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Teaching Our Faith


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I suppose I may be a "progressive" christian though titling myself as such hasn't before occurred to me. It was after many years of irreconcilable differences between my faith and my knowledge that I was introduced to the books of Bishop John Shelby Spong, allowing me at last to find beliefs that made sense to me. I post now not to delve more into my beliefs, let's just categorize my progressive tendancies toward Spong's side (but my faith is in Christ).

 

I am leading an Adult Sunday School (Bible study, really) of the book of Matthew within a Methodist church that is very much not progressive, but that is best called a small, older, "country" church. I am very excited about this, as I have some inquisitive members in the class and also because I decided to teach my faith. I do not know what 'coming out of the closet' is like for homosexuals, but I suppose I have my own belief-closet from which to emerge. Initialy reactions have been good: I have to say I was surprised at how well received the "theory of lectionary gospel formation" was received by the class and even the pastor of my church.

 

I'd like to hear from others of you that are teaching your progessive faith. Are you afraid to? Are you able to? Should you be expected to "keep quiet" about it? If you are teaching, what are some of your experiences? Have you been successful in shaking people out of their theistic and literal interpretations?

 

John

Baltimore, MD

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As a United Methodist pastor, I too have felt some tension about being "too overt" in sharing all of the specifics of my progressive theological beliefs. I view such revealing/self-disclosing as the blooming of a flower; i.e. an unfoldig which happens over the course of the development of personal relationships. During my first year in a given congregation, I try to come across as rather neutral; albeit explicity Wesleyan, Arminian, pro- growth in discipleship; pro-evangelism (in a fundamentalist manner), and also pro- putting our faith into action in matters of peace and justice --- i.e. I try to focus on emphasizing our general Methodist heritage and perspective.

 

In time, and as trust and mutual love emerge, I begin to share more and more of the specifics of my faith, but not all at once, and not in an overly academic manner. (I try to apply the adage: "The people won't care how much you know, until they know how much you care!")

 

I've rarely said that "I am an adherant to Process Theology," but I do preach sermons from that perspective - and interestingly, people who wouldn't care to knowingly adopt Process Theology for themselves often either a) resonate with what I have to say and agree with it; or B) they hear things that I say from their own more traditional perspective; e.g. when I refer to God as "Gracious, Loving, Creator, God.." they hear "Lord, Almighty Father God.." and when I say "God created the world in such a way that God doesn't control everything that happens... ", they hear "God allow us the freedom of exercising free will..." etc...

 

I often find myself encouraging the more progressive congregants to lead Adult Bible Studies, etc. and some of them have even had their classes members reading Spong, Walter Wink, etc.

 

I advocate "easing into it" and recommend the following progression of books for an adult study group to explore:

 

1) "Good Goats: Seeking a Healthier Image of God" by Linn et al;

 

2) Liberals & Other Born-Again Christians, by Sally Geis;

 

3) Ten Things I Learned Wrong from a Conservative Church, John Killinger

 

Again, I wouldn't adivse leading such a series unless and until you've developed fairly solid personal and loving relationships with many of the people who would be in the class. - People may not agree with your beliefs or perspectives, but they won't reject you or your leadership this way.

 

p.s. You might want to check out the "Resources for Progressive Christians" document that I posted on the tcpc bulletin board webpage.

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"I'd like to hear from others of you that are teaching your progessive faith.  Are you afraid to?  Are you able to?  Should you be expected to "keep quiet" about it?  If you are teaching, what are some of your experiences?  Have you been successful in shaking people out of their theistic and literal interpretations?"

John, ..... Baltimore, MD

John,

It's a crime that we have to feel defensive about being "Liberals" (which I prefer to "progressives"), because that's what Jesus was 2000 years ago and would be in America today. See what I mean by reading our www.LiberalsLikeChrist.Org/Liberals and www.LiberalsLikeChrist.Org/Christlike pages.

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"The people won't care how much you know, until they know how much you care!"

A Great truth, brother:

Since retiring from the active UMC ministry, I've been able to "progress" unhindered by the huge ball and chain of the establishment. I'm not sure any church can escape the drag of hundreds if not thousands of years of doing and believing things a certain way and millions of members having to be persuaded that they have been wrong.

 

Just one example: read my www.LiberalsLikeChrist.Org/PaulvsAll web page, and

read the book, The Mythmaker, by the Jewish scholar Hyram Maccoby (who knows more about the Jewish dimensions AND PERSONALITIES of the New Testament than all the Christian scholars I have ever known put together), and ask yourself how many life-times it will take before "the Church" figures out that Paul of Tarsus has done Christianity more harm than good.

 

Does that statement blow your mind? See the point that I am making?

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Whoops! I found a rather humorous error in my post above

 

re: my sentance: "I try to come across as rather neutral; albeit explicity Wesleyan, Arminian, pro- growth in discipleship; pro-evangelism (in a fundamentalist manner)..." it should read (in a NON-fundamentalist manner!).

 

But I think most of you probably already knew that... : )

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, here is my perspective:

 

I've thought through everything I belive and my worldview is coherent and logical. I know what I believe, I'm not ashamed of it, and I really don't care if someone disagrees (whether they be a conservative or a liberal, I tend to be neither, I live in no man's land). With that said, it is not my place to judge anyone. Nor ethnocentrism right, nor the forcing of any belief. Tolerance and acceptance do not equate with endorsement. The problem is not that people disagree or debate or voice their worldviews, but the problem rears its familiar ugly head when any view is forced (hence the true difference between a conservative and a fundamentalist).

