I do not understand 8-point progressive Christianity

I spent a bit of time this morning trying to get a handle on progressive Christianity. I realize one flaw at the beginning is my hope to understand it as a unified thing. One of the main thrusts of progressive Christianity is its fierce pluralism.

But I was able to find a couple sources that claim to speak for the major issues or beliefs in the school. The Phoenix Affirmations set an outline of the faith for at least one group within the progressive Christian movement.

I also found these 8 points of Progressive Christianity:

I read these, and I am taken back to my days of reading Joseph Campbell‘s books on mythology and religion. I read these 8 points, and I wonder why — if I affirmed these points — I would bother to be a Christian at all.

Is Christianity really about nothing more, in the end, that developing an awareness of “the Sacred” and the “Oneness and Unity of all life”? Can’t I do that with peyote and leave Christ aside?

Progressive Christianity strikes me as on its most robust footing when it is critiquing traditional, orthodox Christianity. That is when its statements and claims seem the most solid.

For instance, here is a blog post about how to read the Bible as a progressive Christian. When it comes to knocking down Christian tradition, the writer seems quite clear about what he wishes to say:

Anything in the Bible that looks miraculous or contrary to the normal functions of the natural world is not factual, but rather is mythological.

When he strives to make a positive affirmation about what good the Bible serves, his prose gets all soggy:

The Bible is best understood and appreciated from the perspective of religious pluralism – the idea that other religions can be as good for others as mine is for me. In this context, the Bible can be seen as a vital part of the great global conversation throughout history about the relationship of human beings to ultimate reality.

Similarly, when progressive Christianity tries to make affirmations like the ones in these 8 points, it reduces quickly to a rather shallow soup of contemporary values. The Boy Scout oath has more risk and edge to it.

I cannot imagine Pontius Pilate wanting to waste the nails it would take crucify someone over this. I cannot image the villagers taking up stones to throw at Jesus for preaching this. I cannot imagine Peter being able to debunk the “they are all drunk” thesis if he had declared these as his 8-Point Pentecost sermon.

None of this is persuasive to progressive Christians, of course, because pluralism and being non-dogmatic are the sacred center of the faith. Faulting it for being a muddle of mush is probably a badge of honor for the authors of the 8 points.

Indeed, I can be a progressive Christian (as far as I can see) by being a politically progressive member of a Western nation. As a person who voted for Barack Obama and watches the Daily Show, I feel as if I have all the equipment that is required of me to be a progressive Christian.

My experience of progressive Christianity is that the first word is the most important one. Progressive Christianity asks me to be progressive first and Christian only to the extent that does not step on my prior commitment to being progressive. In that way, it is a bit like being a German Christian.

23 thoughts on “I do not understand 8-point progressive Christianity

  1. I was a little shocked to read the points…and see that the group considers itself “Christian”. Kind of reminds me of arguments with my kids when they were teens….about everyone’s belief being equal…and being not judgmental…even when their friends were doing something wrong..”it’s none of my business”…and my explanation that if you are Christian, there are absolute rights and wrongs. that it is ok to be tolerant, but not to let friends get away with doing wrong without calling them on it…and that if they love their friends, they would want to share their faith…as Jesus is the ONLY way. But they have been raised in the times…and tolerance becomes, sometimes, an excuse to not embarrass themselves by standing up for their beliefs. With the new anti bullying focus, we may run into a fair amount of reverse “bullying” …if kids talk about their faith at school. It is a scary thing.

    1. Funny how you think of yourself as tolerant, but then go on to express your dislike of anti-bullying measures; it seems as if you like the idea of intolerance with your lips but not your actions! Jesus is the only way…for you. I’m happy for you. Please consider just how this great man interacted with people that weren’t religious in the way he was: he loved them and was kind to them. You never find Jesus delivering a “hell fire and brimstone” message to others, EXCEPT FOR in discourse with hypocritical, self-righteous religious people of his day! How did he act towards the good people of another religion (i.e. traditional Judaism)? Just look how he treated the masses, they were nearly all traditional Jews–they were essentially of another religion! Yet he was kind, gentle, and loving towards them!

  2. I consider myself to be a “progressive Christian” but, for me, it isn’t actually about what I don’t believe as it is about what I do believe. I accept that a lot of people are progressive because they are rebelling against something. Progressivism is a big tent. However rebellion and fuzziness are not necessary to progressivism. In my view, Catholicity is. Not in the sense of style of theology or of churchiness, but in the true sense of the word. I am progressive because I think that much of the Christian church – and certainly those obsessed with “orthodoxy” – have rejected Catholicity in a desperate attempt to make Christianity just another dualistic practice of “us and them”.

