Friends, Jesus isn’t God. Jesus didn’t die for our sins. Jesus wasn’t killed instead of us. God isn’t wrathful or vindictive. There isn’t a hell (other than ones that we create here on this earth). Going to heaven after we die isn’t what the faith or salvation is about. God didn’t write the Bible. There isn’t going to be a “rapture.” Jesus’ resurrection didn’t have to be understood as a physical one for it to be a real and meaningful one (Paul and many of the early disciples encountered a spiritually risen Christ). Science and faith aren’t incompatible. God didn’t create the Creation in 6 literal days. The earth isn’t only 6,000 old. Human aggravated global warming isn’t bogus. God isn’t male. Women are fully equal to men. Homosexuality isn’t a sin. Being transgender isn’t sinful or to be rejected. Racism is sinful. And Christianity isn’t the only way for humans to experience salvation.
Instead, Jesus and his message are about living in love, loving-kindness, compassion, and grace. Jesus and his message are counter-cultural and subversive to all of the worldly powers that be. Following Jesus is about nonviolently resisting imperialism. Following Jesus is about pursuing God’s vision for restorative and distributive justice instead of human tendencies for retributive justice. Following Jesus is about trusting in the wisdom and blessedness of the ways that he taught that seem counter-intuitive according to the ways of the world. Following Jesus is about liberating humanity from the myth of redemptive violence and bringing us toward the reality of redemptive nonviolence. Following Jesus is about seeking to manifest the beloved community, the empire/kingdom of God, “on Earth as it is in heaven.” Following Jesus is to be familiar with the scriptures that informed and inspired Jesus to help inspire, embolden, and empower us as we follow this radical and challenging Way together in community with kindred spirits.
Progressive Christians rightfully honor and celebrate Jesus as a unique and fully incarnate (poetically speaking) manifestation of God. We are devoted to him, we cherish him, we revere him, we are endeared to him. And we pray to the God Jesus prayed to. Being a Christian is putting our trust and reliance (having faith) in the way, teachings, and example of Jesus (that was informed and inspired by the Hebrew prophets before him) and to live with holy boldness as we seek loving and just right relations with ourselves, our neighbors (near and far), all of Creation, and with God.
Progressive Christianity isn’t progressive politics. Progressive Christianity is the post-modern influenced evolution of historic mainline liberal Protestant Christianity and it is an heir to the Social Gospel movement. It first took on this name in 2000. It draws from process theology, liberation theology, feminist, womanist and eco-theologies as well.
Here’s a working definition: “Progressive Christianity is an approach to the Christian faith that is influenced by post-liberalism and post-modernism and: proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as Christ, Savior, and Lord; emphasizes the Way and teachings of Jesus, not merely His person; emphasizes God’s immanence not merely God’s transcendence; leans toward panentheism rather than supernatural theism; emphasizes salvation here and now instead of primarily in heaven later; emphasizes being saved for robust, abundant/eternal life over being saved from hell; emphasizes the social/communal aspects of salvation instead of merely the personal; stresses social justice as integral to Christian discipleship; takes the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding; emphasizes orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy (right actions over right beliefs); embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery — instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas; does not consider homosexuality to be sinful; and does not claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable way to connect to God (is non-exclusive).” p. 63, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity.”
Put more simply, progressive Christianity is a focus on the religion OF Jesus (his ways, teachings, and example – how he actually lived his life) instead of the religion ABOUT Jesus. In some ways, progressive Christianity is a semi re-Judaizing of the faith.
This shift in focus has us shifting away from notions that salvation is about “believing X, Y, and Z in order to go to heaven” to instead embracing the Hebraic notion (Jesus’s) of salvation – that it means wholeness/healing and well-being – for individuals, relationships, community, and the world. As part of this, many progressive Christians favor the moral influence/exemplar theory of the atonement and reject the substitutionary and penal theories of the atonement. We participate in our own salvation by living a certain way of life – salvation isn’t imposed on us by Jesus having been crucified.
I realize that this all may come across to some as over-stated and/or that I expect other Christians to think like I do. I assure you that I do not. What a boring world that would be! What I feel is a profound need to more clearly, frankly, and bluntly, state the truth as I know it. There are lots of ways of being Christian, this one – progressive Christianity – works for me – and a massively growing number of others. Peace.
*Caveat: I do believe that Jesus was divine (in the way that you and I are), and that he’s the 2nd person of the trinity. Christians rightfully honor and celebrate Jesus as a unique and fully incarnate manifestation of God. I don’t believe that he’s literally God (at least not what most people tend to mean by that word). We live and move and have our being in God, so did Jesus. The trinity is a beloved Christian poem of who God is to us. But poems don’t literally define things. Like all art, and theology, they point to what is beyond them.
Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity