Thursday, January 3, 2013

Progressive Theology

There are all sorts of branches of Christian theology that is receiving attention these days.  If you go to popular theology blog sites like Patheos, Redletter Christians, Christian Century, Associated Baptist Press, Ministry Matters, Reclaiming the Mission, Relevant Magazine and Home-brewed Christianity you will find "channels" or "themes" that promote certain blog authors or topics.  One of the common titles given is Progressive Christianity or Progressive Theology.  Some authors who are cast into this category include Tony Jones, Christian Piatt, Brian McLaren, David Fitch, Nadia Bolz-Webber, Diana Butler Bass, and Fred Clark.  

But what does this mean? Is it scary? Edgy? Orthodox? Meaningful?  Faithful?  I have often found these authors compelling and insightful. Read many of their blogs and books. Certainly I don't agree with everything (perhaps a sign of having progressive tendencies?) but they ask great questions.  So what does it mean to be a Progressive as opposed to Evangelical, Missional, or Reformed? I came across an answer from a Methodist church in the Midwest.  In their promotion materials about who they are, they claim progressive theology as one of their unique identifiers.  Below is a direct quote from their materials (and yes their material was all in lower case).

8 Points of Progressive Theology: by calling ourselves progressive we mean we are Christians who...
  • find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty--more value in questioning than absolutes
  • form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping another for the work we feel called to do; striving for justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God's creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of brothers and sisters
  • invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable
  • recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.
  • have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.
  • understand the sharing of bread and wine in the name of Jesus's name to be a representation of an ancient version of God's feast for all peoples
  • know that the way we behave toward one another is the fullest expression of what we believe
  • recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege 
I don't know if all Progressive theology fits into these 8 statements.  I am not sure if the authors above would all agree with all of these points. I am not sure if they would all even consider themselves all that progressive as much as they would consider themselves as emphasizing the basics of Christianity.  However it was helpful to see someone lay claim to the title and define it. 

Personally, I can get down with seven of the eight without much effort and even place all of my hope in Christ in a few of them.   However, I am not as comfortable with those "who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us."  Perhaps I am reading it wrong.  I believe in ecumenism so having slightly different theology or worship practices is not offensive to me. I also believe that healthy conversation between faiths like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism  and others allows us to learn more about those who are unlike us.  But I also believe that Christ is God made flesh who has been resurrected and is the author and perfector of my faith who is the way, truth, and life.  

So there you have it a definition of progressive theology from a midwest church.  Thoughts?


  1. I'm with you on struggling with that one point. "True for you, true for me" is garbage and logically impossible.

  2. Interesting take on defining one's position. Definitely food for thought. Not sure I agree with some of the wording, especially about the uniqueness of Jesus vs. "their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us." I do think it is important to be able to state what we believe in/where we stand in terms understandable today.