The discussion in my previous posting between myself and Bruce Ledewitz was picked up by the blogger XPatriated Texan (XT) of the Street Prophets blog at Daily Kos. I would have left a comment there, but I first had to sign up at Daily Kos, and then I was informed that there is a ridiculous 24-hour waiting period before I could even leave a comment there. In the blogosophere, 24 hours might as well be an eon.
In my blog response to Bruce Ledewitz, I had alluded to his comment that "progressive faith" seems to have two meanings--one referring to those who are theologically orthodox but politically liberal or progressive, and another referring those who are theologically progressive (such as Marcus Borg or Dominic Crossan.) That distinction wasn't really the focus of my posting, since I agreed with him on this point (and I had discussed this earlier in response to a blog posting by Jim Burklo of the Center for Progressive Christianity). However, XT wanted to focus more specifically on the what progressive faith really means. He defines it thusly:
"Progressive Faith" is simply those of us who seek to further the tradition of revelation by reconciling it with reason and science. It does not mean, necessarily, that earlier thinkers were wrong, only that they were not entirely correct.Where things get interesting in my view is what happens when you actually do seriously undertake the process of reconciling revelation with reason and science. Once you go down that road, I would argue that a paradigm change becomes absolutely necessary. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. I think that paradigm changes are just as much a part of religious history as they are of scientific history. Christians who honor their roots in the Hebrew Bible no longer believe that Yahweh is a tribal Deity, or that dead people go to Sheol. It is almost trite to cite Thomas Kuhn here, but I would argue that the Enlightenment brought on a crisis in the Christian faith that is still being played out, one that can only be resolved by a paradigm change that re-examines the traditional assumptions about a theistically interventionist God and about the more extraordinary and miraculous claims that are often made in the name of faith.
Of course this process of reconciling faith with reason and science means accepting the tools of modern scholarly biblical research. But I believe that in a post-Enlightenment world it also means looking at God in a different way, and at the stories and myths of Christianity's founding traditions with new eyes. The implications for me are that we cannot believe in a world of supernatural theistic intervention that violates the normal physical laws of nature. It means not believing that Jesus's corpse was resuscitated and that he therefore walked around on earth for 40 days after he was crucified. When John Shelby Spong says that "Christianity must change or die," he means that for it to remain an intellectually viable faith, we need to accommodate theology with a post-Enlightenment understanding of the world.
Pastor John Shuck has offered some sage words to offer on this subject. He recommends the book Jesus is Dead by Robert M. Price for this Easter season,
as a service to preachers who are trying to figure out ways to proclaim this mystery and as a service to churchgoers who dread attending another sermon in which the preacher berates people's intelligence by telling them that in order to be a Christian they have to believe that the corpse of the historical Jesus came back to life."Yay, John! He goes on to say that, as Presbyterian pastor of the Reformed tradition,
I make that extravagantly humble and unprovable assertion in part because our deeply rich, varied, and open-ended tradition is always in danger of being hijacked by those who lack adequate understanding of science, history, and theology.John then lays it out beautifully:
For instance, if Christians want to make the theological claim that God creates the world, that claim will lack any credibility unless they also affirm evolutionary theory.
If Christians want to make the theological claim that Jesus is alive, that claim will lack any credibility unless they also affirm historical scholarship of the New Testament.
[Price] shows throughout these essays that the "resurrection accounts" are fictions. It is really pretty obvious. The Jesus Seminar scholars concluded the same thing. The more bashful scholars, once you finally get them to move beyond their dissembling, also affirm that, yes, the accounts of the empty tomb are more indebted to creative storytelling than to historical reportage.I agree with John that rejecting bad science and bad history lie at the core of progressive faith. So for me, progressive faith isn't just about accepting evolution or the Big Bang theory; it also inevitably must move beyond any literal acceptance of mythological stories about a physically resurrected Jesus walking on the earth. This is not something that I have seen in a lot of churches that describe themselves as "progressive", although there are exceptions, as Jim Burklo and John Shuck demonstrate.
It is difficult for many Christians to accept that. A Jesus who is not "historical" cannot be real and worthy of Christian worship, so the argument goes. For some, that is true. Price is an atheist. That is his choice. I don't think one has to make that choice. I do not.
In a similar way, some scientists are atheists. Some are not. Whether or not one chooses to be an atheist or atheist, or a person of a particular covenant or not, is independent of science and history. I simply argue that the church is not served by bad science (ie. creationism) and bad history (ie. false claims for the historicity of the resurrection).
If the church can't take it, it deserves to die. Those of us who proclaim the theological mystery of the Risen Christ would do well to make that claim credible by appreciating true scholarship of Christian origins.