Why use the label “Progressive Christian?” C.S. Lewis argued that putting Christian beliefs alongside any other social goal eventually made it difficult to separate the two. Mere Christianity is the only goal of the believer. Yet, it is often provides the pitfall Lewis seeks to avoid. Can there be a Christianity without engaging the world? Is it easy then to argue an opponent’s goals are “worldly” while yours are “just basic Christian beliefs?”
I propose today to explain 5 Christian beliefs as Progressive Christians, especially those identified as Liberationist, understand them. How do we think about the following beliefs?
The Goodness of the Creator
God declares creation very good on the 6th day of Genesis 1. One assumes then “very goodness” is a quality of the Creator. Exodus describes two qualities of gold in the Sanctuary. Some gold is fine. The gold of the Ark of the Covenant is “very fine.” The entirety of the Creation is very good. It is complete and sanctified on the 7th day.
How should humans respond as part of this very good Creation? Progressive Christians draw instruction from the ideas of righteousness and holiness found in the Hebrew Bible. We are deriving ideas from an ancient agrarian society. We are learning about conserving resources, how the harvests are conducted, and the importance of community. This practice provides continuity with a hope of Creation.
Beliefs About Evil
Progressive Christians acknowledge the reality evil. Evil appears in three forms as personal, natural, and structural. Natural evil is a matter of perspective and experience. The planet is renewed following bad weather events, earthquakes, and naturally begun fires. Like the other two forms of evil, natural evil is about human response to the crisis. What do we do when natural disasters occur? Do we withhold help because the victims are not of our tribe? The moral argument Lewis makes in Mere Christianity shows that to be unjust. What should people do to prepare for the next disaster?
All evils are a deprivation of love. Personal evil occurs when love is withheld or violated. To say, “I don’t care,” when talking about evil befalling another person should terrify everyone.
Structural evil occurs when we refuse to evaluate and repair problematic social organization. The effects of structural evils are unintentional. The evil grows when we refuse to change it.
Jesus As Savior
Liberation theology looks closely at the New Testament characterizations of Jesus. Nero claimed the title, “the Savior of the World.” The meaning is clear. The Empire claimed to bring liberation from poverty, warfare, and the darkness of barbarism.
The irony is the economy of the Empire was based on conquest and slavery. Civilization, wealth, and peace are difficult to believe in unless a person is free to enjoy these “gifts.” This situation is what John’s gospel calls “the sin of the world” that only another Passover “lamb of God” can remove.
What about individual sins? Now, we move to reconciliation.
Beliefs About Reconciliation
Repentance and forgiveness together involves our beliefs about reconciliation. Personal evils can be due to individual faults or participation in structural evils. Love is demonstrated as grace, mercy, and truth. The required actions are based in confession (truth with repentance) and forgiveness.
Jesus makes atonement by demonstrating how structural and personal evils are overcome by Love. Evil attempts to destroy Goodness. It does this by destroying the good Creation. Life is destroyed in some way. The people who kill Jesus are envious and seek to hold on to structural evil. He becomes the place of atonement and reconciliation in himself.
Reconciliation is rebuilding. It brings the creation to a better state of being.
Democratic values conflict with the image of a Kingdom of God. But that is only the image not the idea of a reign of peace. This is the hardest belief to describe. It is so difficult to imagine. Can this belief be realized?
The Kingdom of Heaven is a place within believers. The virtues of this place are justice, mercy, hope, compassion, and faith. We are the people of the Resurrection. That makes us people of the Kingdom of God. Right here. Right now. Progressive Christians engage the world from these beliefs. We desire to realize this reign in human affairs. By its nature, the Kingdom comes by moral force. The same force that Lewis describes as justice.
These beliefs become knowledge and conviction in the realization of this Kingdom of Peace.