I’m a theological progressive.
When I fell away from faith, I fell away from a faith that was absolutely confused about its identity. I was interacting in worlds that didn’t seem to speak the same language. One world I lived in included people I knew and loved who were of intellect and not willing to take the Bible literally, people of different sexual orientations, people of different faiths.
And I also lived in a world of religion that didn’t seem to encompass that other world very well. Or, if it did, it marginalized the people who didn’t fit well into certain categories, namely “Bible-believing,” “straight,” and “Christian.”
For a while my solution, then, was to leave the faith…at least in spirit. I still moved in both worlds, but my heart was with the first world and turned against the second world.
And then I came back to faith…a faith re-figured. A faith that could encompass the first world and still remain in the second. In fact, it merged the two worlds so completely together that now, for me, they are one cohesive world.
I came out as a theological progressive.
To me this means a couple things:
–I have a heart for justice. Sometimes people call it “social justice,” but I think that phrase is laden with all sorts of issues and assumptions. My justice is not just for society, though. It’s for the world in sum. Shalom is a better Biblical term for it. I have a heart for Shalom, God’s good balance and peace. Ensuring that people live with dignity, that the world we live in is respected, and that we keep an eye toward balance and harmony as we all eek out our God-given existence.
-I have a sincere respect for other faith traditions. The sincerity part comes from the realization that we are all trying to navigate life in a way that bends toward not putting ourselves at the center of it all. We’re all trying to navigate life through the lens of deeper truth.
–I talk about Jesus. Yes, I do. Sometimes I call Jesus “the Christ,” or sometimes I refer to God as “the Divine,” but I do so because different language helps, not hurts, our understanding of God. For a long time language has boxed God in…and we need to break God out of the box. But that doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t talk about Jesus. In fact, I think we have a lot of Christians who are afraid to talk about Jesus because they don’t want to be “that” type of Christian. I get that. But our silence isn’t doing Jesus’ rep any favors. Why? Because the Franklin Grahams and Glenn Becks (how did he become a Christian spokesperson, btw?) of this world do talk about Jesus. And their Jesus does not look like my Jesus…
–I want to be inclusive. Lots of people are excluded from faith communities for things they’ve done or not done, or for things other people think are “sin,” usually things they do with their bodies. In truth: I think we sin a lot more with our checkbooks than we do with our bodies. Funny thing about the Jesus we find in the Gospels: he doesn’t spend a lot of time making people feel guilty for their sin, real or imagined. In fact, Jesus doesn’t really talk a whole lot about specific sin if you read carefully. What Jesus does talk about, though, are people who think they have no sin, or that they lead sinless lives. “Because you say, ‘I am not blind,’ your sin remains,” Jesus says to the Pharisees, these archetype characters in John’s Gospel for those who think they’re above sin. So, in modeling Jesus, I want to be inclusive. Of everyone. It’s dangerous; I know. Try it out, though. You might just find Jesus lurking in people you never thought possible…
To me being theologically progressive doesn’t mean:
–I’m politically progressive. I know plenty of theological progressives who don’t fit into political categories. Honestly, I’ve never been able to vote with a clear conscience. And your church shouldn’t be a para-political organization, either. Your church’s mission shouldn’t sound like a party platform. Sure, faith is political. My faith certainly informs and shapes my politics. In fact, I think that pastors can’t help but be political. After all, in the polis we deal with money, health, life, and death…all things Jesus talked about extensively. But if Jesus were running for office, no party would claim him.
–I don’t take the Bible seriously. Actually, I take the Bible very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that I take into consideration its origin, its writing styles, its editing, its historical conditioning…all of it. I would claim that anyone who just takes anything at face value doesn’t take it seriously at all! They’re ignoring so much in their quest for simplicity. But life isn’t simple. The books of the Bible aren’t simple. God isn’t simple! Let’s stop pretending that you have to be an idiot to be a believer. The only thing someone reading the Bible at face value takes seriously is their own desire for absolute certainty at the expense of their brain.
–I’m a Communist. Again, idiocy leads to this conclusion, or any other label of fear-mongering that people come up with to keep you from actually engaging with others in this world. The best way to combat idiocy is to remove your head from your buttocks.
–I have a church that won’t grow. Our church is growing. We need not worry that fear and false certainty are the only ways to grow faithful Christians. And as a parent, I want to help my son hold tension with faith, not inadequately resolve tension with easy answers and cheap grace.
So, theological progressives, here’s the deal: we have to talk about Jesus more. Especially in this time of crappy Jesus movies and headlines of Christian charities being…well…uncharitable, and mega-church pastors claiming Jesus wants them to be wealthy, and Catholic bishops getting in hot water for building million dollar mansions. Because Jesus is getting a bad rap. And we shouldn’t be afraid to claim that we’re people of progressive faith.
