On the Definition and Meaningfulness of Progressive Christianity

Deutsche Version: Über die Definition und Bedeutsamkeit vom progressiven Christentum 

Youtube version.

Here, I want to give my own thoughts about the definition of progressive Christianity, as I understand the term and apply it to myself.

Basically, and at the risk of oversimplifying, (most) evangelicals believe that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God and the very foundation of Christianity.
Of course, there are differences in the way infallibility is understood, and some conceptions are much more sophisticated than others.
Yet, the large majority of evangelicals agree that whatever stands in the Bible must be devoutly believed in, even if this leads quite a few of them to conclude that genocide and the butchering of babies is sometimes okay, or that God predetermined many human beings to end up in hell where they’ll suffer eternally for sins he pre-ordained them to do.

But they generally beg the question: if we found out that the God of an inerrant Bible is not only not superior to our greatest, most beautiful ethical ideas, but infinitely inferior to them and (grating for the sake of the argument) that this being is real, why should we worship him? And why should we call him God anyway?

To my mind, both progressive and liberal Christianities begin with the realization that it is neither epistemologically nor morally permissible to believe everything standing in our favorite holy book without any kind of reality-check. Our faith should always welcome  facts from the external world and from our undeniably true moral intuitions to correct and possibly abandon our theological doctrines.
If we don’t, we cannot bring up a coherent answer to Sam Harris’s contention that religious people would systematically slit the throat of every girl with red hair if God said so in their sacred scriptures.

Liberals believe  that miracles are impossible (or at the very least extremely unlikely) and that we should interpret the resurrection as a psychological experience of the first disciples. Many go as far as saying that God cannot be personal (even as a distant landlord) and that he has to be some kind of energy or impersonal concept.

Unlike them, progressive Christians do believe in the reality of a supernatural world, or are at the very least open to it (like in my case).
But they don’t view the Christian faith as fixed, unchangeable, but as constantly evolving as new data come in to correct and improve our beliefs.
This raises an interesting question: if we’ve given up inerrancy, how can we make a difference between true and false beliefs about God?
While I cannot pretend to speak for every self-described progressive Christian, my response would be that:

1)      God has necessarily to be a perfect being

2)      Despite all their flaws, humans are quite able to recognize goodness and perfection (and that’s what makes us guilty, like Paul expressed it in Roman 2).

Now, I welcome all your thoughts to this subject, hopefully we’ll have an enjoyable conversation!

Please, remember you’re free and even encouraged to comment on every post at any time!


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42 thoughts on “On the Definition and Meaningfulness of Progressive Christianity

  1. I like your thoughts on this. The term ‘Progressive Christianity’ is a new one to me as I am an American but have been living in the UK for the past 11 years and the term hasn’t crossed over. I always thought of myself as a spiritual Christian which sounds like what Americans are calling progressive Christians. There have of course been Progressive Christians over the centuries but the numbers seem to be growing. I am not sure if I agree with you comment about not seeing the Christian faith as unchangeable. I think rather we are the ones who are changing and evolving in spiritual understanding of something that was always true but it takes quite a bit of searching on our part to understand. Perhaps we are growing into our Christianity or into our spirit? But I do love point 2 when you say ‘Despite all their flaws, humans are quite able to recognize goodness and perfection’. A simple statement that is so true. Many Christians (and myself in the past) are taught to believe in things that makes God to be less loving than we are. However if we approach it with the heart of a child we can’t help but question, how can this be right?

    • Hello tlchurcher and thanks for your comment! If your picture is reliable, you seem to be quite a good-looking woman! 😉

      God HAS to be far greater than we are in order for Him to be God.

      Yet, religious fundamentalists (especially Calvinists) insist He is far more wicked we could ever be.

      I’d be extremely glad to know more about you, girl 😉

      • @ lotharson

        “God HAS to be far greater than we are in order for Him to be God.”

        if we conced that your god exists, how do you know this about your god?

