Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What Progressive Christians Believe

Reese sez:
Check out this book recommended by the Witherspoon Society!

It is Delwin Brown's What Does a Progressive Christian Believe? A Guide for the Searching, the Open, and the Curious.

I was a little put off by the title. We progressives are generally an unwieldy bunch and don't like to be told what we believe even by fellow progressives! Yet I found this book quite helpful.
We often think that being progressive means not being fundamentalist. Brown agrees, but suggests we ought to do a bit more than simply say that. The eight chapters cover some basic themes in Christian thought:
  1. What Progressive Christianity Is Not
  2. Bible: Negotiating the Heritage
  3. Christ: Overturning the Categories
  4. God: Exploring the Depth
  5. Humanity: Continuing the Creation
  6. Sin: Falling and Hiding
  7. Salvation: Seeking and Finding
  8. Church: Serving and Being Served
  9. Epilogue: Rightly Mixing Religion with Politics
This small book, only 122 pages, gives a thoughtful response to each of these categories. The author is Delwin Brown, dean emeritus of Pacific School of Religion and formerly the Harvey H. Potthoff Professor of Christian Theology at Iliff School of Theology.

He helpfully summarized each chapter with some points for reflection, making it a fine book for a study group. He carefully talks about the traditions of the church, and what we can learn and keep from all of them.

In his third chapter, Christ: "Overturning the Categories", he surprised me, pleasantly. Progressive Christianity has a tendency to cringe at creeds. Brown provides a helpful guide through ecumenical councils at Nicea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, and offers some thoughts on the meaning that these council formulations regarding Jesus the Christ may have for us today.

This is a good book for the open and searching. And a good book for our more conservative friends who wonder what makes us progressives tick.


  1. To be honest, I don't know that it's possible to really define what progressive's believe. I've talked with people who call themselves progressive Christians who basically affirm the reality of the incarnation, and the work of the cross of Christ.

    They are generally more liberal, though, in beliefs relating to the nature of Scripture, or in general views relating to the miraculous. Usually they are politically progressive.

    On the other hand, there are folks within the church calling themselves progressives, who have actually left the Christian faith, and are more unitarian like in their thinking. Some cannot affirm the existence of a personal, loving God who is able to intervene in our lives at all.

    It's all a very mixed bag I think, and very confusing. Probably it's best to stay away from these labels, and just get to know, and to talk with people on an individual basis.

  2. I'm one of those "Unitarian Christians" that belongs to the UCC. :)

    I live in the Bay Area and just love spending time on the PSR campus. It is one of the most beautiful spaces in California. The whole area is called "Holy Hill" because its a group of seminaries on a hill that borders the UC Berkeley campus. I highly recommend going to see it if you're in town. It's becoming our "mecca" for progressive Christianity. ;)

  3. Hey David, welcome! Glad you stopped by to comment! I will have to check out PSR sometime.

  4. John, thank you for setting aside your discomfort with the title long enough to read my book. Thanks even more for the review (forwarded to me by a friend). As you quickly gathered from the Preface, by "a" progressive Christian I meant "this one, the author," but that was not clear from the title alone, I know.

    You and your readers might be interested in the discussion of the book forthcoming shortly in the March/April issue of The Progressive Christian.

    Thank you, too, for your progressive Christian leadership where it counts. You and your colleagues in parishes are the ones making the difference. I hope some of the rest of us help out a little, even those of us from places like Berkeley!

    By the way, are you acquainted with SPAFER (see my Preface), centered in Birmingham but drawing from all over the South?

    With much appreciation,

    Del Brown