinder, more equitable, more accessible version of capitalism than conservatives do. Progressives question the whole enterprise and may go so far as to say that the ethical teachings of Jesus about how were are to treat other humans are incompatible with the workings of the capitalist machine.”
    And my response to progressives is, Identify for me the sinless benevolent arbiter of economic life, brimming with near omniscience, who will direct the just operation of the economy? Or, if we are going with a distributionist model, define for me the system that coordinates the production and consumption of countless interrelated players, scattered across the globe, in a real-time feedback loop? How shall we equalize the economy? Need? Merit? Everyone gets the same? (Equalize on any one of these three and there is considerable inequality on the other two.) How will each of us wake up each morning and decide how much of good or service to make today without making too much of one thing and not another. I can go on, but in short, give me a system that answers the questions that are at the core of economic analysis? Progressives won’t.
    Within sociological analysis there have typically been to broad schools of macro-theory. The structural-functionalists have tended to see society as structure, some would say organism that, that may evolve but tends toward finding equilibrium. The other is conflict theory rooted in Marxian analysis (liberation theology is squarely in this camp). The world is seen as competing classes of people. Society is about those with power stacking things so those without the power won’t get it. When those without power gain power they organize things to their advantage. Society is an endless loop of conflict.
    IMO, over subscription to the first can lead to perpetuation of evil of dysfunction. There is sin and injustice in the world. People oppress others. But over subscription to conflict theory is even worse. It endlessly critiques with no meaningful plan for particulars that will lead to sustained community. It tears down the good with the bad, leading to even greater abuse and dysfunction. Jonathan Haidt’s observation of the tone deafness of progressives is spot on. They tend to see justice in a very narrow dimension of some preferred state of equality. Conservatives (of the more historic variety compared to the libertarians of today) see a more complex societal organism that must be dealt with.
    If you want to talk about moral implications of evolution and what we learn from science, then you are going to have to seriously wrestle with the technical questions science raises. All else is moralism. If you are going to seriously critique the present economic systems then you are going to have to stop equating Marxian analysis for theological orthodoxy, and deal seriously with the technical questions that are at the heart of economics and a viable economy. By and large, the progressive take on economics (as defined in this post) is mostly vapid moralism.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @EricG (24) you were so close! You are 100% right that historically liberals have been based on that ‘foundation’ and that is what distinguishes them from conservatives or fundamentalist.
    BUT – and here is the twist that I should have emphasized more – NOW liberal is constellation of loyalties inherited from Enlightenment frameworks.
    So “no” liberals today and not outright defining themselves by Schleiermacher or any of those centuries old frameworks. It is not an active or intentional paradigm … it is an inherited set of positions-loyalties.
    -Bo

    and I’m not saying that Borg hasn’t learned anything from those groups… I am saying that progressives are very explicit with those influences.

  • JD

    Bo Sanders’ defintion doesn’t add up for me. He seems to be describing a sort of prophetic Christianity, and evangelicals can be prophetic. In my experience the vast majority of ‘progressive’ Christians (I loathe the word progressive-it is such a leading term, so condescending, so exclusive) are very dodgy doctrinally. There is no reason why this should be the case according to Sanders’ definition. The reason, it seems to me, is that ‘progressives’ see Christianity itself, with all its beliefs and confessions, as a ‘system’ to rail against. Sometimes beliefs themselves, like the resurrection, are considered to be an onerous nuisance that people need to liberate themselves from.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    And my response to progressives is, Identify for me the sinless benevolent arbiter of economic life, brimming with near omniscience, who will direct the just operation of the economy?

    We the people. Yes, markets power us up the most, but markets don’t exist in a vacuum, and need to tempered and adulterated.

    Or, if we are going with a distributionist model, define for me the system that coordinates the production and consumption of countless interrelated players, scattered across the globe, in a real-time feedback loop? How shall we equalize the economy? Need? Merit? Everyone gets the same? (Equalize on any one of these three and there is considerable inequality on the other two.) How will each of us wake up each morning and decide how much of good or service to make today without making too much of one thing and not another. I can go on, but in short, give me a system that answers the questions that are at the core of economic analysis? Progressives won’t.

    Nor, if we are completely honest, can conservatives (or liberals) or libertarians. Other than utopian dreamscapes completely countered by evidence of empirical reality. Pure laissez faire capitalism is just as evil as the starry-eyed vision of theoretical communism.

    The world is seen as competing classes of people. Society is about those with power stacking things so those without the power won’t get it. When those without power gain power they organize things to their advantage. Society is an endless loop of conflict.

    For most of recorded history, that is how it works, even to a substantial degree in a post-enlightenment world.

    Jonathan Haidt’s observation of the tone deafness of progressives is spot on. They tend to see justice in a very narrow dimension of some preferred state of equality. Conservatives (of the more historic variety compared to the libertarians of today) see a more complex societal organism that must be dealt with.

