Progressive Christianity

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Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to "love one another" (John 15:17) within the teachings of Jesus Christ.[1] This leads to a focus on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, tolerance, often through political activism. Though prominent, the movement is by no means the only significant movement of progressive thought among Christians (see the 'See also' links below).

Progressive Christianity draws on the insights of multiple theological streams including evangelicalism, liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, pragmatism, postmodernism, Progressive Reconstructionism, and liberation theology.[2] Though the terms Progressive Christianity and Liberal Christianity are often used synonymously, the two movements are distinct, despite much overlap.[3]

Some characteristics of Progressive Christianity, though none be exclusive to it, are:[citation needed]

  • A spiritual expressiveness, including participatory, arts-infused worship as well as a variety of spiritual disciplines and practices such as prayer or meditation.
  • Intellectual integrity and creativity, including an openness to questioning and an insistence upon intellectual rigor.
  • Understanding of spirituality as a real affective and psychological or neural state (see Neurotheology)
  • Critical interpretation of the scripture as a record of human historical & spiritual experiences and theological reflection thereupon instead of a composition of literal or scientific facts. Acceptance of modern historical Biblical criticism.
  • Acceptance (although not necessarily validation) of people who have differing understandings of the concept of "God", such as pantheism, deism, non-theism, as a social construct, or as community.
  • Understanding of church communion as a symbol or reflection of the body of Christ
  • An affirmation of Christian belief with a simultaneous sincere respect for values present in other religions and belief systems. This does not necessarily mean all Progressive Christians believe that other religious traditions are as equally valid as Christianity, but rather, that other faiths have certain values and tenets that everyone, including Christians, can learn from and respect.
  • An affirmation of both human spiritual unity and social diversity
  • An affirmation of the universe, and more immediately the Earth, as the natural and primary context of all human spirituality.
  • An unyielding commitment to the Option for the poor and a steadfast solidarity with the poor as the subjects of their own emancipation, rather than being the objects of charity.
  • Compassion for all living beings.
  • Support for LGBT rights and affirmation, including, but not limited to, support for same-sex marriage, affirmation of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals as authentic Christians, affirmation of trans identity, and LGBT rights in general.


A priority of justice and care for the down-trodden are a recurrent theme in the Hebrew prophetic tradition inherited by Christianity.[4] This has been reflected in many later Christian traditions of service and ministry, and more recently in the United States of America through Christian involvement in political trends such as the Progressive Movement and the Social Gospel.[5]

Throughout the 20th century, a strand of progressive or liberal Christian thought outlined the values of a 'good society'. It stresses fairness, justice, responsibility, and compassion, and condemns the forms of governance that wage unjust war, rely on corruption for continued power, deprive the poor of facilities, or exclude particular racial or sexual groups from fair participation in national liberties. It was influential in the US mainline churches, and reflected global trends in student activism. It contributed to the ecumenical movement, as represented internationally by the World Student Christian Federation and the World Council of Churches internationally, and at the national level through groups such as the National Council of Churches in the USA and Australian Student Christian Movement.

The contemporary movement

The ascendancy of Evangelicalism in the US, particularly in its more socially conservative forms, challenged many people in mainline churches. Recently, a focus for those who wish to challenge this ascendancy has been provided by Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who described himself as a progressive evangelical Christian, although Sojourners has rejected advertisements urging mainline churches to welcome gay members.[6] This has enabled many Christians who are uncomfortable with conservative evangelicalism to identify themselves explicitly as "Progressive Christians." At the onset of this new movement to organize Progressive Christians, the single largest force holding together was a webring, The Progressive Christian Bloggers Network, and supporters frequently find and contact each other through dozens of online chat-rooms.

Notable initiatives within the movement for progressive Christianity include The Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) in Cambridge, MA, The Beatitudes Society,[7] the campaigning organization CrossLeft, the technology working group Social Redemption.

CrossLeft joined with Every Voice Network and Claiming the Blessing in October 2005 to stage a major conference, Path to Action, at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Among the speakers were E. J. Dionne, Richard Parker, Jim Wallis, Senator Danforth, and David Hollinger.

In the United Kingdom, the movement is represented by the Progressive Christianity Network Britain. Notable related UK organisations include the Center for Radical Christianity at St Marks, Sheffield, and the UK-based Sea of Faith network.

Examples of statements of contemporary Progressive Christian beliefs include:

  • the Eight Points produced by TCPC: a statement of agreement about Christianity as a basis for tolerance and human rights;
  • the Phoenix Affirmations produced by Crosswalk (Phoenix, AZ) - include twelve points defining Christian love of God, Christian love of neighbor, and Christian love of self.
  • the article, "Grassroots Progressive Christianity: A Quiet Revolution" by Hal Taussig published in 'The Fourth R,' May–June 2006.
  • the working definition utilized in Roger Wolsey's book Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don't Like Christianity:
...Progressive Christianity is an approach to the Christian faith that is influenced by post-liberalism and postmodernism and: proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as Christ, Savior, and Lord; emphasizes the Way and teachings of Jesus, not merely His person; emphasizes God's immanence not merely God's transcendence; leans toward panentheism rather than supernatural theism; emphasizes salvation here and now instead of primarily in heaven later; emphasizes being saved for robust, abundant/eternal life over being saved from hell; emphasizes the social/communal aspects of salvation instead of merely the personal; stresses social justice as integral to Christian discipleship; takes the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding; emphasizes orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy (right actions over right beliefs); embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery — instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas; does not consider homosexuality to be sinful; and does not claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable way to connect to God (is non-exclusive).[8]

Differences between Progressive Christianity and Conservative Christianity

Holding to the ideals of progressive Christianity sets the movement apart from traditional Christianity. Inclusiveness and acceptance is the basic posture of progressive Christianity.[9]

Progressive Christians tend to focus on issues of social justice and inclusion, rather than proselytizing efforts to convert others to their own particular way of thinking, as conservatives and mainstream Evangelicals tend to emphasize.

