I’m a Progressive Christian

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I’m a Progressive Christian

6 May 2021 Hits:1520

Have you ever noticed how some people need to label you, to categorise you? Maybe it provides them with a sense of security to pigeonhole you, so they know “that’s where you fit. That’s where you belong.”

I’ve been fascinated by this in recent years as I’ve spoken out and written about various issues. A person I’ve known for well over two decades sent me a text several years ago referring to me as his “liberal left-leaning friend”. And no, it wasn’t a compliment. It struck me how little my friend really knew me, and no wonder. Every time we catch up, he talks about himself and what he’s doing for Jesus! He’s so far-right that, compared to him, everyone leans left!

The latest label I’ve been given is that of “progressive” Christian. And that wasn’t a compliment either. So, when I was asked about this recently, it set me on a journey to find out what a progressive Christian was. Here’s what I discovered.

Negatively, it’s a label that some conservative Christians use for anyone who, in their opinion, deviates from or questions their understanding of Christianity. Things like a literal reading of the Bible and engaging in the political process to protect Biblical values. Conservative Christians are generally against abortion, euthanasia, and gay rights. These are viewed as the most important Christian values of our day! Think Australian Christian Lobby (who would be better named the Australian Conservative Lobby – still ACL – because they only represent a small, very conservative section of the Christian church).

Those who deviate from these conservative norms are invariably called liberals or progressives and aren’t really “true Christians”. They’re a bit lukewarm, you know! But is this correct? I think not.

What are Progressive Christians?

Progressive Christianity is defined by several characteristics: a willingness to question, acceptance of human diversity; a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed; and environmental stewardship of the earth.

In my early years in a conservative Christian church, questioning wasn’t encouraged. In fact, it was viewed as a sign of wavering faith. These days I see questioning as a vital way to develop our faith. Throughout Scripture, especially in Psalms, we see people asking questions, and God seems to be completely comfortable with it. Jesus invariably answered a question with a question.

Human Diversity

Progressive Christians accept human diversity. Christianity is sometimes seen as the white man’s religion. A fact that was supported by Walter E Sallman’s well-known painting Head of Christ, which pictured a blue-eyed Jesus with long dark blond hair.

And yet, the human race is incredibly diverse. People of different colours, creeds, and cultures tend to view Jesus and Scripture in myriad ways. Progressive Christians celebrate this fact. While there is so much that unites humanity, not least that we are all made in the image of God, unity does not equal uniformity. God is not looking for a bunch of cookie-cutter Christians. He created and commended diversity, and so should we.

The apostle Paul then takes the diversity of humanity – differences in gender, social status, and ethnicity – and unifies us all in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

Social Justice

Progressive Christianity has a strong emphasis on social justice and regard for the poor and oppressed. Again, I’ve heard this expressed as a negative slur. I’ve had people ask me, “why don’t you just preach the gospel instead of talking about social justice issues?” My answer is, “but social justice is part of the Gospel.” Consider Galatians 2 that records Paul’s trip to Jerusalem to visit the other apostles. The outcome of that meeting recognised that God’s grace was on Paul and Barnabas to take the Gospel to the gentiles. All Peter, James, and John asked: “was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” Do you get that? Out of all the things they could have mentioned, they highlighted care for the disadvantaged. Social Justice isn’t “progressive.” Social justice IS the Gospel!

Environmental Care

Progressive Christianity also has a strong emphasis on environmental stewardship of the earth. As well as being a left-leaning hippie, apparently, I’m also a tree-hugging greenie because I encourage people to care for God’s creation. Why bother? God’s going to create a new heaven and a new earth one day. This one is old and temporary so why look after it?

Do we embrace this kind of “logic” anywhere else in life? What if you have an old car. One day you’ll get a new one, but do you trash the one you currently have? Of course not. You want it to last the distance, just like we want this planet to thrive. God created the heavens and the earth, and he has given charge of it to humanity. What are we doing to it? How are we caring for it? What about the animals God created that are now endangered? What about the pollution we pump into the atmosphere and the plastic we thrust into the oceans? Should Christians not be deeply concerned about human impact on creation?

All You Need is Love

Now you’ve got the Beatles song stuck in your head, let me explain. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to “love one another” (John 15:17) within the teachings of Jesus. This focuses on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, and tolerance, sometimes through political activism. Love is the new and greatest commandment after all (consider John 13:34, Mark 12:31, Luke 6:31).

“Any interpretation of the Bible that causes you to be unkind or dismissive towards another person or that inflicts pain or damage is not the correct understanding of the Scripture!”

Values such as compassion, justice, mercy, and tolerance are Christian values as old as the Gospel itself. They should not be seen as progressive. Consider Romans 2:4, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” Tolerance is “a holding back, or a restraint.” God holds back judgment to offer kindness. Are we not called to be like God?

Christianity should be progressive.

The Bible is not a static book. There are so many ways we see a progression of truth throughout its pages. Explore topics like slavery, child and animal sacrifices, women’s rights, interracial marriage and see how there’s a progressive revelation in Scripture. God’s people are to be “changed from glory to glory” (2 Cor, 3:18). We are to progress!

So, am I a progressive Christian? Well, yes. That’s one label I’ll gladly wear!

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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12 replies on “I’m a Progressive Christian”

Kathysays:

Thankyou Rob! That’s like a breath of fresh air – clear, concise and logical. We need to always be teachable and flexible as we journey through life. (Perhaps even like Paul or Peter were?)

