I consider myself to be a Progressive Christian. So when thinking about this post I thought I’d start with a list of core Progressive Christian beliefs. But I really struggled, because I’m still not entirely sure of what I believe. My beliefs are constantly evolving based on the books I’ve read and the conversations I’ve had.
And then I realised that this is exactly what it means to be a Progressive Christian.
As a Progressive Christian my beliefs are not static. The Bible, whilst still a core element, is one of many sources that informs my views. I consider the wisdom of Christian theologians such as Marcus Borg, Val Webb, Bruce Epperly, C.S. Lewis. I also read the works of theologians from other faiths, especially Judaism as it relates to the Old Testament as well as atheists who continually challenge the Christian faith.
I read about scientific advances in understanding the origins of the universe, evolution and psychology. And of course importantly I consider my own experiences of the world. Because although I’m not a qualified theologian, I am a human being with a brain, capable of my own critical thought and analysis.
Progressive Christianity means Faith not Certainty
For a Progressive Christian there are no certainties in faith. Everything is on the table and up for review – nothing is taboo or heresy.
As Anne Lamott said: “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is Certainty.”
The first time I attended a Progressive Christian event I felt an amazing sense of relief as the people around me openly discussed questions I’d never dared to say out loud, or questions I’d never even thought to ask.
So often Christian leaders urge us to take it all on faith. And while questions and doubts are deemed ‘ok’, they are only really ok if you ultimately return to the core beliefs of that religious organisation.
True critical analysis of those core beliefs is not encouraged. Scholarly research into the Bible’s origins, accuracy and human influence is deliberately ignored and discarded as a dangerous distraction.
With Biblical inerrancy, traditionalists have certainty and anything that brings into question that certainty is no longer considered truly Christian.
In fact, many traditionalists accuse progressives of not really being Christian at all. Honestly, the label doesn’t really bother me. But I still believe in God and I still use the Bible as a source for my faith, so I personally consider myself a Christian. Albeit a critically thinking one.
Stepping onto Shaky Ground
I remember clearly the first time I truly questioned what I believed. I was around 18 years old and saw an inspirational Hollywood movie about honour among samurais (I was young, don’t judge me). Afterwards, I felt an overwhelming sense of grief. My religion had raised me to believe that anyone who did not believe in Jesus would go to hell.
Now I know that most Christians skirt around this issue. Even traditionalists don’t like to talk about the implications of not believing in Jesus. But this is what the traditional Christian faith says. It doesn’t matter where you grew up, what opportunities you had, what values you lived your life with, what actions you took: the only thing that gets you to heaven is believing in Jesus.
In my moment of doubt I realised I wholeheartedly disagreed with my God. And I wept. I sobbed for hours after realising my faith was not perfect and not full of love.
Living a life of uncertainty is at first rather frightening. As Glennis Johnston (theologian, retired minister, retreat leader and my mother) says in her book, Turning Points of the Spirit:
Although a paradigm shift is scary at first, it is enormously rewarding, not just for the intellect but for the spirit. It saddens me that so many devout Christians are unable to embrace these bigger questions of faith, so afraid that they may lose the faith they have. But that is to be trapped in fear and narrow belief. The poet and author, Christina Wiman puts it so well, “Sometimes God calls a person to unbelief in order that faith may take new forms.” Surely it is not God who traps us within the strictures of a belief system we dare not question.” – p 72, Turning Points of the Spirit.
And so today I absorb as much information as I can. Indeed starting this blog was in part to encourage my own search for answers. Although what I’ve actually gained is an increasing list of questions and a sense of excitement.
I no longer grieve for the loss of my childhood beliefs, instead I feel a sense of adventure at what I might learn next.
Foundations for Progressive Christians
When encountering a Progressive Christian (or any Christian), you’ll realise that there is still a huge variation in beliefs. And whilst I may disagree (sometimes strongly) with certain views, I recognise that we are all at different stages in our journey of discovery.
But where I failed to summarise what I believe, the Progressive Christianity.Org website has eloquently listed 8 points of Progressive Christianity. We are Christians who:
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;
- Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;
- Strive for peace and justice among all people;
- Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;
- Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.
We are called to action not blind faith, by a God that leads us towards love.
If you would like to learn more about Progressive Christianity, or hear the views of other Progressive Christians check out the Recommended Resources page.
Share your stories in the comments! What was the moment which made you first start to question your traditional beliefs? Are there any questions or thoughts you feel are still taboo in your Christian community? Does your church embrace Progressive Christianity?