 

I consider myself to be an "Evangelical Liberal". Although I thoroughly view "evangelical" as an appropriate attribute of the Christian Church, I do not necessarily define"evangelical" the same way that other evangelicals do. It is simply the Greek euangelion, or Good News. It doesn't innately have anything to do with proselytisation. Nor is proselytising really appropriate. The euangelion is the only thing that really matters. As a fellow conserva-liberal put it: "Love God, Love Others, Nothing Else Matters" (Bart Campola, son of Tony Campola). Cultural relativism exists within the frame of an overarching wirklichkeit and is a valid concept. The Christ occurence, as Bultmann called it, is the only necessary existential truth.

 

I teach and I write in every capacity that I can. These are the things I want to do in life.

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  • 4 weeks later...

This is a fascinating discussion.

I don't know the American context very well and am a bit bemused by some of the beliefs/phenomena described here. They seem so exotic.

What continues to strike me is the need to label oneself/others.

 

In Europe, including Britain and Ireland, I feel that there are many people (a large minority?) who could be described as progressive but that there's a sort of complicity not to be divisive, so you sort of have to work it out in the groups you are member of. I'm a Catholic and also have a lot to do with Anglicans, so that may skew the sample.

 

In private, most of the people I mix with (publishing, academia) are post-Christian and stunningly ignorant* of Christian history and doctrine (another way in which the two sides of the Atlantic differ?) so it doesn't arise.

 

 

Gerard

 

*e.g. I realised in a discussion at a conference last summer that the person I was talking to was confusing Martin Luther and Martin Luther King!

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In private, most of the people I mix with (publishing, academia) are post-Christian and stunningly ignorant* of Christian history and doctrine (another way in which the two sides of the Atlantic differ?) so it doesn't arise.

Ignorant....as in deciding it to be irrelevant? I fear that the fundamentalist message has pushed many into the camp that finds such "Christian history and doctrine" to be trivial at best.

 

I, an American ex-UMC (candidate for ministry to boot), am dangerously close to turning away (for good) from any aspect of the Christian story. In this postmodern era, there are so many other narratives that provide me with as much (if not more) hope and meaning.

 

...and much less baggage.

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I sympathise with 'transcendentalist' about the 'baggage' which Chruistianity has with it, which implies orthodoxy or literalism to many, but I refuse to give up my faith to the fundamentalists. It is my faith and my church (and everyone's) and not just theirs.

 

There is a testimony on the Sea of Faith suite from a catholic priest who has shed his former belief in the supernatural but continues to preach Christianity and that is good. I believe we need to persist firmly but gently in stressing that Progressive Christianity as defined here is not a crank cult or an excuse for wishy-washy liberalism but a viable way forward, indeed the only viable way forward if Christianity is to survive this century .

 

I wish you courage in continuing to teach openness. I believe 'education' should be a drawing out of what is within, and it's better for people to be led to realise the gift for progressive thinking within themselves rather than feel they are being 'told'. If they are encvouraged to think and express the view themselves they will more readily identify with it and spread it to others.

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In reply to Transcendentalist and Ford MB:

 

I agree: it's vital to assert our right to the tradition that has nourished us. It also gives us a framework in which to develop progressive christianity, otherwise we risk getting lost in an eclectic maze.

 

I think those ignorant of Christianity in the way I described have usually never addressed it intellectually or even culturally, they therefore haven't rejected it.

 

I hope transcendentalist remains a christian: I turned away from the church for 20 years: I regret I did not return earlier. We should sustain one another.

 

Gerard

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  • 2 months later...

I attended a very conservative seminary for about a year. Trust me, it was very hard being the only liberal there. I would constantly be ridiculed by my classmates and talked about by my teachers. Some though, had many questions and that made it worth my time there.

I left that college and now am seeking a new school to attend, but I can say that it is always worth it. Tell everyone what you think, because the other side of our Christian coin is definitely telling their story.

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  • 3 weeks later...

We may need to support each other in church, but trying to express any sort of progressive viewpoints in a fundamentalist system will only likely get you named a heretic and cause you to be outcast. The fundamentalist churches have a system of branding those who question the "fundamentals" as something worse than leperous on whom even the faithful evangelists won't waste time. To actually have opinions that there's something wrong with the doctrine of the trinity and then to dare state those doubts to even one person gets one labeled a deviant and a dangerous subversive. How in the world can progressives make it work in church? The fundamentalist system can't change from the inside. They are too entrenched in their viewpoints being the infallible revelatory word of God.

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The hostile views about anything (or anyone, for that matter) untraditional is one of the reasons I left the church for so long. It's sad to me that differences in interpretations of God's love can draw such hostile lines between people. I live my Progressive faith by example. I am a part of Progressive organizations (both religious and mundane) and speak my opinions every time I get the chance. So many fundamentalists are 1) taught that all progressive/liberal thinkers are tree-hugging, pot-smoking, Neo-hippies that want to take away their proverbal "guns" and corrupt their children, and 2) aren't moral people anyway, so they're already condemed to Hell. I am rebellous, yes, but threatning, not so much. Once people see that I'm progressive, but I'm not promiscuous, I don't drink (which is more tan I can say about many fundamentalist teens), don't do drugs (etc) and that I try to be a a generaly good person they tend to, at the very least, let me speak my mind, even though they don't agree. For where I'm at in life right now, it's my best way of sreading my faith.

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We are too kind to them when we use the word fundamentalist : no-one can claim that, for example, St Paul's views on women in the church belong to the fundamental core of the christian message.

 

This lack of distinction between core and peripheral questions, between the significance of Jesus' actions and words and their cultural context is an imaginative, intellectual and spiritual weakness. It is 'progressives' who are able to make the distinctions and work within a living tradition.

 

Defining what is central to the christian message and expressing it for our age

is an exciting task.

 

(In practice even the most conservative are selective:

When catholic traditionalists argue that women cannot be priests because none of the 12 were women, we can answer that none were gentiles ... !)

 

Gerard

Edited by gerard
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