    Malarkey. Haidt is laden with the same assumptions and presuppositions he accuses “progressives” (and I believe his broadside is aimed at the entire “liberal” gamut, not just a narrow band of “progressive”) and his simple assertion is so foolish to be cartoonish, as he has been ripped apart, outside of his sympathetic circle. And most “conservatives” today actually belong more in the “authoritarian” camp.

    If you are going to seriously critique the present economic systems then you are going to have to stop equating Marxian analysis for theological orthodoxy, and deal seriously with the technical questions that are at the heart of economics and a viable economy. By and large, the progressive take on economics (as defined in this post) is mostly vapid moralism.

    Wow, opinionated and way off the mark. Marxian analysis might be totally misguided in terms of prescriptive measures, but it more spot on than not, in diagnosis terms.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @JD (29) I was with you for much of your comment – but then you went wonky :)

    Let’s start with agreement:
    - prophetic Christianity- check.
    - evangelicals can be prophetic – check.
    - majority of ‘progressive’ Christians are very dodgy doctrinally – check.
    - progressive is such a leading term – check.
    - so condescending – check.
    - so exclusive – check.

    That is all good stuff!!
    I was still with you when you said “There is no reason why this should be the case according to Sanders’ definition.” Probably true. And that is part of what I was hoping to address with this distinction I am making. If it is explicit that progressive is not liberal in disguise – then we can be clear of what is driving the approach.

    Here, though, is where you lost me:
    “The reason, it seems to me, is that ‘progressives’ see Christianity itself, with all its beliefs and confessions, as a ‘system’ to rail against”

    What?? Progressive Christians are not railing against Christianity … and sometimes Christians do cling to interpretations or beliefs that are hurtful, harmful, deceptive, or oppressive and DO need to be eschewed. What is wrong with saying that? -Bo

  • http://www.krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Naum #30

    Do you really even read what I write?

    “Nor, if we are completely honest, can conservatives (or liberals) or libertarians. Other than utopian dreamscapes completely countered by evidence of empirical reality. Pure laissez faire capitalism is just as evil as the starry-eyed vision of theoretical communism.”

    I am using Bo’s characterizations … liberals and conservatives embrace and tweak capitalism while progressives thoroughly reject it. The former see it as essentially workable but differ on emphasis in specifics. They see the need for a sustainable holistic model of society. The later want it replaced. Again … fine! Let’s see this new model that at least pretends to address core economic questions.

    As to your last sentence, I have no idea who you are writing to. I never mentioned laissez faire capitalism or championed it. Nor have I ever.

    “For most of recorded history, that [Marxian analysis] is how it works, even to a substantial degree in a post-enlightenment world.”

    … and …

    “Wow, opinionated and way off the mark. Marxian analysis might be totally misguided in terms of prescriptive measures, but it more spot on than not, in diagnosis terms.”

    Uh … yes. I Reread the first 6 sentences of my last paragraph. I clearly affirmed conflict theory as ONE tool of analysis. But this reality lives in a tension with the need to have some perpetual order for society to function that address basic economic questions. I stated a polarity or paradox. You raced to unqualified defense of conflict theory. Thank you for so clearly demonstrating my point. Progressives are captive to Marxian analysis and all other concerns are peripheral.

    “Malarkey.” How opinionated! ;-)

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    I am using Bo’s characterizations … liberals and conservatives embrace and tweak capitalism while progressives thoroughly reject it. The former see it as essentially workable but differ on emphasis in specifics. They see the need for a sustainable holistic model of society. The later want it replaced. Again … fine! Let’s see this new model that at least pretends to address core economic questions.

    Because capitalism is predicated on “power over” in contradiction to the Jesus gospel story of “power under”. In my paraphrasing of Bo’s statement, *progressives* reject the “kindler, gentler” capitalism ethos in lieu of the true model of Jesus that views humans as all receiving the birthright of God / grace / love as opposed to transactional nature of capitalistic system.

    I stated a polarity or paradox. You raced to unqualified defense of conflict theory. Thank you for so clearly demonstrating my point. Progressives are captive to Marxian analysis and all other concerns are peripheral.

    No. Just pointing out that most of human history adheres to “conflict theory”. Except when people see each other truly as brother and sister in Christ. Or even extended in a secular vein, in the interest of justice. That you want to term that “unqualified”?

    And, again, on equality. You riffing on Haidt is ridiculously cartoonish. Boiling down a concept with elaborate nuance to a token strawman to flog, based upon the most simplistic caricature imaginable. Yes, liberals and progressives often are guilty in the other direction, to be fair here.

  • MF

    Perhaps ‘progressive’ is a term embraced both by liberals who don’t want to be accused of being liberal, and Evangelicals who don’t want to be fundamentalist. In that sense it is not really a descriptive term – rather a protest term. A protest term that functions in a number of directions.

