Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity

By Epperly, Bruce G. | The Christian Century, November 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity


Epperly, Bruce G., The Christian Century


Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity

By David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy

HarperOne, 288 pp., $17.99 paperback

On more than one occasion, pastors and laypersons from progressive congregations have confided in me, "We are a little weak in our theology; we know what we don't believe but have trouble articulating our own faith to one another and to newcomers." They recognize that a vital faith lives by its affirmations as well as its negations, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty.

The Living the Questions DVD series, created by David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, was intended to inspire theological reflection among mainstream and progressive Christians, and it has succeeded in providing a platform for theological alternatives to the popular messages of conservative and fundamentalist writers, preachers and televangelists. Felten and Procter-Murphy's Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity provides in book form the insights of Living the Questions 2.0: An Introduction to Progressive Christianity, a DVD and Internet program the authors also created. The volume reflects a few of the challenges facing progressive Christianity in its mission to "rejuvenate the faith and illuminate a lifelong spiritual path for thinking Christians."

The book is divided into three sections: "Journey," an overview of progressive Christianity; "Reconciliation," focusing on healing the relationship of God, humankind and the planet; and "Transformation," a spiritual pathway for progressive Christians. The first section, "Journey," is primarily deconstructive in approach. Although it clearly and accurately depicts the profound differences between fundamentalist and progressive visions of Christianity, its theology is vague and takes second place to a celebration of the virtues of theological ambiguity and openness.

The authors believe that we are on a journey whose horizons are constantly receding. In the spirit of Zen Buddhist wisdom, they recognize that we often confuse the moon with a finger pointing to the moon--confuse the divine reality with our theological reflections on God and the world. Still, it is clear that, like Socrates, the authors are more certain about misguided theological paths than they are about charting the best theological paths for progressive Christians.

The authors' vagueness is in line with their affirmation of Mordecai Kaplan's counsel: "A religion is as much a progressive unlearning of false ideas concerning God as it is the learning of the true ideas concerning God." There is virtue in theological vagueness, but there is also a need for concrete, albeit fluid, visions of God and the world. People cannot live by deconstruction alone. A more in-depth discussion of biblical authority and inspiration, of the meaning of revelation and of the character of the God-world relationship, would have been helpful in this section.

If fundamentalists claim to know too much about God and human destiny, progressives often claim to know too little about key theological issues. When the world cries out for a few "thus saith the Lord" affirmations, "it seems to me" is often the strongest declarative homiletic statement from many progressive preachers. …

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