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Progressive Or Revertive?


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I have happily worn the mantle of 'progressive' Christian for a few years now and long thought it the perfect description of what this movement was trying to achieve. But I, like many pc's, am adamant that the essence of this movement is not creating something new, but rather going back to the beginning, reverting to the words, life, death and messages of Jesus, without being bound to the doctrine and dogma developed over the last two thousand years. Indeed, it is an often used lunge by those against pc's isn't it, 'What exactly are you progressing, progressing to what?', to which my usual riposte is, 'We are trying to adhere to the heart of the message of Christ' which is not new.

So the question I have is this, is the term 'progressive' an accurate label for this movement? Is the word 'revertive', though not as catchy, more accurate? Are there any other labels that may suit better? While I fully accept that the term progressive christian is here to stay and now means so much more than just an epithet, I do think it is an important topic to reflect on.

Any thoughts?

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I have happily worn the mantle of 'progressive' Christian for a few years now and long thought it the perfect description of what this movement was trying to achieve. But I, like many pc's, am adamant that the essence of this movement is not creating something new, but rather going back to the beginning, reverting to the words, life, death and messages of Jesus, without being bound to the doctrine and dogma developed over the last two thousand years. Indeed, it is an often used lunge by those against pc's isn't it, 'What exactly are you progressing, progressing to what?', to which my usual riposte is, 'We are trying to adhere to the heart of the message of Christ' which is not new.

So the question I have is this, is the term 'progressive' an accurate label for this movement? Is the word 'revertive', though not as catchy, more accurate? Are there any other labels that may suit better? While I fully accept that the term progressive christian is here to stay and now means so much more than just an epithet, I do think it is an important topic to reflect on.

Any thoughts?

 

Adi Gibb,

 

I think your post makes a good point. It surely does seem that "we are trying to adhere to the heart of the message of Christ'" , which indeed is not new. Christ of course is not changing nor is Christ progressive. But as applies to today our understanding is indeed progressing from the Christianity that has been taught by the organized church doctrine and dogma over the years. In that respect it seems to me our understanding is progressive as least as applied to the teachings of the church system and being raised Christian. It would be good to hear from some of the more senior members that have more insight than I into the 'coining' of the word 'progressive'. as relates to TCPC.

 

Joseph

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I can’t speak for those who’ve been here longer and might know the exact derivation of the term, but I’d add one thought from my reading-- Open Christianity is another good alternative, in keeping with a pluralistic view.

 

When people ask that question, “progressing toward what?” one response might be extending the realm of God (as in the last 2 of the 8 points) – which was the original path that Jesus taught – with inward healing and outward justice. A spirit of acceptance and inclusiveness, rather than aggressive and defensive….a way that ideally transcends all labels, IMHO.

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I have happily worn the mantle of 'progressive' Christian for a few years now and long thought it the perfect description of what this movement was trying to achieve. But I, like many pc's, am adamant that the essence of this movement is not creating something new, but rather going back to the beginning, reverting to the words, life, death and messages of Jesus, without being bound to the doctrine and dogma developed over the last two thousand years. Indeed, it is an often used lunge by those against pc's isn't it, 'What exactly are you progressing, progressing to what?', to which my usual riposte is, 'We are trying to adhere to the heart of the message of Christ' which is not new.

So the question I have is this, is the term 'progressive' an accurate label for this movement? Is the word 'revertive', though not as catchy, more accurate? Are there any other labels that may suit better? While I fully accept that the term progressive christian is here to stay and now means so much more than just an epithet, I do think it is an important topic to reflect on.

Any thoughts?

 

Several years ago I did a family genogram. I discovered that many of my living relatives refer to themselves as "progressive" in both the religious and political domains. My family has used the term since the 1930's and might have used the term as early as 1870 in Germany. By this time, certain religious sects and political groups had joined forces to focus on issues of social justice and Biblical Criticism was already on the rise. Secular humanism was also on the rise and several religious organizations decided it was better to adapt than do battle. Failing to achieve their goals, many came to America where they laid the foundation for progressive style churches. This is but one of several historical threads that led to what we call "progressive" today. There was a similar movement in Switzerland, a movement that influenced my favorite psychologist C. G. Jung and Jean Piaget.

