There are many examples in the Bible and church tradition of polemical theological arguments. “Polemical” was one of the first words I learned in college religious studies classes. It simply means defining your position by attacking the viewpoints of others. Think of Paul’s polemic against legalistic Christians in Romans 1 and 2 as one example—all to initiate that epistle’s theme of salvation by grace alone.
Eight clergy of the Fountain Hills (AZ) Ministerial Association are using polemics—apparently in reaction to the lone progressive church in town, The Fountains United Methodist Church—to proclaim their religious views superior to progressive Christianity, casting the latter as opposed to “Biblical Christianity.” Note I do not say their “traditional” or “conservative” views, because, in the long history of Christian tradition, some of their religious positions are relatively recent, having emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries.
This past Sunday, each pastor began a sermon series on six questions they believe to be vital to “real” Christians. All of their questions begin with, “Why does it matter that…?” And their promotional signs read, “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?” Decades ago I warned that when we treat matters of faith as matter of fact we trivialize our religion. “Knowledge” does not make a Christian, faith and compassion do.
As a progressive Christian, I refuse to surrender the adjective “biblical” to those who believe it is an antonym to “progressive.” Anyone who reads this blog knows how biblical I am! And I would argue further that progressive Christianity grew out of the biblical tradition that moved from a concept of a jealous tribal deity to a gracious and just universal God.
Progressive spirituality is at the heart of scripture itself, from the Hebrew prophets calling for justice and peace and care for the poor and marginalized to the earliest Christians’ compassionate love and service among themselves and within their communities, an outgrowth of Jesus’ own ministry and teachings.
So I’ve decided to answer their questions as a progressive biblical Christian!
1. Why does it matter that God doesn’t change?
Because a God who doesn’t have the option of changing is not much of a god at all. Take away that divine prerogative and you have the idols made of wood and stone that biblical writers deplored, the graven images forbidden in the second commandment that tried to set in concrete God’s Spirit blowing where she will. Now, it’s to some Christians’ advantage to have an unchanging God, because they can claim change is ungodly, demonic, or immoral, but fixing God’s character is to place human limits on the limitless.
2. Why does it matter that the Bible is reliable?
I had to smile at this one by its avoidance of “infallible.” Progressive Christians could certainly attest to the reliability of the Bible, admonishing us not to be greedy or unfaithful, while encouraging us to share our privilege and power and wealth, to be humble and just and merciful, to love our neighbor and God, to be gracious even as God is gracious—to name a few of hundreds of insights found in scripture. But no, we don’t rely on the Bible as a scientific treatise, an accurate historical record, a rulebook, or literally God’s words.
3. Why does it matter that Jesus is God?
To me, it matters more that Jesus is a human being, and it seemed to matter to him too, referring to himself as “the son of man.” If we make Jesus God, then we have an excuse not to love and serve as he did, which is an “out” that a lot of Christians take. Better to take the mystic John’s understanding that God’s Word became flesh so that we might all be children of God. What matters is an understanding that we participate in the divine life, that in God we live and move and have our being.
4. Why does it matter that Jesus was born of a virgin?
Yes, why does it matter?
5. Why does it matter that Jesus was resurrected?
Actually, I believe the intent of this question is really to ask, “Why does it matter that Jesus was resurrected in a certain way?” I don’t think progressive Christians argue the point of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, which was to affirm that his followers experienced his presence after he was crucified and buried. Scripture is clear, however, that he only appeared to believers. And I believe progressive Christians could also consent to the belief that Jesus lives on in us, the church, and the church beyond the church.
6. Why does it matter that Jesus is the only way?
I’m tempted to give the same answer that I gave to #4, but readers might feel cheated. In the last answer I mentioned “the church beyond the church,” and what I meant is that I see Jesus at least as frequently outside the church as I do inside the church. I see his spirit of compassion and mercy in Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, and a whole assortment of people who do not identify as Christian. In traditional Christian thought, Jesus came to save the world, not just Christians.
Obviously, whole books could be devoted to each of these questions, but this is a blog, not a library! This is my “two cents” worth, my “widow’s mite.”
I’ll be in New York City June 5-7 at Fort Washington Collegiate Church leading two Saturday workshops, “Sex & the Body of Christ,” and “Coming Out as Sacrament,” and preaching on “Your Will Be Done” from the Lord’s Prayer during the 10:45 Sunday morning worship. For details, click here.
Copyright © 2015 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.
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