Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seeking a Postmodern Re-definition of Classic Theism

"Much as Newtonian classical physics has been re-expressed by quantum mechanics,
so too may Emergent Christianity move classic theism into a postmodern form of expression."

An Introduction to Process Theology

Evangelicalism, Emergent Christianity, and Progressive Christianity are as different from one another as they are alike in confessing God, the Bible, Jesus, man and sin. Each have a formative theosophic (theology+philosophy) view of God in relation to His creation which affects each one of their espoused beliefs in doctrine, dogma, practice, worship and world-and-life view:

  • God, as separate and above, His creation - Classic Theism (Evangelicalism)
  • God, as part of and next to, His creation - Panentheism (Progressive Christianity)
  • God, as between these processes - a hybrid (or syncretism) of Classic Theism and Panentheism as yet unnamed and unformed (Emergent Christianity*)

Here then begins a discussion as to the "why and what" of  Process Theology which is clearly unlike Classic Theism in its structural foundations as a panentheistic structure (as discussed in an earlier article here - http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/08/process-theology-terence-fretheim.html).  BUT, there are many qualities to Process Theology's structure that are attractive to Theists searching to re-express Classic Theism into postmodern terminology and structural life.

What are those attractive qualities?

(1) Process Theology provides the flexibility that the Emergent church is committed to while avoiding relativism, purely apophatic spirituality, and deconstructive postmodernism. Interestingly, most forms of process theology are contrasted as constructive postmodernism.

(2) It encourages as much openness to other religions as possible while remaining rooted in a (constantly evolving) orthodox Christian tradition - a kind of "Confessional religious pluralism."

Where to Start?

So then, right from the start it would be important to know which expressions, or "elements" of process theology are substantive and which are pervasive:

  • By substantive is meant what elements can only be part of process theology's structure not found within some other structure, like Classic Theism.
  • And by pervasive is meant what elements are transportable characteristics that can be found in other dissimilarly disconnected structural systems. Elements that are not necessarily unique to one system or another, but tag-along progenitors found as non-unique descriptors.

In other words, what are process theology's pervasive elements (both identifiable and non-identifiable) that cling to process theology like adopted orphans until discovering that their real "mom and dad" are gypsies like themselves. Or, by way of another example, we all share personality traits but they are not necessarily the fuller definitions of ourselves. So too are pervasive structural elements that are shareable or, non-unique, as structural "traits" but not as structural "qualifiers." This is what is meant by pervasive.

Creating a New System

And so, if it is possible, we should "raid the hen house" as it were, and recover any spiritually pervasive elements clinging to process theology that are being championed by insightful panentheists as theirs alone. Mostly because I suspect (1) there are no other good competing systems to share these with, and (2) that with another competing system it would force theorists to streamline their systems to their lowest common denominators.  Along the way stripping out any "dangling metaphors," as it were, so that the foundation may first be seen before the theological house is built upon it (whatever shape, color, material or district that it is built in). And given the right structural concept, similar pervasive concepts would be as shareable as substantive qualifiers could not be.

As an example, one such concept I find in process theology that might be "shareable" or "pervasive" is that of synchronicity (see Catherine Keller's brilliant discussion of Spiritual Entanglement and Interconnectedness earlier reviewed - http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/11/catherine-keller-on-entanglement.html). An updated revision of Classic Theism might include this pervasive element into its future theosophic structure, however, left in its classic form, synchronicity can only be described in Classic terms as a miracle. Or, as a miraculous, confluence of events and opportunity. Either as an event of nature in itself. Or as an event intersecting nature and ourselves with event between the same.

Introducing Relational Theism

I further suspect that there are other pervasive relational elements to be found as we become more conversant with process theology and are better able to distinguish what is, and isn't, appropriate to a newer, updated re-definition of Classic Theism which I now propose to rename Relational Theism. Why? Because I like the term and because it carries with it an inherent definition of "process" that I think can carry us forward from our Classic roots into a postmodernised, revisionistic, structural context.

One of Classic Theism's biggest drawbacks has been its very large, ontologically imposed gap of God being distant to His creation. A gap that process theology has closed in giving us a God who is intimately involved in His world. Not cold, sterile, inhuman as could be construed in theism's more classical expressions. But showing a warmer, relational correspondence between Himself, His creation, and man. One not so completely separate from sin and evil as to be unaffected by it. But One who suffers with us and groans with creation.