    1. Pam, I appreciate your contribution here. I suppose we all fall prey to defining what we are by identifying what we are not. Or maybe nearly all of us.

  3. John, I am not certain why you are avoiding the obvious or have you tried to set up a straw man to knock down. If you look more closely you will see the starting point for the 8Points deals with being a follower of Jesus and seeking the Realm or Kingdom of God. PC.org is very clear in numerous publications that following Jesus was, and still is a radical journey. If someone chooses to follow they will be undermining and subverting the prevailing culture of greed and power, including religious institutions. Jesus was a radical in his time and any true follower today would be considered the same. That is why Jesus was killed and living out his path today can have similar results. But his motivation was not politics or sweetness. His motivation came from a deep compassion that awakened his understanding that all sentient beings are imbued with the divine. Try and live that life on a daily basis. It won’t feel like a “muddle of mush.” You might try reading a new book out by two Methodist, LtQ, “The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.” Thanks for the publicity

    1. Fred, I did not miss the references to “the path of Jesus” in the 8-points, but the language of progressive Christianity and your language here appears to go out of its way to avoid speaking of things such as new birth, the divinity of Christ, the forgiveness of sin, and the sanctification of believers.

      It all reads to me — and has since I started reading Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong — like deism with a good role model as its front man. Following Jesus is not significantly different from following Martin Luther King Jr. or following Gandhi or any other human being who lived and died and did not rise again.

      And because of this, I do not understand it. I do not understand what it offers the world that the world does not already have without Jesus Christ.

      It does offer fairly consistent left-wing politics — some of which I agree with — but its theology reads to me as little more than left-wing politics with holy water sprinkled on it.

    2. Lots of great people we killed because they chose to live lives in contrast to those who would support a culture of greed and power. Many of those spoke of the inherent worth of each person – for example Horton in “Horton Hears a Who” Not to diminish the contribution all those people made (or were about to make in Horton’s case), but big deal. None of them died for our sin or sins, and in particular they didn’t die for me.
      Jesus went to demonstrate His power over sin and death by rising from the grave, appearing to women at the tomb, a handful of disciples, then a larger group. (One period of time I would love to be able to visit was the days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. I would love to know what Jesus had to say to the disciples as they were getting ready to be the church.) The point is that Christians don’t just follow the teachings of a great man who was killed for his noble convictions. We follow a risen Lord who offers to us a way by which we can have our sins forgiven and made right with God.
      Progressive Christianity seems to miss all that.

    1. Thank you, Dennis. I don’t think this journey is inevitable, but it does appear to me to be a logical extension of some of the positions often taken.

  4. The value of Progressive Christianity is that it has the potential of salvaging Christianity from present fundamentalist nonsense, and from eventually becoming mere mythology. I was an inerrantist Evangelical Christian for 30 years, read the Bible from an inerrantist perspective, and went to an inerrantist seminary; which actually lead me to reject the entire Bible and all of Christianity for a period of time.

    Why? Because the Bible undeniably does in fact contain irreconcilable contradictions, historical exaggerations (and outright fabrications), and scientific fallacies. An inerrantist reading of the Bible makes God out to be a horrifying monster, indeed, much like Richard Dawkins description of the God of the Old Testament in the second chapter of The God Delusion:

    “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

    There are plenty of Bible passages that if read literally and as divine truth leave no argument to the contrary of Mr. Dawkins position.

    You may dislike the “watered-down” approach of Progressive Christianity (as you seem to think of it), but at least it’s leaders are trying to approach the Bible HONESTLY and not try to change a mountain of facts to make their religion “true”.

    Fundamentalism is the biggest cause of Atheism in America. Christianity is sure to go extinct in the near future if Christians don’t get honest, face the facts, and shake off their nonsensical (and often hateful) dogmas.

    I highly recommend reading the works of Bart D. Ehrman, Bishop John Shelby Spong, and “The Bible Unearthed” by Israel Finkelstein. Also, there are many atheist writers that I highly recommend (whose arguments are typically against fundamentalism, not religion or God in general), such as: Dan Barker, Michael Shermer, and Daniel C. Dennett.

    1. We both agree that fundamentalism is a flawed Christianity. I don’t think there is only one choice – fundy or Spong.

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