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Input Wanted Re: Progressive/conservative Typology


BrotherRog
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Okay, my Take 2 didn't work either...

 

So, Let me post it here as an attachment.

 

 

I was asked to be a guest speaker for a forum for Christian students at a local University tonight and I prepared the attachment found below as a hand out as part of my presentation. I'll be refining that document soon for other purposes and I'm soliciting the feedback and input from the members of this august and sage forum to help it be as helpful as possible. Thank you for your assistance.

 

-BrotherRog

Emphases_of_Progressive___Conservative_Christianity.doc

Edited by BrotherRog
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Nice dichotic portrayal. It must have been very hard to put together because it is inherently an attempt to simplify a complex situation into managable soundbites. You've covered a lot of ground here quickly.

 

A suggestion: Perhaps rather than trying to codify two positions, why not go for three? You could break it all into the standard descriptions Progressive, Traditional, and Conservative. That might alleviate some of the pressure that seems to arise in the dichotic listing. Personally, I don't think of Xy as a progressive to conservative (left to right) spectrum. The image I tend to use is that of a triangle in which the "middle" isn't really a "middle" but a distinct position that is as far from the "left" and "right" as they are from each other. Also, they are college students, so it would be good for them to learn to think less in either/or terms.

 

Also, when portraying conservative xy, you might want to avoid literalism as a criteria. That might be a key feature of fundamentalism, but it isn't necessarilly a feature of conservative xy. An example would be where you talk about the Bible. I would describe it this way...

 

Progressive: Emphasis on human contribution as shaped by author's context

Conservative: Emphasis on divine contribution and revelation of timeless Truth

 

Come to think of it (I'm thinking out loud here), instead of identifying this chart as "descriptions," maybe it would be better to identify things as "what the general perspective tends to emphasize." So, for salvation your chart might read...

 

Progressive: Emphasis on abundant life as experienced in the historically (here and now)

Conservative: Emphasis on eternal life to be fulfilled eschatologically (in the hereafter)

 

Just some thoughts. I don't have much time so I'll have to get back to you with more later.

 

Overall, it sounds like a cool project. I'm sure you will do very well with it however you decide to go about it.

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Personally, I don't think of Xy as a progressive to conservative (left to right) spectrum. The image I tend to use is that of a triangle in which the "middle" isn't really a "middle" but a distinct position that is as far from the "left" and "right" as they are from each other.

 

Xian: Nice analogy! You should have chimed in with it on the Jesus Seminar thread. I know I'm most comfortable describing myself as moderate, but I don't think of it as a position that lies between two polar opposites.

 

Question: You used the terms Progressive, Traditional and Conservative. That threw me, because in my mind that would mean Traditional=Moderate. However, I've known some very conservative "Traditional Christians" (Traditional=Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian. ie "Liturgical"). Am I misunderstanding what the term "Traditional" means? I see it used to differentiate certain Christian beliefs from more evangelical, charismatic or fundamentalist beliefs.

 

BroRog: I ditto everything Xian has to say. :)

Edited by AletheiaRivers
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Xian:

 

I'm also interested in exactly how you want to differentiate "traditional" from "conservative." "Liturgical" is a good meaning, but it wouldn't work as a third point on this particular map, because it isn't primarily a theological framework. It can also mean "orthodox" in a very specific sense: the implied philosophical and theological perspective of the original creeds. However, despite the fact that the creed is said across the world every week, relatively few people out there would actually call themselves fifth-century neo-Platonist Christians!

 

For modern usefulness, I'd be more inclined to use it to mean the "typical" theology of the "typical" "traditional" Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, etc. christian. Obviously there is some difficulty in focusing that in to a single point; but you'd get a pretty darn good idea from reading, say, any one of the many books out there by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. There are key differences between this and a distinctively modern type of conservatism like evangelicalism, but at the end of the day, the fundamental philosophies still aren't so far apart. It's probably a worthwhile candidate for inclusion on the map, depending on your audience.

 

So now we have a small triangle on the great plane, rather than just a line segment. ;)

 

Aletheia:

 

I definitely agree that your views are not "moderate" in the sense of being a compromise between conservative and liberal Christianity. I'm merely railing against the (basically) two-dimensionality of popular theological conceptions. The world would be a better place if the average Christian did half as much spiritual and theological investigation as you have!

 

Bro:

 

Let us know how things go!

