Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Progressive Church

Cynthia, a good friend of mine from MIT (we co-led the Hardcore Bible Study at one point), has started a discussion with the Study on Liberal Christianity. In the process, she's e-mailed me this fisking of the 8 points of the progressive church (she didn't include the points themselves in her e-mail, but I've put them in for this post, and cleaned up things a bit without altering the content).

Last night I realized how little I really know about liberal Christianity. Who are these people, and which denominations typically identify themselves as liberal?

[A friend] showed me this website on progressive Christianity. Here are their 8 points of belief.

As a fairly conservative evangelical, let me go through each of the 8 points, starting from the last one and moving up:
8. Recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege.

Sounds okay from a first glance. However, "evil" is probably going to be a part of our lives no matter what in this fallen world. "Evil one", as in Satan, is probably more appropriate. Also, what do they mean by "renunciation of privilege"? Aren't we privileged to be God's children?
7. Form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God's creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers;

On its own, it's not so bad.
6. Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes;

Here we go with postmodern thought. I believe God does set absolute standards, and some parts of doctrine are firm (Jesus as the son of God,
fully human and fully divine, savior of the world, etc.) Other things (infant/adult baptism, wine/grape juice, etc.) are not as firm.
5. Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe;

Mmm, maybe. This is a tough one. Should we expect to act like Jesus did and just expect people to ask us questions? Or should we actively try to share our faith with nonbelievers?
4. Invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to):
believers and agnostics,
conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
women and men,
those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
those of all races and cultures,
those of all classes and abilities,
those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope;

Well, sure, we welcome all people to church and to worship. But clearly, in terms of who we marry or serve in ministry with, we need to find those who have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. At some point, even the agnostic needs to make a decision.
3. Understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus's name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God's feast for all peoples;

Um, all peoples, as in all believers? Why would a nonbeliever be allowed to partake in the Lord's supper? What would it mean to a nonbeliever?
2. Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us;

Does that mean Allah and Buddha are okay?
1. Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus;

Sure, but Jesus is more than just a "gate". He is God too.

Am I totally off base? Please share your thoughts.

I'd also like to hear your thoughts. Before I do so, I want to point out what this organization (The Center for Progressive Christianity) says on its front page, which goes a long way towards putting their eight points in context:
Religion doesn't have to be irrelevant, ineffectual, repressive...

Do you find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, in the questions rather than in the answers?

Do you have religious interests and longings but cannot accept the beliefs and dogmas you associate with Christianity?

Are you repelled by claims that Christianity is the "only way"?

For comparison, this is the MIT Graduate Christian Fellowship's Statement of Faith (adapted from Intervarsity's, it's also in 8 points--hmm, it seems longer than it was in my day):
We affirm the historic Christian faith as expressed in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God. We also hold to the Doctrinal Basis of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship:
  • The only true God, the almighty Creator of all things, existing eternally in three persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- full of love and glory.

  • The unique divine inspiration, entire trustworthiness, and authority of the Bible.

  • The value and dignity of all people: created in God's image to live in love and holiness, but alienated from God and each other because of our sin and guilt, and justly subject to God's wrath.

  • Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, who lived as a perfect example, who assumed the judgment due sinners by dying in our place, and who was bodily raised from the dead and ascended as Savior and Lord.

  • Justification by God's grace to all who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

  • The indwelling presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all believers a new life and a new calling to obedient service.

  • The unity of all believers in Jesus Christ, manifest in worshiping and witnessing churches, making disciples throughout the world.

  • The victorious reign and future personal return of Jesus Christ, who will judge all people with justice and mercy, giving over the unrepentant to eternal condemnation but receiving the redeemed into eternal life.

Update: John Zimmer at Letters from Babylon has comments.

New Post: More above.

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