Understanding The Span Of The Progressive Christian Label

Understanding The Span Of The Progressive Christian Label January 5, 2015

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Last week I wrote two back-to-back posts dealing with Christian labels, and how there are things about both the Evangelical and Progressive Christian label that I have a hard time with (I guess this post makes it a series on labels), though I love and identify with much from both groups. Both articles generated good discussions on multiple levels, as it seems I’m not alone in feeling like today’s Christian labels are inadequate in capturing my faith in a word or two.

There was particularly interesting (good) discussion surrounding the Progressive Christian label– though there was a lot of discussion of who is in and who is out. This brought to mind how broad the label actually is, with different groups defining the boundaries differently from their individual perspectives.

When I take into consideration all the discussion and step back to look at the label from 50,000 feet, I see a label that has grown and morphed into something that encompasses several different groups of people- thus the rub between folks who are trying to decide who is, and who is not, a Progressive Christian. As a result, I wanted to do a follow-up post on how I see this label currently functioning within American Christian culture, to help folks understand how broad of a category “Progressive Christian” actually is. (This is all based simply on my own observations, so if I’m wrong on any count, I’m fine with that.)

First, an incredibly reduced and over-simplified view of American Christian history.

The late 19th and early 20th century brought some big changes/movements in American Christianity that were often reactionary to one another. Theological liberalism (an actual term, not a pejorative) had gained a lot of ground in modernity, something more conservative Christians weren’t happy about. This brought us things like the decline of historic Evangelicalism that spawned the birth of fundamentalism (which in historical origins, wasn’t bad- it was simply a movement that set out 5 fundamentals of the Christian faith they thought were essential doctrines). With the fundamentalist and modernist controversies of the 1920’s and the birth of Pentecostalism at that same time (but not a reactionary movement as was fundamentalism), we see many different Christian groups split under the emergence of new labels throughout this period. This included a re-birth of trans-denominational Evangelicalism as a reactionary movement to fundamentalism, who the Evangelicals felt went too extreme in their reaction against modernists/theological liberals/social gospel, etc.

Throughout a volatile Christian history in our culture we see reemergence of theological liberalism (flowing from mainline traditions) which, (in my opinion), morphed to form the original base of Progressive Christianity. This brings us to the the first two groups I see currently sitting under the Progressive Christian label:

Group 1: Liberal Christianity

I would describe this category as being the far-left of the Progressive label. This group may or may not be associated with a particular Christian tradition (denomination), tend to both appreciate but have deep skepticism towards scripture, often rejecting parts of it they feel objectionable or did not happen. They may view Jesus as being one way to God or one way to help understand God, but would not affirm the exclusive claims made by Jesus, such as John 14:6. This group is very socially conscious, and is typically very kind and inclusive toward others. However, the beliefs often affirmed or denied by this category often place them outside the realm of what has been considered traditional orthodoxy.

When more conservative Christians make sweeping generalizations and condemnations about “Progressive Christianity” I think what they are actually reacting against is this category- falsely assuming that the average progressive falls into category 1.

* While this category makes up some of the kindest people I know, there is a small minority in this category who have become fundamentalists of sorts, and can be very intolerant of anyone outside category 1.

Group 2: Progressive Mainline Christians

While I think that Progressive Christianity includes many mainline churches, some certainly do fall on the more conservative side of the fence. This group would include mainline Christians/churches that affirm the historic, orthodox faith, but who have some aspect of belief (perhaps egalitarianism or LGBT inclusive) as well as more liberal political beliefs, which make them distinct from their more conservative counterparts– thus landing them in “progressive.” My best guess is that this group actually makes up the bulk of Progressive Christianity today, but that’s just my speculation.

Group 3: The “Not Sure What I Am Group”

Group three would comprise folks who don’t cleanly fit the preceding or following categories. These folks may have come out of mainline or out of Evangelicalism, but don’t really hold to either identity– or perhaps they even entered Christianity here, without a previous stop. These are folks who may be considered “seekers” who are interested in Jesus, and who hold some beliefs (whether theological or political) that cause them to identify with the word “progressive.” They make their home under this label because they find it to be a safe place to wrestle and explore this whole Jesus thing.

