Note: This is the first part of a two-part series on Progressive Christianity. Next week in Part II I’ll write about my own understanding of what the Gospel is and what the cross means within the context of the Gospel. I’ll also offer, for anyone who wants it, a more scholarly look at theories of atonement focusing on the fact that while many Progressive Christians reject the Substitutionary Atonement theories of what the cross means, they do NOT reject the cross.
I especially encourage you, as I mentioned on Sunday, to “follow your disturbance” (VISIONS) as you read. If something gets to you a bit, makes you feel uncomfortable, please don’t shut yourself down and stop reading. Say a prayer for understanding and peace of mind and read on. If you need to stop and pray again, stop and pray again! Jot down your thoughts and take them to your Group with you. If you want to, send me an email [firstname.lastname@example.org] or pick up the phone and call (512-291-8601). I’d be humbled and blessed to hear your thoughts and questions.
Progressive Is Not the Key Word – Christian Is
As our Growth Group met for the first time to discuss the guidelines of Progressive Christianity, these questions quickly came up, “Then what does any of it matter? Why even bother with Christianity or call yourself a Christian if anything goes? Why bother with the Bible if everybody’s sacred texts are Scripture? Why go to church?”
I get where those questions came from. They came partly from the articles that comprise the workbook, and partly from Tenet #2: Progressive Christians affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey. Depending on the tradition you were raised in, that statement can sound like blasphemy. Didn’t Jesus say, “I am the way and the truth and the life” and a lot more things like that?
I could dedicate the rest of my life to trying to answer that question. I could point out scriptures like John 10:16 where Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.” I could point out how often our Bible matches the sacred texts of other religions, even seems to draw from other earlier writings, or how much we can learn about peace and compassion and loving others from extra-biblical sacred writings.
But I’ll leave that for your continued study and just encourage you as you investigate Progressive Christianity to start with the first tenet: Progressive Christians believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life.
In other words, Progressive Christianity starts with Jesus. It starts by affirming the validity of believing that Jesus is the Christian’s revelation of God. That we experience God through Jesus.
What does that mean? I think it’s kind of like when the two were walking along the road to Emmaus and didn’t realize at first that their companion on the journey was Jesus: “When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’”
If you consider yourself a Christian, it’s probably because your heart has burned within you as well when you prayed or read the scriptures or heard a song or a sermon or made a brown-bag lunch for a school child or watched the brave and peaceful passing of your grandmother or stretched canvas over a new sanctuary. Or maybe your heart didn’t burn, but rather something clicked in your mind. Suddenly order came to the swirl of questions and concerns in your head. Or maybe it was the opposite, that an experience of Jesus yanked you out of complacency and sent you out into the world to change it!
Progressive Christianity suggests that God is so beyond our limited human understanding that trying to lasso God and tie God down or break God into digestible bites of creeds and confessions and rules and descriptions is futile. And that our best chance for breathing God in, for surrendering our human limits to the boundless love and hope that God holds for us is, to follow Jesus. Progressive Christianity suggests that we should pour ourselves into becoming disciples and that when we get to the part about “making disciples,” we trust that “the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe.” If our behaviors speak loudly of fear and smallness and judgment and entitlement, no one will be able to hear the Gospel from our lips no matter how loudly we proclaimed it.
Let me draw this section to a close. Please remember that we are not studying Progressive Spirituality. We are studying Progressive Christianity. The 8 Tenets are not presented as commandments or requirements or creeds or substitutes for the beliefs that you hold for yourself. You’ll never be asked to swear allegiance to them or memorize them or defend or refute them; in fact, doing any of those things would be antithetical to the tenets themselves. These 8 Tenets are presented as a frame for conversation and study for Christians and people open to learning more about Christianity. They’re created with the hope that there really is more that unites us than divides us.
Again, please remember that the 8 Tenets start with Jesus. Now, we know that starting with Jesus is no guarantee we’ll all end up in the same place. Christians have and will continue to end up in drastically different places when it comes to things like baptism by immersion or sprinkling, communion as the body and blood of Christ or a sacred symbol, whether the sixth commandment is “Thou shalt not kill” or “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and what constitutes breaking either one, whether homosexuality is a sin, and whom (if anyone) will be Left Behind. But if we start with Jesus, I bet we’ll all end up blessed.