Saturday, September 27, 2008

Progressive Christianity

There's been some discussion going around about Francis Macnab's recent proclamation of 'a new faith for the 21st century' http://www.theage.com.au/national/new-faith-throws-out-the-ten-commandments-20080915-4h3d.html?page=-1. I have a great respect for the work of the Jesus Seminar, of which Macnab is a member, and have attended his church St Michaels on a number of occasions (though often when there's been a guest speaker of interest to me).

I'm also very sympathetic to the aims of the Progressive Christianity movement. I guess if I had to be boxed according to a particular category of Christian, then this one might fit me as well as any other. However, progressives are no more homogenous than conservatives and their beliefs vary widely. To the far left you have people like Don Cupitt, who don't seem to believe in God at all - I honestly can't figure out why they bother. On the right, there are some that blend into the conservative left - I'd place Brian McLaren and Rob Bell somewhere here (they can still sell books at Koorong but I can't quite figure out how!) And in the middle, the vast majority who affirm the reality of a God experience but for whom the traditional images of God no longer make sense.

One of the great weaknesses of Progressive Christianity is that in the attempt to forge a more intellectually credible form of Christianity, they have forgotten that orthopraxis precedes orthodoxy (right living comes before right beliefs). Most have a leaning towards social justice, but frankly it tends to be pretty weak. The other startling thing is that they are nearly all in their 60's (or older) - they have completely failed to attract younger people (with the obvious exception of the McLaren/Bell types...and probably Jack Spong for that matter). The 'new faith for the 21st century' has a lot of work to do. Just as well they have another 90 years to go...

2 comments:

David said...

Perhaps atheism is the new Christianity.

If you don't believe God is involved in the world as a mysterious spiritual mumbo-jumbo entity, then isn't that equivalent to saying God is just a concept?

Why bother, indeed.

JDK said...

Hi David,

I'm not sure that it's even God's presence (or activity) in the world that's really at issue here. For the most part, the complaint against an interventionist God is a reaction against the idea that we can pull God's strings through prayer. I believe that God is both present and active in the world. I don't understand how prayer changes things and every time I try to follow a line of thought on this I end up somewhere that I find deeply unsatisfactory - but I do think that it happens. Even if there's a psychosomatic explanation for some prayer, does that disqualify the positive outcome? If God is merely a concept that results in people experiencing healing and being inspired towards more social justice, then I can think of worse concepts. But personally I think there's more to it than that.

Regards, JDK