— I personally see Group 1 and 2 making up original Progressive Christianity. But remember how I said the rebirth of Evangelicalism was reactionary away from fundamentalism? Lately we’ve seen the opposite trend, which has created some interesting movements from a social standpoint. Like the fundamentalist and modernist controversies of the 1920’s, today we’re seeing a very similar play between modern Evangelicalism and Progressive Christianity. And, just as happened in the 20’s, we’re seeing the more conservative of the two in the mix (Evangelicalism) working to reaffirm certain fundamentals of the faith they feel are essential– making Evangelicalism become somewhat of a post-modern fundamentalism.  However, what we’re seeing in Evangelicalism is that the fundamentals they are affirming (perhaps more “cultural norms” than written fundamentals) are fare more exclusive than what even the original fundamentalists reaffirmed in the 20’s.  This has caused a flow out of Evangelicalism by folks who can’t sign on to the new fundamentals, bringing us to Group 4:

Group 4: Post-Evangelicals

The folks who have had strong identities as Evangelicals, but feel that the growing restrictions of the label have left them behind, landed in a no-mans-land. However, since one of the original aspects of Progressive Christianity was inclusiveness, the label expanded to include this group too. Group 4 gets along really well with Group 3 and Group 2, but still hold to some or even many Evangelical beliefs, which often puts them into conflict with some (or many) folks from Group 1.

Group 4 could also be called “Emergence Christianity” (though maybe not exclusively so) because they’re often the folks from the Emergent Church Movement that had/has origins in Evangelicalism. While the ECM is still its own, distinct category that could be discussed separately, one of the interesting things I’ve seen in the last five years or so is that the Emergent label has slowly been swallowed up by the Progressive label, causing the use of the word to decline. Personally, I would like to see this trend reversed and to see Emergent reemerge (see how I did that?) as its own distinct category. This would better allow the Progressive label to maintain more of a mainline and post-liberal heritage and would allow those from the ECM to maintain aspects of our Evangelical heritage that we still hold valuable. (But even if it doesn’t, that’s fine– I think the average category 2&3 person have far enough in common with category 4 that being under the same label will functionally work.)

  …

So, those are the four main categories I see the term Progressive Christian currently encompassing, at least by functional use of the term. Did I miss a category?

Where do I see myself?

I’m clearly a category 4 person, perhaps a classic “emergent” Christian who also holds to a strong Anabaptist identity.

Where do you see yourself?

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  • Post-Evangelical, primarily. Used to carry the “emerging” (if not “emergent”) label, but dropped it recently since it doesn’t really have any concrete meaning anymore. I didn’t think about it just being swallowed into “progressive” but I guess that does explain part of why it has faded out. Also used “post-conservative evangelical” borrowed from Roger Olson for a while, but I’ve dropped the evangelical label entirely now.

    I also have a good dose of the Progressive Mainline in me. My seminary definitely falls primarily into that category and there’s still a lot I love about the mainline.

    Interestingly, Anabaptists are also getting lumped in as progressives, at least in some circles where “progressive Christian” is basically anything that doesn’t meet very strict Wesleyan and/or Calvinist Evangelical definitions. E.g., not forcing everyone in the church to believe in inerrancy, which is a historically new concept, makes you progressive.

  • ChuckQueen101

    I think this post demonstrates the difficulty of trying to fit people into categories. Sometimes a person may have progressive beliefs in one area (accepting the historical-critical approach to the BIble for example) and have conservative beliefs in another area (like substitutionary atonement). In fact, I see the type of person I gave as an example a lot among mainline Christians in my neck of woods. I have recently stopped labeling anyone as an evangelical or progressive and instead talk about a persons beliefs on a particular subject being conservative or progressive. Rather than broadly categorizing that is not very reliable it’s much easier to describe a particular belief/perspective to be conservative or progressive. For example, I am a progressive on almost all social issues except on abortion, there I am somewhere in the middle. I am not for making it illegal (as many conservatives are) but I also want to make it very very rare. We are stuck with labels, but in our complex world we all should concede how unreliable our labels can be.

  • Exactly– this is precisely why I wanted to write this post: for as much as we seem to love labels, they don’t function very well in telling us much.

  • Erin Knittle

    Wow…thanks for the break down…I would guess myself to be a 4 or Emergent. not being raised in any church…and becoming a believer in Jesus at 19, I am a natural questioner of things. And so many of the answers didn’t seem to line up with what I read in the bible. The church I attended after giving over my life was Conservative Baptist Affiliated, and the lead Pastor there was an amazing teacher who put up with and enjoyed my questions. I also believe that my belief in God and his call on MY life to follow him does NOT mean in any way that I should enact laws to make others live HIS way if they choose not to love him. (where this gets sticky for me is murder, rape, child abuse etc….obviously against God plan, but seemingly should be against the law, just because its horrible) Never has gay marriage undermined my marriage, never would I turn my back on someone who had an abortion, never is WAR the answer. Sigh. My huband always says, LOVE GOD = LOVE OTHERS, you can’t separate the 2. So, is that where you would place me?