 

Progressive Christians tend to adhere to some form of cosmogenisis. Roughly, this is the belief that Creation is not yet complete and we are intimately involved in moving Creation towards completion. Returning to the teachings of Jesus sounds odd in this context, but these teachings provide a model for a world quite different from it's current state. Escaping dogma allows us to reflect on what Jesus said and did in new ways. It could well be that God does not have a detailed plan for the outcome, but only a model or schema as outlined by Jesus. Perhaps our "path" is bit of a rambling adventure?

 

I see Progressive Christianity as special case of a larger movement that began in the late 1800's and is currently resurfacing in many disciplines. You can find it in academia in more than one department and in the current political arena (Obama is a moderate progressive in the religious and political domains).

Edited by minsocal
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I have happily worn the mantle of 'progressive' Christian for a few years now and long thought it the perfect description of what this movement was trying to achieve. But I, like many pc's, am adamant that the essence of this movement is not creating something new, but rather going back to the beginning, reverting to the words, life, death and messages of Jesus, without being bound to the doctrine and dogma developed over the last two thousand years. Indeed, it is an often used lunge by those against pc's isn't it, 'What exactly are you progressing, progressing to what?', to which my usual riposte is, 'We are trying to adhere to the heart of the message of Christ' which is not new.

So the question I have is this, is the term 'progressive' an accurate label for this movement? Is the word 'revertive', though not as catchy, more accurate? Are there any other labels that may suit better? While I fully accept that the term progressive christian is here to stay and now means so much more than just an epithet, I do think it is an important topic to reflect on.

Any thoughts?

The last time I heard Borg speak on the subject he was only "luke warm" about the term "Progressive Christianity". He saw a difference between the old paradigm and the new paradigm that is reflected in his books but he did not feel real good about calling that a "progression". I sense the same concern from you.

 

Borg wanted to call this shift "Neo-Traditional" which to him was a recovery of the tradition itself that had been stolen by those that insisted upon such things as the virgin birth, atonement via the cross, authentic miracles, etc.

 

The Jesus Seminar is now working on the Christian Origins which also seems to be concerned with the recovery of that early tradition. In that sense it is not a "progression" but is "revertive" as you say.

 

Personally I do not like the term "Progressive Christianity" if it is teleological in nature. I am with Tillich and ontology.

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Thanks everyone for all your responses, they have been great and provided much food for thought. I think a good point was made that we are 'progressing' towards a realm which Jesus wanted. As Joseph said, it would be interesting to see where the original phrase came from. If it is indeed the late 19th century, wow, that is quite a history! I still, as David says, have issues about the term. I like the reasoning behind Borg's 'neo-traditional', though of course one could then get into an argument as to what defines 'tradition' or 'traditional'. I did not know the Jesus Seminar were examining this issue, their results will be really interesting.

David, could you expand on your agreement with Tillich?

What does everyone think of Tony Campolo's 'red-letter christian' term?

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Adi Gibb,

 

It seems to me there will always be new Christian terms or labels coming up such as the one you mention, "Red Letter Christians". There will also always be discussions about whether one term is more appropriate than another. And there will be books authors associated with agreement or disagreement. To me (IMO) it is not all that important which term we use because inevitably it seems to me one will find that a human and his/her beliefs are are much more complex than the few vowels and consonants and the images it conjures up to try and define them. "Progressive Christian" is IMO as good as any and is loose enough not to box us in as an individual.

 

Just something to consider.

 

Joseph

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I agree the term is not that important but I’d like to hear how David views Tillich on this topic.

One thing I recall is the way he defines faith as "ultimate concern," and sees religion itself as one of the great dangers to faith, because religious systems tend to become rigid and suppress the insight, love, and vitality that gave them their original inspiration and growth.

 

Another definition of progressive from Marcus Borg’s early books -- the “dream of God” – Jesus’ vision of community grounded in compassion rather than social boundaries and purity codes. Borg later uses the term “emerging church.”

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David, could you expand on your agreement with Tillich?