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BroRog:

 

I was inspired by your typology, so I thought I'd take a crack at summarizing my own ideas under those same headings. I grouped a few together, and probably left a couple out, but it's a decent start.

 

=====

 

Nutshell Description

 

Christianity is a matrix of images, ideas, and practices; perceived and constructed by the human intellect and imagination; from within the limitations of specific historical, cultural, and personal horizons; under the inspiration and illumination of God. Emphasis on the deep understanding of the conditions of existence (personal, social, and cosmic); on the transformation of these modes of existence in accordance with the concerns of harmony and justice; and on the liberation of the Divine element within all things. Boundaries and definitions are essential, but never final, as God is infinite, and we are not.

 

God

 

God is ineffable, inexhaustible, thoroughly beyond all forms and concepts. God is perfect unity, “One without a Second.” It is, however, a unity which also contains within itself inexhaustible dynamism and relationship. In perfect freedom and power, it pleased God to manifest this dynamic relationship by way of an “emptying out” into the form of the Cosmos: the supreme act of self-limitation and self-sacrifice, simultaneously generating both the painful condition of separation, and the seed of reconciliation necessary to overcome it.

 

Jesus/Bible

 

Jesus is that seed of reconciliation. There is little doubt that Jesus was a historical figure, and that he turned the first century social and spiritual world upside-down; but the story of Jesus is foremost a spiritual allegory. Far from being an exaggeration of the “facts,” this “greatest story ever told” weaves epic themes into mundane biographical details in an entirely novel way, to create a prism through which the entire Cosmos can be seen. In Jesus, we see the soul’s battle with darkness, and its journey into God. In Jesus, we see all the world’s claims to power challenged, and a new life of justice promised. In Jesus, we see the very universe shaken to its core, and lit on fire with the Spirit of Truth.

 

Salvation/Heaven/Eschatology

 

Salvation is nothing less than the transformation and liberation of the Cosmos, already accomplished in the act of creation itself, and perceived in the mysterious and awful image of the Cross. While personal and social wholeness on Earth, and the joy of union with God in eternity, are certainly to be welcomed, they are simply the fruit of this great work in which God bids us participate.

 

Sin/Hell

 

If salvation is the transformation and liberation of the Cosmos, then sin is willfully persisting in the condition of ignorance and separation once one has seen the truth. Having the same metaphysical scope as salvation, it is a spiritual neurosis that takes personal, social, and cosmic forms.

 

Cross

 

The cross is the juxtaposition of opposites: the symbol of the condition of our existence. It is the state of separation, and paradoxically, the only way out of it. It is the “victory” of self-sacrifice: a snare for the evil one. In the horizontal dimension, it is a restoration of the balance of power. In the vertical dimension, it breaks the cycle of vengeance, bringing healing and forgiveness. The depth of this magical image has probably barely begun to be comprehended.

 

Humans

 

Humanity is a peculiar Divine self-expression indeed, capable of monumental greatness, matched only by his colossal wretchedness. We have borne the great burden of being close enough to see the light, but not quite close enough to touch it. We are charged with the task of crossing the threshold. We’ve seen the Cross. We saw it in the Garden, and shirked away, and the world will never be the same.

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For modern usefulness, I'd be more inclined to use it to mean the "typical" theology of the "typical" "traditional" Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, etc. christian.

 

The definition of "Traditional" that I had in mind is a blend of what you said above, coupled with some emphasis on the Apostles Creed (even if only a little).

 

Beliefnet (who I know is not the definitive guide to theological word usage) has this description for the "Traditional Christianity" area of the board:

 

In this area, Beliefnet welcomes Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians who subscribe to the Apostles' Creed, believe that the Bible is the normative source of authority for Christians but do not necessarily believe the Bible is inerrant, and believe that the traditions of the Church must inform one's understanding of Christianity.

 

On that board (the Traditional Christian board) are liberal, moderate and conservative Christians. Some are Reformed, some are Arminian and some are in-between.

 

Another area of the board is called "Evangelical." The disclaimer there says:

 

In this area, Beliefnet welcomes Christians who believe that the Bible is literally true, inerrant, and the only authority for Christian faith, and that that accepting Jesus Christ as one's only Lord is the only way to salvation.

 

I don't know that I agree with their definition of Evangelical.

 

And for Progressives it says:

 

In this area, Beliefnet welcomes Christians who base their faith primarily on the Bible, do not necessarily believe the Bible is inerrant, and identify primarily as Christians but may find truth expressed in other faiths as well.