Where I would differ however, is that Process Theology so draws God into the process of involvement within creation that God has become defined by that process. So intertwined and interdependent as to be non-separate within His being, essence and substance, from creation. And in the process uplifting creation into an interdependent, intermodal realm of ontological existence with metaphysical imports as we see here. Hence "creation" becomes "c/Creation" and "God" becomes "G/god".

Perhaps Relational Theism could better treat these lamentable outcomes within a structural framework of personal-relational disruptions between the Creator and His creation. And not as a mere unfeeling, impassively separated God on the one hand, nor as a God so intricately intertwined within the mechanism of creation as to be un-God like (in the classic definition).

Relational Theism as Process

And so, when I think of Relational Theism perhaps I might also wish to think of it in terms of relational-process theology as it relates to God's creation within the time-bound constraints of love, anger, justice, hope, patience, and any other humanly anthropomorphisms that we wish to add. Anthropomorphic traits that are reflective of time-bound relational correspondences. And perhaps these traits are pervasive elements to Process Theology, and not substantive elements, that can be transported to the postulated framework of Relation Theism.

These are only suggestions of course. Most likely crude suggestions in hopes of being given a clearer vision by other like-minded Emergent Christians who are similarly unsatisfied with Classic Theism but not fully convinced by Process Theology's claims either. Who are "tweeners" wishing to evolve Christian doctrine from its antiquated Hellenistic foundations to a more appropriate Hebraic foundation. In the meantime we'll be content to live within the tension of Classic Theism and that of the  more liberal quantum panentheism of Process Theology, and try to evolve this discussion to something more satisfying, more complete, more God-like and creation-like.

A Final Word to Process Theologians

Lastly, I would like to give thanks - with deepest of appreciations - to all the hard work that has gone on by studied process theologians who have shared their lives, and life work, in this quantum branch of theology. Perhaps some could join us and help Emergent Christianity better express a more relational type of process theology that is not panentheistic. For now has come the time to determine Classic Theism's cycle of life, death and evolution.

RE Slater
November 15, 2011

*Related Links (Fred Schmidt) - http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/11/progressive-christianity-must-be-more.html


Why Progressive Christianity Needs Process Theology
(by Bruce Epperly)

October 19, 2011

What do progressive Christians believe, and why? How do they get to their positions on questions like the nature of creation, authority, morality, and our relationship with God? What are the resources and the sources, especially if one doesn't hold to a view of biblical inerrancy or infaillibility? One key resource over the past half century or more is Process Theology. With its embrace of concepts like panentheism, Process has opened new avenues of thought and practice. The major drawback is that the ways in which Process has been laid out have been rather difficult to understand.

One Process theologian who has taken care to better explain ideas is Bruce Epperly, whose writings appear at this blog quite regularly. In this brief posting Bruce offers up a helpful overview of Process Theology. I invite you to check it out and offer your thoughts and responses. At the end of the text there is a brief bibliography. Each of the books is linked to Amazon, so you can purchase books if you'd like.

 Why Progressive Christianity Needs Process Theology,
by Bruce G. Epperly
In a recent Patheos piece, Fred Schmidt criticizes progressive Christianity for “not articulating in theological categories what it believes in.” While I disagree with Schmidt’s stark evaluation of progressive Christian theology – the The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christianity of Eric Elnes or the EightPoints of the Center for Progressive Christianity provide a broad summary of progressive affirmations, nevertheless progressive Christianity needs to deepen its theological foundations. It needs a theology with the stature to embrace its vision of divine hospitality, partnership with science and medicine, commitment to social justice, and affirmation of cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity and pluralism. While progressives do not need to formulate absolute and inflexible doctrines, greater doctrinal gravitas will strengthen the progressive theological, ethical, and social voice. I believe that process theology provides the most comprehensive and sound basis for a fluid and flexible progressive Christian theology.
Process theology is identified with the philosophical insights of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. Like other theological approaches (for example, Augustine and the Neoplatonists, Aquinas and Aristotle, Bultmann and existentialism), process theology uses the philosophical visions of Whitehead and Hartshorne as a lens through which to understand God’s presence in history and creation and to formulate a Christian vision of reality, including the nature of humankind, authority of scripture, revelation, science, and ethics.