  • Smellin’ Coffee

    I’m kinda in the “No Man’s Land” group. I grew up a fundamental Baptist, graduated from a fundamentalist college and over the last 25 years, have found myself with bits and pieces of all of the above categories.

    What is weird is that I try to center my belief system around the teachings of Jesus but I no longer believe in the incarnation or blood atonement, based on his teachings. I consider myself a Christ-follower but not a Christian of sorts. I still attend an Evangelical church (my family is Evangelical) but more because of my love for my family than for my own edification.

    I am politically Libertarian with Liberal leanings but am staunch anti-abortion.

    Though labels are difficult and can create division of sorts, they can also show that others have a similar identity and that “No Man’s Land” actually has a populous if one looks hard enough.

  • Interesting post. I’m a mutt: 2 for the church I was raised in, 4 for the time I spent attending an Evangelical church as a youth and young adult, and a dash of 3 because I am a millennial, after all.

  • Jeff Preuss

    I see myself as maybe a 2 or a 4. Interestingly, I hold several of the 5 fundamentals as fundamental to MY belief. Where I am a 1 is in my not insisting that every other Christian has to fall where I do on said fundamentals.

    I’m actually (again, as it applies to MY faith – I don’t think one must follow exactly my “rules” to be a Christian) mostly pretty conservative, but the whole being gay thing threw that for a big loop, so I’m not easily categorizable. (Which would fit with the rest of my life.)

  • CroneEver

    I’m a “Liberal Christian”, but only because I cannot and will not believe that (for example) Gandhi’s in hell because he never accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Otherwise, I’m probably #3, a mix of Greek Orthodox/Methodist beliefs and practices, combined with strong beliefs in pacifism and original sin, because God knows (literally) that we humans have tried everything, from education to war to every cockamamie idea in history, to make society loving and peaceful and successful and happy, and so far we’ve failed each and every time. We need God. I need Jesus Christ. [Although we are living, right now, in one of the most peaceful times in history, interestingly enough, thanks to education, etc. (see “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker); a (brief?) bubble, for which God be praised.]

  • Coming from a Charismatic/Pentecostal background I grew up with fundamentalist teachings and leanings. In my journey over the last 5 years, I’ve tried hard to throw off any labels and just identify as a follower of Christ. As Kierkegard said, “Once you label me, you negate me.” In my opinion, with every label we use on someone or ourselves we open the door to an us vs. them mentality.

  • karlkroger

    Just curious what you mean about not believing in the incarnation?

  • Gary Lieberman

    I really enjoy your posts and it has led to some interesting discussions with my wife of 36 years. She is a bit worried about me at times. Labels are quite confusing to me and the older I get the more difficult time I have of categorizing myself. I am definitely one who has left the fundamental world for the most part as my experience has been more mean and angry people hang out there.
    I really want to thank you for your thoughts, they give me hope for my children who are not finding an easy way into the life available with Jesus and participating with him in that life.

  • Category four all the way! Helpful and important distinction. Roger Olson’s book “Reformed and Always Reforming” helped me understand some of my theological tendencies….

  • karlkroger

    I see myself as a progressive mainliner (raised in and currently pastoring in the UMC) who keeps himself from drifting off too far left by listening to and genuinely identifying with post-evangelicals.

    At the same time, I find myself profoundly impacted by Anabaptism (as I refuse to believe in a violent God) and the neo-charismatic movement (as I seek a faith that is passionate, believes God is actively at work, and work for the kingdom).

  • Smellin’ Coffee

    I believe Jesus was/is the Son of God but not God the Son. In essence, he was prophesied about and God dwelled in him but was not him. So we can see God’s intentions for mankind through his teachings.
    In fairness, I do believe in his resurrection from the dead which in essence authenticated that he was ordained of God.
    Anyway, that is the nutshell version. :)

  • DC Rambler

    Very good.. I like the term ” progressive ” because it sounds like motion and growth.. I think the opposite of that is fundamentalism.. These folks feel that they have learned all there is to know, they never question or challenge their beliefs and they alone have the correct understanding of all things divine..
    We should always be changing and flowing like a fresh stream and never be stagnant long enough to be labeled..

