MPT: 20 Problems with Progressive Christianity

Matthew Paul Turner says he’s a “progressive Christian”, but that he’s never really owned the label because he’s not entirely sure how to define it. He writes an insightful piece, with a title (“20 Problems with Progressive Christianity”) that’s a bit of a head fake – rather than being a list of 20 items, it’s an essay with 20 “problems” identified throughout.

While I wouldn’t identify myself as being in the same theological place that he is, I do recognize myself in some of his self-descriptions. For instance:

A part of the bigger problem is that it’s easy for many of us onetime conservatives/now progressives to get caught up in our faith being defined by our past as opposed to it being inspired by what’s in front of us (<-Problem number 10). In other words, many of us know exactly what we believe to be true and untrue about the churches we grew up in, the theologies that we were taught, and the perceptions of God that we once worshiped. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing what we believe to be good and true about our pasts. But sometimes we fall onto the path of getting so lost in fighting the ills of our former spiritual lives that we go for long periods of time when that’s all our faith is, one big fight against what was.

I went through that period for quite a while a year or two back. It might’ve been helpful to me for a while, but it was something I had to get beyond if I was going to move forward.

Turner never really gets around to defining what he means by “progressive Christianity”, so I’m not sure whether I’d self-identify as a member or not. I often find myself somewhere in between, not willing to fully endorse the liberal leanings of folks like Rachel Held Evans, but also not fully embracing the conservatism of my more fundamentalist past or the neo-Calvinism to which many of my friends hold.

Down in the comments of Turner’s post, Colorado pastor Jeff Cook proposes a set of “centering affirmations” of progressive Christianity, and these I could probably get behind:

… We believe in a New Creation , not in an escapist soteriology. We do not embrace the Gospel as “the plan of salvation” (a gospel just about me). The Gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ is Lord (a gospel about all of creation).

… We have moved from speaking of ethics as simply rules to follow, to seeing the good life as a process of becoming a person fully alive in Christ and in community through the power of the Spirit.

… We have moved from thinking history doesn’t matter or that modernity is history’s zenith to seeing the past as full of wisdom to draw on.

…We are aware that the Bible must be interpreted by fallible readers.

… We elevate Jesus’ life, teachings, resurrection and ascension, and reject an exclusive focus on just the virginal birth and cross. All 6 are necessary to see God and his unveiling story.

If you’ve made it this far through my post, I’ll recommend you go over and read MPT’s post in its’ entirety.

7 thoughts to “MPT: 20 Problems with Progressive Christianity”

  1. This is going to sound snarky, and I don’t mean it to be… has MPT ever commented on ecclesiology? He seems to not be fully cognizant of the fact that there are institutional structures within confessionalism– even liberal confessionalism– that have solutions (some better than others) for many of the issues he mentions.

    1. That’s a good question. I’m not a regular MPT reader, as such not very conversant in his overall positions.

      I’m reminded of something Andrew Wilson said on Mere Fidelity when they were talking about NT Wright along the lines of

      “I, even I only am left” – Elijah on Mt. Horeb, and everything written by NTW

      And while I’m not in a position to comment on that in regard to NTW, it does seem at times like the progressive camp is much the same way, either unaware of or ignoring existing institutions where they would find agreement and support.

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