The problem of progressive Christianity

Disciples of Christ blogger Dennis Sanders is an openly gay pastor with Asperger’s syndrome. He writes an interesting blog that has lots of good stuff on it.

He recently linked to a post I wrote a while back about progressive Christianity. I thought his post on the topic put to words what I have heard from many people who like much about progressive Christianity but find its political commitments trumping or excluding its theological commitments:

Which is why I think Progressive Christianity can be at times the worst of both worlds for mainline denominations.  It drives away those who might want a deeper spiritual life as well as those who have differing opinions on politics, and it tells those outside the church that it really doesn’t matter if you are Christian as long as you vote for the Democrats.

I’m not advocating that churches become conservative or that only good Republicans can be Christians.  I am saying that Progressive Christianity really wants to be taken seriously, it will have to be more self-aware of how faith and politics can mix in not so good ways and it will have to offer a more robust faith and theological view than what it does now.

Just yesterday, my wife and I had a conversation that wound up the same place as Sanders’ post. My wife is a proud “Jesus is a liberal” Christian. But she too often finds herself having to defend having a robust Christianity in her church or having Christ at the center of her social justice passions. She laments the fact that having “too much Jesus” at church is a complaint that gets made by people.

I suspect advocates of progressive Christianity would point to the writings and talks by the luminaries of the movement that are robust in their Christology and orthodox in their theology. But Sanders’ observations ring true to the way on-the-ground and in-the-pew progressive Christianity often looks in many mainline churches.

My experience of blogging is that large numbers of politically liberal Christians on the Internet are refugees from aggressive forms of fundamentalism or conservative evangelical Christianity. In at least some wings of the mainline, however, the issues raised by Dennis Sanders are much more pressing and much more troubling to people who want to proclaim the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior and also vote for Barack Obama.

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3 thoughts on “The problem of progressive Christianity

  1. John,

    Thanks for sharing my post. You also a have a fascinating blog that I enjoy reading.

    While I tend to lean more libertarian in my politics, I have nothing against liberals or progressives in the church (my partner is a pretty strong Democrat). It just frustrates me to no end that more and more being a political liberal is the same as being a progressive Christian and I think that has done damage to things like what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I think a lot of mainline churches don’t spend time in things like Bible Study or basic theology and it hurts us in the long run. What I long for is a new kind of neo-orthodoxy ala Neibuhr or Barth or Bonhoeffer. We need something that can revive mainline Protestantism and bring it back ad fontes.

    1. I agree with you about the lack of basic study and teaching in the mainline.

      This is the wrong place, but I also really appreciated the link you made to that Philip Turner First Things article. That was great.

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