Process theology affirms that our vision of God and the world are interdependent. God is not an exception to our understanding of reality, but both shapes and reflects the nature of reality. Good theology, process theology asserts, reflects our lived experience. Briefly put, process theology undergirds progressive Christianity with the following theological affirmations relating to divinity, creation, and humankind. Process theology believes that our lived experience points to the following affirmations about nature and humankind:

  • Reality is dynamic and interdependent.
  • The world is composed of living, experiencing entities. The universe is lively and enchanted, not mechanistic and insentient
  • The universal nature of experience points to the universality of value. Non-human creatures are valuable and deserve ethical consideration apart from our use of them.
  • Mind, body, and spirit are intricately connected and shape one another.
  • To exist is to have some degree of creativity and experience, albeit minimal.
  • The future is open-ended and will emerge in part as result of human decisions.
  • We are in constant dialogue with God, giving and taking, in a dynamic web of call and response in which God nurtures our freedom and creativity.

Our vision of God reflects our understanding of the world as interdependent, lively, creative, and open-ended.
  • God is intimately connected with the world – God provides a vision of possibilities for every moment of experience.
  • God’s influence on the world and human life is invitational, relational, and persuasive, rather than unilateral and coercive.
  • God really experiences the creaturely world; God is influenced by everything that happens. God is the “most moved mover,” whose influence on our lives is connected with our impact on God’s life.
  • The nature of God can be understood as panentheistic in contrast to pantheism (God and the world are one reality) and theism (God acts on the world from the outside unilaterally and supernaturally, and is not influenced by the world). Panentheism sees God in all things and all things in God. God embraces all things experientially, but is more than all things, in God’s ongoing experience and shaping of reality.
  • God’s influence in the world is shaped in part by creaturely decisions – our openness to God enables God to be more active in the world. How we use our freedom, individually and corporately, conditions the nature and impact of God’s vision for our lives.
  • God’s aim in the universe is toward beauty and abundance, and this vision embraces both human and non-human life.
  • God is constantly injecting new possibilities to promote personal growth and planetary and cosmic evolution.
  • Divine omnipresence and activity mean that God truly influences all things, working within the natural cause and effect relationships.
  • God inspires wisdom, creativity, and love in every culture and spiritual tradition.
  • Diversity reflects God’s aim at beauty. God seeks the greatest freedom, creativity, and diversity congruent with the well-being of our communities and planet.
  • In the divine-human call and response, Jesus reflects the fullness of God’s vision for human life. Jesus’ uniqueness is grounded in both God’s call and choice and Jesus’ openness to divine energy, possibility, and vision.
  • While Jesus embodies God’s vision of wholeness and beauty, God is also present as the inspiration for other transformational religious leaders (Gautama, Lao Tzu, Mohammed).

The process vision of God and the world leads to certain affirmations about human and non-human life.
  • Our vocation is to be God’s companions/co-creators in healing the world.
  • We are constantly receiving divine inspiration and guidance. God’s light shines in and through us and all creation.
  • All creatures are touched by God, regardless of their previous decisions. God’s grace is intimate and also unending.
  • The heart of ethics and spirituality is to bring beauty and joy to the world, given the limitations and possibilities of our particular context. Our calling in the spirit of Mother Teresa, is to do something beautiful for God. The quality of our lives and actions truly shape God’s experience and activity in the world.
  • When we truly open ourselves to God’s vision and energy, “miracles,” leaps in energy and inspiration occur. While these events are not “supernatural,” they reflect a heightened sense of God’s presence in the world.
  • God’s impact on the world opens the door to mystical and healing experiences. We can truly experience God’s presence in our lives.

Process theology serves to give a fluid foundation for the key elements of progressive theology: its creative affirmation of diversity and pluralism, its commitment to the liberation of all people, its concern for planetary well-being, and its affirmation of our responsibility to care for the most vulnerable members of our society. Process theology enables us to understand prayer and healing in “naturalistic” ways as heightening of God’s presence within the causal interdependence of life. Moreover, process theology articulates a vision that affirms the progressive partnership of faith and science, the importance of interfaith hospitality and global spirituality, and the value of this world as a realm of divine-human interaction.

(You can explore the connections between process theology and progressive Christianity in my Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides For The Perplexed) Continuum, and my upcoming Emerging Process: Adventurous Spirituality for a Missional Church, Parsons Porch Books.)


