A month or so ago I was reading a post by Tony Jones challenging progressive theology. Tony has repeatedly made the argument that progressive Christians struggle to articulate an exciting and attractive vision of the Christian faith, a vision with broad and popular appeal.
For example, in the post I read --"Can postmodern theology live in our churches?"--Tony made comments at a progressive Christian conference challenging the attendees to find (among other things) better and more appealing articulations of the faith. For my part, I thought Tony was on to something. Though I agree a great deal with things like process theology and Christian a/theism, I think Tony is correct when he suggests that these aren't articulations of Christianity that are going to convince many fellow Christians.
And so with some fear and trembling, I'd like to try to take up the challenge Tony articulated. In a series of posts this week and next (ten posts in all) I'd like to try to articulate a vision of progressive Christianity that I think is exciting and might have popular appeal.
I'm going to fail of course. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. At the very least you'll see a person try to wrestle with the challenge Tony made.
I'm going to try build this vision of progressive Christianity by bringing into conversation two different books. These books are God at War by Greg Boyd and The Weakness of God by John Caputo. My hope, in creating a synthesis of these two books, is that God at War will bring the excitement and The Weakness of God will bring the progressiveness.
Now, I bet if you've read either of these two books you're blinking right now with incomprehension. These are two radically different books. Boyd's book is a robust defense of spiritual warfare, built upon the belief that angels and demons do exist. Caputo's book explicitly eschews dualistic, supernatural and metaphysical accounts. How can these visions fit together?
That's what I'm going to try to show. I believe there are connections between these two visions that might be exploited to create a very interesting and exciting vision of progressive Christianity.
So let me end this introductory post with a comment about excitement and where I think it might come from.
I take a cue here from the great William James. James once observed:
If this life is not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels like a real fight.This, I believe, is the source of excitement in any vision of Christianity. People want to be in a real fight. They want to see battle lines. They want to be on the side of the good fighting against evil. We want to hear those great battlefield speeches.
One of my favorite saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, yearned to be like Joan of Arc. We love the images in the bible of a Deborah or a David leading the armies of God.
And yet, it's no surprise to say that progressive Christians really shy away from this sort of thing. A militant Christianity is what drove many progressive Christians away from conservative Christianity. Consequently, progressive Christians often tend to be too hipster, liberal, ironic or cynical to take any of this "warfare" stuff seriously.
And that, I think, may be a part of the problem. It's hard to build excitement for your vision of progressive Christianity when the vibe is ironic, cynical, intellectualized or coolly detached. It's hard to build excitement for your vision of progressive Christianity when you are being paradoxical, post-modern, or deconstructive. It's hard to build excitement for your vision of progressive Christianity when it often reduces to liberal humanism, existentialism, functional atheism or simply voting for Democrats.
Basically, I think progressive Christianity struggles because it often fails to give people a real, honest-to-God, bible-thumping fight. More precisely, progressive Christianity has a lot of fight in it, but it has often struggled to articulate that fight in robustly biblical ways. (Let alone the major problem of progressive Christians being too reactionary, focusing much of their fight against conservative Christians.)
So in these posts I'd like to try to paint a picture of what such a bible-thumping fight might look like from the perspective of progressive Christianity.