        “Yet, religious fundamentalists (especially Calvinists) insist He is far more wicked we could ever be.”

        could the Calvinists be correct in their understanding?

        if not, why not?

        • It depends on your own definition of the word “God”.

          If it just means “an extremely powerful being who created us”, then he might be a malovelent alien.

          But if you define God as a “perfect being” (and hence morally perfect), this has a lots of consequence in that God has to be better than (or at least as good as) the best human being who has ever lived.

      • @ lotharson

        “It depends on your own definition of the word ‘God’.”

        so, by your definition your god is a “‘perfect being’ (and hence morally perfect)”

        ok, you leave me with little choice but to ask:

        what is a perfect being?

        what does morally perfect mean?

        which leads us back to: how do you know this about your god?

        and, i’m still curious:

        could the Calvinists be correct in their understanding?

        if not, why not?

  2. Thanks for an interesting contrast between liberal and progressive Christian. I have always considered the terms synonymous and have not made a distinction when applying the labels to myself. I will keep my eyes open to see if others share your definitions.

    • Hello Mike, thanks for your comment!

      Naturally definitions are always going to be arbitrary for some persons. But having read lots of stuff from many perspectives, I think this distinction is useful and reflects the way many people apply these labels to themselves.

      I’d feel glad if you would comment on my other posts, from time to time :=)

      Lovely greetings from Europe.

  3. Hi Lothar,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. Am really surprised to hear from a progressive creationist as most of them think that YEC’s are against “mainstream” science. On the contrary, I am very much for science and am agnostic to the elements that can’t be observable, repeatable or testable.

    What was the key factor that made you slant towards PC? My reasoning can be seen here: http://bit.ly/1aoeHop and the reason why am very passionate about being a Creationist is due to me having “almost” lost my faith 3 years ago. That was the breaking and turning point for me. I understand that many Christians are not in favour of the YEC model but well, one can always agree to disagree.

    Do drop me an email anytime @ ruby.faraday@gmail.com

    • Hello Ruby thanks for your answer :=)

      Ofter we can agree to disagree and I’d be glad to interact with you in the future.

      I’ve just given a strong argument against materialism on my blog and I would be glad to read your comments there 🙂

      I’ll do the same with your blog in the future.

      Lovely greetings from Europe.
      Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • Ruby- thanks from me too. As I mentioned on your blog post you cite, I must agree with your reasoning, and disagree with lothar here: if doubt is cast on Genesis as a literal history, then doubt is cast on the rest of the Bible too, at least insofar as it’s considered to be the Word of God. Unfortunately, the real world conflicts with Genesis, and in cases of doubt, I’ll take the World over the Word: it delivers.

      cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

  4. Hi Lothar,

    Truthfully, I have difficulty trying to find a label that fits me well. I am progressive, but that is such a broad concept that it is only partially helpful. I am not really emergent, though I identify with much of their thinking. I am not liberal because emphases are not quite like theirs.

    The most accurate label I can think of is post-evangelical, but that is not totally accurate because I still consider my self to be evangelical–just at the progressive edge.

  5. Interesting take on the definitional distinction between liberal and progressive. I’d say my own belief favors neither, because I am convinced the Bible is the revelation of God without need for further understandings to add to it. There is not an evolving faith based on new data, but a faith that is the same for all under the New Covenant.

    After all, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. (Ephesians 4:5.)

    Thanks for getting me to think through these things today, Lothar!


  6. Lothar:

    I received your comment. I think your observation is a helpful starting point. It might be said that we want to start with the God to which the Bible points rather than constructing God from every piece of data we can find in the Bible. This is hard for some to imagine, but I think your basic idea of seeking a God who is perfect may be quite useful or as some have suggested asking how God’s revelation in Christ informs out reading of the rest of Scripture and our engagement with tradition.

    I haven’t ironed out all my thoughts on this, so I don’t know how helpful I’ll be, but I don’t object to your two points.

