Liberal, Conservative and Progressive Christianity 3

To Progressive City…..AND BEYOND!!!

Please keep the following question in mind:

“is it possible at all for Christians today to transcend the Red State versus Blue State Manichean mode of thought?”

Progressive theology, at least in academic circles strives to overcome the conservative/liberal divide. Progressive Christianity, that is, a religion that rejects propositional truths/doctrine absolutism found in conservative evangelicalism as well as experiential-based universalism of liberal Christianity defines itself first and foremost as what it is not. Progressive theology emphasizes particularity particularity particularity, context, and oh, particularity. In this view, many proponents are more open to the notions of an impersonal god and religious pluralism. I am not saying that this is the case for all progressive Christians, but at the core, progressives begin theological reflection within their own context, while promoting an extremely transcendent God–not one far away and above our heads, but definitely one that is inscrutible. My series on Paul Tillich was a case in point. Tillich had scathing criticisms for both liberal and conservative Christianities.

Please do not confuse progressive theology with progressive politics. It will only become confusing at this point, at what I am about to suggest. In this group, one would have to put Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer of neo-orthodoxy fame in the progressive theology realm (whether their politics/ecclessiology was progressive, that is a different story). Right now, I am referring to methodology, and not conclusions. Conservatives want to conserve what has been said in the past (doctrine), liberals want to translate what was said in the past into the present (experience), while progressives want to critique all of the above and more, in a variety of ways. Stanley Hauerwas and James Cone must be considered progressive theologians; those on the left and right criticize these men at times for sounding like fundamentalists in their use of Scripture and their overconfidence in their particularity (whether it is a “Texan ontology” or “blackness”).

Progressive theology, methodologically, provides many outlets for Christians to move past the conservative/liberal binary. “THE CHURCH” in Amerricuh should stop acting like the only way to exist is to be identified as Republicans and Democrats. However, what has happened is that because progressives can be found predominantly inside mainline circles, they are identified as being part of “the establishment Left.” When we consider the damage done work by Bishop Shelby Spong, or many of the articles on a blog like Religion Dispatches, conservatives cannot help be turn away in disgust of an enclosed progressive tribe.

I have referred to in these posts of the Blue State/Red State division as Manichean not only for its dualism but for its idolatrous certitude as THE only way to engage culture. Is there such thing as pure reason or universal experience? Or at what point will our particularity become such an idol that that idolatry will cause us to completely mistrust outsiders? In other words, how much does contextuality contribute as a barrier against reconciliation?

The problem with progressivism is that it winds up placing ideology over and against its own goals. Do you call yourself a progressive, and are willing to boycott a conservative, even if he or she is working towards communal justice at the local level (the events at Willow Creek in recent weeks come to mind). Are you a conservative who believes in Creationism, but could care less about creation care just because your opponents care about the environment? It makes no sense, but it goes to prove that whenever ideology gets in the way of true justice, what that party is looking for should not be called justice, but rather partisanship.

However, I strive for 4th way, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th way [etc.] Christianity, one that places its goals over its ideology, a Christianity for reconciliation, nonviolence, and social justice, by any means necessary. A Christianity that places praxis over its own theorists.

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