    Many (like myself) who are influenced by certain aspects of postmodernity are uncomfortable with liberal and conservative positions and so end up in some middle space… perhaps post-liberal theology is one way to explore this space (Linbeck et al), but much like postmodernity, I think there is no one way of thinking about progressives… if there was, many who are exploring this space would consequently find another term that allows for more breathing space again.

  • MikeW

    @Bo#26

    So what are Xian progressives into if they are not into “revelation”?

  • JD

    Bo, if I’m honest, I don’t think you’ve described what the progressive ‘approach’ is very well. I can hardly say I’m surprised since progressive Christians are marked out, in my opinion, by vague and open-ended commitments. They say that is a strength. I disagree.

    There is only one approach in Christianity. That is a prayerful listening to the Word of God, letting the light of that Word illuminate the Scriptures as they are taught by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit…A listening to the Word of God; a following of His Spirit. This approach, the only one for Christians, presupposes a belief in some major doctrinal loci including the Trinity, and the raising of Jesus from the dead to be made Lord of all. It presupposes, as MikeW points out, a belief in revelation. Since, as you have admitted, revelation is not particularly important to ‘progressives’, and since I never hear a progressive talk about the Word of God or the Holy Spirit (and I have reason to believe that some would prefer not to confess Jesus as risen Lord-the earliest Christian proclamation) I can conclude this approach is not taken by progressives. And that is problematic because all other approaches are human ideologies. They are idolatrous.

    I also agree with MF. ‘Progressive’ is a protest term. Progressive belief is, I think, parasitic. It feeds off the Christian tradition, which it has largely rejected and wishes to ‘progress’ beyond. As I have said, and I cannot state this firmly enough, ‘progress’ is determined by the Holy Spirit, no one else. I can certainly be persauded that the Holy Spirit is blowing in a new direction, but convince me He is by adopting the approach above, not by some vague, nebulous humanistic babblings. Progressives, to me, would be much more comfortable in the Unitarian tradition, not the orthodox Christian one. I think of Gretta Vosper for example, or perhaps even John Shelby Spong.

    And progressives are nearly 100% on the left of the political spectrum. Who said greater regulation by an expansive ‘nanny’-like state was ‘progressive’. Can progressives not envision a conservative critique of global free market capitalism for instance? I think they exist. And just how critical was Jesus of ‘the system’ (whatever that really is?)? When he had the chance to tell the Roman governor what he thought about the empire, he was silent. In my view ‘progressive’ Christianity amounts to little more than liberal/left politics in a very thin, almost indistinguishable, religious guise.

    And this all being the case, there seems to me very little attention given by progressives to beauty, for instance. There’s little time for reflection on the beauty of God’s creation, or even to rejoice at the salvation He has achieved for us by His extraordinary grace and love. It’s like we’re made to feel guilty for being thankful and joyful when we should be spending our time fighting for gay marriage or whatever the latest ‘progressive’ cause is. And as for preaching the Good News (evangelism), well, that’s an egregious sin for progressives. The liturgy and prayers of progressives (at least from a reading of them from the PCN website) are incredibly tedious, and ultimately vacuous. God is always described in completely abstract and meaningless terms like ‘Sacred Heart’, and never referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and rarely even the God of Jesus Christ, the Word incarnate (ie. God of revelation).

    So my criticisms of ‘progressive’ Chrisitianity are legion. I would say that reading some stuff from progressives has made me think more deeply about some prejudices I may hold, but my approach will always be the one set out above, not the hopeless man-made approach of progressives.

    But thank you Bo for your time to post and respond graciously in this feed. That is much appreciated. :)

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @MF (34) SO many helpful delineations!
    “Perhaps ‘progressive’ is a term embraced both by liberals who don’t want to be accused of being liberal” – yeah … that’s probably true.

    “and Evangelicals who don’t want to be fundamentalist.” – oh yeah! That is true.

    “In that sense it is not really a descriptive term – rather a protest term.” – oh … interesting angle. I see where you are going here.

    “A protest term that functions in a number of directions.” – AMEN to a number of directions!

    The thing that I would MOST like to pursue in this is the postmodern element… but I figured that might be too much for this one guest post so edited it out :) -Bo

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @MikeW (35) Progressives would then be primarily concerned about issues of justice, poor, planet, neighbor … but BECAUSE they think that is the message of Gospel!
    Not in spite of it – because of it! -Bo

  • http://divinesalve.blogspot.com David Miller

    @ Bo (28)

    The man who wrote Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary isn’t explicit about his being formed by liberation theology?