  • otrotierra

    Another great post, Ben. I’m curious how your admittedly brief history (and 4 identified groups) might change if you expand your historical scope to begin when Western Christendom is actually introduced to the Western Hemisphere, which would be the late 15th century, long before the late 19th century, and long before the existence of U.S. borders in their current form. I realize that Anglo-centric histories & borders are important to U.S. white Evangelicals, but such narrow world-views contradict the spiritual universalism they want to proclaim.

    More to the point: when will U.S. Evangelicalism comprehend a truly global theological history that no longer locates white/Western European/Anglo/First World patriarchy at its foundation?

  • Ray

    From this Post-Evangelical, thank you for your writings. You put, so eloquently, into words so many things that I’m thinking and you continue to help me process my thoughts. I have often thought of chucking it all, but your writings have been road signs on my spiritual journey. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • KC_Ramsay

    It’s difficult to reconcile our oneness with our indiviuality, isn’t it?

  • Brianna

    Benjamin,

    I really enjoyed your breakdown, but I noticed that you focused only on large Protestant groups. You omitted such smaller and historically progressive groups as the Quakers and the large and growing group of progressive American Catholics. We have to remember that Christian is not coterminous with Protestant.

  • sure is! what’s it like for you? i’d like to hear your story.

  • Bill McLellan

    Probably 4. I like to consider myself more of a maximalist than a fundamentalist. I’d rather adopt as many labels as possible–maybe I’m an existentialist-Calvinist-anabaptist–than settle on just one. It may seem argumentative to enjoy debating the minutia, but trying to agree on fundamentals we can’t debate has been much more destructive.

  • Randolph Bragg

    “Doomgod,” that’s a great term!

  • Randolph Bragg

    Just to illustrate how wide schisms can go…

    Islam may well be just a branch of Christianity too. In fact, Muslims are more consistent monotheists than “Christians.”

    …Islam less as a rival religion than as a schismatic form of Christianity…Syriac Christians, who were skeptical of the Nicene doctrine of Jesus
    divine sonship, preferred Isaiah’s title “Servant” for Jesus. He contends
    that the inscription should read: “There is no god but God alone…Praised be the servant of God and his messenger.”

    The Christian Origins of Islam | Peter J. Leithart | First Things
    firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2012/12/the-christian-origins-of-islam

  • Yes, you’re right. Quakers and Anabaptists often get included in this group, and I some Catholics are definitely that way as well. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Ron McPherson

    Jeff,

    You pretty much mirror where I am. I can’t decide if I’m a 2 or 4, plus I hold to the 5 fundamentals, though allow for the validity of others’ different interpretational views of scripture regarding doctrine I consider to be not essential to the crux of the gospel.

  • Jeff Preuss

    Yeah, my upbringing in the Southern Baptist Church was so instrumental in helping to mold who I am, but it was realizing there was more to the Bible than just the King James and really exploring the different traditions and interpretations that keep me from ever completely adhering to that ONE version of Christianity.

  • Paul Julian Gould

    As well, quite a few Evangelicals of somewhat left-center orientation found their way to the Eastern Orthodox (mostly Antiochian, with Frank Schaeffer practicing Greek), and a few actually going so far as ordination in the Orthodox priesthood… Some of the kindest, gentlest folks with palpable passion and conviction I found to be in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. (attending Liturgy for a while in Los Angeles, there was also the added interesting view of members who were Syrian and Iraqi refugees, at the time of the biggest strife… Very level-headed and fair-minded people, I found.)

  • Very interesting. Thanks for breaking this down for us. I’m almost willing to say I’d be included in #4, although there’s that little bit about being reformed, which my interactions with progressives over the past year give me the impression excludes me from the realm of “progressive.” Who knows… :)

  • Matthew

    ?

  • Matthew

    I too subscribe to the 5 fundamentals of the Christian faith but have big problems with fundamentalist thinking, culture, etc. I often say I´m somewhere between fundie and progressive, but after reading this article I would probably class myself as a number 4 (though admittedly I am growing weary of labels).

  • Matthew

    So … (and I have asked this before) … where do all the “No Man´s Land” folk go besides this blog spot?

  • Smellin’ Coffee

    Great question. I wish I had an answer. “Stuff Fundies Like” is one but it is filled with cynics who are more interested in burning the folks that hurt them than create a civil community of diversity of thought and opinion. I would love to see if someone else has another idea, one that would promote forgiveness for those who have harmed us in the name of religion yet allows for civil discussion of theological differences without malice, pride or spite.

  • Fake account, aka, Josh Magda.

  • Matthew

    I really thought so Benjamin. I am across the pond and when it said comment “one hour ago” I thought man … he is blogging very early in the morning :-)!

