One of my readers wrote that her husband, “Rob,” didn’t care for progressive Christian authors because they “just tore things down without providing anything to believe in.” I partially agree.
The old Christianity has become a complex “belief system” with various doctrines, rituals, and practices built up over the millennia. When that goes away, poof! there’s little left. You can’t really reconstruct a new version of traditional Christianity.
But here’s the interesting thing. Real Christianity is so simple. For example, compare what the Apostle Paul said about the very basic “living in Christ” with the complicated institutions the church and belief systems have become. It doesn’t have to be that difficult.
Let’s see if I can boil down our progressive understandings into a few points.
- Everyone and everything is created as One with Ultimate Reality—often called God.
- Each person is equally divine, so we treat ourselves and all neighbors as divine creations.
- Our purpose and joy is co-creating human wholeness through love, compassion, and justice for all.
- Jesus was the epitome of love, wisdom, and integrity by which we choose our values and actions.
- Caring for creation is vital for wholeness to thrive.
Can you see the conundrum? If Christianity is so simple, what happens to the complex liturgies, the fears about being saved, the creeds, the doctrines of original sin, of “Jesus having to die for our sins,” and even the fancy robes and pointy hats? Do we still have to “believe” to get to heaven? It’s simple, but we’re used to complexity—systematic theologies with religiousy things to do.
Since 1000 BCE, about every 500 years there’s been a reformation in Western religion. It generally develops for about 150 years until it reaches a tipping point. Then it takes roughly 100 years to reformulate the new versions of doctrines and practices and to settle into new patterns of religious and spiritual behavior.
A reformation has now been fomenting for 150-200 years. Most progressives feel we’ve already passed the tipping point. Unfortunately, we’re now in that awkward phase of rejecting the old ways before the new patterns have been fully thought through. We’ve lived with convoluted religious doctrines and structures for so long that we don’t realize how simple a fulfilling life of wholeness can be.
Not much has been put in place of the “torn down” doctrines because there’s so little need for complexity to replace them. Maybe that’s why Bishop John Shelby Spong spent 35 chapters in his most recent book on what Christianity isn’t and only a chapter or two on what it should be.
Doing away with complex systems creates a vacuum.
Just like every previous reformation, creating order out of the chaos of deconstruction leaves a gap that can seem scary if there’s a void of solid-ground doctrines and practices. I’m guessing that’s what Rob fears, along with many us who are searching to see what the next big spiritual package will be. Yes, I agree, it’s not fully re-formed yet.
Make no mistake, Christianity is undergoing a paradigm shift. For traditional believers, it’s such a big shift that most won’t even consider it. For mainstream congregations, the impact of the shift is only beginning to be understood and felt. And, it’s a shift that’s totally off the radar of those who’ve left the church or who’ve never been in one—especially Millennials.
Do you see the next problem coming? What will a church of simple Christianity look like? Will those brief, yet radical, concepts attract people to pews? Will we even need churches? Does “Oneness” require worship? Slowly, but surely, new concepts are being clarified. Unfortunately, so many previous notions are unnecessary that there isn’t much upon which to rebuild a complex religion. However, the first and second century Christians did it, so can we.
Like Rob, I struggle with these issues. Writing a blog is forcing me to codify my own thinking while trying to make decent explanations for you. My next post may be the most difficult to write. If progressive Christianity is simpler, easier to understand, and better for you, you need to know WHY. In the array of books I’ve read over the past decade, I’ve only come across a few lines that describe the benefits of a new Christianity. I am taking on this challenge to prove to myself, and hopefully to you, that my writing is not just tearing down the old religion, but that pursuing progressive Christianity has real merit. Wish me luck!
___________________________ July 30, 2018
An extra note regarding simplicity: Jesus saying “love your neighbor as yourself” is more succinct than my list above. However, it still requires some unpacking of the terms love, neighbor, and self. Even Jesus had to tell a story just to explain the concept of “neighbor.” Also, the big missing concept in the first century was the degradation of the environment. Those folks couldn’t yet comprehend how restoring the environment is critical to loving neighbors and self.
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Art Fabian is on a spiritual journey to enjoy more aliveness and to share the goal of wholeness with others. He has no special training or degrees in this field. He’s not a religious scholar or theologian. However, he hopes you might also enjoy walking towards a richer life that benefits us, our neighbors, and all creation.