I am pleased to become a Patheos “blogger” (a word none of us knew until recently). I have visited the website frequently for a couple of years and consider it to be the best religious website that I know.
Briefly to introduce myself, I am in today’s terminology a progressive Christian and, except for about a decade in my 30s, I have been deeply involved in the life of the church all of my seventy years. I grew up as a Scandinavian Lutheran and in my 40s became an Episcopalian, attracted to the Anglican tradition by its liturgy and its broad theological tradition. For Episcopalians and Anglicans, what unites us is not a uniform theology but a common worship tradition that emphasizes the eucharist, the Bible, and community.
Though Episcopalians are not often thought of as a “Bible church,” we hear more Scripture on Sunday mornings than almost anybody else, including conservative Christians. Though we do not think the Bible is inerrant and infallible, we are more marinated in the Bible than any other denomination. Our closest rival would be Lutheran churches with a high liturgy.
I am also, if it is not presumptuous to say so, an intellectual. By that I do not mean that I am extraordinarily bright. Rather, it is a personality type. Reading, thinking, figuring things out, education, have been central to my life as long as I can remember. Not surprisingly, I became an academic: five years in graduate school, then a teacher in college, university, seminary, and church settings, as well as an author of twenty some books about Jesus, the gospels, the Bible, Paul, Christianity, and religion more generally. Almost all were written with a Christian audience in mind. My vocational passion flows out of my conviction that Christianity is rich, a treasure in earthen vessels. It is one of the world’s great religions, one of its great wisdom traditions. At its best, it is about truth, beauty and goodness.
And I have lived my life and vocation in a particular cultural context. I have been Christian and American all of my life. Although my adult life has included more than five years overseas, even then I was both Christian and American.
My (and our) cultural context is a deeply divided American Christianity. To use shorthand labels, the great divide is between “conservative” Christians and “progressive” Christians, with many Christians in between. Conservative Christianity, often called “the Christian Right” even though not identical with it, is the most publicly visible form, dominating Christian television, radio, and political involvement.
In general, conservative Christians affirm biblical inerrancy, infallibility, and literalism: if the Bible says something happened, it happened; if the Bible says something is wrong, it’s wrong. They emphasize our sinfulness and that Jesus died to pay for our sins so that we can be forgiven and go to heaven. Their political passion tends to be individualistic, focusing on issues of personal behavior. And most emphasize that Jesus and Christianity are the only way of salvation.
For many in our time, conservative Christianity is Christianity. Many who grew up as conservative Christians take it for granted that this is what Christianity is, whether they continue to be Christian or have abandoned it. And most who don’t know much about Christianity assume that conservative Christianity is Christianity.
I grew up with a “soft” form of conservative Christianity. I have since learned a very different way of understanding the Bible and the meanings of Christianity. Indeed, I could not be Christian if today’s conservative Christianity were to be considered genuine or authentic or orthodox Christianity. My life as a Christian has been marked by a number of conversions, intellectual, political, and religious. Together, they have led me to the convictions that now shape my life as a progressive Christian.
That is what my blogs will be about. They will include religious-political topics like American Christians and our country’s reliance on overwhelming military power, the Bible’s passion for economic fairness and our severe and growing income inequality, and that Christianity is about more than personal belief and behavior. And there will be religious blogs like sometimes the Bible is wrong (and yet it is Christian sacred scripture), that Jesus did not die to pay for our sins (and yet the cross is central to Christianity), that God is not a supernatural person-like being (and yet our relationship to God is personal), that Christianity is not about an afterlife (and yet it is about salvation). And more. I look forward to the conversation.