Although I dislike religious labels, if people ask, I refer to myself as a progressive Christian. When I use the word “progressive”, I don’t mean I am a “social-liberal”, though in many cases I am. That is merely something I have in common with those who are “liberal”. In other words, I don’t think a progressive Christian is simply a rehash of classical theological-social liberalism. If it is, then its content is ultimately devoid of meaning.
We all know how easily certain Christian worldviews get stereotyped. We have also seen the damage that this sort of stereotyping can do to the progress of the Church. I know I try everything in my power to provide a clear articulation of my beliefs so that we can avoid such stereotypes. I believe the more “accurate” the information that’s put out there, the more likely we are to avoid those stereotypes.
Recently John Shelby Spong published “The Twelve Theses” under the banner of progressive Christianity For anyone who is mildly versed in classic liberal theology you will certainly recognize many (if not all) of the statements as liberal axioms. In fact, I can find nothing distinct in Spong’s theses that would differentiate progressive Christianity from classic liberalism.
Despite the “liberal” stigma that is often associated with progressive Christianity, I believe progressive Christianity is much more. I believe progressive Christianity can provide both philosophical reflectiveness as well as much needed theological clarity. I find progressive Christianity to be a very practical way to practice the Christian faith.
What is “progressive” about progressive Christianity?
I take pride in the term “progressive” and its association with Christianity. And although progressive Christians encompass a wide theological spectrum I think many of us have similar theological and philosophical concerns. When I refer to myself as “progressive” I am specifically identifying myself as one who believes that God actively works in and through the world today. I am proclaiming that Christ’s gospel is more than just his atonement. I am proclaiming that the Bible is necessary for the Christian faith and is ecclesiastically authoritative – but it is not God. I am not progressive because I am a greater human or of a higher intelligence than those who are not. I am progressive because I believe God is progressive. God is not silent and his love is neither theoretical nor is it only for “Christians”.
I believe Spong’s theses sends the wrong message and does not represent the important aspects of progressive Christianity. Also, it’s not written in a way that promotes a positive argument for anything. It seems angry, frustrated and leaves the reader thinking there is no positive content to Christianity whatsoever. Moreover, I see nothing encouraging for progressive Christians only destruction.
The twelve theses do not provide any version of Christianity; in fact, there doesn’t seem to be any Christianity present at all. Instead, it sounds suspiciously like nihilism.
For those interested I have included my responses to Spong’s theses.
On the whole: Spong uses a reasoning device whereby all of his points (for the most part) are based upon one particular premise. Therefore, if that premise is weak or incorrect, then it follows that all other theses will crumble under the collapse of the foundational premise. It’s a dangerous tactic to use since it makes the entirety of his argument contingent upon a single idea.