      • Lothar, I don’t normally frequent your blog – I followed Brian over from his, however. I find many faults with Calvinism (as I do with Arminianism).

        It comes down to this:
        “Seeing the old covenant fulfilled through the eyes of Y’shua is a far better view than seeing a perspective of the new covenant through the eyes of some Johnny-come-lately theologian ..”

        Therefore, I’d be interested in seeing your bog on Calvinism once its done.

  7. Marc I am following up our conversation of Saturday evening. I would like to ask what you mean by Progressive Christianity before I discuss this with you? Sincerely Ken

    • Hello, I gave my definition here.

      I would say that in practice, it means that all dogma can be reduced to love (for God and one’s neighbour) and that if something cannot be traced back to this, it does not stem from God.

      Cheers and many thanks for having read me!

      • Thank you Marc. I think in the interests of simplicity you are being very brief. If we go back to the orgins of Christianity we see why the name Christian was first used. The early Christians were constantly talking about Christ. He had transformed them, He had forgiven them, He had given them hope. That is why they went about sharing their faith. For me a definition without a reference to Christ is not sufficient. People of other religions could identifty with your definition without really knowing the grace and mercy of Christ in their lives.
        Can you look again at that? Also I am wondering why you feel the need to include the word “Progressive”? What is wrong with just using the word Christian?
        Happy to chat further Marc. Have a good day.

  8. Thank you Marc. Actually I quite like your definition since it gives us a perspective which includes Jesus but I still feel that there is the missing dimension of the work that God does in us. Since the day that I became a Christian at 18 I have been aware of how he is at work in me to change me on the inside.
    I love the verse in Corinthians where Paul says (in a modern version) “If anyone is in Christ He is a brand new person inside”.
    Although I know that God has a mega amount yet to do in me I am glad to see what He has done so far and I long for more of His transforming power.
    Good to talk Marc and I wish you well today,

  9. I think I fit in as a Christian Liberal and Progressive even thought I have a strong attraction to science and Christian Mysticism. Let me explain I can’t grasp the Infinite or God because it is beyond my mind which is finite. So a Personal God can work to experience a small part of that infinity. In Reality the infinite is undivided and it is one, but it has the ability to be infinite and finite. For some people a personal God is the force or force of love that can penetrate the walls or the obstacles that have been created that separates us from the infinite. We are in infinity and surrounded by it, but to experience it is another thing. A personal God can reintroduce us to a time without an ending. This experience of timelessness is a permanency that demonstrates the stability and the reliability of the infinite in the finite. In the finite we find the Divinity within, the in-finite. There are many personal teachers that can introduce and teach us about Divine Connections. As Christians we have chosen Jesus Christ, but there are many who understand how energy works and can help us realize our potential. Christian Mysticism can introduce us to the Divine Matrix or single consciousness that permeates and connects all things. This Divine entity we call God the Father, but it is alpha and omega, male and female. Breaking away from the limitations of belief systems we can call it God the Mother, the name doesn’t matter because Christ Consciousness or love is the key, not the doctrines devised by man. It seems we just need to accept our responsibility and communicate with the energy around us every minute. It is not unity in the unified field at the expense of duality and division, but coordination, synchronization and unity in addition to diversity.

    • Hello John, thank you for your answer 🙂

      We definitely don’t have the same views here.
      I see Jesus as being the way, even if I think that many non-Christians will get to heaven because God will accept anyone loving Him .

      Your view seems rather Buddhists, and there are clearly Buddhists who have a deep respect and love for Jesus.
      I personally use mindfulness meditation from Buddhism.

      I like having commentators from various perspectives on my blog and you seem to have quite interesting thoughts, so please feel free to comment wherever you want if you find some interesting stuff 🙂

      Best wishes from continental Europe.

