It was around 2004 that I made contact with the Progressive Christian Network in the UK. I was then beginning to get involved with the Emerging / Emergent / House Church scene. There was an emphasis on the work of Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan and John Shelby Spong. By this time I was going through a second wilderness experience and it quickly became obvious that the members of the network were only interested in changes from within the churches that they were involved with.
It was in 2014 that I found the blog “Christian Evolution” written by Eric Alexander. It didn’t take long to appreciate that we had come to many similar conclusions despite our very different journeys. Eric designed a project to promote awareness and understanding about the various types of people who classify themselves as “Progressive Christians” and participate in “Progressive Christian” communities. He described one group of Progressive Christians as Very Theologically Progressive (VTP):
You may be in this group if you think everything in the Bible is up for considerable interpretation. For example, you may think the Bible is errant and fallible. You may not be willing to say Jesus was the “son of God” without a significant reframing explanation. And you may not require a virgin birth or resurrection as part of your theology. But you maintain that Christianity is a path and tradition of value.
This group should understand that their views may be unrecognizable by others who call themselves progressives. Other groupings should realize that these views are a likely evolution of progressive ideas, although they may be tempted to want to exclude this group from the title of Christianity.
Much as I normally dislike labels I found that description very helpful.
I’m definitely VTP and would agree that these views tend to lead to an evolution of progressive ideas – and this has been reinforced for me after stopping church attendance in 2009.
You can see the other labels here.
It was in December 2015 that John Shelby Spong published an updated version of Charting a New Reformation – The Twelve Theses. Spong is a retired Episcopalian Bishop and one of the leading lights of Progressive Christianity, especially in America. He is seen even by many Episcopalians as a heretic. As part of his introduction Spong writes:
The explosion of knowledge over the last five hundred years in the West has rendered most of the biblical and creedal presuppositions to be unbelievable. They rise out of a world that no longer exists. Yet churches continue to operate as if eternal truth can be placed into these earthen vessels, proclaiming that in both the Bible and the creeds ultimate truth has been captured forever. The result is that Christianity seems less and less believable to more and more people. Can we separate the Christ experience from the dying explanations of the past? If we cannot then surely Christianity will continue its relentless journey into a declining irrelevance. If we can achieve this separation, however, the result will necessitate a reformulation of Christianity that is so radical that Christianity as we know it may well die in the process. Death or radical revision, however, appear to be the only realistic alternatives. I cast my vote for the latter.
I can relate to much of what Spong is saying. I sense that with his academic approach he has made a strong case for the need for a radical revision of CHRISTENDOM with its dogma and traditions. But does anyone really believe that radical changes can come from within the Christian community (or as I would suggest, from within CHRISTENDOM – the Christian RELIGION – with its many different denominations)?
I believe we are all on a journey. Much of my thinking 12 – 14 years ago was based on Fowler’s Stages of Faith, but things have moved on. Although my formal education ended when I was 17, I have effectively been retired for over 20 years, and had the privilege of being able to attend a few University of the Third Age classes for the last 4 years.
It was in July that I read an article by a pastor I have known well for some 35 years. He wrote:
True science, real mind-blowing science, comes from the endless birthing of new understanding by those who’ve caught on that life is full of surprises, and the surprises never stop coming to those who seek with an open mind. If only religion caught on to that in its search for God too, where instead of nailing God in a box and telling people that’s all there is to know about him, it would let God reveal himself in his way, with new and endless surprises. (my highlighting).
He went on to say that science is now pushing boundaries into areas where no one has trodden before. Old concepts suddenly become antiquated and quaint as new interpretations of the universe blow the old views to pieces.
Compare this to the Twelve Theses (referred to above) of John Shelby Spong. I’m not sure how much I agree with Spong, but at least you have been warned – I have some very unorthodox thoughts!