Progressive Christianity is a recent movement that has been growing in popularity, but what does being modern and progressive in one’s Christian beliefs actually mean?
If you met someone who considered themselves modern or progressive in their Christian beliefs, what would be your initial reaction? Perhaps you would be curious about the fundamental elements of progressive or modern Christianity and how they differ from more traditional beliefs and views. When learning more about this movement, it is helpful to understand that progressive Christianity is deeply rooted in the belief to “love one another” (John 15:17), and that Progressives place strong emphasis on questioning tradition, caring for the poor and oppressed, ending social injustice and striving to change the world for the better. Emphasis on these issues leads to modern Christians upholding values such as mercy, tolerance, justice and compassion. Unlike biblical Christianity, modern Christianity does not state that there is only one way to serve God and many who follow this movement do not consider repentance, confession and trust in Christ as the only ways to be saved.
Noble Initiatives within Modern Christianity
One of the standout events in the movement for progressive Christian beliefs was the creation of The Center for Progressive Christianity in the 90’s by James Rowe Adam. A retired Episcopalian priest, Adams founded the center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which consists of a network of congregations and groups. This movement promotes an “Eight Point” system of ideas that express a modern believer’s approach to progressive Christianity.
Some of these beliefs include:
- Welcoming all to be involved regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, tradition, etc.;
- Recognizing that others follow their own paths to God;
- Striving to protect and restore the integrity of the Earth;
- Aiming for peace and justice among all people;
- Affirming that the teachings of Jesus offer one of many ways to experience the sacredness of life.
Another important initiative within the progressive Christianity movement is The Beatitudes Society. This national organization was founded in 2005 and considers their belief system to be Christian at its root but multi-faith in its reach. Their mission is to equip emerging leaders to cultivate modern faith communities that concentrate on justice and the common good.
The above-mentioned organizations, plus others such as CrossLeft, Social Redemption and Sojourners – a monthly magazine – are considered leaders in revolutionizing Christianity among those with modern Christian beliefs.
Fundamentals Behind the Movement and Everyday Life
It is often expressed that the fundamentals of modern Christianity are influenced from a multitude of theological streams such as evangelicalism, postmodernism, liberation theology and liberalism. Roger Wolsey, author of Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity, utilizes the following definition for progressive Christianity: “Progressive Christianity…takes the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery – instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas; does not consider homosexuality to be sinful; and does not claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable ways to connect to God (is nonexclusive).”
The lives of those with modern Christian beliefs tend to focus on the issues of social justice, reaching out to the lost and downtrodden, and engaging in activism for social and environmental issues.
Growth as a Movement
Though many shifts have taken place in Christianity over the years, some consider the shift to progressive Christianity as still largely invisible despite a growing number of supporters within the movement. Marcus Borg, best-selling author, speaker and progressive regarding his Christian beliefs speaks openly on the topic of invisibility. He has stated in the past that the more obvious reasons behind this ongoing invisibility include the reluctance to spend large amounts of money on radio and television broadcasting, as this may not be a smart use of resources. In addition, he believes progressive Christians prefer an existence similar to the early forms of Christianity. In a recent interview on Patheos.com1 by Deborah Arca, Borg described today’s modern Christians building “small, very intentional, intimate communities of commitment,” rather than focusing on “big-tent” congregations.
In addition to building these intimate communities, the heart behind many progressive Christians is societal transformation and showing love and compassion to others. Borg may have captured the passion of the modern Christian movement best when he shared the following during the Patheos interview: “ The energy of progressive Christianity is not about believing something now for the sake of a reward later, or not even about being virtuous now for the sake of a reward later, but for being as completely present as possible to this life, and being open to the moving of the Spirit both within ourselves and our societies, and seeking to participate in that movement of the Spirit.”