Monday, September 02, 2013

Liberal or Progressive Christianity?

  photo walterrauschenbusch_zps9fdab00f.jpg
 Walter Rauschenbush

Lothar Lorraine asks if I would describe myself as "progressive" or "liberal." I guess I'm behind the times because that phrase "progressive" was not used when I went to seminary (late 80s) so I am sure exactly what it means or how it differs from liberal. He has a page where he explains to some extent. Before talking about that I tried looking for some other sources on the net. Progressive

The video by Fred Plumber on Progressive identifies the movement with a hundred year old trajectory going back to "the progressive era" in American history and the leaders of the Social Gospel movmeent. It names Walter Rauschenbusch, Harry Emerson Fosdick, 100 years Jim Adams 1994  Christianity would fail if it didn't align itself with the best scholarship. Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) Baptist minister, Best known for his work The Social Gospel. He's identified most closely with the social gospel movement which was a sort of liberation theology movement of the early twentieth century. Their biggest issue was the labor movement. Walter Rochenbach worked among the poor and the workers in industrial settings of New York City.[1]

Harry Emmerson Fosdick, (1878-1969) Christian History tags him as "liberalism's popularizer."[2] One of the most popular preachers of his day. Central figure in the battle between fundamentalism vs Liberalism or modernism in the 1920s and 30s [3] He Presbyterian also New York based. The Christian History artilce quotes him: "I believe in the personal God revealed in Christ, in his omnipresent activity and endless resources to achieve his purposes for us and for all men."

(progressive defines their movement:
Progressive Christianity is an open, intelligent and collaborative approach to the Christian tradition and the life and teachings of Jesus that creates a pathway into an authentic and relevant religious experience.
 Plumber in his Video says, Take it beyond social action to Christology. Wide spectrum, "all we ask is that someone is willing to examine the best scholarship." He doesn't propose anything about changing Histology. The site lists eight points. It doesn't really say what these points are, but I suppose they typify Progressive Christianity.

8 points:

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;
4.  Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;
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.[4]
 "We are a movement, we have a network" totally different approach form new atheism. Still trying to convince us they don't have a movement while in the middle of a faction fight in which all the commentators refer to atheism as "the movement." Who these guys really represent I don't know. There is a "progressive Christian Alliance."

 Wilipedia identifies Progressive Christianity as "the emerging chruch movement." That I have heard of and read some things about.[5]

 The movement is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity with a strong emphasis on social justice or care for the poor and the oppressed (often identified as minority groups) and environmental stewardship of the Earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to "love one another" (John 15:17) within the teaching of Jesus Christ.[1] This leads to a focus on compassion, promoting justice and mercy, tolerance, and working towards solving the societal problems of poverty, discrimination and environmental issues, especially by social and political activism. Comparatively, a further understanding within Christianity being of the Greek word agape or agapaó as used within John 15:17 translated to the English word "love" as that being of "i.e. embracing God's will (choosing His choices) and obeying them through His power".(Wiliki FN)

 So far it sounds like a movement for people who have discovered liberal theology but who don't want to call themselves "liberal" for one reason or another.

Am I a "progressive" in the above sense? I can agree with to a degree the eight points, I wouldn't take any of them literally or absolutely. None of them actually alarm me although I wouldn't statement them all as they are above. Point 1 is good but I am not afraid to speak of being saved. Jesus saves. Even though I don't believe hell is eternal conscious torment, I do believe in the term "salvation." If anyone was lost it was me, in this life. Not becuase I was going to burn in hell but just in life I was damn lost. I had no idea where I was going what I was doing. I had no hope. I didn't think about any "oneness." I just lost. Point 2 I guess would be one I wold come closet to disagreement with: teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life. That's ok (see my views on salvation and other faiths here) not exactly the way I would put it. I still want to emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus as the mechanism of salvation and then talk about the availability of Jesus to all humanity. The one true reality behind all religion is God, then we have our individual concepts of God. We identify with those concepts through traditions, but our traditions are filtered through cultural constructs. Of course the other faiths will say "I get to say that too of my guy." That's ok with me. Perhaps Jesus is Buddha? That I don't know. What i do know is when I called on Jesus, he answered.

 "Real liberals" (self proclaimed) have called me a "no-Orthodox" and told me that I'm really not very liberal. The moderator on CARM just got through that I'm not a Christian at all. I don't deserve the consideration of their fundamentalists Christian apologists becuase they really Christian apologists. I say "Yes but they are just amateurs when it comes to insulting atheist." (That's a joke). As I get older I find I care less and less about labels. I don't really care about them. That's partly becuase I grew up in the 60s when it was really fashionable to say "I don't like labels." Partly because as I get older I find the closer you look at a given thinker the more he/she contradicts the given label. Labels can be as misleading as they are useful. Young people like to taxonomize and assign everything a label and they feel they are getting it all nailed down. I used to think if I could identity a school of thought that an idea came from I had beaten it. All I had to do was hang a label on a thinker and I had exposed that thinker. Then I realized that's committing the genetic fallacy. Labels are not all that great.

