I recently received some direct feedback asking why I (or anyone with similar views as me) felt the need to keep the word “Christian” in my religious designation. They asked “why not just call myself something different all together to avoid confusion, and keep the word Christian sacred for people who believe all of the cornerstone creeds of Christianity?” He referenced my manifesto: Am I a Christian? where I say that I don’t require bible inerrancy, virgin birth, a trinitiarian God, fulfilled prophecies, or a literal resurrection, to identify with Christianity … And he asked why not just call myself a “Jesusist” or something totally different to remove any ambiguity?
[If you're new to this series on Progressive Christianity, this is Part 2. You can also check out Part 1 here: What is Progressive Christianity.]
For starters on this question, I can totally understand, respect, and sympathise with someone who would ask this question of a “Christian” who doesn’t cling to the “What We Believe” statement of 90% of Christian churches… But the fact is that virgin birth, physical resurrection, prophecies, etc… are beliefs that many credible people are beginning to consider later sensationalizations of the Jesus account. And it may only be a matter of time before many of those churches update their belief statements accordingly. And instead of just leaving “Christianity” all together, many Progressive Christians are participating in the “reforming” (for lack of a better word) of Christianity instead of leaving it all together. I should also note that progressives come in many shapes and sizes, and there’s no standard set of beliefs that unites them all.
Now let me say this, I personally am on the fence with how to handle this myself. The irony here is that I don’t love the term “Progressive Christian” because it can indeed be confusing (some people consider themselves progressive when they change their church sanctuary from pews to individual seats). And I don’t love labels. But I believe there’s certainly a place for both. This series about Progressive Christianity has become popular in Google search, so it must be resonating with some folks who are searching these types of questions. I personally believe that if people with “progressing” beliefs bail out of the conversation all together, and just call themselves Jesusists, or Spiritual-But-Not-Religious, (or atheist) it would create three problems:
1) It would leave only today’s conservative-evangelical Christians remaining within Christianity …
… And with them, all the churches, ministries, history, etc…. Many progressing Christians would bet that the current “fundamentalist” views will only last another generation or two more at best, and then all that infrastructure would begin fizzling when the fundamental caliber theology crumbles. So the idea is to instead refocus Christianity now into a sustainable state (a state that many would even argue that it was before all the myth and legend crept in in the first place). In which case, the purpose driven buildings, helpful ministries, and beneficial exploration of spirituality can survive into the future as the theology shifts away from myth and literalism.
2) It would most likely create another new religion, “the Jesusists” or something …
… And the last thing the world needs is another sect of people arguing for another set of beliefs and losing focus on the mission of love and service. Reframing Christianity toward common purpose, and away from theological pre-requisites, may be the best path toward a sustainable one-ness of humanity’s quest to explore our essence. I could also word it as “deframing” Christianity back to it’s most basic form (loving others). I would not call that “watering the message down.”
3) The term “Progressive Christian” is a good sign-post for people with similar backgrounds and understandings …
… Until a better word comes along to describe people with these types of backgrounds and transforming understandings about Christianity, or until mainline Christianity becomes mostly “Progressive” (and therefore the term progressive is no longer needed anymore) the term “Progressive” will serve as a good marker to foster discussion with folks of similar backgrounds and understandings. Again to the point of the word “Jesusists,” some progressive Christians prefer to focus on the teaching message of Jesus, and not on the person of Jesus himself, so Jesusists wouldn’t be accurate either, but perhaps “Loveists” would…?
Some progressives would say that much of today’s popular Christian practices are far from what Jesus taught and believed anyway. As was discussed in the post Can Christianity be Reframed, modern Christian leaders like Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Joyce Meyer, and Lee Stroebel have commercialized a system around what Charles E. Fuller and Billy Graham began, and those guys added their own structures and formalities to the reformed theology of John Wesley, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. Those folks reframed what Thomas Aquinas did, who reframed what Augustine did, who reframed what Paul did. Paul, who never knew Jesus (besides a possible very brief post-mortem vision) began framing his brand of theology from day one. So there is a legitimate debate to be had about the definition of Christianity in the first place. Progressives could argue (although most probably wouldn’t want to) that they are following a more focused form of “Christianity” (focused primarily on love and service) than the folks who followed only 30 – 50 years after Jesus death (when the first gospels were written).
If you liked this, or even if you hated it, I encourage you to stick around, as the next few post in this series will explore:
Why a Progressive Christian community (with a variety of opinions) is important?
The ambiguity of theological words (such as Christ).
Why I have concerns about Atheism becoming the most popular alternate community for people who grow outside today’s established Christian boundaries.