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @JD (36) WHOA. You are hilarious. I mean that in the good way. That was probably the most over the top response I have seen ;)

    Where to begin? Yikes. OK. Let me just chip at a couple things :p
    - “progressive Christians are marked out, in my opinion, by vague and open-ended commitments.” – I’m sure it looks that way to someone as certain & systematic as yourself in here!
    - “There is only one approach in Christianity” – and it’s yours ;) OK. I get that. But don’t you think that it would be so much better if there was one approach but NOT yours?
    - “revelation is not particularly important to ‘progressives’… I never hear a progressive talk about the Word of God or the Holy Spirit”. – Yah. I might be the only one who does.
    - “that is problematic because all other approaches are human ideologies. They are idolatrous.” – Oh. you might want to consider that plank in your eye before going after that splinter over there … just sayin’
    - “And progressives are nearly 100% on the left of the political spectrum.” – ya. I get why you would say that but now I starting to pick up that you have not really considered what I am saying… I feel like you already have this all figured out and now your just teeing up!
    - “There seems to me very little attention given by progressives to beauty” – I can ask in all sincerity WHAT ARE YOU GOING ON ABOUT? This has officially gotten wonky. A) you are wrong B) What?
    - “The liturgy and prayers of progressives are incredibly tedious” – guilty.
    -” and ultimately vacuous” – oh come on! Really?
    - “reading some stuff from progressives has made me think more deeply about some prejudices I may hold” – and we are back :) Nice to see you again!
    - “my approach will always be the one set out above, not the hopeless man-made approach of progressives.” – oh… we finish with a flurry. OK. again with the plank.

    I appreciate the time and energy. I’m sure that we would tons of fun over a cup of decaf! Sincerely – your sibling in christ Bo

  • MF

    @JD (36) – I somewhat regret using the term ‘protest’ given that you agreed with me and then connected this to being ‘parasitic’. I certainly used the term with a much more positive connotation then it seems that you did :)

    @Bo (37) – I am really interested in the postmodern element. I think that while many have assumed that postmodernism is synonymous with liberalism, they actually stem from entirely different frames of reference. I think you’re correct in saying that liberalism finds its core in modernity and the enlightenment – and so whatever it is that many of us are exploring, its not liberalism in this sense at all.

  • scotmcknight

    Bo, you’ve shifted since the post to seeing progressivism as an approach. What is that approach? Is it a liberation and justice approach?

  • Marvin Lindsay

    Your definition of a liberal hasn’t fit anyone since Adolf von Harnack. It certainly doesn’t fit a lot of the characters that populate Gary Dorrien’s exhaustive treatment of American liberal theology: Rauschenbusch, MLK, Rosemary Radford Reuther and even (heh) Reinhold Neibuhr whom Dorrien describes as liberalism in its self-loathing mode.

    I’m not sure whose ox you’re goring in this post, but when you define “liberals” as miracle-denying capitalists, and without reference to actual people–their ideas, actions and legacy–I can’t help but conclude that the real point of this post is to make sure that “liberal” continues to be a byword. For some reason…

  • TJJ

    Qualities of a progressive ………as viewed by an evangelical……….

    A. See more “grey” in their approach to scripture issues: inspiration, inerrancy, revelation.
    B. Allow for more of a continuum on doctrinal/theological issues: hell, salvation, sin, depravity, exclusiveness of Gospel, etc.
    C. More open ended on social issues : gay marriage, illegal immigration.
    D. Trends more democratic/progressive politically
    E. White, college degree and often more, affluent, alcohol, NPR, Toyota/Honda, MSNBC/CNN

  • EricG

    Bo (28) – thanks for the response.
    I’m curious about your thoughts on postliberal theology. Would you agree that its proponents are counter to liberal Christianity, are from within the liberal tradition, and have some similarities to moderate evangelicalism like Scot’s? It strikes me that they are pushing some of the same things – narrative theology, use of revelation, the importance of tradition in certain respects.
    So In some ways some of the traditional “liberal” theology schools have within them a group that has more affinities to moderate evangelism than to old line liberalism.

  • JD

    I am glad I can be a source of entertainment for you, Bo.

    Still deeply dissatisfied though…

    When John Shelby Spong nailed his twelve theses to the wall Rowan Williams offered a reply. In that reply he argued that Christians can change certain beliefs but that those offering such changes ‘have had to argue long and hard to establish that they are in some way drawing out an entailment of what is there, or honouring some fundamental principle in what is there. In other words, these changes in convention have had to show a responsibility to certain principles that continue to identify this kind of talk as still recognisably Christian talk.’

    You fail, I am sorry to say Bo. What is the fundamental principle for progressives? Where is their starting point? At this point I fear that you will say ‘there isn’t one and that’s our strength’. At which point we will have to part ways.

    I may be a hypocrite, Bo. In fact I am sure I am. I believe we are all sinners (unlike many progressives I know who only understand sin only as structural/institutional). The difference is I firmly believe in the sanctifying work of the Spirirt, and in the final judgement of God’s Word which I stand under as a joyfully repentant sinner-turned-saint every day. I believe with my ‘approach’ (the ancient, orthodox one, practiced by (nearly) all people who have ever called themselves Christians) I will get there in the end. Bo, do you believe in the listening to the Word of God? Do you believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit? If the answer is yes, Bo, start THERE!

    In Him,

    JD ;)

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com Howard Pepper

    Wow! This is one of the better discussions (I haven’t found very many of similar nature) of progressive Christianity.

