Wednesday, March 10, 2010

“Progressive Christianity” is Meaningless

A friend of mine had recently graduated from a Pentecostal College in Minnesota, majoring in Biblical Studies, and was thinking about Seminary.  I suggested Luther Seminary in the twin cities.  “No,” he said, “they’re too conservative.”  I was taken aback (shock on my face).  He went on to explain, “Lutherans have one set way they like to read the Bible, and it’s to fit their theology.  You can take one little step to the left, or the right, but there’s no freedom to read scripture on your own.”

That conversation rattled my theological assumptions. My professor, Philip Clayton, would say that was the work of the Holy Spirit. A Pentecostal was condemning a Lutheran for interpreting scripture too narrowly!  But my friend had a good point.  Lutherans do prefer to use scripture that supports our favorite theology: saved by grace through faith.  Luther openly admitted that he preferred some passages of scripture over others and had major issues with at least one book of the Bible, James!  Yet Luther is the godfather of “Sola Scriptura!”

What does this mean? (That’s also Lutheran by the way.)

The categorical boxes we put on ourselves, or try to put others in are heretical.  It is possible for a Pentecostal to exhort a Lutheran to read and use scripture more liberally, or for a justice seeking Catholic to exhort an Evangelical to interpret Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount more literally.

Christians cannot be divided between “conservative” and “progressive.” 

Calling oneself a “Progressive Christian” is like trying to say, “I’m a Good Christian.”  It’s a defensive move that tries to justify the positions one takes as being “good.”  It’s also unlikely that one is truly progressive across the spectrum of beliefs on every issue.  And who gets to decide what is progressive?

Tonight begins the conference, “Theology After Google.”  If everyone in attendance thinks they are “progressive” and are meeting to advance a “progressive agenda,” then I will be greatly disappointed.  I hope the presenters and participants are geared up to dig into theology that has a scope and depth that will challenge all Christians and perhaps even extend out beyond that to religious persons of various stripes.

I hope new technology will be leveraged to bring Christians together, not further divide them. 

So once again my compatriots - Bring the Theology!

This post was inspired by a class discussion we had on “Thy Kingdom Connected,” by Dwight Friesen, a cool book that explores these issues in great detail.  Dwight challenges the readers from either/or thinking to both/and thinking.  He uses network theory as a metaphor for the Christian life and theology.  He will be speaking at the Theology After Google conference starting today!  It’s not too late to register!  If you don't want to spend three days in sunny southern California then you can watch the conference live video streamed.  You can also participate via twitter at twubs.


Ken Silva said...

"Christians cannot be divided between 'conservative' and 'progressive.'"

Sounds good, but you've got your catagories wrong. Based e.g. on John 8:24, the issue is: Believer vs. unbeliever.

Either one believes in the full Deity of Christ Jesus i.e. He's God the Son; or they don't believe and think he's human i.e. the son of God.

Angelina Duell said...

Ken Silva-
Your issue is semantics.

Ruth said...

Wes, Although this is slightly off topic from your post. I find it interesting that Martin Luther of "Sola Scriptora" did prefer some books of the Bible over others. Does, that mean that even though we can take the Bible as a serious contributor to the Christian faith does that mean that disliking and perhaps even downplaying scripture that we don't like is acceptable?

Wesley Menke said...

Ruth, that was the point of my friend - Lutherans like all people are guilty of favoring the parts of the Bible they like. I claim that all Christians do this, and we need one another in a networked community that is broader than progressive or conservative to give the most robust reading and understanding of sacred scripture possible.

Ken Silva said...

Angelina Duell-

Those "semantics" are the difference between heaven and hell.

Jesus takes that pretty seriously, my advice is it'd be wise to do the same.

Angelina Duell said...

Why can't Jesus be both? If he is both fully divine and fully human then isn't he both G-d the Son and the son of G-d?

Ken Silva said...


I never said Jesus isn’t bothDivine and human; I’m saying one cannot believe that He is only human, and the son of God in that sense, which is what classic liberal/progressive “Christianity” holds.

Wesley Menke said...

Ken Silva,

You are a beloved child of God! And I say so!