When I began my journey out of fundamentalism, I had no one to assist me. But neither did anyone try to ‘lead me astray’—I did that on my own. I began questioning beliefs I had been taught in a somewhat backward way; I would examine a belief by investigating what the Bible said about it. Instead of reading people who opposed a belief, I read the strongest defenses I could find by those who supported that belief to see if they would stand up under scrutiny.
I’m sure others traveled this path, but my point is that I had no one to guide me and this is probably why it took me so long from start to finish. Even when I was totally free from fundamentalism I had no community of support; I felt totally alone. I had no idea about a progressive Christian community. I knew about the ‘liberal’ denominations from which fundamentalists had broken away in the early 1900s, but I did not see them as my people at that time.
Then I began reading about the Emergent movement in Christianity Today. I was so excited! I began to follow Emergent writers but soon discovered they were not really my people either. So I began to blog on my own about what I had learned and experienced—still with no community of support. And then I began to find them—they were progressive Christians. At last I had found my people! I was no longer alone!
What is a Progressive Christian?
This is a common question. Just a few days ago I heard it again, ‘Exactly what is a progressive Christian?’ I understand why it is asked so often because there is no Progressive Christian creed to refer to. There is no Progressive Christian Church or denomination. And there are at least four kinds of believers who call themselves ‘progressive’ for different reasons.
After I began blogging, I also began interacting with a Google+ community. It was a good community but was also very conservative and I got beat up all the time during the few months I stayed. However, it was there that I met my first progressive Christian, Eric. He helped me a lot even though we were far apart on some issues, and one day he wrote a post on four types of progressive Christians which helped me orient myself better. I have been unable, unfortunately, to find that old post but these are the general outlines.
1. Progressive Christians in Worship. Some people consider themselves progressive because they sing worship music instead of hymns. They have worship teams and project lyrics on a screen or wall. Sometimes they incorporate forms of worshipful dance. That sounds progressive to me.
2. Politically Progressive Christians. Some believers have a strong political emphasis on social justice issues, so they are politically progressive. Red Letter Christians are an example. However, theologically progressive Christians also tend to promote social justice (though not necessarily through politics), so there is considerable overlap of sentiment on this point.
3. The Emergent Church. This movement is associated with leaders like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Tony Jones and is known for thinking of new ways of ‘doing church’ such as eliminating the pulpit/pew construct, sitting on couches, and meeting in unusual places like bars. It was the rage for a while (though I was unaware of it) and seemed to be waning even when I discovered it.
4. Theologically Progressive Christians. This is where I ‘found’ my people. One could say that they believe the opposite of theologically conservative Christianity such as fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism. In fact, a very large percentage of theologically progressive believers came out of fundamentalism and evangelicalism—as I did.
Theologically Progressive Christians
I don’t know that progressive Christians really use the term ‘theologically progressive’. I use it here in distinction to other types of believers who call themselves ‘progressive’. These progressive Christians represent at least two separate backgrounds and experiences—both connected to fundamentalism but in different ways.
I have already mentioned the first group—those who, like me, were once fundamentalist or evangelical (which, itself, developed from fundamentalism) and began to question beliefs they had been taught. The other group comes from what are now known as mainline denominations, which rejected the fundamentalists among them who tried to win those denominations to a fundamentalist position around the years 1900 to 1925. Many in both groups now have very similar views.
There is no progressive creed, but progressive believers tend to share a body of beliefs in contrast to typical fundamentalist/evangelical beliefs. I will divide them into two groups of five. Progressive Christians typically reject the following ten beliefs.
Five Foundational Beliefs that do Great Harm
1. Angry God. God is angry, demanding, and vindictive toward us
2. Inerrancy. The Bible is essentially written by God and every word is inerrant propositional truth
3. Punishment in Hell. God will punish those in eternal fire who do not measure up to his expectations
4. Legalism. God has specified a host of specific rules for us to follow in order to please him
5. Penal Substitutionary Atonement. God poured out his wrath for our sins on Jesus at the cross
From these foundational beliefs derive other beliefs that do great harm.
Five More Beliefs that do Great Harm
1. Homophobia. God rejects and condemns gays and other LGBTs
2. Christian Patriarchy. God’s plan is for men to lead and for women to be subservient
3. Satan and Demons. Satan and demons oppose God, God’s work, and God’s people
4. Young Earth Creationism. The earth was created about 10,000 yeas ago and evolution is a lie
5. Rapture and End-times. The Bible reveals end-time events and we must not miss the rapture
More about Progressive Christians
There is more to learn about progressive Christians and how to connect with them. We will talk about that next time.