Progressive, Postmodern Christianity Part 2: "Progressive" Christianity
Last week, we began discussing postmodernism, which demands a more subjective approach to the overarching stories that connect us as human beings. These epic tales—think the creation of the universe in the Enuma Elish, Genesis, The Gospel of John, Big Bang or String theories—are called metanarratives. For postmodern religion, this means a more accepting, pluralistic tone. I’m not sure that postmodern religion’s demand for subjectivity and the idea that non-Christians are eternally tormented in Hell are compatible.
So, people of postmodern faith are not typically “my way or the highway to Hell.” (See what I did there?) There are a diversity of beliefs at work in postmodern religions. For example, within postmodern Christianity, which I think is somewhat inappropriately called “progressive” Christianity, some people believe in the need for “salvation,” and others don’t. Living with, accepting, even while we do not understand, each other’s belief systems should be the goal. I’ll also add it is very much the mantra of our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
I don’t love the term “progressive” Christianity because most of what is deemed “progressive” is actually very ancient thinking. This attitude of respect for one another’s (often massive) ideological differences is present throughout the Bible.
Exodus 23:9 (CEB)
Don’t oppress an immigrant. You know what it’s like to be an immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.
Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.
There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Jesus wanted to create heaven on Earth. He knew the first step was to convince people to accept each other the way we already are because that’s how God accepts us—as we are, warts and all. So, I think the Bible already presents a postmodern argument for subjectivity when dealing with each other. In fact, the Bible claims God demands we open our hearts to guests. I certainly believe that an open heart is key to a transcendental, here and now experience with God.
So, if our concepts are actually ancient, what then is progressive Christianity? The answer to that, of course, is subjective, and in defining progressive Christianity, we dance around the same trap any postmodern thinker strives to avoid, which is that by defining something we create or feed a metanarrative.
In fact, the patheos.com website, which is usually full of Jesus as leftist ideas and theology, gets ensnared in the metanarrative trap. On the very first paragraph of their page, “Who are progressive Christians?” they write:
“If someone told you that they were a ‘progressive Christian’ what would you think that meant? Do you think that they are people that only are Christians on the surface? Or people that are bringing Christianity into modern times? What do these so-called progressive Christians believe and does it follow what the Bible teaches for believers?”
Well, there’s the first metanarrative—the Bible. This site, which many consider one of the two leading websites for progressive Christianity, attempts to convince people that progressive Christians care about whether or not what they believe is “biblical,” whatever that means.
From a postmodern perspective, even this definition of Christianity is too narrow. But wait, it gets worse. Also, from the same webpage:
“Progressive Christianity can be scary and foreign for more traditional Christians, but many things remain the same throughout. We all believe that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the way to Heaven, and that Jesus is our Savior.”
Okay, let’s put on the brakes there. That is a HUGE metanarrative. It’s the Catholic narrative, in fact. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with that. It’s ametanarrative. In postmodern Christianity, I think we would say something like, “Progressive Christianity can be scary for more traditional Christians, but we believe what everyone in the Bible ultimately teaches: Love each other unconditionally. Everything else is commentary for the journey.”
Later in the article, though, they do hit upon what I would agree are some fundamentals for postmodern, progressive Christianity, even though, again, fundamentals are subjective.
“Today, Progressive Christianity is a dynamic movement within the Christian faith that is marked by a willingness to question tradition, a tolerance of diversity, and an emphasis on social justice and environmental advocacy. Progressive Christians deeply believe in Jesus' teaching to love one another. As such, compassion, justice, mercy, and inclusion are core values of the movement. Progressive Christians support same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights in general and affirm LGBTQ relationships. Many denominations also ordain LGBTQ clergy. Progressive Christians are also more comfortable with pluralism. They typically do not attempt to evangelize others and recognize the validity of other religions and belief systems.”
That sounds more like what I believe, and what we teach at The Current. It’s all about love. Love is our metanarrative, even as we leave room for each other to define what “love” means as the basis for our postmodern faith. We’ll talk about that next week as we conclude this series.
We might ask why we bother creating a metanarrative if postmodern society rejects metanarrative anyway? Because societies organize around metanarratives. I do not think any postmodern philosopher advocates for the elimination of metanarrative. Our nature is to create narratives. They are the organizational blocks of civilization.
In the postmodern world, we hope to do a better job of accepting each other’s narratives and working to integrate them into our dealings with one another. Think about Christians, Muslims, and Jews, all living in one place, practicing each other’s faiths, not proselytizing or converting each other, not throwing rocks and firing rockets at each other, just respecting each other and living and prospering together. That’s postmodern, and ironically, was real, for a while, 1500 years ago in the Middle East. Once again, something old is new. Which, again, is why I am not particularly fond of the term “progressive” Christianity.
Yet, since humans insist on creating connecting narratives, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the way progressive Christians are defining themselves. It’s fascinating to watch the instantiation of a metanarrative and consider in real time whether or not it leaves room for postmodern deconstruction.
On the progressivechristianity.org website, they list the “Eight Points of Progressive Christianity.” Let’s just take a look at them and discuss them point by point. In church, we did this around our tables. Here, please feel free to leave discussion comments.
From ProgressiveChristianity.org https://progressivechristianity.org/the-8-points/
“By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who…
1. Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;
2. Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
3. Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:
- Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
- Believers and agnostics,
- Women and men,
- Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
- Those of all classes and abilities;
5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;
6. Strive for peace and justice among all people;
7. Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love."
Please post your thoughts below!