Progressive Christianity – October 2013

An inclusive Christian community in Auckland, New Zealand

Progressive Christianity – October 2013

Progressive Christianity

Meanderings by Keith Rowe

as published in the Newsletter of the Community St Lukes, Remuera.

A number of people have asked me to write something for the newsletter about ‘Progressive Christianity’ – what do we mean by the term, how it differs from other expressions of Christian believing and why the term ‘progressive’?

Progressive Christianity represents a movement within the church to rediscover the essential heart of the Christian way and what it means to live and believe in the pathway pioneered by Jesus in our generation.  Progressive Christianity is a renewal movement within the Christian church.  It’s relatively new as far as any organisational form is concerned, but it draws on a long tradition of questioning faith. Negatively, it represents a sharp critique of many of the forms Christianity has taken in our time.  Progressives have turned aside from the dogmatic, fundamentalist and moralistic forms of church life that are so common in our time.  Many of those who identify with the progressive movement have left congregations locked into a narrow fundamentalist interpretation of the bible, a dogmatic adherence to past formulations of Christian belief and strong resistance to the challenge and excitement of scientific knowledge and truth shared with us by followers of other faiths.  Others remain within congregations where they are not fed spiritually or intellectually.

There’s a regular stream of folk who attend St Luke’s occasionally to supplement the light spiritual and intellectual rations offered in the congregation they attend with diminishing enthusiasm.  In many quarters the word ‘Christian’ has become a sort of swear word describing groups known for their exclusion of those who don’t fit what they regard as ‘normal’ and opposing any truth that doesn’t fit their pre-determined and rigid belief structure.  Progressives seek a more open and adventurous expression of Christian faith.

Progressive Christianity values the traditional sources of Christian wisdom and practice – Bible, church, sacraments, prayer, worship – though it may want to reshape or reinterpret them. Importantly, Progressive Christianity is committed to a vigorous and disciplined engagement with all areas of life and discovery.  So Progressive Christians are engaged in conversation with emerging truth unearthed through scientific discovery.  We welcome the picture opened up by those who have helped us to appreciate the evolutionary nature of our cosmos. There is no conflict between evolution and Biblical myths about creation. They are answers to different questions. Progressive Christians seek to dwell in conversation with all areas of human living, allowing wisdom found among artists, scientists, philosophers, psychologists, other religions, social critics and economists to mingle with Biblical and theological wisdom.  Progressive Christians understand the Christian way to be a journey into truth and onto God.  When it comes to thinking about God, Progressive Christians are wary of the inherited view that God is like a great, all knowing, all powerful and judgemental ruler. They find more help in Biblical images where God is described as love within which we live and more in which we have our being; more like a river within which we flow than a judge before whom we quake.  For Progressive Christians, Jesus is the focus of Christian living and of their understanding of life’s possibilities.  However, they acknowledge that founders of other religions and the traditions they built also bear witness to the presence of God within the human family. Progressive Christians are uneasy with the way those shaped by more conservative or fundamentalist perspectives describe the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion – that his death was a sacrifice offered to an offended God so that God might then be able/willing to forgive people for their sins.  Imagery like this may have served earlier generations but it paints a dreadful picture of a God who takes on a vindictive and punishing face. Faced by problematic events recorded in the Bible like virgin birth, Christmas stories, miracles, healings and the resurrection, Progressives seek the truth conveyed within these ancient stories rather than arguing of the historical reliability of these and other Biblical stories or myths (a technical literary term referring to tales that though not historical are the bearers of deep truth).

(Keith Rowe has published, in February 2013, a book ‘Why weren’t we told?)