Why Conservative Christians Don’t Get Progressive Christianity

by Steve Kindle

Just Google “Progressive Christianity” and you will come across dozens of screeds against Progressive Christianity. They run the gamut from reasonably critical to outright pathological. Yet, they all have some things in common. Here’s a few of them:

Their fallback position is “The Bible says.” Of course, the Bible doesn’t say anything. It is mute. We say what the Bible says, and, so far, we haven’t gotten to any unity on just what we say it says. When one takes a preconceived notion of what the Bible says to any question or dispute, it will always trump critical inquiry. What conservatives don’t get is that Progressive Christians understand the tentativeness of interpretation and are willing to move on from previously held notions that we find in need of revision.

A corollary to this is “Jesus said….” If someone suggests that what Jesus is said to have said may come from a source other than Jesus, such as the Gospel writer putting words into Jesus’ mouth (Study up on Redaction Criticism for why this happened), you are accused of not believing Jesus. Take hell, for instance. Jesus can be quoted as saying there is a hell and sinners will go there. What conservatives don’t get is that theology trumps exegesis. That’s why Progressive Christians have no qualms about denying hell (if they do) and rely instead on a God who loves and ultimately redeems all people.

Conservatives think of the Bible as flat; that is, from beginning to end, everything in it is of the same value and is the absolute truth. God wrote it, after all. Progressive Christians understand that the Bible is a mixed bag of differing theologies, some contradictions, bad science, and much evidence of human projections that pass for what God wants. Yet, it also is filled with inspiring notions of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God. Notions that give life and hope. What conservatives don’t get is this unevenness is evidence that the Bible is not so much an answer book as it is an invitation to find our place in God’s story. And when we do, we will discover that the journey is as uneven as is the Bible.

Perhaps the most significant impediment that Progressive Christianity places before conservatives is our understanding that change is not only inevitable but good. Or at least it can be. Try as some might to keep the church locked in the 4th century (think the Nicene Creed), the worldview that underpinned that era has long since been found wanting. Aristotle’s musing on substance has been replaced by the New Physics. The single flat Earth planet is now a drop in the cosmic bucket. Neo-Darwinian evolution has replaced a literal Genesis 1-3, and modern geology explains why Noah’s ark will never be found. Yet conservatives (who actually live in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) consider all this to be fake news. No wonder Progressive Christianity is so threatening. To accept the modern understandings of our world means the end of their model of Christianity. Welcome to the 21st century.

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Musings on Our Ministry’s Name: “Faith on the Edge”
by Steve Kindle

Faith on the edge of…  Discovery
God is always doing new things by building on former things. Progressive Christians know that “God is still speaking” and are open to discovering what God is doing in our world. [E]verything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! When Christianity takes its faith as settled, where all the big questions have been answered, we tend to take God for granted, as well. Karl Barth famously said that he reads the Bible with one hand and the newspaper in the other so he will know what God is up to in the world. We can take the journey into newness by entering the depths of our lives following the paths of the mystics, or raise our heads above ourselves and look at the world through the eyes of the prophets. When we discover God is present and active in our world, we will be compelled to join in. In the process, we will discover new life in ourselves and the world.

Faith on the edge of… Theology
Even the Bible is not static theologically. As time moved on, the biblical sages revised older notions, even sacred laws, making them relevant to their changing times. We see this most clearly in Jesus who updated the Law of Moses in the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul, who made Gentiles acceptable to Judaism. Yes, Judaism. Although this notion is resisted by many, beginning with the first ideas about God and the world, every age has reinterpreted what it received and recast it in terms of the new day. New cosmologies replaced the old, theories of atonement were revised to reflect new realities. Whether Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, or Whitehead reigned, the world and the Bible were reinterpreted to reflect the wisdom of the age. If we take seriously the reality that even the greatest thinkers of any time are finite, we must also accept that their conclusions are finite as well, and in need of further refinement. There is no such thing as a fully settled doctrine. Why? Because human beings formulated them and are subject to error, at least limited in attaining the fullness of truth. To take any biblical statement as final overlooks that fact that its meaning is self-derived and therefore possibly self-deceiving. We at FOTE understand this and are dedicated to self-criticism both of ourselves and our received faith.

Faith on the edge of… Revitalization
Nothing can spark a congregation as much as discovering they are connected to the life of God. This is very much connected to the foregoing. If we take our faith as static, we take ourselves as complete, needing nothing more. But, knowing that God is moving in our world means that God is moving in us as well. Add to this that God calls us to be God’s partners in service to the world and our whole orientation to life is dramatically altered. A congregation’s “mission statement” leaps off the bulletin page and enters the life of the world. The disconnect between statement and reality is erased. “Woke” congregations live for the well-being of one another and the world. They are models of the “Beloved community,” what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. If congregations live in this spirit, they truly have something to offer that is palpable and will draw others into their life.