  • I’d probably fit under category 2. The fact is that even though many progressives share my critiques of contemporary culture and the church, quite a few are all to eager to jettison major points of theology as a reaction to the way some theological terms were used against them by conservative evangelicals. That’s an understandable response, and indeed I find static views of theology to be problematic. But I feel like a proper approach to theology is actually invigorating, not oppressive. To be a part of a larger ongoing conversation means that many of the questions we struggle with have been addressed before. I look around and the religious movements that thrive are those that remain in dialogue with their own traditions – not rubberstamping everything, but not rejecting everything either. The important thing is that I don’t think there is cause to break fellowship over different views of theology and that is why I feel more comfortable among progressives.

    But if progressives are difficult to categorize, I feel like the evangelical label has been so tapped out that it is going to take some generations for it to reacquire its historic strength. I know it has a longer history than its recent usage in the culture wars, but if people like Al Mohler, Joel Osteen, and Rachel Held Evans can fit under the same umbrella term, it isn’t really working well as a descriptor. OTOH, I think it has become a boundary marker term which allows some Christians to dismiss others merely because they don’t add that adjective, or the term “bible-believer” in front of Christian.

    The word evangelical is tainted right now, and we all know the reasons for that, but it was not always so. And it may not be so one day. And so I know quite a few who could probably say they are “once and future” evangelicals.

  • Realist1234

    I dont want to catergorise myself, thus perpetuating an ‘us and them’ mind-set. But if Im pushed, Id say evangelical with some progressive leanings…

  • RonnyTX

    Ben,you asked;”where do you see yourself?” Well,I would simply say, that by the love,mercy and grace of God,I’m a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. Not put there and or made that by me;but put there/made that,by God. So I have no reason(s) to look down upon anyone or think myself better than. How could I,since Jesus Christ needed to go to the cross for us all?

    I have a rather long story to tell and won’t try to get into it all,this morning. But I will say,that I was raised up from an infant,in what I would describe as a super fundamentalist Baptist,Calvinistic teaching local church. And as far as I know,the way I was taught,was in many ways,the same way my 6 older brothers and sisters were taught,in that same local church? Over the years,my brothers and sisters moved on. So,I’m not sure exactly how some of them believe now,on some things? But I do know,that my two oldest sisters are now Armenian in belief and one older brother,is still strictly Calvinistic in belief. Come this spring and for the past 5 years,I will have been Christian universalist in belief. Or what some call,a believer in universal reconciliation.

    Too,I am very hard of hearing/legally deaf and even with a hearing aid,I couldn’t understand 9 out of 10 words,that would come from a church’s pulpit. So,I have a ready made excuse,as to why I don’t go to any local church. And as I see it,that’s good for me. Well,God allowed me a way to escape the local church,when I was in my late 20’s. Part of the reason I needed to do that,was because at 12 years old,I discovered I was gay and not heterosexual. Now in the church I grew up in, being gay was never mentioned. So as a child and young person,I simply concluded that being gay was considered so terrible by my church elders,etc,that such could not even be spoke about,in the church house,by decent Christians. And outside the actual church house,I did over hear one or more of my church elders,talking about those homosexuals. So at 12 years old and by listening in, when I’m sure they weren’t aware of me doing that,I learned their belief,that being homosexual was chosen and was the worst of sins. But right at first,I knew I hadn’t chosen to be gay. Instead,I had simply gotten to 12 years old and discovered I was gay. But I came to believe my church elders must be right on this and that I had chosen to be gay,etc. Why did I come to believe that? Because they had already taught me to believe without question,that all that came from our church’s pulpit,all of our churches beliefs and teachings,those were straight out of the Bible,straight from God and true beyond question. So even at 12 years old,I believed to question my church elders words,was the same as questioning God and to disagree with a belief of my church’s pastor/elders,was the same as me calling God a liar! And of course,as a 12yo,I didn’t realize I was being taught sin,being taught to look up to and believe and worship some men and their words,as if they were God speaking to me.

