This will come as no surprise to readers of this blog, but it’s time to be bullish about the future of progressive Christianity (aka, Incarnational Christians). According to a new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, the proportion of religious conservatives in the United States is shrinking with each successive generation, and close to 20 percent of Americans today are religious progressives.
In American, conservative theology is waning, progressive theology is waxing.
Here’s what it currently looks like:
I appreciate what Richard Beck did in his series of posts, calling on progressive Christians to recover the biblical language of spiritual warfare. But, as I noted yesterday, I think there are a couple of weaknesses with that line of reasoning. One is that, while spiritual warfare language is biblical, it does not emanate from Jesus.
So I’d like to offer an alternative, and highly related, corrective to Richard’s.
I think that progressive Christians need to reclaim the biblical language of the apocalyptic.
For one thing, apocalyptic language begins in the Hebrew Scripture. It’s rife in the prophets, especially the later prophets, and most notably in Daniel. (Spiritual warfare language is almost completely absent from the Hebrew Scripture; in fact, in Job, it seems that YHWH and Satan are card-playing buddies.)
Secondly, Jesus is an apocalyptic preacher. From the oldest and probably most reliable Gospel, Mark, comes the “Little Apocalypse.” Therein, Jesus says,
- “God is love” is the foundation of progressive Christian theology.
- That means that God is weak in the world, acting out of love rather than power.
- The weakness of God initiates a warfare relationship between a weak, loving God and those who strive for power in the world.
That last point, I think, is the biggest jump. Beck relies on Greg Boyd’s argument in God at War to show that a weak, loving God is necessarily swept into warfare with other spiritual beings. That’s not an argument that I think Boyd (or Beck) successfully makes. It doesn’t necessarily follow that if God takes a posture of weakness in the world, God is therefore at war. Even in weakness, it seems totally possible that God is the most powerful being in existence and that God’s mere presence vanquishes all comers.
But Beck is right to say remind us that Jesus repeatedly talked about the satan, and that Jesus himself vanquished evil (in the form of demons) on several occasions. To ignore this aspect of Jesus’ ministry is to denude Jesus of one of the most important aspects of his ministry, leading Beck to diagnose the problem with progressive Christianity:
Dislocated from Jesus progressives had no robustly biblical ways to unpack their central confession that “God is love.” Unplugged from Jesus progressives defaulted to liberal humanism. Not a bad move, but the confession “God is love” was thinned and hollowed out to become an insipid vision of liberal tolerance rather than a robust conflict against the forces of dehumanization in the world and in our own hearts.
So then, the question is: With whom is God at war?