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A Progressive Exploration of Christianity

April 21, 2012

It seems almost everybody has strong feelings, of some kind, about religion.  Some popular authors labeled “The New Atheists” seem to feel that religion overall, and particularly Christianity in the West, should be pushed into near-oblivion.  It grows out of illusion and contributes nothing (or very little) positive to society. 

Other thinkers, usually Christians of some type, believe Christianity is in the midst of an identity crisis or a relevance crisis.   They are very concerned because, while they might agree with some of the critics’ concerns, they see things almost the opposite–the decline of Christian faith contributes greatly to our current problems. 

Could it be that Christianity, as conceived by both it’s “conservative” and “liberal” followers, fails to deliver on its ideals partly because of that very issue–major flaws not only in the people trying to live it out, but in the way it has been conceived?

Over the next several days I plan to post parts of something I’ve written called a “Progressive Christian Invitation to Mission.”  I’ve had to reconceive my “faith” (or worldview broadly) from the foundations up, over a number of years.  This “Invitation” is my to-this-point result. 

It covers issues I consider very important for my own spiritual life and practice and, I also believe, for other Christians and Christian congregations.  It grows out of both my personal journey of 6+ decades and my sense of the present situation of at least American Christianity. (And I believe things are often similar around the globe.) 

On the personal side, it also represents my increasing interest, gradually developed in recent years, to identify myself again as Christian, by active affiliation as well as in name.  However, it is now in a much broader sense of the term than in my first 40 to 45 years of life, during which I was very involved in ministry, theology and such.   The term or general category best representing this I find to be “Progressive Christianity.”  There is no universally agreed definition of this… it partly depends on “Progressive in relation to what?” 

In my case, the short answer is progressive in relation to both traditional orthodoxy and what I consider a confusing and poorly-developed “old-line liberal” theology or “neo-orthodox” theology. 

So today’s post, prior to sharing the actual points of my “Invitation,” is a slightly-shortened form of a “Progolue” I think is important for setting the stage for what I say in the Invitation itself.  I wrote it in order to address a range of Christians, from at least somewhat conservative to quite liberal, who I hope will find resonance with at least parts of what is there.  I hope they (and you?) will be willing to join the important “conversation” suggested here and ongoing in many, many additional places.   So now the opening statement to be followed soon by summary points and then the longer full text:

Prologue to “Progressive Christian Invitation to Mission”

It’s been about 2 ½ centuries since Christian thinkers began re-examining traditions which stood largely unexamined and unchanged for over a millennium.  Much that is helpful has been uncovered and taught.  Changing times and deepening knowledge have pulled along these new understandings, but only slowly.  They continue to do so.  However, the need to speed up the updating of Christianity is increasingly pressing.  Much appears to be at stake. 

Now, if rapidly revising it remains unfeasible, we must at least gradually and consciously, purposefully revise it.  Such a process may appear a challenge to “revealed” truth to some.  It need not be taken that way. It can also be conceived as the ongoing and inevitable process of uncovering truth and expressing it in today’s vernacular.  An honest search for truth is never to be feared.  Even the strongest of traditionalists like to affirm the quote from the Gospel of John of Jesus saying, “…The truth shall make you free.”

We must be open-eyed. The revision of understandings and expressions of Christian faith is demanding: intellectual and emotional investment accompanied by courage, serious self-reflection and sometimes risk-taking. But it carries high potential rewards.  Those who we will inevitably engage are not only ourselves and those who perceive and believe like us, but friends, family and colleagues who remain comfortable in, if not adamant about more traditional forms of Christian faith.

The following points of a “Progressive Christian Invitation to Mission” growing out of Christian culture, stories and thought forms, should be seen as merely a starting point for focused conversations.  These will be, to the best of our ability, respectful dialog and mutual exploration.  The points in the Invitation are not meant as a fixed “statement of faith” or set of dogmas.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael Jones permalink
    March 29, 2013 10:52 am

    I think the new Pope has really hit all our problems with a true reality. I am Church of England. I can’t stand to think of women and children living in refugee camps north of Syria. All I have to give is the money in my pocket that goes to homeless people in my community. As my penance, I go without food for two weeks every month. I guess it my way of giving back.
    Mike

  2. March 29, 2013 1:07 pm

    Michael,

    Thanks so much for commenting and sharing of your own feelings and practices. You have incredible dedication and discipline to fast roughly half the time. I do hope you’ve made sure you are doing it in a way that is not damaging to your health.

    It’s great to hear from a reader in England, I presume, or UK somewhere (since you say “Church of England” although you could be elsewhere I know. I have a fair number of British and European readers but they rarely comment (nor do the Americans, either much!)

    I’m interested in more of what you may specifically mean about the new Pope. I think his uniqueness is obvious even to us non-Catholics, and refreshing, but I’m wondering what strikes you particularly, and what effects you may think it will have. (I did do one recent post about him… very brief, if you didn’t find that one… I keep meaning to organize past posts but not found it simple to do so yet and not gotten to it.)

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