 

This fits what it means to be Progressive, but it is a pretty loose definition.

 

I would say that "Traditional Christians" have a tendency to be moderate overall. However enough aren't that using the term interchangeably with moderate might get a bit confusing. :)

Edited by AletheiaRivers
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Fred wrote: Aletheia: I definitely agree that your views are not "moderate" in the sense of being a compromise between conservative and liberal Christianity. I'm merely railing against the (basically) two-dimensionality of popular theological conceptions. The world would be a better place if the average Christian did half as much spiritual and theological investigation as you have!

 

I didn't think you thought that my views were a compromise! :lol::blink: I love it when I get to put together sentences like that!

 

I totally understand where you are coming from. Some of my own frustration squeaked out in a post from a couple of days ago where I mentioned that I get frustrated as to whether focusing on Jesus' Jewishness is helpful or if it hinders. Right now, I'm in the "it helps" phase. ;)

 

Thanks for noticing how much reading I do. I probably do too much, but I just can't help it. It's in my blood. :)

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I like Brother Rog's contrasts between "progressive" and "conservative".

 

As a liberal Christian I am resigned that for the foreseeable future liberal religion will mean many different things from having one foot in tradition and one foot in secularism to many idiosyncratic theologies, from complete rationalism to a degree of mysticism that would even make conservatives uncomfortable.

 

I am sure there are various dimensions one can describe such as who and what God is or rationalism vs. mysticism. One approach is to have an orthodox position on each one of these, to which megachurches can acheive complete adherence, or to promote freedom to come to God in whatever way God and the human seeking God work out. I trust the latter process much more. I wouldn't if I could have orthodox beliefs, but I tried those. They are unbelievable to me, as are the conservatives who try to sell those beliefs. Instead I find God to be decidely unorthodox. So I am a liberal, progressive, whatever. I'll even accept heretic as long as no one wants to burn me for it.

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I think another important part of the distinction is epistemology (i.e., theory of knowledge, how we know what we know, etc.). BroRog partly addressed it under the topic of "Bible," and Xian offered some helpful suggestions, but the issue goes deeper than just how one reads the Bible. I would say that the conservative/traditional forms of Christianity have an epistemology of authority, whereas the liberal forms have an epistemology of suspicion. The various conservative braches of Christianity may vehemently disagree over the precise locus of authority -- Bible alone, creeds, councils, pope, combinations of any and all of the above -- but at the end of the day, God has spoken, and authorized some person, or group, or process, to faithfully communicate it. Liberalism, on the other hand, insofar as it adheres to the historical-critical method, tends to see spiritual or theological authority as control, and is therefore suspicious of any "truth" it claims to speak on God's behalf. This is unless, of course, the "truth" in question dovetails with its social and political concerns, in which case, mysteriously and suddenly, all skepticism disappears, and we've accessed the "true," "original" teachings of Jesus, or whatever.

 

I don't know, both versions sound a lot like power to me. It seems to me that while the Truth is powerfully and awesomely real, it speaks out of a deep authority all its own, not out of any external authority conferred upon it. And when it does speak, the person who has ears to hear will hear it and remember.

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There is also the companion saying to the "ears to hear" admonishment of Jesus. One must also have "eyes to see" to know the "truth".

 

Isn't it interesting that some of us seem to be able to determine deception by many in "power" simply by watching and hearing them on television. I wouldn't call it a judgemental process, although it can turn into that if one is not careful with his/her opinions and beliefs. But, it may best be called a "truth" determining ability that seems to be developing in humanity after fifty years of conditioning and evolving understanding through watching and listening to the medium.

 

flow.... ;)

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Whatever determines that process, flowperson, I've noticed it applies just as much to political "truth" as it does to religious "truth". It is easy to be self-serving when one decides what is the most objective truth, but I will always like the technique of trying to understand everyone's point of view.

 

Partisanship has people looking so quickly for things to attack and things to defend in what someone is saying. I think it is helpful to see if there is anything I can agree on in listening to anyone and then think about that. That's not on everyone's agenda.

 

Fred, yet those who you see as having an epistemology of authority also embrace alternative medicine such as nutritional supplements or high colonics. Until they developed their current political power, they were suspicious of government. They are still suspicious of bureaucracy. They don't go for just any authority.

 

The Bible is a special authority not just to conservatives, but to many liberals as well, who feel the need to say Bible stories are at least metaphors from God rather than say they are ancient myths, some of which being completely useless today.

