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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  1. 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!”

  2. “Of course, the Bible doesn’t say anything. It is mute.”

    Help me understand that statement. Are you declaring that there is not authorial intent in the writing? I’m not sure how one can logically declare such a statement. I could’ve missed your illocution and forgive me if I’ve done so.

    Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

    Take care and God bless.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to address this post. I really appreciate it.
      Certainly, there is authorial intent. That is not at issue. What is at issue is determining the specifics of that intent. This is where our interpretive judgments come into play. I often add to the quote you reference, “We say what the Bible says.” Anyone who says, “The Bible says….” is actually saying, “I believe the Bible should be interpreted such and such.” If anyone doesn’t believe this, just survey the copious disagreements about what the Bible is supposed to say. Obviously, the original meaning isn’t obvious except to those who equate their thinking as equal to the Bible.
      For more on this, you might read my post, “There Is No Bible,” available on this site.

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