  10. Hello, Lotharson!

    I hail from OrthodoxChristianity,net, and am following up on your recent post there. Let me see if I have understood your post correctly:

    Progressive Christianity believes that Christian beliefs and practices may be revised and re-articulated according to new information and new philosophies. However, certain ‘fundamental truths’ cannot change, and the validity of the insights of new information and new philosophies are judged according to these fundamental truths.

    In your current understanding, these fundamental truths are: “God has necessarily to be a perfect being”, and “Despite all their flaws, humans are quite able to recognize goodness and perfection…”

    I commend you on having articulated your position very clearly. My immediate response would be to ask: Where should a progressive Christian, specifically, begin when enumerating fundamental truths? While I’m not arguing against God being a necessary and perfect being, that truth seems to be a beginning more appropriate for progressive Theism than for progressive Christianity, specifically.

    I would think that, for a progressive Christian, the first-enumerated truth(s) would pertain to Christ. For example, some Christians have begun with truths like, “Christ is Risen”, “Christ crucified is God’s ultimate revelation of himself in History”, “Christ is Lord of History and Creation”, “Christ is the ultimate revelation of God and Man”, etc.

    If you’re willing to entertain what I’ve said, I’m curious what your “First-Enumerated Truths about Christ” would be.


  11. “Our faith should always welcome facts from the external world and from our undeniably true moral intuitions to correct and possibly abandon our theological doctrines.”

    This is the part I have an issue with; the idea that all Humans are created with an inherent moral code that I find a rather unjustifiable concept, for these reasons:

    – Children are not naturally selfless: it is something they need to be taught. Babies have no moral code but rugged egoism, if you take their ball away and give it to another baby, they will cry, even if they weren’t using it.

    – If it were true that humanity has an in-built morality, then there would be no need for society; humans natural moral intuition would prevent them from committing immoral acts (without society there is no ‘crime’), there would be no need for law or the enforcement thereof.

    – All Humans are, first and foremost, self-serving. Capitalist Individualism is at the very core of our Society’s philosophy, and is the reason behind almost all of our social/civic systems (liberal democracy, capitalism, consumerism, individuality etc)

    I think the crux of Christian thinking is that we’re all inherently selfish and require “the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2) provided by God’s spirit to make us into more selfish people.

    What ‘the renewing of our mind’ achieves is to help us become more selfless people, to love as Christ loved, which is the ultimate selfless act, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

    Our own personal morality has little to do with anything. Which is why Jesus says that we must first “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”

    And only after we have begun to love God can we truly begin to love our neighbor as we love ourselves – to totally deny our selfish nature.

    “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matt 22:34-40

    • Hello John, thanks for your long comment.

      I think I will write a whole new post to give you the response I owe you 🙂

      Right now I am pretty busy, though.

  12. We shouldn’t forget that the bible, as well as being written over many hundreds of years by scores of people, is also many KINDS of book. There are legal documents (lists of laws), after-the-fact historical accounts, genealogies, poems, eyewitness accounts, all kinds of things. Some believe that the bible was written BY the Holy Spirit and therefore is ‘inerrant’ (horrible word!). Some believe that the bible was INSPIRED by the Holy Spirit, a different thing. I think our Christian practice should be based on our knowledge of the character of Jesus, both subjectively from prayer and experience, and objectively from the bible and the witnesses of others. I think this is important for the Progressive Christian.

  13. Progressive Christianity means to eventually attain oneness with Our Heavenly Parent; God, Allah, Jehovah, Brahman…etc, as Jesus taught us that He is. This is the basic underlying teaching of all the major religions of the world.

    By attaining this, Heaven will be on earth as Jesus prayed in the Lord’s Prayer. We will therefore fulfill the purpose of creation; i.e. to be Fruitful, to Multiply and subdue it and have dominion over all things. If we are are one with Our Heavenly Parent, we will have dominion over all things with Love.

    We must go beyond simply believing in Jesus. We must do as he said in Mt. 5:48, to Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. In this way we will live for the sake of others.

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