    Progressive is a label I’ve taken on myself just in the last few years, after 27 adult years (18 – about 45) as a very devout, committed and studious Evangelical (formal and informal biblical and theological studies, ministry, apologetics, etc.). However there was a gap of about a dozen years in which I didn’t know HOW to define myself except “spiritual but not religious” (talk about vacuous, and a largely “protest” category). I now participate within a pretty indisputably progressive denomination: United Church of Christ, and have contributed a number of articles for ProgressiveChristianity.org (formerly The Center for Progressive Christianity) – I say for some context, defining my “location”.

    Thanks, Bo, for both the post and the extensive interactions! I think there should be a whole lot more of this type of discussion, including in person… a vision and effort of mine. In fact, this all stimulated me to look again at 7 points I created almost a year ago, largely for myself but then decided to share via my own blog. They are not quite “defining” points for how I see progressive Christianity, but involve that and are a sort of exploratory challenge meant for both open (or “progressive”) Evangelicals and “full-fledged” progressives and/or liberals (summary of the points are on the 5-2-12 post if anyone wants to look… I think the full-length text is somewhere there also, going into fair detail).

    I was wondering, per Bo’s emphasis, how much my list would sound like an approach over against “positions” on things or alternate (to orthodox) dogmas. It does probably fit your criteria in that regard, Bo. It may be my long involvement and largely still-positive feelings about my Evangelical education and long period of involvement, but I believe it is more than that which propels me (I WOULD say the Holy Spirit does, at least in part) to emphasize there (and in many other contexts and ways) a seeking of “common ground” among various brands or styles of Christians (and non-Christians). Not a goofy “postmodern” personal-but-equal truths idea, because I WILL mix it up on truth claims sometimes, but a careful discussion of where we DO share common perspectives, values, interpretations of parts of Scripture, etc. Then I want us to WORK cooperatively from there as well as enjoy higher mutual respect.

    One particular angle that has not been much developed in the comments here, as to where at least some of us progressives are, where we want to further explore and grow: a “category” I noted Craig Keener in “Miracles” seems to sometimes call “extranormal” (similar to the often-maligned “paranormal”). I like either “paranormal” or “extranormal” in that the terms at least seek to reframe an inadequate either-or contained in “natural” and “supernatural” language. Here, I’m reminded that David R. Griffin (a good friend and colleague of Cobb) is perhaps the progressive (specifically “process”) scholar perhaps the first AND maybe yet the clearest, most emphatic to point out that investigation of the “paranormal” has been far too much overlooked both by Christianity and by science.

    The main reason I mention this is to tie it to the matter I just raised of “natural” science (per Griffin: the predominant sensationist, materialist and atheist — SAM — version) and “supernatural” religion (orthodox Christianity in the present context). Both paradigms tend seriously to reductionism (i.e., with tons of problems which are sometimes unnecessary). Neither account well for the range of human and other phenomena we commonly observe and are philosophically problematic. Because each model is absolute in nature it IS difficult to find much cooperation or harmony between them, despite the good efforts of certain scientists of faith, speaking from their own ways of finding harmony.

    Well, although it doesn’t take away all the difficulties, I’ve gradually come to find/believe that the Process understanding of God, panentheism, is the best way available (as a well-developed system, which it IS) of conceptualizing and describing God and the God-creation and God-human interaction. It also provides for a kind of approach to Scripture that is well beyond (and yes, better) than old-line liberalism. Incidentally, from his “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” I think Borg does qualify basically as a Process and/or progressive Christian.

    Anyway, for anyone willing to read a very powerful, incisive yet short book (114 pp.) dealing effectively with this natural-supernatural problem, I can’t recommend too highly Griffin’s “Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith”… and it is more historical/biblical than you might presume… if nothing else, Griffin is a first-rate scholar. Thanks again, Bo and all participants.

    Howard

  • MikeW

    @ Bo #38. Thanks for all your comments.

    So Progressives separate revelation and justice? Usually it’s the liberal/ conservative divide that puts “faith and works” or private and social spheres in competition. It sounds like Progressives struggle to unite them too.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    Wow! The overnight comments are fantastic. Let’s see if I can address some of this :)

    @scotmcknight (42) since my Cobb quick-definition was not working for folks I thought I would ‘shift’ the emphasis and see if this language worked better:
    Liberal – a constellation of loyalties inherited from the Enlightenment that is settled/assumed.
    Progressive – an approach that integrates such influences as Feminist, Liberation and Post-Colonial.

    This allows 2 things 1) some to use progressive as a modifier as in ‘progressive evangelical’. 2) other to keep it as the big dog and identify as a Progressive.

