Progressive Christianity

There are two problems with this term; they are “progressive” and “Christianity”.  

First, with regard to the term ‘progressive’:  The Rev. Dr. John Bodycomb was certainly progressive; however, he thought the term was needlessly smug, and preferred using “evolving” to describe the “variegated stream of thinking” (Two Elephants in the Room, pg.770) that has been spreading over Western Christianity for the last 70 years. Dr. Bodycomb characterised it as “a ‘grass-roots cry from members of all mainstream denominations for a faith worth living and dying for” (ibid. p.77f).  It is the search for a ‘common sense’ Christianity, free from the unbelievable propositions and restrictive proscriptions conveyed by the popular (and primitive) ‘Old-Time Religion’, which  have moved many to leave a church they have come to view as out of touch with reality.

In general, this evolving stream of thought has three characteristics: (Ibid. p.78)

* There is no question of ‘off limits; i.e. nothing is so holy that it dare not be questioned.

* There can be no literature, institution or professional caste that is above criticism.

* There is no formulation of the faith that can be considered definitive, and by which all that differs from it can be judged.

These characteristics are of a negative nature, so Dr. Bodycomb describes them in terms of evolving Christianity’s positive features:

1. It will affirm the reality of the Mystery (for convenience called ‘God’) without endeavouring to contain it in doctrine or dogma.

2. It will affirm the centrality of Jesus of Nazareth as the God-informed person par excellence, and revealer of the Divine and teacher of the art of living.

3. It will evoke and energise humanity’s native disposition toward pro-social behaviour, i.e. it will affirm the essential goodness of persons and help them ‘unlearn’ what interferes with this.

4. It will provide material for social critique, and energise the pursuit of a just and compassionate society.

5. it will embrace the role of humanity as custodian and carer of the planet.

6. It will hold before humanity, and seek to embody in its followers, the dream of a functional planetary community, in which there is no room for hostile distinctions based on ethnic, gender, religious or other differences.

7. It will be a warrant for full appreciation of the body.

8. It will strive to support fruitful integration of all intellectual disciplines.

9. It will promote and inform the ‘journey inward’, with insights into touching transcendence and placing high value on practices of introspection, contemplation, meditation and mindfulness.

10. It will find way, intellectually and aesthetically worthy, for the collective celebration of the foregoing, based on the conviction that:
The irreducible minimum for a religious community is the ritual of sublimity: the event in which members reach up symbolically to the highest they know, and which orients them to this when they disperse.

‘Christianity’ is also a troubling term. In the first place, a new religion was not espoused by Jesus, for he was content with being a good Jew.  Even his early followers were Jewish, but while maintaining their ‘Jewishness’, they sought the Kingdom of which Jesus taught. They called themselves “People of the Way.” Religion is the custodian of tradition, the teacher of spiritual tools and propogater of wisdom, and hence can be very useful on the journey, but the ‘Way’ is not a religion.  

All people are on a journey, whether or not they are conscious of it. The ones who are conscious of it, and desire to pursue it, have much to learn from Jesus.  However, they have much to learn from the Buddha and Mohammed and other wise and insightful spiritual leaders. Religion may help seekers of the Way, but it may also hinder them. It certainly tends to erect barriers that are unhelpful, so let us not restrict our search by remaining within limits of Christianity, but recognise that the journey is enhanced by mutual support among all people of the way, no matter what religion, if any, they follow.

Let us then rename “progressive Christianity” as “The Evolving Way.” 

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