Bruce Epperly, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides For The Perplexed)
John Cobb and David Griffin, Process Theology
Marjorie Suchocki, In Gods Presence


Book Review (from Amazon.com)

June 26, 2011

This review is from: Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides For The Perplexed) (Paperback)

Of the seven or eight other introductory texts I have read on process theology, this one by Bruce Epperly is the best overall, even though it does not replace the others. This is indeed a bold claim to make for someone who loves the works of John Cobb and Marjorie Suchocki, both of whom have written many classic books on process theology. But one of the greatest strengths of Epperly's introductory level book is in his synthesis of many of the most important ideas of other leading Christian process-relational thinkers from the last few decades, including Cobb and Suchocki, but also David Ray Griffin, Charles Hartshorne, Catherine Keller, Bernard Loomer, Thomas Jay Oord, Rita Nakashima Brock, Robert Mesle, Lewis Ford, Jay McDaniel, Monica Coleman, and last but definitely not least, Bruce Epperly himself. Additionally, he quotes widely from the complex works of Alfred North Whitehead throughout the book, highlighting some of his most memorable passages and explaining them in a way that makes them more accessible.

Asecond strength of this book is due to Epperly's emphasis in practical theology. He is concerned, first and foremost, with the way in which process theology works within the lives of individuals and communities, impacting churches and preaching. This adds up to a real gift in clear communication, but also great sensitivity to the actual lives of people outside the academy, leading him to concentrate less on complicated academic debates and more on issues like prayer, life after death, ethics, and holistic healing practices.

Here are a few things that stood out to me about the book:

1) Epperly goes through every important area of Christian theology and explains the various ways that process theologians understand them - christology, soteriology, sin, anthropology, eschatology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and the trinity. This is pretty much standard for process theology intro books, but Epperly is particularly clear and thorough in his explanations of the various process interpretations of systematic theology. Beyond the basic areas of systematic theology, Epperly also explains process views of miracles, scripture, revelation, and mystical experiences.

2) A very helpful overview of process ethics is included on issues like abortion, euthanasia, ecology/animal rights, and economics/justice (which draws heavily on Cobb's work). Such a wide variety of important issues are not always a part of other introductory level process texts, so this was a great addition to the book.

3) As previously mentioned, Epperly synthesizes other key process thinkers in this book and summarizes many of their most important contributions to the process theology conversation:

  • Cobb's logos/Wisdom Christology and work in ethics
  • Suchocki's theologies of original sin, eschatology, and prayer
  • Epperly's own work in holistic healing practices and eschatology
  • Griffin's work in the area of theodicy*
  • Oord's work on a theology of love
  • Coleman's Womanist theology
  • McDaniel's work in ecology

*theodicy noun, plural -cies.
a vindication of the divine attributes, particularly holiness and justice, in establishing or allowing the existence of physical and moral evil.

Lastly, in the final chapter of the book, Epperly considers the possibility of the "amorphous, yet dynamic" emergent church movement adopting a process theology framework. He argues that process theology provides the flexibility that the emergent church is committed to while avoiding relativism, purely apophatic spirituality, and deconstructive postmodernism (most forms of process theology are contrasted as 'constructive postmodernism'). It encourages as much openness to other religions as possible while remaining rooted in a (constantly evolving) tradition - a kind of 'confessional religious pluralism.'

Indeed, citing Brian McLaren, Epperly believes process theology can provide a truly inspiring philosophical and theological grounding for a "New Kind of Christianity." Although only a few self-identified emergent Christian writers/leaders/pastors are explicitly aligned with some form of process theology at this point, there are certainly overlapping emphases with process in many emergent/emerging books and blogs. As such, Epperly's invitation to emergent Christians (who are largely post-evangelicals) to consider process theology as a viable option in their search for new forms of faith makes a great deal of sense for anyone familiar with McLaren or Doug Pagitt.

While process theology is anything but easy to understand for many beginners, Bruce Epperly has done a fantastic job of making it accessible without oversimplifying the incredible depth of process thinking.

To "Believe Out" the Church First Needs To Know What It "Believes In."

To "Believe Out" the Church First Needs
To Know What It "Believes In."

The words spoken here by Frederick Schmidt are as good as any words can be spoken in declaring that Christians first and foremost speak Christ and stay to their mission of outreach and discipling. Any other activity is secondary to the Church's primary missions of speaking Jesus to a world seeking life and deliverance.

And to help with the answer to Frederick's question I would submit that Emergent Christianity is a fresh, new movement seeking Evangelic AND Progressive Christianity's participation in re-speaking Christ to the world. Emergent Christianity is focused on Jesus, on ministering to people, on assimilating into society as many Kingdom constructs as can be created until Jesus comes again for his Bride, the Church, while living out His command to love one another.

