Progressive Christianity

What is Progressive Christianity? For me, it is a form of Christianity which tries to do justice to the following:

1) Christianity has naturally (if not consistently) historically stood for those values that bear the label “progressive” or “liberal”: racial equality, social justice, poverty, inclusiveness, and so on.

2) To be a Christian at all, one has to allow for progressive revelation. One cannot claim that the Bible is authoritative, inspired, or anything else without realizing that there is change over the course of the Bible. Some recognize this, but stop at the end of the New Testament. Others stop with the creeds. But why stop at all? Why not accept that progressive revelation, however one understands it, is open ended and never finished? Looking back, and looking around, we can see things that New Testament authors didn’t see, and find other solutions to the same problems they sought to address.

3) Progress is not only made in theology or in revelation but even more obviously in our knowledge of the natural world. Information from the sciences needs to be embraced as a source of progressive revelation, one whose certainty is far greater than even the most dearly cherished theological affirmation.

Here are some other sources I’ve come across recently, reflecting a progressive Christian perspective:

A talk by Rev. Tom Honey, which addresses head-on the popular view of God, which leaves us with a God who can get us a parking space but not stop a tsunami wave:

(HT Debunking Christianity)

Mystical Seeker drew attention to a nice article in Macleans about contemporary scholarly and progressive views of Jesus.

There is a Center for Progressive Christianity (and a specifically Canadian one too).

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  • Drew

    I view it as open theological inquiry that embraces change. That seems to be how it can be characterized at least in terms of its development in higher education in the US around the close of the 19th c.To quote Julie Reuben in The Making of the Modern University:”Educational reformers eased the tension between the desire for moral training and their anxiety about religious oppression by adopting the distinction between theology and religion. They identified denominations as the institutional counterpart to theology and as the true cause of repression in the colleges, ans asserted that universities, independent of church control, could truly be free religious institutions (p. 77).”And that debate marks the identification and expulsion of dogmatic intransigence and immutability from higher education.

  • Scott F

    I appreciated your second point having just read Bishop William Willimon’s book on Methodist beliefs. I admire the Bishop’s willingness to accept the logical consequences of his creed – humans are scum, God can work miracles through them – but he gives away his “paleo-orthodoxy” when he claims that Scripture is merely early Church Tradition. He doesn’t seem to be seeking to denigrate the Scriptures but to elevate Tradition. Anyway, I listened to the video lecture and came away puzzled. Has this minister remained Christian? I know you suffered this discussion with regards to yourself, Dr McGrath :), but Rev. Honey (wasn’t he a character in a Bond flick?) seems to so neatly change the subject from the “Christianity” to “Religion” that I can’t recall if he even uttered the word “Christian” at all in his sermon. When he suggests that he might be able to find God only through silently delving into his own mind, I couldn’t help looking up from my ironing and saying, “At that point, aren’t you worshiping yourself?”As he aptly expressed, holding to the patented “The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways” does lead one to wonder if one can say anything about the Lord at all. If He acts only according to His own agenda and our wee selves are unable to comprehend this goals then what can we possibly say about God. Of course, Dostoevsky beat me to this by about 120 years and countless others have as well. It remains, however, an honest question and one that can only lead back to God out of habit or willful ignorance.

  • James F. McGrath

    Thanks for the comments. I think that there is a sense that, just as I change over the course of my life while remaining “me”, Christianity has always been a growing, changing, vibrantly alive entity. There have been for a very long time, perhaps since the beginning, those who emphasized that the language we use about God is at best analogical, and those who ignored such warnings. What Christianity will be in the future neither I nor anyone else can say, but that future will be shaped by the current debates about what it means to be a Christian.