    I was going to email you but I’ll just tack this on here. I think I figured out a glitch in this conversation.
    I grew up evangelical but now I work at a mainline church now and go to a mainline school … so Cobb’s quick-definition describes Liberals in the pews accurately. Others want to talk of Liberal theologians!
    I get why this is glitchy. See, I’m around liberal people. So when a conservative voice says ‘i don’t think that’s what a liberal is’ – I think “are you around liberals much?” or have you defined them from a distance? But now it makes sense that conservative thinkers are concerned with liberal theologians … this is very helpful for my to think through how to present this material! That would be an important distinction to address up front.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @marvin (43) please read the end of my response to Scot above (49) as I have incorporated your concerns into that.
    On a side note – I just need to point out that your language is steeped in the argument culture and assumes a level of confrontation. I am not goring oxen or making bywords … there is not animosity or polemics here ;)

    @TJJ (44) Very interesting list! I think I will borrow that (if ya don’t mind) and blog through it tomorrow over at Homebrewed. That would be a very interesting conversation. -Bo

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @EricG (45) I think you are right on in many of your insights. I should let you know that I am a huge fan of Lindbeck. NOT because I want people to do what he’s saying … but because he helps me understand what people are already doing! As Progressives (at Homebrewed) we are always keeping an eye on the Post-Lib crowd and the Radical Orth. crew – that counter/anti- modern impulse is really seductive for people … but in the end I am afraid it creates intentional ecclesiastical silos that are part romantic memory and part neglect of the real world of the 21st century. That is just my 2 cents though. A much bigger conversation would be needed!
    -Bo

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @JD (46) I love you passion. You do however charge forward in such a way as to miss much of the subtlety – and a couple of the big ideas – of what I’m up to. You clearly have already made up your mind … and you make declaration freely like that I have failed. It’s a funny communication style! I can see that you have great zeal and I do love that.

    Couple of points of clarification: When you ask a leading question about ‘fundamental’ principles then answer it … it’s like a farmer look at the woods and saying “these trees aren’t in strait rows like corn! How am I supposed to use my combine in there?”
    What if I said “Progressives have a principled approach”. Would you even recognize that? No – you have already said that there is only one way :) yours.

    You are wrong about Progressive ONLY seeing sin as structural. I think that you must only pick up on that part because it is the point of contention. You don’t notice the personal participation aspect. I don’t know. But sweeping dismissals like that are not accurate.

    JD you are preaching to the wrong guy :) I am from a charismatic background and have come to be a progressive later. I love the word of God. I am filled with Holy Spirit power. Just because I have learned from feminist, liberation and post-colonial critiques doesn’t negate any of THAT! Your pigeon hole is too small my friend. -Bo

    p.s. I really like your passion and thank you for your thoughtful responses.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @Howard (47) Thanks for that note. I will go and read your 7 points when I can later today. Look forward to it. And thanks for the positive encouragement!

    @MikeW (48) Couple things: I don’t know if you meant to but did you notice that all your categories were dual? I only bring this up because many progressives reject binaries and think that they are the cause of the problem. They whole ‘left – right’ spectrum thinking is a false construct. I don’t know if you meant to do that – but it made me grin ear to ear :)

    On the justice-revelation thing: It’s not that those aren’t reconciled or are even paired together… my point is that it’s not really the concern. I don’t hear most progressives use revelation as a lead category. I guess I was trying to say that its not a primary concern. It’s not that it is entirely absent from all consideration … just that it is not a lead dog.

    Did I deal with your concern. I want to make sure I do. I really appreciated your engagement! If not let me know. -Bo

  • Michael

    Bo, I appreciate you defining terms & categories. In *short*, it appears that all “progressives” have done is exchange masters: modern philosophical approaches to postmodern approaches. As Dr Vanhoozer points out, “postmodernity sets the captives free *from* certain aspects of modern thought, but not from the bond age of sin & death nor from meaninglessness & despair… Moreover, precisely because it’s a reaction to modernity [that "constellation"], postmodernism inadvertently risks letting *modernity* [that wicked constellation] set the agenda, even if only in a negative fashion.”

    Thus, what separates conservatives today, for the most part(& maybe Liberals in your definition), from progressives is Not allowing theology (systematic or Biblical) to be subjected to questions posed outside the community of faith forcing theology (Christians) to play by other disciplinary rules: post structuralism, Marxist criticism, psychoanalytic theory, feminist, new historicism, gender & queer, etc. Rather, conservatives (ones I’m familiar with that you may not have at Claremont) holds theology as “Queen of the sciences” dictating the origins & ends from within the community of faith both past & present, & all the other disciplines are important hand maidens that help flesh out the middle.
    That is how conservatives, unlike my liberal/Progressive friends, are kept from what Vanhoozer stated, “domesticate the divine, of reducing the strange new world of the Bible to this-worldly terms, of exchanging the scandal of the cross for a pottage of intellectual respectability.”
    As Alvin Plantinga has stated as a philosopher, “what we need is less accommodation to current fashion and more Christian self-confidence.”
    michael

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @Michael (54) OH Momma. You have touched on some core areas of departure! If what you are saying is true – and for the sake of this post let’s just assume that you are 100% correct – we have some REAL differences! This is fun to see in succinct print :)

    I am taken back by the clarity of your points of departure here. So I will just respond in a personal way – not trying to represent broad categories.