Progressive Christians believe that Christ came to "save the lost and downtrodden," and place emphasis on caring for the poor, whereas conservatives tend to preach moral principles, and stress the need for the lost and downtrodden to accept Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation in addition to caring for the poor.

However, this does not mean that Progressive Christians do not adhere to traditional notions of Christian doctrine, such as sin, salvation, the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, the resurrection, or the existence of a literal heaven and hell.

Seventh-day Adventism

Within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the liberal wing describe themselves as "progressive Adventists". They disagree with some of the traditional teachings of the church. While most are still of evangelical persuasion, a minority are liberal Christians.

Roman Catholicism

Environmental ministries

As Bruce Sanguin writes, "It's time for the Christian church to get with a cosmological program (…). We now know, for instance, that we live in an evolving or evolutionary universe. Evolution is the way that the Holy creates in space and in time, in every sphere: material, biological, social, cultural, psychological, and spiritual. This new cosmology simply cannot be contained by old models and images of God, or by old ways of being the church.".[10]

Central to this recovery of awe in the cosmos is the epic of evolution, the 14-billion-year history of the universe. Scientists (Edward O. Wilson, Brian Swimme, Eric Chaisson, Ursula Goodenough and others) initiated this story which has been perpetuated with a religion component by some liberal theologians (Gordon D. Kaufman, Jerome A. Stone, Michael Dowd, etc.).[11][12]

Evolutionary evangelist and progressive minister Michael Dowd uses the term Epic of Evolution or Great Story to help construct his viewpoint of evolution theology. His position is that science and religious faith are not mutually exclusive (a form of religious naturalism).[13] He preaches that the epic of cosmic, biological, and human evolution, revealed by science, is a basis for an inspiring and meaningful view of our place in the universe and a new approach to religion. Evolution is viewed as a religious spiritual process that is not meaningless blind chance.[14]


The name "Progressive Christianity" is seen by some more conservative or traditional Christians[who?] as a misnomer that it is also inflammatory, suggesting that those who hold a more traditional view are not forward looking. They would hold that Progressive Christianity would be more accurately labelled as "regressive", as they perceive it as seeking to bypass the cross.[15] There is some conflict regarding the use of the term "progressive Christianity" as certain purists contend that that term specifically refers to the postmodern-influenced evolution of mainline Christianity and the term "emerging/emergent Christianity" refers to the postmodern-influenced evolution of evangelical Christianity. Given that premise, persons such as Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, and Diana Butler Bass are progressive Christians and persons such as Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Jay Bakker, and Brian McLaren are emerging Christians. Progressive Christianity has greater consensus that homosexuality is not a sin than emerging Christianity. Finally, it should be noted that progressive Christianity (a theological approach) is not necessarily synonymous with progressive politics.[16]

Notable Progressive Christians

Notable Progressive Christian denominations

See also


  1. "Soul Play: What Is Progressive Christianity Exactly?". The Flip Side. University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Retrieved 23 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Witness Articles - Progressive Christian Witness
  4. Ess, Charles. "Prophetic, Wisdom, and Apocalyptic Traditions in Judaism and Christianity". Drury University. Retrieved 23 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Boulton, Wayne G., Thomas D. Kennedy and Allen Verhey (1994). From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 134–136. ISBN 0-8028-0640-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Christianity Today - Theology, Church, Culture".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Homepage » Site » The Beatitudes Society".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Kissing Fish Home Page". progressivechristianitybook.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. :*Abp. Wynn Wagner III, A Pilgrim's Guide to the Old Catholic Church, Mystic Ways,2009,ISBN 978-1-4499-9279-8
  10. Bruce Sanguin - Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos, Copperhouse and Woodlake Publishing , 2007
  11. :*Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature, Harvard University Press,1979,ISBN 0-674-01638-6
    • The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos; Brian Swimme, Harper, 1992 (1994, ISBN 0-06-250835-0)
    • Ursula Goodenough - Sacred Depths of Nature, Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (June 15, 2000), ISBN 0-19-513629-2
    • Eric Chaisson - Epic of Evolution, Columbia University Press (March 2, 2007), ISBN 0-231-13561-0
  12. :*Jerome A. Stone - Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative, State U. of New York Press (Dec 2008), ISBN 0-7914-7537-9
    • Michael Dowd - Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, Viking (June 2008), ISBN 0-670-02045-1
    • Gordon Kaufman - In the Beginning….Creativity, Augsburg Fortress Publishers (July 2004), ISBN 0-8006-6093-5
  13. "Evolution Theology: Religion 2.0 - Thank God For Evolution".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "The Book - Thank God For Evolution".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Progressive Christianity Isn't Progressive Politics". The Huffington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links