Not to put him on the spot or make him feel that I'm putting him down, but Lothar Lorraine has a page that explains the distinction between liberal and progressive. On that page he raises some interesting points.[6] He starts with compression to evangelicals who believe in a perfect inerrant bible

To my mind, both progressive and liberal Christianities begin with the realization that it is neither epistemologically nor morally permissible to believe everything standing in our favorite holy book without any kind of reality-check. Our faith should always welcome  facts from the external world and from our undeniably true moral intuitions to correct and possibly abandon our theological doctrines.
If we don’t, we cannot bring up a coherent answer to Sam Harris’s contention that religious people would systematically slit the throat of every girl with red hair if God said so in their sacred scriptures.[7]
 I can't comment on the accuracy of this in relation to progressive since that's not a label I use. I think his view seems consistent with the little I've read about it recently. I agree with what he said in this quote, I also reject as problematic and misleading the concept of "inerrancy" as the wrong model to use. I've posted about that recently. One difference he identifies is "Liberals believe  that miracles are impossible (or at the very least extremely unlikely) and that we should interpret the resurrection as a psychological experience of the first disciples. Many go as far as saying that God cannot be personal (even as a distant landlord) and that he has to be some kind of energy or impersonal concept."[8]
 By and large that is true but I can think of notable exceptions, to the idea of miracles. Three major liberal theologians of the sixties believe in the resurrection, Kasemann, Panenberg, and Moltmann. Of those three Kasemann studied with Bultmann, the archeliberal. Paul Tillich, certainly liberal, while disparaging the term "supernatural" had a complex relationship to that concept. He did not disapprove of miracles. Nor did they say they were "unlikely." He accepted the Biblical miracles with the proviso that they are related to a comoplex relatinoship to the divine/world interface. Essentially he rejected the concept of supernatural when it was conceived as "breaking into or disrupting the natural order." He was amenable to miracles when they were construed as working within the framework of harmony between the world and the divine.[9] My own reading of Tillich on this point is complex, please see my article "Was Paul Tillich Anti-Supernatural?" Thus there are always exceptions to every label, and when labels become stereotypes (not to say that Lorragine is doing that) they become coutner productive.

I think what we see happening in this "emergent chruch" movement is Christianity working to re-define itself. The chruch as a whole is taking Dave's challenge. Discontent withe fundamental interpretation, recognizing the language has become abstract and removed, they are seeking to reshuffle the linguistic deck and come with new says to describe that work the Gospel into a contemporary framework. This is not an emergency, it's been done before. In fact it's probably done every hundred years or so. The Original Jesus movement was shaped into the Orthodox chruch in defining itself in opposition to the Gnostics. The church again found itself front and center in the medieval synthesis, the reformation, modernism, and so on. It's a necessary natural process. See my article on Mouthner for an explanation about the abstraction of language vs. concrete gesture.

 Lorraine focuses on two points as indictive of his faith:

1)      God has necessarily to be a perfect being
2)      Despite all their flaws, humans are quite able to recognize goodness and perfection (and that’s what makes us guilty, like Paul expressed it in Roman 2).

I agree with those points. I have pages defending modern miracles on Doxa, my original website. I use them as a God argument. I have posted numerous times on this blog about my belief that God is the source of consciousness and is conscious. Yet at the same time I embrace Tillich's notion of God as the ground of being. Tillich was famous for asserting that personal God was anthropomorphism, yet  again I think there's a complex relationship there that requires a closer look.

see my articles

The Bible God and the Depth of Being

Ground of Being and the Source of Conscoiusness

I have more emtional commitment to the term "liberal" because I went to a liberal seminary and have been thinking of myself as liberal, for decades, although real liberals reject me as one of their own. My belief exhibit the spectrum from Paul's ground of being to Pentecostal tongue speaking. It's been known to happen. I am absolutely certain that I received baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am also absolutely certain that I'm wrong about a great many things. I am so anti-label that I call myself an "existentialist."


 [1] Paul Haulsall, "Modern History Sorucebook: Walter Rauschenbusch: The Social Gospel 1908." published on the net by Forham University, originally in 1997,  accessed 9/1/2013.
[2] "Harry Emmerson Fosdisck, Christian History, published by Christianity Today  posted:(8/8/2008) accessed 9/1/2013.
[3] Wikepidia articleon Fosdick,
[4] fn is to Strong's Concordence 25, agapao.
[6] Lothar Lorraine, "On the Defintion and Meaingfulness of Progressive Christianity." webstie:  accessed 9/1/2013
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] D.M. Brown, Ultimate Concern, Tillich in Dialogue New York, Harper and Row, 1965, online version published on "Religion online" accessed 9/1/2013.
[10] Metacrock, "Was Paul Tillich Anti-Supernatural?" The Religious A priori (website) published (4/2/2013) accessed 1/9/2013

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