    - I would gladly take the trade of post-modern concerns and frameworks for modern ones! I will take that everyday of the week and twice on Sunday.
    - I’m not sure we are concerned with intellectual RESPECTABILITY as much as ‘integrity’! I am primarily concerned with accounting for and engaging reality.
    - I am giggling at the thought that theology might still be the Queen of the Sciences :) That is eye-opening. Those days are long-gone and we need to let it go. We no longer have the home field advantage – we play by THEIR rules now. Get used to it. Otherwise we are just playing fantasy and in-house word games.
    - I am loving that SO much of the pushback here is framed in binary options! Van D provides “exchanging the scandal of the cross for a pottage of intellectual respectability”. Those are our 2 options? Really? These either/ors are really telling.
    - Plantinga is the icing on the cake. A) another dual option B) let me tell you how that quote reads to me:
    “We don’t need more learning and information – we need to loudly proclaim our antiquated pre-conceptions!”

    This was great! Thank you so much for the excellent articulation and engagement. The differences are quite clear at this point right? -Bo

  • https://twitter.com/sean_muldowney Sean Patrick

    Bo (49) – interesting that you shifted language to allow for the progressive label to be used as a modifier. This was something I was concerned about on the initial post at Homebrewed – though I might (at times) find comfortability identifying as a “progressive evangelical,” I was worried that using progressive as a (mere) modifier would dumb it down too much, and do more harm than good when talking with people who really own the entirety of the Progressive label for themselves. Valid concern or overly-sensitive?

  • http://achurchunbound.com Joel

    @Bo I have tremendous respect for you, my friend. I don’t think I would have the patience to respond the way you have.

    @Michael, are you saying that conservatives have *no* perspective from which they approach theology–that revelation is delivered to them unmediated? Seems bold… I think Bo is simply saying all theology has a point of departure: for both liberals and conservatives it tends to be some sort of objective reason, whether that be man’s own ability to reason (liberalism) or the objective revelation of God’s word (conservativism). The problem is that conservatives have forgotten that the requirement of objectivity is contingent in the first place, whether one appeals to man’s reason or “God’s reason”–whatever that means. Progressives are seeking points of departure that are critical of the ground of both liberal and conservative theology–hence his baseball example. It seems like everyone is missing that point.

  • michael

    @Bo (55) OH Momma, indeed 
    - You “would gladly take the trade of post-modern concerns and frameworks for modern ones!” I, on the otherhand, am not content firmly planting my feet in the postmodern mid-air any day of the week and never on Sunday.

    - I’m not sure we are concerned with intellectual RESPECTABILITY as much as ‘integrity’! I am primarily concerned with accounting for and engaging reality.

    -I thought the comment “Intellectual RESPECTABILITY” would get you excited. Why do “Progressives” have so much status anxiety? Every issue for you guys is ultimately about identity politics, about where, what, and who one is… Integrity? To what? The sovereignty of the cultural mob! And I would love to hear your postmodern methodology for engaging reality.

    -If you are giggling I am rolling on the floor with your next post. Who is really “playing fantasy and in-house word games”??? Come on, you say that because you’re a clever white male liberal democrat? ;) And, “We no longer have the home field advantage (status conscious Bo???) – we play by THEIR rules now. Get used to it.” In a postmodern world of floating signifiers producing a cultural milieu of narcissistic, passive, sensate, empty fragmented selves where the sovereignty of the mob usurps the sovereignty of God…. Sorry, I cannot get used to it.

    -And finally, what would be a good postmodern response without the default reference to “binary options.” I guess there are those in this world who can use binaries and those that cannot. I wish those that do not would quit oppressing those that do ;)

    This was great! And yes, the differences are quite clear at this point.
    michael

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com Howard Pepper

    @michael (58): I’ve been trying to ascertain from your remarks how much of a truth-seeker you really are. I am going to assume you are, deep down, although your comments seem to indicate you are stuck in a self-reinforcing loop and not allowing the full range of “data”, biblical or otherwise (including intuition–NOT reliable in and of itself, experiences, etc.), to be actively taken in and interpreted or wrestled with. If you haven’t been doing much of what I’m about to say, I’d highly recommend some face-to-face time with people like Bo…. not sloppy-thinking “postmoderns” (or “moderns”) but people of faith who take their spiritual lives seriously and the Bible seriously yet have taken on an “unorthodox” perspective for some pretty good reasons. (I’d number myself in that group.) Reasons well beyond “reacting against”. If there are none nearby (probably aren’t in many parts of the country), at least continued online interaction may help you “get” where people like Bo are coming from. (I imagine you think you do already and he/we are just wrong-headed, deceived, or “in rebellion” or something similar, but I don’t believe you’ll be able to think that unequivocally after some ongoing and in-depth interaction.)

