Why I am a Progressive Christian (Part 2)

In my last column, I told briefly my story of being a progressive Christian by first describing why I am a Christian and why I continue to choose to be a Christian. The thing that has been my saving grace, that which has kept me from abandoning my faith, is that I have chosen to identify myself as a progressive Christian.

As a way of describing what I mean when I say that I am a progressive Christian, it might be helpful to begin by differentiating, at least from my perspective, how being a progressive Christian is dissimilar to being a conservative or liberal Christian. I do not consider myself either a conservative or a liberal, although I might identify more with the liberal side if I was forced to choose between only these two. Yet, neither of these is satisfactory as a label I apply to myself.

In my effort to describe my impressions of conservative and liberal Christians in such a short space, I will inevitably stereotype both groups. My intention, however, is not to suggest the either group is homogeneous. Rather, I am attempting to highlight what I view as basic characteristics of each perspective.

Conservative Christians remain resolute in holding onto the traditional beliefs of the Christian faith and typically believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. They are rarely, if ever, open to new ways of understanding the faith and they are usually resistant to seeing the truth in other religions. Moreover, they tend to exclude others who think differently from them. In their minds, if the Bible says it, that settles it, and no one should question it. I reject this perspective as being too rigid and antiquated.

Liberal Christians, for the most part, tend to reject any notion of the supernatural. Many liberals discard the notion that the Bible has any real influence on our faith. Their approach to faith is very individualistic and they tend to promote the idea that whatever one wants to believe is acceptable. They may also view all religions as essentially the same, which they are not. I find this approach to faith too weak and to some extent unthinking.

For me, the term progressive Christianity suggests a faith that is moving forward; a faith that is progressing toward what God desires from and for humanity. Yet, at the same time, progressive Christians do not negate the value of the past, and especially the sacred text of that past. Indeed, when it comes to the Bible, progressive Christians are different from both conservatives, who place too much authority on the Bible, and from liberals, who reject the Bible as having much validity at all.

Instead, progressive Christians take the Bible seriously, but not always literally. As a progressive Christian, I am interested in doing the serious work of biblical interpretation that values the Bible as a sacred text, but that also understands these texts as having a human origin. In this limited space, I cannot detail my thoughts on the Bible here, but anyone interested in my ideas might read my essays at

http://wildernesspreacher.blogspot.com/2009/05/critical-interpretation-of-bible-shapes.html and http://wildernesspreacher.blogspot.com/2009/06/rethinking-inspiration-of-scripture.html.

Progressive Christianity is not about intellectually accepting a set of propositions about God, Jesus, and the Bible in order that we might go to a place called heaven when we die. In fact, being a Christian is not about life after death, whether in a place called heaven or a place called hell, if these even really exist. Rather, being a progressive Christian is about being transformed by Jesus’ teachings and way of life. It is about finding one’s existence as a follower of Christ in this life. It is about living one’s life here and now.

Moreover, the idea of being a progressive Christian implies one who is open minded to new and different ways of knowing and experiencing God. Instead of simply declaring that this or that religious idea is truth, as a progressive, I am more interested in the conversations about what truth is and how we find it. I am more interested in the journey on the path that will lead to truth than in saying I have found that truth.

Thus, as a progressive Christian, I cannot assume that the way I think about God or the way my religion tells me to think about God is definitive. Human knowledge about the divine and the language we use to describe the divine are limited, and any revelation a religion may claim to have about God is also limited. No sacred text is any more valid than the other in the claims it makes about God, for all of them, including the sacred text of Christianity, are human ways of expressing how humans understand God.

But perhaps the greatest reason I am a progressive Christian is that I find at the heart of Jesus’ teachings not a message of forensic salvation from one’s sins, but rather a message of transformation that leads me to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him in self-giving service to others.

Thus, as a progressive Christian I accept the reality that it is humanly difficult to love, serve and embrace others. But instead of being a conservative who judges, rejects and condemns others, and instead of being a liberal who preaches an ineffective message of tolerance, I must struggle in my journey of faith to be more inclusive and embracing of those I am called to serve.

In this sense, progressive Christianity is certainly about spiritual transformation, the transformation of the self. But it is also about social transformation; transforming our societies in ways that reflect the central ideas of Jesus: love, compassion, inclusion, justice and peace.

Thus, I make no apologies for being a progressive Christian. I am happy in my own skin. But more importantly, as I continually reflect on the central teachings of Jesus, I find progressive Christianity to be a more faithful reflection of Jesus and more realistically relevant for our world.

Originally posted on Wilderness Preacher.

Review & Commentary

  • Remi

    Dear Mr Smith, I am a conservative which mean I believe the Word of G-d is inspired according to 2 Timothy 3:16. The reason why I am writing to you, and I pray that you will consider and see according to the Word of G-d (the Bible), that your position is at least extremely dangerous and at worst, your eternal destiny is at risk.

    First and foremost, my saving grace is from the Lord Jesus Christ, and not a religious belief, I could be wrong on some issues, but a label does not save nor anything else than the sacrifice for sins, that Jesus did for any who believes, by faith alone, should not perish but have everlasting life. Now I understand that you might not have meant that you are not saved by Jesus, but just in case I would ratter mention it.

    You also mention that your faith is moving forward especially for humanity. This is also a big problem, according to Jesus in Luke 18:8 and many other passages, in the end time, the world will go in apostasy. Paul also said in 2 Tessalonians 2, that a Great apostasy must take place before the second coming of Jesus. Furthermore, the biggest need of humanity is that they come to know Jesus, because we all come short of the Glory. As Christians, we are not commanded to change the world, but to go and make disciples in all nations, baptising the in the Name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

    Also, you said that conservative put too much emphasis in the Bible, but if it is G-d Breathed Words, shouldn’t we do so? In this world, everything is “Relative”. Is there such a thing as moral absolute? Is murder always wrong? What about rape? Everybody has a different opinion, but the Word of G-d is True, and as Christians we have to be confident that the Bible is True and the only authority, we choose what we think is right and wrong, and we are like a fool trusting in ourself, isn’t it? You could say, I think this is right, but God, who does not change says in His Word that it is wrong.

    You also say that being a Christian is not about going to Heaven or Hell, but being transform by Jesus teaching. What is a Christian? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? The Bible teaches that we are separate from G-d, the wage of sin is death, and there is nothing we can do to be made righteous in G-d’s eye. G-d is Holy and Just, if we sinned we died. All our good works are like filthy rags. For now on, someone could follow every command that Jesus asked and still would go to Hell, if he does not believe that Jesus died for his sins. Why? Because G-d is Just, and a loving God would not pervert Justice. Murderers should go to Jail, and sinners to Hell. It would unloving for sinner to go to Heaven. He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. Proverbs 17:15

    What is the Bible, a love letter, it explains us how to be reconcile with G-d by the sacrifice of Jesus, who paid for our sin, that He might be Just and the justifier of those who have faith in Him. And being the only Saviour, we have to show this free gift to everybody, that they might come to believe in Him. Jesus said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, why? because He is the only saviour, and for those who have put their trust in Him, they are made righteous. And all the Good works we do, we do it for Him, because we love Him and our fellow brothers and sisters, that they might come and accept His free Gift of salvation.

    The world will be utterly destroy, we will not change the world, the world will turn away from G-d and will follow their Itchy ears, but for those who trusted Jesus, the Word of G-d is True, and I can be assured that Jesus raised from the dead and will come back again, as our Great High Priest to take us Home, because we are only pilgrims in this foreign land.

    G-d Bless.