And, sure, Jesus has a quiet way about him. This is true. Real Godly work doesn’t sound the trumpet in the temple, but locks itself in the closet. And God sees in secret.
But, as a parishioner of mine recently said in a conversation about this issue, “We’re not doing Jesus any favors by being quiet.”
And she’s right.
If “thank you” gets old, I apologize. 🙂 Your wisdom, your heart, and your ability to convey them are such a gift! I know that I’m not alone in saying that while my questions may be abundant, your insight confirms the Holy Spirit’s work that grows my faith, even as the questions grow, too.
This post brings up a question. Why are “fear and false certainty” so widely used in the “Christian” community? Yes, it appeals to our human desires, but are we that stupid? Are we that selfish? Maybe there is no answer, but that troubles me. I don’t like being a “part” of something that is so contradictory to the message of Christ. It REALLY bothers me when another Christian assumes that I buy into all of the same bs that “every” Christian believes. (At the same time, I struggle with the consequences of not having the same misguided understanding. Quite frankly, it hurts when another “Christian” judges my understanding to be “Un-Christain”.)
You bright up the Pharisees. I have said, so many times, that if Jesus walked the earth today, we (“Christians”) would probably look a LOT like the self-righteous Pharisees and Saducees that He despised. I’m not so sure “we” aren’t the “brood of vipers”.
Thanks for your thoughts!
Great thoughts, Beth.
I think Pharisees in the modern sense is anyone who believes they have it all figured out and know “the right steps.” So, yes, many of those would probably be Christians…and many other types of people, too.
I think that, by and large, the quest for certainty, the quest for “being right” is the strongest motivation within a humanity that has a hard time (for whatever reason) with tension.
The church can be a place to help people live in tension…we just haven’t been very good at it lately.
Dear Pastor Tim,
I look so forward to reading your blog. Today I am a bit stuck on the words ‘inadequately resolve tension with easy and cheap grace’.
After leaving a small UCC congregation that seemed to have been bent on self-destruction for quite a few years (there’s the tension) I found myself wanting to disappear for awhile into a huge church (mega by most standards). I’ve looked back over much of my adulthood and found a pattern I’ve followed each time a congregation I’ve belonged to is in difficulty. I haven’t been able to find the answers I’ve needed for why these problems occur and how I can adequately help them heal. Took me a long time to realize that wasn’t my job in the first place. Disappearing into a huge huge congregation in a huge huge auditorium, with full-blown orchestras or bands and simulcast in many instances into other buildings (I can’t forget broadcast on a local cable channels) allows me to worship and receive what I think you’re referring to with the words ‘cheap grace’. Am I on track with that thought? What I fear is that too much of this and I will become what I think of as a “Christian lemming”. In other words all I have to do is follow. I don’t have to truly participate, don’t have to join, and I don’t have to commit. Unfortunately I don’t get the beautiful (yes it is) opportunity to act on my faith, work my faith, share my faith, and accept a grace that for which no price can be set but is real and given carefully and only by a God who truly believes in me as I truly believe in Him and His Son. Sorry for the run-on sentence. I so desperately need that beloved community as Dr. King (I think) referred to and there won’t be anything cheap there. Guess I’ll keep trying. Thank you for the read.
Peace and love
Thanks for this testimony and your thoughts.
I guess I would say a few things, namely, cheap grace can be found in a church of any size. It could be that your previous small congregation practiced a cheap grace in some ways, hence their inability to sacrifice for the sake of one another and continual use of self-destruction.
By “tension” I mean the tension of living in a world where things don’t always get wrapped up nicely, where evil exists and God is sometimes silent, where we meet and love and defecate and die…and sometimes it seems pointless and other times so immensely beautiful that we can’t believe we get to witness such things. Interpersonal conflicts surely play a part in life…but it wasn’t exactly what I meant by tension.
Finally, I think we all have seasons in our lives. Perhaps your in a season of anonymity. I don’t think the Gospel will let you stay there. As I told my Confirmation students tonight, I don’t believe in a private Christianity. But we all have seasons. I wonder what time it is for you. Perhaps you’re moving out of this season into one where you seek a smaller community. Maybe you’re still in need of some healing.
Do know that there are smaller communities with costly grace and health. 🙂
Regardless, I don’t think you’re practicing cheap grace just because it’s a big church, nor do I think unhealthy little churches should be suffered for the sake of the cross.
God stands with the suffering…but we need not seek it out.
Thank you for your reply. Somehow no matter how much I’ve meditated, prayed, and sought spiritual counsel, it is your sentence about suffering ‘unhealthy little churches for the sake of the cross’ that kind of knocks my Christian socks off right now. I so very much needed to read that!