    To return to my truth-seeking point, if you DO have an interest to see how/why people like us GET to a “progressive” position and don’t become atheists or amoral, etc., I have a strong reading recommendation. Somebody who is not actually Christian but encourages a Christian “division” within his set of related groups, online and offline. He is also very pro-religion (within boundaries) so not against the Church nor organized religions overall. In fact he advocates FOR them in key ways. Having said all that, he also is very critical of much that goes on under the label of “postmodern”. I fully agree with his point that postmodernism is not the final developmental stage (individually or culturally). His system is most commonly called “Integral” — Ken Wilber.

    You may have encountered him or read something by him. I haven’t read a great deal of his large number of books (well over 20) and articles, etc., myself. But I HAVE read his “Integral Spirituality” fully three times and reviewed parts beyond that numerous times. Almost as much with his “A Sociable God” (earlier… if you look, get the later, 2005 edition for its important updates). The reason for the repetition, esp. with “Integral Spirituality” is that it is almost a textbook style book and loaded with detail and things good for later reference. His is a “stage theory” (or “structuralist”) approach, which I had already found very important and helpful as a professional therapist, parent, etc. from years earlier.

    So if you are an educator/people-helper type like I am, you really need to interact with the Integral concepts, and either this book or perhaps one of the handful recently out by his associates who do “Integral Christianity”. Paul Smith, a loooong-time pastor of one church, has a new book by that title that I’ve not gotten to yet, but have read a series of articles by him so feel comfortable recommending it as an astute, genuinely spiritual approach at least generally within the progressive realm, tho I don’t know much re. details of his specific theology.

    But Wilber’s work in “Integral Spirituality” to me is an absolute must for anyone who seeks to understand both personal and cultural development — spiritual and overall, the problem of reactionary fundamentalism (and the violence if often spawns, within the framework of ANY major religion), and just WHY postmodernism indeed does NOT tend to point well to answers that are healthy, useful, truthful in many cases.

  • EricG

    Bo (51) – I hear you on the point about post-lib and intentional intellectual silos. One response is that we’ve already got incommensurable intellectual silos anyway – we just need to recognize it.
    But I also think I hear you saying that being overly wed to a tradition can be harmful, as is demonstrated at many points in Christian history and in various critiques today. I share that concern and am not sure where I come out on that. I guess progress can sometimes be made within silos as internal inconsistencies and failures to deal with internal crises develop – although it is slow and doesn’t always work.

  • MikeW

    @ Bo #53 Thanks again.

    Yes, the dualisms were intentional. In fact, I thought I was simply following your dichotomy when you said “revelation” is not what your up to, instead, it’s about justice, the poor, etc. I understand *a little* better now what you mean and that you weren’t intending on affirming a dichotomy there. To clarify for myself, we’ve all inherited those false dichotomies and much of the work the interests me is how those pieces of the Christian tradition that have been broken apart and put in competition with each other can be reconciled within new (or even old but renewed) paradigms that stand the test of rigorous exegesis.

    I have to say I am wary of positions eager to deconstruct words like “orthodoxy” or “tradition” and the like, and that, not because I’m wedded to a foundationalist epistemology but because I have been persuaded by theologians like Hauerwas, Rad. Orth. folks, and exegetes like NT Wright, Hays, et al. that we can truly speak of a universal (or catholic) Church and it is God’s witness to his Kingdom.

  • Joshua

    Now that he’s defined “progressive” as distinct from liberal, can he write a post on who the heck John Cobb is?

  • http://firstbaptistnewark.com Mark Farmer

    Joshua @62 – Excellent idea. I took a week-long class with Dr. Cobb at Claremont a couple of summers ago, and it was life-changing. Process and Faith’s site has a lot by Cobb, and Homebrewed Christianity has some excellent podcasts with him. Be forewarned: It’s a very different model of Christianity, one that makes excellent sense to both heart and mind if one makes the effort to try it on for size.

  • scotmcknight

    Well, Bo, my question about what is the approach — describe the progressive approach for us if you can.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    Scot: having scanned the comment thread, I think it would be very helpful if you asked Bo to do a post or two or three working through a specific theological / cultural / philosophical issue, perhaps tracking one or two other thinkers / theologians, in a way that illustrates a progressive vs. liberal vs. other (conservative? postliberal?) approach. This would take the discussion out of the clouds of abstraction and postmodern-guilt-by-association and more into to the realm of actual constructive theological engagement.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ Bo Sanders

    @ScotMcKnight (64) I had not seen this. Somebody gave me a heads up. I was in an all day meeting yesterday … sorry – didn’t mean to leave you hanging.
    I will try to get to it. I am really enjoying the dialogue. -Bo

    @Rory (65) This is a fantastic wonderful suggestion. It would take more than the 600 words of a blog post though :) as you have pointed out. I would also love to avoid the guilt-by-association trap too. -Bo

  • James J

    Wow, just read through all the comments. Impressive civil exchange. Thanks to all for the education.


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