There’s an interesting discussion on one of the Christianity websites I regularly visit about the role of scripture in Progressive Christianity. Now, to be honest, I’m not comfortable with the term. Too often, those who identify themselves as “progressive” Christians have more to say about national and international politics than about the good news of Jesus Christ. In addition, I find progressives defining themselves over against what they oppose than offering a positive vision and message of what it might mean to be disciples of Jesus Christ in community. Still, if I’m honest with myself, for the most part the theological positions staked out by most in the progressive camp are closer to my own positions than those of the conservative evangelical camp. Continue reading
Recently a book entitled Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity came across my desk. Written by David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, it’s a companion to the dvd series Living the Questions. I had explored that series as a possibility for adult Christian education programming some years ago but found it unsuitable for reasons that now escape me (although it’s pretty pricey).
In the preface, the authors suggest that unlike the dvd series which was intended for use in churches, this volume is directed at a somewhat different audience, it’s for seekers, “those who seek to go beyond the stagnant clichés of faith and pursue the questions that deepen your understanding as you make your way through a lifelong spiritual journey.”
Many of the talking heads that appear in the dvd series and are spokespeople for liberal Christianity and popularized New Testament scholarship also figure prominently here: Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong. The book offers lengthy quotations from these and other writers who seek to offer a compelling vision of liberal Christianity for the twenty-first century.
The authors themselves claim that they want to take scripture “seriously, if not literally.” Unfortunately, one gets little sense of a serious engagement with scripture. They are quick to scoff at the gospels’ accounts of the appearances of the Risen Christ to his disciples, for example, calling the Jesus who appears in these stories “resuscitated” and the accounts as a whole as “jumbled.” They discount Paul’s discussion of resurrection in I Corinthians 15 as a “tortured discourse” and seem to think Paul himself discounted the importance of the reality of the Risen Christ (even though his own encounter with the Risen Christ was the basis of his faith, call, ministry, and claim to apostleship). Oh, there was some sort of experience, the authors (quoting Spong), seem to admit, but let’s not worry too much about the empty tomb or those fanciful tales written in the gospels.
In fact, the authors seem not so much interested in offering a compelling account of the Christian faith and life for contemporary readers. They are much more concerned with taking potshots at conservative Christians, conservative politics, and, when they bother to mention anything in the Christian tradition between the New Testament and the present, it’s to criticize things done in the name of the church, or outmoded theological doctrines. So Augustine of Hippo is blamed for the doctrine of original sin; Anselm is criticized for his doctrine of atonement, and they joke about Luther’s belief in the reality of the devil. It struck me that like many fundamentalists, these authors think there is nothing meaningful or important in Christianity between the New Testament and the present moment. Unlike Fundamentalists, they don’t seem to think scripture bears witness to the faith of early Christians, or that the faith of those early Christians bears any relevance to contemporary humans.
The authors conclude with the following:
When mystery is embraced, freedom is embraced. Openness is embraced. The journey is embraced. Far from being cast adrift, those who embrace mystery are set on a lifelong path of discovery, growth, and gratitude for the wonder of it all.
There may be a great deal of wisdom and truth in that sentiment, but if it’s the wisdom of progressive Christianity, count me out. The words of St. Paul resonate much more powerfully with me today:
We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (I Corinthians 1:23-24)
With the release of the government’s memo laying out the case for the extra-judicial assassination by drones of US citizens, the media have finally begun to take a closer look at the whole drone war. Greg Mitchell has a useful summary with links.
Tom Junod’s piece is must-read:
The white paper offers a legal opinion, not a moral one, but the questions that it tries to answer are moral indeed:
Do “informed, high-level officials” have the power to kill their own citizens?
Are “informed, high-level officials” acting in the interests of the state ever liable to the accusation that they have committed murder?
These are the moral questions that the Constitution was written to address by means of a legal framework. The leaked white paper seems to address them in a different way, in a kingly way, in an almost pre-constitutional or perhaps post-constitutional way. And so when we read it, we recognize it for what it is: the kind of document that has always been proferred to power. The kind of document that always ends with somebody dead.
But there’s silence among progressive Christians. Not a word yet on Huffington Post Religion. Not a word yet on Religion Dispatches. Not a word yet from Episcopal Cafe.
My questions for all those outlets and for the people who write regularly for them: Where’s your moral and religious outrage at this raw use of unconstitutional power? Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize (remember that?). He’s been hailed as a close follower of Niebuhr. His Second Inaugural the manifesto for a new progressive American Civil Religion.
Obama has refused us as a nation the necessary conversation and come to terms with our use of torture. He has refused to make those who permitted, advocated and conducted accountable for their actions. Three days after he was inaugurated in 2009, he began using drones to kill people he and his administration claimed were enemy combatants.
Christians need to challenge his claims and his administration’s actions. We need to hold him account just as many of us want to hold the previous administration to account for all of the evil it perpetrated. We need to remind him–he is a Christian, after all–of the moral and ethical obligations of following Jesus Christ and we need to offer a clear, consistent, and loud prophetic voice against this evil program.
The Washington Post does have a piece from a Roman Catholic exploring the memo’s use of Just War Theory.
And there’s this from Lawrence Garcia (who is currently attending Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University):
We, as the followers of the unjustly-crucified Terrorist, should, of all people, be vocally against this inhumane use of military might. After all, our King was also the victim of such imperial tactics and realpolitik, and he calls his disciples to sympathize with his fellow sufferers-under-empire. Remember, the cross is not only where sin was dealt with and where Satan was defeated, but also where empire revealed itself for what it truly was, dispenser of injustice; no matter how much Pilate continues to wash his hands
Patheos, which has developed into a great site on matters religious, recently opened its “Progressive Christianity Portal.” They are hosting a symposium on “What is Progressive Christianity?” that includes input from Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle and other notables. Given the recent controversy over whether Jim Wallis and Sojourners belonged within the big tent of Progressive Christianity, it’s an important question.
I’ve never been comfortable with the label, any more than I was comfortable with the label “liberal.” Perhaps my dis-ease comes from the Eight Points of Progressive Christianity posted by progressivechristianity.org. There is, among these eight items, no reference to God, let alone the Trinity. Instead, appeal is made to the Sacred and Oneness of Life.
To be sure, many of those writing about “What is Progressive Christianity?” would have no problem with using Trinitarian or Christocentric language. Still, I agree with Fred Schmidt’s observation that:
Classically, for Christianity, sacred or divine mystery has been a term applied to the limits of what can be known about the ways of God as understood in the Christian tradition. But, true to the leading lights of Progressive Christianity, Ms. Astle describes the identity of God itself as the mystery.
We shall see how the conversation develops.