Editor's Note: This article is part of the symposium, "What Is Progressive Christianity?" presented by the newly launched Patheos Progressive Christian Portal and in partnership with the Wild Goose Festival (June 23-26). Like us on Facebook to receive today's best commentary on Progressive Christianity.
My great-grandfather was clearer about things theological than I. He understood that the problems of our world can be traced to their roots in human sin, our congenital drive to usurp the prerogatives of God and construct a world to serve our desires. He knew that God—Holy, Immutable, Sovereign, and Just—sits over us in judgment and is constrained by His nature to dole out the appropriate punishment for such hubris. And so my great grandfather knew, as did Jonathan Edwards, that we all "hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder."
But he also knew of the grace of God, the intra-Divine transaction taking place in the Holy Trinity. God the Father, the I Am, sent His Son so that the Son's life might be forfeit instead of ours. Then God resurrected His Son and the saving transaction is made effective for us as through faith, the Holy Ghost unites us to the risen One.
Yes, my great-grandfather was clearer about things theological than I. He knew that sin blinds us to the purposes of God and so God, in His infinite grace, inspired the writing of Scripture so that we might know the way to salvation. But as Mr. Peabody in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valancesaid, "oh you ill advised, oh you poorly counseled," you who know not the way to salvation but choose a different path, you are consigned to the outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth for all eternity. Oh my.
It made sense in my great-grandfather's day when we thought blood has magical properties, when we thought God shuts the windows of heaven to stop the rain, when we believed God could halt the movement of sun and moon; but that day has ended as all days must. Now such claims make a mockery of all that has been discovered and is now relied upon in the modern era. We can no longer claim that the Scriptures are a product of Divine dictation because we know they emerged through centuries of theological reflection in the context of diverse political, sociological, and economic circumstances. We can no longer point to a time when humanity was perfect then fell from grace, because we know creation itself is a process of evolution, a creative dance from death to new life. Our mythic faith has been deconstructed; resistance is futile; the Force is now with us . . . but of course our members have now left us.
And why not? After imbibing the deconstructionist claims of postmodernity, we know that exclusive claims to truth have no foundation. My great-grandfather's context of meaning, which once gave purpose and meaning to life, has disintegrated. We are left with no other standard of belief than the one that serves me in the moment.
Now we are confronted by the disturbing reality of a society full of individuals who do indeed construct a world that serves their desires. Society has now devolved to a point where prepubescent girls take naked pictures of themselves and text them to any guy who strikes their fancy, and why shouldn't they? Without a context of meaning there is no compelling answer to that question.
We live in a society where the majority thinks torture is acceptable, and why shouldn't they? Without a context of meaning, one committed to the existence of something more important than my life, there is no compelling answer to that question. More concerning is this: without a context of meaning, without a shared purpose built on what is true, we will not be able to navigate the terrain of epochal change now knocking at our door. Can you hear it?