How could one spend a whole week fiddling with a website that just needed upgrading? This essay was delayed because I decided to do the make-over myself. I have just enough knowledge to attempt projects that should be delegated to someone else. But I’m too cheap to have a professional do it. And then there’s the learning-curve factor.
Whenever my siblings or I need to create or build something, we want to tackle it ourselves. We will admit it took longer or was more difficult than expected. But we always say, “I learned so much!”
Fabian siblings in 1947 growth stage; this writer in front.
Learning is our enjoyment—despite frustrations along the way. It’s the way we continue to grow, even in our senior years. It’s also why, although we’ve traveled slightly different religious paths, we still enjoy growing in our spiritual understanding. It’s our way of pursuing a fulfilling life. We want to tackle life with a hands-on approach.
However, not everyone sees the need to keep growing. It requires effort and often pushes one to make changes in thinking and behavior. Some people embrace change. Yet for others it often feels threatening. That’s why my previous blog listed Growth as a significant Stage of Living. What we need to learn to be spiritually fulfilled will illustrate another difference between traditional and progressive Christianity.
Growth in traditional Christianity is built on attaining a belief system that gets you to “accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.” As soon as you come to the realization that you need Jesus’ death to atone for your sins, you’ve arrived at your destination. You are “saved,” i.e., have your personal ticket to heaven. No further journeying is required to achieve a place in the Kingdom of God.
Content seems to consist of three critical points in most traditional churches. First, accept that we’re fallen beings and can’t lift ourselves up to be accepted by God. Second, we need to understand the personhood of God, his Son, and why we should look forward to life in another realm. Third, once saved, we learn more about and participate in worshipping God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—the Trinity.
This situation of not needing to do more because we’re already saved, is “destination living.” Wow, we’re arrived! We’re at the station and are waiting in the queue for our final trip to the afterlife. Considering salvation a personal event between an individual and God causes some people to feel they’re off the hook for loving others equally and serving all of creation. In other words, first get right with God, then take on other responsibilities as you feel so moved.
That’s why I consider “being saved” a passive spirituality. Although one may choose to be very benevolent toward others, by leaving everything up to God, one can slip into being unconcerned about the environment or the treatment of neighbors. For example, some folks stagnate at the level of domination of Earth’s resources rather than rising into stewardship of creation.
Growth has a process focus in progressive Christianity. It’s a life-long journey that one can engage in at any time and continue to grow deeper in spiritual life skills. The content focuses on the Judeo-Christian wisdom teachings, not as a formula for what to believe, but as a moral compass of how to live. Since Jesus shares the same divinity as we have, we examine the responsibilities he teaches rather than how to prevent damnation.
Admittedly, some progressives may be happy to just know they’re not inherently sinful beings, that they’re already one with God, and stop with that understanding. However, for those who pursue a healthy vibrancy in life, there is usually pleasure in seeking greater fulfillment, so most folks will find themselves wanting to keep growing throughout their life. We take the path of discipleship, developing a conversation with the world, not just learning specific steps or beliefs. It is a continuous transformation of relationships and actions.
As Sam Gould points out, “Being Christian is not a one-time event. It is a continuing journey in which one meets the divine.” “It is not a state of receiving divinity through some external process to become more fully human, but a process of personal striving, drawing on the divinity from within to become ever more fully human.”1
These blogs are called Enjoying the Journey because every step of becoming transformed excites me. Every step makes me want to go even further—even if I do wander off the path occasionally. My favorite summary of being a growing human is condensed in Micah 6:8: Do justice, be compassionate, and walk humbly with God. To me, walking humbly is discovering and getting in step with Ultimate Reality. Walking humbly is the satisfying pace of growing in spiritual aliveness.
Which appeals to you?
Is it better to simply grow enough to be assured of personal salvation? Or is the transformative call of God, the Ultimate Reality, more satisfying than just accepting the destination living of being saved? Does a spiritual journey that you see as a human fulfillment experience entice you? Do you feel you haven’t stagnated, nor reached your destination? Do you want to keep on humbly walking?
Now, I want to make it clear that there’s a lot of overlap between these two viewpoints. People all along the Christian spectrum may feel they’re growing, learning, and expanding their horizons. Some are seeking fulfillment in the next life. Whereas some want to savor the experience of becoming renewed and serving continuously—with every step calling us forward—in this life!
What is our Focus?
I hope you now have a glimpse of our Beginning and Growth stages. Next, I’ll contrast two views of our life’s purpose and Focus.
__________________________ September 3, 2018
1 Gould, Sam. Being Christian in the Twenty-First Century. 2017. Pages 86, 98.
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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.