Faith on the edge of… God’s Future
By being present to God, we move with God into the future that we create together. The future is open and waiting for us. Nothing is foreordained, life is not fatalistic. Therefore, we pray that “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” precisely because it is not a given. We can make this journey with God, or not. The bookends of the Bible, the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in Paradise, coupled with the ending of the book of Revelation, is revealing. The Garden of Eden is a metaphorical picture of how God intends the world to work. It is a picture of total harmony between humans and God, humans and one another, and humans and the earth. The story that follows is one of humans preferring another kind of world. God continues to seek the world of harmony despite the lack of interest on humanity’s part. When humanity (as represented by the couple) chose to be their own gods, they/we lost Paradise and were driven from the Tree of Life. With the conclusion of the biblical hope in Revelation being the restoration of the Tree of Life, we can sense that God is at work to bring the world to Shalom: wholeness, peace, and universal well-being. The arc of the universe may tend toward justice (Shalom), but it must be grabbed hold of and pulled hard to make it so. God is either incapable or unwilling to usher in Paradise without humanity assisting in the process. No wonder it’s taken so long.

All that you will find on this website, the posts, video courses, and future webinars, are to assist in fully entering into these “edges” of the faith. We hope you find them helpful and might even subscribe to our posts and look over the videos.

Musings on Our Ministry’s Name: “Faith on the Edge”
by Steve Kindle

Faith on the edge of…  Discovery
God is always doing new things by building on former things. Progressive Christians know that “God is still speaking” and are open to discovering what God is doing in our world. [E]verything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! When Christianity takes its faith as settled, where all the big questions have been answered, we tend to take God for granted, as well. Karl Barth famously said that he reads the Bible with one hand and the newspaper in the other so he will know what God is up to in the world. We can take the journey into newness by entering the depths of our lives following the paths of the mystics, or raise our heads above ourselves and look at the world through the eyes of the prophets. When we discover God is present and active in our world, we will be compelled to join in. In the process, we will discover new life in ourselves and the world.

Faith on the edge of… Theology
Even the Bible is not static theologically. As time moved on, the biblical sages revised older notions, even sacred laws, making them relevant to their changing times. We see this most clearly in Jesus who updated the Law of Moses in the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul, who made Gentiles acceptable to Judaism. Yes, Judaism. Although this notion is resisted by many, beginning with the first ideas about God and the world, every age has reinterpreted what it received and recast it in terms of the new day. New cosmologies replaced the old, theories of atonement were revised to reflect new realities. Whether Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, or Whitehead reigned, the world and the Bible were reinterpreted to reflect the wisdom of the age. If we take seriously the reality that even the greatest thinkers of any time are finite, we must also accept that their conclusions are finite as well, and in need of further refinement. There is no such thing as a fully settled doctrine. Why? Because human beings formulated them and are subject to error, at least limited in attaining the fullness of truth. To take any biblical statement as final overlooks that fact that its meaning is self-derived and therefore possibly self-deceiving. We at FOTE understand this and are dedicated to self-criticism both of ourselves and our received faith.

Faith on the edge of… Revitalization
Nothing can spark a congregation as much as discovering they are connected to the life of God. This is very much connected to the foregoing. If we take our faith as static, we take ourselves as complete, needing nothing more. But, knowing that God is moving in our world means that God is moving in us as well. Add to this that God calls us to be God’s partners in service to the world and our whole orientation to life is dramatically altered. A congregation’s “mission statement” leaps off the bulletin page and enters the life of the world. The disconnect between statement and reality is erased. “Woke” congregations live for the well-being of one another and the world. They are models of the “Beloved community,” what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. If congregations live in this spirit, they truly have something to offer that is palpable and will draw others into their life.

Faith on the edge of… God’s Future
By being present to God, we move with God into the future that we create together. The future is open and waiting for us. Nothing is foreordained, life is not fatalistic. Therefore, we pray that “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” precisely because it is not a given. We can make this journey with God, or not. The bookends of the Bible, the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in Paradise, coupled with the ending of the book of Revelation, is revealing. The Garden of Eden is a metaphorical picture of how God intends the world to work. It is a picture of total harmony between humans and God, humans and one another, and humans and the earth. The story that follows is one of humans preferring another kind of world. God continues to seek the world of harmony despite the lack of interest on humanity’s part. When humanity (as represented by the couple) chose to be their own gods, they/we lost Paradise and were driven from the Tree of Life. With the conclusion of the biblical hope in Revelation being the restoration of the Tree of Life, we can sense that God is at work to bring the world to Shalom: wholeness, peace, and universal well-being. The arc of the universe may tend toward justice (Shalom), but it must be grabbed hold of and pulled hard to make it so. God is either incapable or unwilling to usher in Paradise without humanity assisting in the process. No wonder it’s taken so long.

All that you will find on this website, the posts, video courses, and future webinars, are to assist in fully entering into these “edges” of the faith. We hope you find them helpful and might even subscribe to our posts and look over the videos.

2 thoughts on “Why Conservative Christians Don’t Get Progressive Christianity”

  1. Jim MacNaughton

    Good thoughts in this posting Steve. Conservative and Fundamentalist Christians would have us stay in the 4 th Century Theology forever, because if you stay there you do not have to struggle with doubts or ones faith. A former Saskatchewan Premier, Tommy Douglas is quoted as saying, ” The Bible and its’ interpretations are like someone playing a violin. You can play it like a fiddle or the very best of classical music, it all depends on who’s working the bow!”

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