 

Like many today I prefer empiricism as epistemology. Of course, "seeing is believing" is not a modern invention, but the success of science does give a standard for how well empiricism can work. That it doesn't work as well for spiritual experiences is more about how difficult it is for us still to reach inside someone's mind than about empiricism not applying to some part of life. It's interesting to me that while "seeing is believing" comes naturally to us, so does filling in all gaps with fantasy, even if that fantasy is an atheistic fantasy that no intelligent person should even consider the existence of God. People manage to be very opinionated despite the lack of data sometimes. I think that's beyond any dualism to explain. It is our nature. How many factors determine how our nature and culture interact remains to be seen.

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Fred, yet those who you see as having an epistemology of authority also embrace alternative medicine such as nutritional supplements or high colonics. Until they developed their current political power, they were suspicious of government. They are still suspicious of bureaucracy. They don't go for just any authority.

I never said that traditionalists are just looking for any authority to place their faith in. On the contrary, some of the most counter-cultural Christians in history have been traditionalists -- often precisely because they are suspicious of any other form of authority than the one they take to be normative. Nevertheless, the basis for the content and meaning of faith for a traditionalist is rooted in some particular mechanism of authority, and that basis is something that, as far as I can see, defines someone as a traditionalist.

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Whatever determines that process, flowperson, I've noticed it applies just as much to political "truth" as it does to religious "truth". It is easy to be self-serving when one decides what is the most objective truth, but I will always like the technique of trying to understand everyone's point of view.

 

Partisanship has people looking so quickly for things to attack and things to defend in what someone is saying. I think it is helpful to see if there is anything I can agree on in listening to anyone and then think about that. That's not on everyone's agenda.

 

I can only explain the mechanism of determining truth or falsehood in this regard as some innate ability that certain people have of sensing some sort of "alarm" when listening and observing others in person or in video mode. I find my "alarm" being triggered more and more when watching the national news, so I just don't do that much anymore.

 

It is not merely the processing of verbal information and trying to make intelligent choices about what is being said, it is really more of a visceral and intuitive set of reactions that tells you that deep involvements with a person and his/her activities over the long term are likely not to be to your benefit or edification.

 

I guess you could call it being judgemental to an extent, but it is deeper and more profound than that in a lot of ways. It is more like obeying a "law of the jungle" thing. You sense that you have to to protect yourself.

 

I believe that a lot of people operate in that mode today even though superficial courtesies in everyday life tend to cover-up the visceral thing. Acknowledging the existence of such things among people that trust each other are the things that really cement relationships over time, and the reason that family relations are so special.

 

flow.... :)

Edited by flowperson
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Question: You used the terms Progressive, Traditional and Conservative. That threw me, because in my mind that would mean Traditional=Moderate. However, I've known some very conservative "Traditional Christians" (Traditional=Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian. ie "Liturgical"). Am I misunderstanding what the term "Traditional" means? I see it used to differentiate certain Christian beliefs from more evangelical, charismatic or fundamentalist beliefs.
Xian:I'm also interested in exactly how you want to differentiate "traditional" from "conservative." "Liturgical" is a good meaning, but it wouldn't work as a third point on this particular map, because it isn't primarily a theological framework. It can also mean "orthodox" in a very specific sense: the implied philosophical and theological perspective of the original creeds.

 

Alas, now I feel compelled to change my terminology. How about...

Conservative=emphasis on authority as derived from inspired texts.

Progressive=emphasis on authority as derived from inspired spirit.

Traditional/narrative=emphasis on authority as derived from inspiried story.

 

Some examples of why they would be on a triangle rather than a line. I admit that they are simplistic, but I hope it helps understand where I'm coming from.

 

*********

 

Question: What is more authoritative, the texts or experience?

Answer for conservatives and narratives: the texts, because they are either the authoritative word of God or the authoritative narrative that calls us out of the narratives of culture.

Answer for progressives: Experience, because the texts work through metaphor to help us to connect with the God active in our lives and in the world. Hence, if science and the texts are at odds, then science wins.

 

Question: How important is the historical Jesus?

Answer for conservatives and progressives: Very important, because the Christian religion is centered on an historical figure. From a conservative perspective, because the texts are inspired, the Christ of faith and the historical Jesus are the same. From a progressive perspective, the Christian religion needs to separate the Christ of faith from the historical Jesus. When we find the two at odds, the historical (revolutionary, prophetic) Jesus becomes the model, as opposed to the Christ of faith which has been co-opted by power structures and used as a tool for oppression.