I can obviously only give you a “teaser” about Tillich. So let me say this. You will find within this rather vague movement called Progressive Christianity persons who represent either a slight or strong tendency towards mysticism and persons who represent either a slight or strong tendency towards the “person to person encounter” (and persons who represent both tendencies). Tillich relates to God through what he calls “The Courage to Be”. He states that “the courage to be in its radical form is a key to an idea of God which transcends both mysticism and the person-to-person encounter”. I resonate with this for many reasons that would be better understood by reading Tillich directly.

 

I would encourage you to read Tillich’s classic book “The Courage to Be”. It is a book of less than 200 pages but it may take you some time because Tillich stretches the limits of language. If you find an appetite for Tillich then you can go on and look at Tillich’s ontology and how that compares/contrasts with important figures like Whitehead who also has had a heavy influence upon Progressive Christianity. But if you don’t find Tillich an easy read then read Spong who is heavily influenced by Tillich.

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I agree the term is not that important but I’d like to hear how David views Tillich on this topic.

One thing I recall is the way he defines faith as "ultimate concern," and sees religion itself as one of the great dangers to faith, because religious systems tend to become rigid and suppress the insight, love, and vitality that gave them their original inspiration and growth.

I agree that this is Tillich and that this is true.

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More on Paul Tillich - I found this an interesting background for the question “progressing towards what?”

paraphrasing from The Spiritual Situation in our Technical Society, essays by Paul Tillich, 1988

 

The idea of progress as expressed in the bible and the Christian church, as well as in Judaism and Islam, involves the idea that God has promised us something related to the future, and that in spite of all resistance on the part of the people, he will fulfill his promise and establish heavenly rule over all the world. This idea of the divine revealing itself in history-- progress toward an end-- has always been important in the development of Chistianity.

 

[still, how does the kingdom get defined? the book of Revelation?]

 

A 12th century abbot, Joachim de Fiore, formed the doctrine that there were three stages in history; the stage of the Father in the Old Testament, the stage of the Son (the first 1000 years of church history) and the coming of a third stage of the Divine Spirit, in which there will be no more church since everyone will be taught by the Spirit. In this stage there will be equality…a classless society. The idea of the third stage was taken on by the Reformation, which underlies most of this country’s religion and became the religious roots of Western tradition.

 

The secularized idea of progress starts with the Renaissance…the great Utopian writings, etc. By the 19th century Christian dogma had been transformed into faith in progress. Then all this was shaken in the 20th century, ending a phase. Today we need a new inquiry into the validity and the limits of the idea of progress. The extension of national independence, ending racial / ethnic conflicts, awareness that our attitude toward non Christian religions has to be one of dialogue….

 

[there must be many more recent writings related to this, perhaps the Open Theism movement etc]

Edited by rivanna
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Tillich provided a distinction between teleological and ontological thinking with his concept of the “eternal now”. He says the “present” is “more than” an “ever-moving boundary line between past and future” (see “The Eternal Now” book of sermons and the sermon by the same name).

 

There is an “eternal” dimension within the “now”. “People who are never aware of this dimension lose the possibility of resting in the present…They are held by the past and cannot separate themselves from it, or they escape towards the future, unable to rest in the present. They have not entered the eternal rest which stops the flux of time and gives us the blessings of the present”.

 

So what does “progress” give us? If we relate “progress” to teleological concepts and study “history” then “progress” could relate to Borg’s “shift” from one paradigm to another. That “shift” certainly has something to do with history. Tillich wrote over 500 pages on “A History of Christian Thought—From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism” so history was important to Tillich. But Tillich would suggest that regardless of where one wants to focus their attention upon within history there has always been and always will be that “eternal now”. History does not produce or change the essential nature of that “eternal now”. That is ontological thinking.

 

"Progress" could then mean going from not being aware of that "eternal rest that stops the flux of time" to finding that "awareness". I would like that kind of "progress".

Edited by David
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Tillich provided a distinction between teleological and ontological thinking with his concept of the “eternal now”. He says the “present” is “more than” an “ever-moving boundary line between past and future” (see “The Eternal Now” book of sermons and the sermon by the same name).

 

There is an “eternal” dimension within the “now”. “People who are never aware of this dimension lose the possibility of resting in the present…They are held by the past and cannot separate themselves from it, or they escape towards the future, unable to rest in the present. They have not entered the eternal rest which stops the flux of time and gives us the blessings of the present”.

