General Motors and Ford together will spend over $7,000,000,000 on advertising this year. They each want to convince you that their vehicles are better than what the competition is offering. They constantly cite the “benefits” of owning their brand. However, auto experts will frequently look at equivalent models and say, “The choice is yours. Neither is better, just different, depending on what you like.”
In the same way, many people look at traditional and progressive Christianity and say, “One’s not better than the other, they’re just two different ways of being religious.” Of course, I’m biased, but I think some differences between these two viewpoints can lead to great differences in how we live our lives and the kind of world we live in.
I’ll try to illustrate some of the differences. Then I’ll let you choose which is better for you. I’ll group my comments within four Stages of Life that I call:
Beginning – Our condition upon entering life.
Growth – What we need to learn to be spiritually fulfilled.
Focus – How we treat ourselves, others, and all of creation.
Ending – What happens when our life ends.
Admittedly, these are overly-simplified stages—there are myriad other ways to categorize life. I hope these are enough to clarify some core differences. Plus, for brevity, I have used stereotypes of both traditional and progressive versions of Christianity. Even with this “condensation,” this essay feels like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in one post. It will arrive in several sections so you don’t get turned off by its length.
Beginning our life in traditional Christianity:
You come into this world separated from God due to original sin—you’re a fallen person. God has anthropomorphic characteristics and, while he loves you, he expects you to get into a better relationship with him. However, you’re incapable of bridging that gap on your own. Fortunately, since you need help, Jesus is the intermediary agent who can close that rift. Within some denominations, baptism is a way to be adopted back into God’s good graces until you’re grown up enough to choose to accept Jesus’ help in your atonement with God.
Beginning our life from the progressive viewpoint:
You are born into this Ultimate Reality we call God. There is no separation. You and everyone else are one with the universe. There is no need for reconciliation. There is no need for an agent—such as Jesus, sacrifices, specific piety practices, etc. to get you closer to God. Fear of consequences about your afterlife are gone. It’s like already being whole when your token is on “GO.” You start fully accepted.
Pastor Robin Myers writes, “What would happen if we accepted original blessing over original sin and stopped trying to prove our worthiness—to a parent, to a spouse, to an employer, or to God? What if we took Paul Tillich’s counsel that we “accept the fact that we are accepted?”
Yes, it may be a strange feeling of relief to not lug around the baggage of traditional Christianity. Not carrying that weight, nor wearing the sackcloth of required humility—calling yourself wretched, might make some people feel like they’re religiously naked.
The benefit is liberation from fear and angst of whether one will go to heaven or hell. We can focus on what’s good about ourselves and others, not what’s wrong with our “sinful self.” Our goal would skip the steps of trying to “get right with God” and aim directly for wholeness of self, others, and creation. It’s a learning and doing process, not a right-belief requirement.
Pastor Myers goes on: “What if we shift the idea of salvation from survival of personal identity to radical freedom? Not freedom from—obligations, promises, fidelity, commitment, and self-sacrifice—but freedom to—live beyond angst, be delivered from self-pity, escape the prison of self, grow old gracefully, master the ego, live in harmony with the natural world, and break the chains of fear itself, especially the fear of death? What if we followed Jesus, instead of just worshipping Christ?” 1
OK, it’s your choice. Which feels like a healthier start in life? Which doctrine seems to say, Let’s go! instead of: “Wait, you have a few pre-requisites to satisfy—you have to pay your dues first—then you can start growing?” Which is a better Beginning?
Next time we’ll look at the differences between other Stages of Life viewpoints. Stay tuned, and you can ponder the opportunities for Growth.
________________________________ August 17, 2018
1 Myers, Robin. Saving Jesus from The Church. p 227.
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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.