 

Answer for narratives: Not very important, because it is the "story" of Jesus as passed down that is authoritative, not the actual person. Spiritual transformation happens as the story of Jesus undermines the stories that we inhabit in the work-a-day world and rewrites them, thus emptying our lives of old meaning and filling it with new meaning. Because it is the storythat is authoritative, Jesus (in and of himself) is ultimately irrelevant. Indeed, I would suggest that whether or not Jesus actually existed as an historical figure is also irrelevant in the narrative sense.

 

Question: How important is mindful tradition?

Answer for progressives and narratives: Very important. From a progressive perspective, history is the process of continual becoming, which also applies to the church. It builds on what came before by reformulating in order to make it meaningful for the "next generation." From a narrative perspective, tradition is an extension of the authoritative story in the Bible. It is the Holy Spirit operating through the story of the church that allow for authoritative interpretation of the christian story, which is why they argue that non-Christians (defined as those who do not participate in the community) can't tell a Christian about the meaning of Christianity.

 

Answer for conservatives: Not important, since all that is needed to be Christian is to have faith in God and believe in what the Bible clearly teaches. This is what it means to be Christian at all times and all places.

 

********

 

Now that I've tried to properly place everything back into the triangle that certain people (who shall remain nameless) tried to flatten, I would like to point out that part of the triangle scheme is to allow for a "field" of play rather than just a "line."

 

Also, thanks for the good questions. One of the reasons that I took so long to get to this was because I really had to think about it before I could find a way to describe it (which still is probably lacking). A good challenging growth experience.

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Conservative=emphasis on authority as derived from inspired texts.

Progressive=emphasis on authority as derived from inspired spirit.

Traditional/narrative=emphasis on authority as derived from inspiried story.

 

I'm inspired, thanks! ;)

 

All kidding aside, by your definition (and other definitions I have read) I fall into the Traditional camp overall.

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Alas, now I feel compelled to change my terminology.  How about...

Conservative=emphasis on authority as derived from inspired texts.

Progressive=emphasis on authority as derived from inspired spirit.

Traditional/narrative=emphasis on authority as derived from inspiried story.

It's an interesting attempt, but some of it feels a little forced to me. The main thing that strikes me is that what you're calling a "narrative" approach is not the same as a "traditional" approach -- unless you're using the term "traditional" in a somewhat non-intuitive sense. "Narrative theology" is a specifically postmodern phenomenon which rejects the attempt to ground the stories and images of faith in objective history, and proposes that we take these stories and images at face value, and let them become the symbolic world in which we live, letting them challenge our other identities -- "calling us out of the narrative of culture," as you say. But it's anachronistic, and sometimes simply inaccurate, to retroject this postmodern view onto "traditional" Christianity. (I made this mistake myself in college, when I was immersing myself in Lindbeck and Hauerwas.) "Traditional" Christianity isn't nearly as detached from the historicity of the biblical material as the narrative movement often can be, nor is it as fluid in matters of interpretation as you suggest by "reformulating in order to make it meaningful for the 'next generation.'"

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Now that I've tried to properly place everything back into the triangle that certain people (who shall remain nameless) tried to flatten, I would like to point out that part of the triangle scheme is to allow for a "field" of play rather than just a "line."

 

I guess I should have read your entire post before posting my first reply. I sure didn't intend to flatten your triangle. Hehehehehe. :lol::P

 

I was thinking that perhaps conservative, moderate and liberal were three points on a triangle (rather than a line). Within that triangle you can have conservative traditionalists, moderate traditionalists, liberal traditionalist, conservative evangelicals, moderate evangelicals, etc ...

 

I think of traditionalists or evangelicals or charismatics as being the "theological stance", with liberal, moderate and conservative being a way to describe how "literal" or legalistic or metaphorical a person is towards the historicity of Jesus, the stories, the scriptures.

 

I dunno. I'm still trying to understand all this.

 

I guess I don't really have a problem with "traditional" being the third point on the triangle because, in my experience, traditional Christians do have a tendency to be more "moderate" in their views as far as how they view the Christian story. Meaning they believe it's history, but not necessarily told in a literal, innerrant way (like most evangelicals or fundamentalists).

 

I don't know much about "narrative theology", so I can't comment on how it fits within a traditional Christian worldview. :)

Edited by AletheiaRivers
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