 

So what does “progress” give us? If we relate “progress” to teleological concepts and study “history” then “progress” could relate to Borg’s “shift” from one paradigm to another. That “shift” certainly has something to do with history. Tillich wrote over 500 pages on “A History of Christian Thought—From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism” so history was important to Tillich. But Tillich would suggest that regardless of where one wants to focus their attention upon within history there has always been and always will be that “eternal now”. History does not produce or change the essential nature of that “eternal now”. That is ontological thinking.

 

"Progress" could then mean going from not being aware of that "eternal rest that stops the flux of time" to finding that "awareness". I would like that kind of "progress".

 

I could be the other way around. These points have parallels in other fields of discourse and are not all that new. One person finds renewal in flux and the other is stasis. Plato and Heraclitus. Whitehead and Jung suggest the Taoist alternative, the "third" in the "two".

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I could be the other way around. These points have parallels in other fields of discourse and are not all that new. One person finds renewal in flux and the other is stasis. Plato and Heraclitus. Whitehead and Jung suggest the Taoist alternative, the "third" in the "two".

I understand the Tao as being both transcendent and immanent and to that extent the Tao is what Tillich would call the “eternal now”. Neither concept is static (I understand “static” to be a teleological concept). I think Tillich agrees about much with Jung. Jung never pretended to be a theologian. As far as Whitehead is concerned the conflict simplified is between ontological thinking and teleological thinking.

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David,

 

Thanks, that was a helpful clarification. I’ve read that part of Tillich before but had forgotten how it related to the concept of progress. The chapter seems to imply that progress can only really occur on an individual basis—or am I misreading?

 

For me it’s one of his most difficult and mysterious concepts, especially the negative view on afterlife, yet it resonates with Jesus’ teachings…that the key to living in the eternal present, is forgiveness.

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I understand the Tao as being both transcendent and immanent and to that extent the Tao is what Tillich would call the “eternal now”. Neither concept is static (I understand “static” to be a teleological concept). I think Tillich agrees about much with Jung. Jung never pretended to be a theologian. As far as Whitehead is concerned the conflict simplified is between ontological thinking and teleological thinking.

Minsocal,

We have had a form of this discussion before---how we disagree based upon Whitehead/Jung/Tillich. That discussion is in the Debate area under "Process Theology" and is contained mostly between posts 46 and 92. If I understand it correctly we agreed to disagree on whether God/the Divine/the Spirit in Borg's "Spirit filled" Jesus was more than the consciousness that Jung talks about. I understood you to say that it was not and I wanted to say that it was "more". Anyway if you want to continue that conversation could you pick it up after post 92 (or somewhere there abouts).

Edited by David
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David,

 

Thanks, that was a helpful clarification. I’ve read that part of Tillich before but had forgotten how it related to the concept of progress. The chapter seems to imply that progress can only really occur on an individual basis—or am I misreading?

 

For me it’s one of his most difficult and mysterious concepts, especially the negative view on afterlife, yet it resonates with Jesus’ teachings…that the key to living in the eternal present, is forgiveness.

Rivanna,

 

It seems to me that at the heart of this is mystery that resonates with Jesus.

 

I think that the recent discussion about what is deeper than correct belief or correct action points to that “eternal now”. I think that forgiveness may be the most important or at least one of the most important experiences that provide proof of what is deeper than correct belief or correct action. That “deep experience” it is both transcendent and immanent “within” time but “beyond” time. It is not “static”. It is “transforming”.

 

But what does it have to do with “progress”? Are we “better persons” after such an experience? I suspect in some way we are but again it has more to do with an awareness that we may not have had before. So in that sense there may be “progress”. This may be an individual experience but I have been in groups where the “group experience” was palpable. And it seemed to me that we were never again the “same group” after such an experience. So in that sense there may be “group progress”.

 

I think that within the teleological framework “progress” towards better tools can be made so that we can have “more correct” belief and action. That is the normal understanding of “progress”. Nothing I say should be misunderstood as opposing that except to suggest that if we “do Church” only on that and not become aware of that “eternal now” or that which is deeper than correct belief/action then we will miss out.

 

Now I should get off my soapbox. I am probably posting too much. Time for me to take my “time off”. AR, where are you? If I don't post will you?

 

David

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