    Well,I started out with the intention,of making this post short! :-) So will just say here,that I was born of God,when I was 16 years old,graciously allowed by
    God to escape the local church when I was in my late 20’s and delivered by God,from my taught worship of some people,when I was 40 years old. :-) It’s been a long and hard journey and somethings still aren’t easy. But,the main thing is,I can depend on God/Jesus Christ fully and that not just for me;but for every last one of us,from Adam on down! :-)

    P.S.
    Nearly 60 years old now and for the past year,living with an older sister. Our Mom passed away just over a year ago and I was left our small farm,with an old house on it. Several years ago,I redid an old building out back of that and made it into a nice mini-house. :-) Now need to get over there and cut up an old dead tree,that’s fallen between those two houses! So here I am posting,yet needing to go get that done! Now if you or any of the guys here,wanted to go do that for me,I wouldn’t complain! :-) LoL

    Ah,sorry for getting so far off track! And will simply finish up by saying,what I said to start with. That is,that by the love,mercy and grace of God,I am a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. Or as some of the earliest Christians put it,I am a believer in and follower of the Way and that Way,is Jesus Christ. :-) And there are lots and lots of things I don’t fully understand or understand at all;but then,God isn’t through with me yet. :-) Nor is God yet finished/through with any of us,all the way from Adam on down! :-)

  • Artistree

    I’m such a mixed bag in my viewpoints that I don’t fit into general categories but I am friendly towards people from all of these groupings. Personally, I’m a traditional Anglican and as a Third Order Franciscan have a Credenda and a “Rule” by which I try to live. Regarding the Holy Scriptures, I have a more “Eastern Orthodox” position regarding it’s authority and use the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) as my Old Testament. I tend to read the Scriptures in a typological and allegorical sense but the literal and historical sense is a foundation, though I don’t hold to the absolute infallibility/without error perspective of the Fundamentalist/Evangelical thought. I place a strong emphasis on reading the Scriptures through the lens of the Early Church, especially the Ante-Nicene Fathers. I’m content and believe I’ve got a pretty solid anchor but I’m always willing to listen and learn from people no matter which flag they fly.

  • jlosinski .

    “Where do you see yourself?”
    On a journey to explore “god”, humanity, and the spiritual fullness of creation. I’ve been outside christian culture for nearly 3 years, and it has been the most formative time of my entire spitirual life. I am able to stand alone in questioning old suppositions, as well as experiencing new (to me) forms of connecting to the earth God has blessed us with. Once one casts off the expectations of religious culture, the proverbial “scales” will fall from their eyes. :)

  • Paul Schlitz Jr.

    My defection has always been strictly against the Religious Right. I don’t think my theology has changed. What I am against is selective literalism. Where people like Cal Thomas and Michelle Bachman affirm everything in Holy Writ and then make a mockery of the Scriptures by attacking immigrants.

  • I’m definitely in category 2, with a tiny hint of category 1, mainly in its view of a non-exclusive way to God. As a cradle Episcopalian with a mother involved in the UFW and the Nuclear Freeze movement (look it up, young ‘uns), I suppose I was destined for it.

    Theologically I’m pretty orthodox, enough that dear Bishop Spong can seriously annoy me at time with his Deism. My orthodoxy is narrowly focused though, concentrating only on the historic creeds (and editing out Anthaniathius’ “thus must all believe or face hellfire”) and some Reformation and 19th Century statements.

    Politically I’m on the left-wing of the Democratic Party usually, with some philosophical sympathies for socialism and syndicalism (provided they aren’t actively anticlerical, then things get touchy).

  • karlkroger

    Thanks for the reply. I’m not sure I’ve heard it put quite that way. Peace.

  • The thing about hell is that there have been a lot of Christian takes on hell that don’t mean a place of eternal punishment for non-believers or even plain old sinners. C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a completely different view and C.S. could hardly be considered a theological liberal.

    There are even older views using the scriptural metaphors of the threshing floor and the refiners’ fire. While people have long focused on the violence of those metaphors, some theologians have pointed out that threshing an refining are not about destroying whole grains or entire rocks but separating the “good” part from the “bad.” So it could be seen as a process that everyone goes through to cleanse the soul of its impurities, rather than a violent destruction of individuals who “failed.”

  • I’d be careful walking around there. A lot of anti-Muslim polemics have asserted that Muhammad was just dusting off Arianism. Philosophically it makes sense since the Qur’an has a similar Christology to Arius. However, Arians were not especially common in the East, where the non-orthodox tended to be of post-Nicene origin. Also it’s always a problem to assume that other people are really the same, when they explicitly identify differently. Muhammad was operating in an Arabian context, with Arabian concerns. He was clearly influenced by the other Abrahamic traditions as well as Zoroastrianism. To call Islam a “branch” of Christianity ignores its own distinct beliefs and identity, the same way that saying Judaism and Christianity are the same religion would.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I was formerly a #3 from the Roman Catholic end and became a #1 after diving headlong into study about the Bible, history of religions etc. Although (perhaps surprisingly in some minds) I still heavily favor a “high church,” mystical liturgy.

