“Progressive” Is the Wrong Word

“Progressive” Is the Wrong Word August 3, 2011

Not long ago, I participated in a symposium here at Patheos which asked, “Progressive Christianity: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?”  I’ve been thinking about it since, and I’ve had some thoughts coalesce for me.

I don’t think that “progressive” is the right term for our version of Christianity.

I happen to agree with critics who claim that “progressive” is the currently acceptable word because the word “liberal” has been tarnished and is not salvageable.  (For more on that, see this.)

And, at the same time that conservatives were making “liberal” a dirty word, they were claiming the word “evangelical.”  Some, like Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, and Randy Balmer, refuse to relinquish the term “evangelical” to the conservatives.  But I’m afraid that the tipping point has come and “evangelical” is the purview of conservatives.

My conversion against this point came to clarity when I was chatting on the phone with Mickey Maudlin.  The problem, he told me, is that the term “evangelical” has the word “gospel” (euangelion) right in it.  Therefore, whoever gets that term can claim the moral high ground.

Conservatives, abetted by the mainstream media, have claimed the term “evangelical,” and therefore have the upper hand.  Try as we might, non-conservatives are not getting the term back.

The problem with both “liberal” and “progressive” is that they are not inherently theological categories.  They are sociological and political. “Evangelical,” on the other hand, is inherently theological.

So, my thesis is this: Those of us who are not conservative need a new label.  No more crying in our beer that conservatives have claimed the term “evangelical” — that’s water over the dam now.

And our new label needs to be inherently theological.

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