On behalf of progressive Christians everywhere, I express thanks to Albert Mohler. He has given The Center for Progressive Christianity exposure that we could not have purchased for any amount of money.
Most people with strong opinions expend their energy addressing those already converted. Progressives talk to progressives, evangelicals preach to evangelicals. Seldom does information make it across the barriers into a separate camp. But, through Albert Mohler, TCPC has been described to an audience we could have reached in no other way.
Of course Mohler does not intend to do us any favors. He begins with the usual labels: Jim Adams and TCPC are left and liberal. These words are supposed to alert his readers that they need not take seriously any ideas that follow. Nonetheless, I predict, some of his readers will keep their minds in gear. If so, they will be offered an alternative to the anti-intellectual, divisive faith that teachers such as Mohler have offered them. Mohler has done his research a tribute, I think, to the quality of the TCPC web site. He gives sound-bite sized quotes from several speakers at recent national conferences. Despite his diversion into sex for a few lines, he provides information that adds up to a surprisingly effective summary of what TCPC is about.
Mohler sets out to show his readers how scandalous are the commitments of us progressives. “But,” I find myself wondering, “are all his readers going to gasp in horror at an approach to faith that “leads to a greater concern for the way people treat each other than for the way people express their beliefs, [that also leads to] the acceptance of all people, and a respect for other religious traditions”? Some of his readers just might have their curiosity piqued.
Albert Mohler needs a course in religious sociology. The latest figures I have seen indicate that a significant percent of those reared in evangelistic households become disillusioned with the restraints of their upbringing and eventually make their way into mainline denominations. No figures are available on the number of evangelicals who simply drop out of the religious search when their inflexible belief systems collapse. By describing progressive Christianity, Mohler has offered his readers an alternative, perhaps speeding them along their path toward a more open faith.
In another setting I have described two basic sets of assumptions that motivate people in their religious quest. The first assumptions belong to those I refer to as chaos intolerant people those who cannot accept uncertainty in life or in faith. They yearn to be told that all events are under the control of an all-powerful deity who rewards goodness and punishes evil. They need a Bible that was given directly by God. These people congregate around authority figures such as Mohler, who tell them how to interpret the Bible and assure them that God is in control even when events are obviously out of control. A second set of assumptions are embraced by those I call chaos tolerant. These people acknowledge that everything touched by human hands is imperfect; they readily acknowledge that good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. As they abandon their former absolutes, these folk often go through a stage when they reject any effort to make spiritual sense of an often senseless existence. The more fortunate of them arrive at the maturity needed to make commitments within ambiguity. These are the people who are attracted to progressive Christianity a style of faith that puts more emphasis on exciting questions than on exact answers.
Both formal education and the harsh nature of everyday events nudge people from chaos intolerance to chaos tolerance. People such as Mohler should beware. In the schools they set up for indoctrination some genuine education might, inadvertently, take place. Their students might find themselves maturing despite it all. Some of them will inevitably question the authority of their authority figures. They will examine the pre-scientific assumptions of the “inerrent” scriptures.
They will reconsider the proposition that God wants to be reconciled to all people, but actually accepts only those few who embrace fundamentalist dogma. As the pillars of their former faith crumble, these people will be tempted to throw religion overboard. But now, thanks to Mohler’s effort to trash TCPC, they will know that there is another possibility. They can believe in a compassionate God even in an imperfect, unpredictable world. They can make commitments within ambiguity. They can become progressive Christians.
Thanks, Albert Mohler!