  • rrhersh

    As a point of information, I have spent most of my life on the leftie side of mainline Protestantism (placing me solidly in your category 2), mostly Lutheran but dipping my toes on many occasions into Episcopalianism. I have never once heard liberal theology, in the strict sense, espoused, either from the pulpit or in private conversation. I’m not claiming that liberal theology is a straw man. It is a real thing, but a real thing whose moment largely passed some decades back. While it is a real thing, there are more people with an interest in preserving Bishop Spong as a bogeyman than there are who follow him.

    Regarding “folks who are trying to decide who is, and who is not, a Progressive Christian,” I think you are pointing toward a point that I want to make explicit. This isn’t about drawing boundaries around one’s position, beyond which no one can cross without being shunned. It is about claiming the name. It is a bit like Georgia. Is Georgia a state in the southeast of the US, or is it a former Soviet republic and now an independent nation, located in the Caucasus mountains? Both, of course. It is a curious anomaly that these two very different places share the same name. Because they are far apart, both geographically and culturally, context usually makes clear which is meant and this isn’t much of a problem. Now imagine if they were much closer: if, say, the Bahamas were called ‘Georgia.’ That would be much more confusing: “The wife and I are flying to Georgia for a long weekend.” Do you need a passport for this or not? The bad sitcom episodes practically write themselves. It would be natural for each to try to claim the name and let the other one use something else. Things could get testy. Just look at the recent history of “Macedonia.”

    The term “Progressive Christian” is much like this. No one wants to admit to the testiness, of course, as that would be unChristian. Many probably don’t even realize what is going on, with members of the various groups being only dimly aware of the others or of how the term is used by those other groups. So when someone in one of the various groups using the label says that someone from another group is not a “Progressive Christian” this isn’t the building of a border fence so much as a factually correct observation stated in confusing terms. Someone from that former Soviet republic is not a “Georgian” in the sense of being someone from that southeastern US state. This isn’t a value judgment. It is a truthful statement of fact.

    So what to do? It will sort itself out in the long run. There is too much interaction for it not to. “Progressive Christian” may end up being an inclusive umbrella term, in which case some other terminology will arise to distinguish between the various sorts of Progressive Christians (barring the unlikely event that the groups genuinely merge), or one or some combination of these groups will end up holding the prize and the others will take another name.

    None of this is particularly good nor bad. It is simply how language works. But in the meantime we ought not let the confusion cause any more than the inevitable number of problems and hard feelings.

  • Matthew

    Would really like to hear more of your story Ron, but I don´t think here would be appropriate. Any suggestions? Is it possible to PM someone through the Disqus interface?

  • zb

    One way or another, I think all 4 groups would shun me if I completely spill my beans about my beliefs. Not sure which Progressive group would shun me as a heretic first upon profession of faith, but I’m betting that the conservatives would shun me more quickly than all 4.

  • Bill

    I think I fall firmly into the liberal side of group 4

  • What are the fundamentals that are more restrictive in today’s evangelicalism than in early fundamentalism?

    Thank you for this clear explanation of each of these labels and the history of American Protestant Christianity. And thank you for being there.

    I have found shelter in an ELCA Lutheran church. I never thought I’d hear “God wins” preached from the pulpit. But as a former evangelical I also identify with the emergent label. Brian MacLaren’s early books articulated many of the things I’d worked out on my own.

  • Ron McPherson

    Thanks, but my story is probably kind of boring lol. I grew up in, and was heavily involved, in a small SBC church for years. The core fundamentals of the gospel are ingrained in me, of which I still hold convictions. However, me, my wife and sons are now deeply committed to a large inter-denomination church that stresses following Christ in very real and practical ways (i.e. more unconditional love for all, less religion). I have had to seriously re-think some of my long-held beliefs over the last several years, not with respect to the crux of the gospel, but with other things (e.g. LGBT issues, punishment of the unregenerate, etc.). I’ve been accused by some, in a pejorative sense, as a fundamentalist, while others have labeled me as progressive, so it’s probably difficult to categorize me in any real respect.

  • Matthew

    Thanks Ron. It´s difficult to categorize me as well. I took from your posts that we probably had some things in common.

  • M.A.N.

    I would probably fall into group 3 or maybe 4, I’m not sure. I grew up in a fundamentalist circle and started examining my doubts about two years ago. Still don’t have a lot of things figured out but I’m definitely reading and searching.

  • do you feel like sharing what is drawing your attention right now in your reading and searching?

