The old adage, “One can be so heavenly minded that one is no earthly good,” bears some truth. Traditional forms of Christianity tend to focus on the afterlife and being right with God so that one will end up in the right place. They also tend to be quite exclusive in terms of who’s in and out of God’s favor.
More progressive expressions of Christianity emphasize more inclusive versions of the kingdom of God. In Colossians 3, after admonishing his readers to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness, the writer says: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14).
“Everything together in perfect (or complete) harmony” can serve as a poignant depiction of a progressive view of God’s kingdom.
From the progressive point of view, the kingdom of God is as much about this life in this world as it is about the life and world to come. It’s about being in right relationship with God and everyone and everything else. Loving our neighbor as ourselves is just as important as loving God.
It’s about a world where everyone has enough – not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish.
It’s about a world where the playing field is leveled, where the excluded are included, where all are treated with dignity, equality, and respect.
It’s about a world where poverty is eliminated and the oppressed are liberated and all that is broken is healed.
A progressive vision emphasizes inclusion, equality, compassion, social justice, and the dignity of all people.
Visions of the kingdom which are more exclusive—that enforce narrow boundaries and limit participation on the basis of dogmatic doctrines and practices—do not seem to do as well in calling their adherents to compassion and the work of social justice.
It was recently reported by Heather Clark of the Christian News Network that during a recent trip to Africa to help renovate a cancer screening clinic in Zambia, former president George W. Bush was asked by a Zambian reporter how he feels about the issue of same-sex marriage and whether or not it is compatible with Christianity. His response was, “I shouldn’t be taking a speck out of someone else’s eye when I have a log in my own.”
As you would expect, some Christians who embraced George W’s presidency did not like his response. Pastor Scott Brown, the director of the National Center for Family-Integrated churches and an elder at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forrest, NC responded: “Mr. Bush has actually misinterpreted the verse and applied it wrongly, most likely because he is unaware of the whole counsel of God on the matter of judgment.”
Clark reported that Pastor Brown went on to outline 12 ways in which Christians are “to make judgments, including the judgment of false doctrines and false teachers, and judging the state of civil affairs.”
Now, I know that we progressives can be judgmental too. I am fully aware of the many ways we can fail to show compassion, kindness, humility and forgiveness. The difference, however, between exclusive and inclusive visions and the extent to which they call forth the lifestyle depicted above is significant.
A progressive vision of a world made whole and of the radical grace and hospitality of Jesus demands that we be compassionate, kind, forgiving, accepting, and understanding of others and that we work for the common good of all people.
Do we always live out that vision? No. Do we fail? Yes, numerous times. But the call for compassion and restorative, distributive justice constitute the core of our vision.
Whereas an exclusive vision may outline 12 ways in which Christians are to make judgments, an inclusive vision will outline 12 (the number is irrelevant) ways to make peace with enemies or forgive those who have hurt us or alleviate poverty.
I am not suggesting that more conservative Christians do not engage in these things; I know many who do. But these things are not at the heart of their gospel. For progressives they are front and center.
Certainly those of us who identify as progressive Christians need to do better embodying this vision in our local communities. Yet, while both conservatives and progressives will continue to fail to fully live out their faith (for such is the human condition), it helps to have the kind of faith that is worth living out.
American Christianity has to change, not just in style, but in substance—in its core vision of God’s kingdom—if we are to help bring healing, hope, and redemption to our world.
Chuck Queen is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky and the author of several books on Progressive Christianity including “A Faith Worth Living: The Dynamics of an Inclusive Gospel.” He blogs at http://www.afreshperspective-chuck.blogspot.com