Waye Williamsonsays:

People love to label others. Seems like someone else is the author of that? 🙂
Revelation 12:10 “…the one who accuses our brothers, who accuses them day and night in the presence of our God, has been thrown out.”
Accuser: katēgoros = The root of our English word Categorise.
satan it seems is the ‘categoriser’ or labeler of people.
Time to ‘throw out’ this stuff.
Love to you Rob.

Geoffrey Flemingsays:

Great stuff. My question to those criticisms of you is: If you are not a progressive Christian does that make you a regressive Christian?

I find your blogs informative & thought provoking.

Thank you for continuing to educate me

Zizi Paltossays:

I have been a progressive Christian for many years, and I thank the Lord for finding Bayside Church.
Pastor Rob Buckingham, is the kindest and best teacher of the Christian faith , and I am lucky and privileged to call him my Pastor.
God Bless you Rob, and give you strength to enlighten us more, with your amazing teaching.

Rob Buckinghamsays:

You’re always so encouraging, Zizi. We are VERY glad you found Bayside Church.

Eric Harrisonsays:

Thanks for your perspective of Progressive Christianity Rob, but you failed to include two major tenets held by those who identify as Progressive Christians as conveyed on the Progressive Christianity.org website. They being:

1. Following the the path and teachings of Jesus can led to an awareness and experience of the sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life
2. That the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of Wisdom in our spiritual journey

These two tenets of the eight they list are, whilst they have some application when qualified correctly, more akin to Hinduism when they are not qualified.

The 4 tenets you conveyed certainly are in line with responsible Christian lifestyle application, however you didn’t really explain Progressive Christianity as it really stands, which is more about the deconstruction orthodox Christin belief. Progressive Christianity leans more towards a global acceptance that all religions lead to God and Jesus is but one of the ways.

Marksays:

Agreed.

Jay Russellsays:

Thank you pastor Rob Buckingham for sharing these points. Over the years I have found myself more and more leaning towards a progressive way of interpreting the Bible and practicing my Christian faith. I have some conservative Christian friends that find it alarming that I have become progressive. My conservative Christian friends think that if you’re not conservative you cannot truly be a Christian or if you don’t interpret Genesis and the creation story as a literal historic event you cannot be a true Christian. This is wrong no one church no one style of Christianity holds all the truth. As we know there are many Christian denominations not all of them are right but they all hold their own ways of connecting to God and practicing their Christian faith. I find that Evangelical & Conservative Christians are more and more believing that if you’re not an Evangelical you cannot be a true Christian. Because I’m progressive some of my friends don’t think I’m a true Christian and they also say Catholics are not true Christians to. I believe you cannot put God in a box.God does not belong in one style of Christianity. The points you mentioned in your article are the exact same reasons why I’ve become a Progressive Christian. I’m very open to questioning tradition and I’m also very strong on social justice as I’m always seeking to promote a more fairer and life-giving way of living and I want to help the disadvantaged around the world improve their situation. To me social justice which is a big part of Progressive Christianity is part of the Kingdom of God in which Jesus spoke about more than anything else. Social justice which is trying to make a fairer and more just Society for all people’s around the world is exactly what the kingdom of God is. It’s just sad that conservative and many Evangelical Christians don’t see it that way.

Federicasays:

Wow! Thank-you Pastor Rob for having been able to articulate so well what I feel in my heart!
I’ve written to you before explaining I’m a Catholic, but most of all I see myself as a Progressive Christian.
Even Catholics come in all shapes and sizes and many, like me, no longer stick to ‘old fashioned’ customs like praying to saints and only pray to Mary to ask her to pray for us, rather than as to a deity.
Most important, many modern Catholics actively seek input from and collaboration with other Progressive Christian groups, so I completely agree with your point – I believe that the diversity of Christians in this world is all part of God’s plan.
To pigeon hole people is counterproductive, all you need is LOVE!
I’ve been happily married now for 33 years to a man raised as a strict Protestant. It wasn’t a problem for us, but his family’s extreme religious conservatism meant that they could never accept me. It has been very sad for us and for our children.
In the end my husband chose to become a Catholic, not for me (I never asked him to), but because the priest he met at my Church was Progressive. He always treated him as an equal, offered him friendship and love, wasn’t hung up on doctrine or ritual and never tried to ‘convert’ him.
This is not meant to be a criticism of Protestants, as I’m sure there are many ultra conservative Catholics out there that may unwittingly be doing more harm than good.
Now my husband and I feel comfortable attending any Progressive Christian Church (like Bayside Church!) that is inclusive and doesn’t feel the need to teach hatred towards different groups of people or different denominations.
We’ve learnt to just follow the Holy Spirit.
Through God’s Grace our improbable marriage has not just survived, but thrived!
So, yes, we’re very happy to call ourselves Progressive Christians.

Pam Sandersonsays:

Love your blog post, Pastor Rob. I am very glad to be part of Bayside Church.

Kathiesays:

Love this Rob, a great message for all to read.

Marksays:

Hi. What you describe is – or should be – relevant for all Christians, including conservative Christians. It is biblical and historic Christianity. You term it progressive, but it is not Progressive Christianity with a capital P. That is quite different. Progressive Christianity is a title the Progressive Church owns. Where they differ from what you have described is that they do deviate from historic Christian doctrine. As an example, some Progressive Churches (not all) mistakenly view Christ’s death on the cross as cosmic child abuse – which is a misunderstanding of the Triune God and the atonement.

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