  • M.A.N.

    My doubts have mostly centered around, “Does the Bible really say what they say it’s saying?” And so I’ve been exploring different Christian perspectives related to women (marriage roles, speaking, modesty, etc.) since a lot of things involved with that have been really hurtful. Other topics I’ve been looking at include hell, the end times, and love for others.

  • nice! if you find something really good please share it!

  • RonnyTX

    Ronny to M.A.N.

    Here’s a link, to a really good page on hell and why the teaching on and about it,is false and not of God/Jesus Christ.

    http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/hell_test.html

  • RonnyTX

    M.A.N.,here’s a real good article/small book,showing where and why the teaching of a Jesus Christ created hell is not biblical,is not of God/Jesus Christ.

    http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/hell_test.html

  • M.A.N.

    Thanks, I will. :)

  • M.A.N.

    Thanks :)

  • RonnyTX

    You’re welcome. :-)

    And in an earlier post you asked;”Does the Bible really say what they say it’s saying?” Well,the truth is,a lot of times it doesn’t and that no matter,what denomination a person is in. And I don’t understand,fully understand or know a lot of things;but I can tell you this. When we don’t know something and or we’re not sure if a matter is true or not,then it’s just best to ask God to guide us,as we open the Bible and read and think on things. Ask God to guide us and show us. That’s what James says we are to do,in James chapter one. And this way,it doesn’t leave out listening to other people, doing our best to understand what they’re saying and why, etc? For God may very well be using such a person or person,to help teach us something. But what it does leave out and what we should leave out,is our looking at and treating another person,as if they were God. As if they were God speaking to us and teaching us. Yeah,that’s where I got into trouble,at a pretty early age. Being taught by some people,in the local church,that their word was always one and the same,as God’s word,God’s word to us. Well,it’s not,not always,not by a long shot! Well,there’s only one we can depend on and have full confidence in and that’s God/Jesus Christ.

  • RonnyTX

    Amen! :-) For it is God/Jesus Christ,who refines us. Taking out what does not need to be in us and putting in,that which we need. That is,conforming us more and more,to Jesus Christ. :-) God does that for us,for all of us and that on God’s timetable. And what I find,is that I sometimes wish,that God went faster on this! :-) LoL But I think a lot of that comes from what I call our microwave soceity. That is,I/we’re more prone to want things now and want them fast, thank you! :-) But then God words in terms of years and sometimes many years and even ages!

  • M.A.N.

    I appreciate your insights. I still find myself forgetting to ask God to help me, which is funny because I’m trying to figure out what He’s really saying in the Bible! It seems like a no-brainer but I find it easy to forget.

    Sometimes I also catch myself getting too excited about some new way of examining a topic and I put the person who wrote it on a pretty high pedestal. I have to stop and remind myself that that’s not where they should be.

  • Gregory

    Benjamin, I am primarily Anabaptist, more so than even my grandparents, but of the 5 fundamentals, I only fully hold the atonement and resurrection to be true. The virgin birth and reality of miracles I view as possible, but neither “faith issues”, nor entirely relevant on whether they happened or not (although the former more important than the latter).

    However, if I were to pick one side by it’s heart, I would hands down pick progressive Christianity, as they seem to have a heart after Jesus more than any other group I have seen. However, I have seen Process Theology from the progressive side pushed way to hard, threatening to make the progressives into a mirror of what is wrong with the evangelicals, ironically in the name of love.

    Since I do not find process compelling, as it seems to me to be primarily based on an appeal to emotion, two straw man fallacies that only exist if you both ignore all alternatives to theology that believes “God causes everything ever with a patriarchal power trip”(both a false dilemma and a straw man), an ascribing to process philosophy, and an obsession with how “actualization” comes to be, I feel pushed away from both sides, with no visible alternatives.

    Where would you put me?

  • Well I guess I still don’t know what I am – perhaps a little bit of everything. A mutt, IOW. It would be helpful if you included more examples of what you are talking about in your categories. It’s easier to figure out for me at least since I do know how I compare to other individuals and churches. I do consider myself “post-evangelical” only because my Evangelicalism has led me out of it after spending 30 years or so dealing with all the wrong doctrines in the church. Whatever the heck I am I’ve been blogging about it at http://www.kirbyhopper.com

  • Some of us (Biblical Unitarians, which are Evangelicals) believe the “incarnation” is God dwelling in a man, not God becoming a man. We believe Jesus is a deified human, not a humanized deity. We believe this more accurately represents how Jesus and his apostles understood Jesus.