The welcome mat is out then, to other Christian groups of similar interests, seeking the new life of rebirth found in Christ Jesus. Let us join with one another and work together as one body of Christ focused on the work of Church, first and foremost, of outreach, ministry and discipleship. And not get lost in the many issues of nation building and government. We have political parties to do that.

RE Slater
November 15, 2011
*For more on Progressive Christianity see - http://www.tcpc.org/template/index.cfm

* * * * * * * * * *

Believe Out Begins with Believe In
May 15, 2011

"If all that Progressive Christianity has going for it is that it is politically progressive,
then there is really no reason to wrap churchy language around it."
- Frederick Schmidt                 

Jim Wallis is often galvanizing public opinion, but I am sure that he regrets having done such an effective job of it this week. The decision to refuse airtime to an on-line ad from Believe Out advocating a welcoming posture toward LBGT adults and their children has precipitated a firestorm of criticism. And Wallis' effort to explain Sojourners' position has done little more than throw a damp rag on the conflagration.

The debate quickly became more than a debate over inclusion, however. It also became a debate over the viability of "Progressive Christianity" itself. Speaking for many, Jim Naughton, Canon for Communications and Advancement for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington wrote:

I was more or less in favor of the big-tent strategy pursued by progressive religious leaders in Washington in the wake of Barack Obama's election as president. The thinking—as I understood—went that in reaching out to moderate evangelicals on a certain set of issues it might be possible to make legislative progress on behalf of the poor. One upshot of that strategy was that Jim Wallis . . . became the embodiment of the Progressive Christianity in the eyes of the Obama administration and the Washington media . . . So here we sit, us religious lefties, with a movement led by a man who occupies a position to the right of Dick Cheney on LGBT issues. I am assuming people savvier and better connected than I am will understand that this situation is not tenable. The big tent collapsed this weekend, and it was Sojourners who yanked out the tent poles. Someone needs to alert official Washington that Jim Wallis and his minions no longer speak for us—if they ever did.

There is little to be accomplished by adding to the fire. So I won't break into the supply of well-cured wood behind the house. (It has been raining today and it's wet anyway.) But I have found myself wondering why the debate is about political agendas and the way in which the Progressive Christian voice is represented to the White House.

The answer, I think, is this: A debate is never over the issues it should be when the adjectives in a movement's label are more important than the nouns. Put another way: "Progressive" Christians have yet to articulate in theological categories what they believe in, so it is hard to identify what they believe out—except by resorting to political assumptions.

That's a problem for the movement and, if it isn't addressed, it will not last. Why?

Quite simply, the answer is this: If all that Progressive Christianity has going for it is that it is politically progressive, then there is really no reason to wrap churchy language around it. There's a political party for that. It is far better financed and organized. It's a bigger player than the church will ever be. And it doesn't need to worry about how it is represented to the White House. It can occupy it. Put another way: A religious movement shaped by a political agenda will never have significant traction, if it isn't fundamentally religious.

Of course, this is as true of conservative versions of Christianity as it is of progressive versions. And it raises serious questions about the perennial effort to rebrand the faith at all.

But be that as it may, the point is this: No expression of Christianity can give a convincing case for its existence without defining what it means to be a Christian. Without doing that, in fact, every debate like this will be more about politics and policy than about something spiritually definitive.

So, where does the conversation begin? With explicitly religious and spiritual questions, perhaps like these (though there is nothing fixed about the list):
  • Who is God?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • What is the reign of God?
  • What does life under the reign of God look like? How and where is it given expression?
  • What do human beings need from God?
  • What is the relationship between God and human beings meant to be?
  • What is the purpose of the church in giving expression to the reign of God?
  • How are those purposes realized?
  • What does the reign of God suggest about the membership, shape, and mission of the church?

I can't offer the answers to those questions. I am not even sure that it is important to institutionalize the "progressive" brand. Christianity, properly understood, has always struck me as a pretty progressive thing anyway and the noun has had more staying power than any of the adjectives. But in the absence of a conversation shaped by questions about the meaning and nature of our faith we will inevitably find ourselves talking about politics, the White House, and "wedge issues."

To "believe out" the church needs to know what it "believes in."

Frederick W. SchmidtThe Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is Director of Spiritual Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. An Episcopal priest, he also serves as the director of the Episcopal studies program. He is the author of several books, including Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Luke (Morehouse, 2009) and What God Wants for Your Life (Harper One, 2005).

Schmidt's column, "The Spiritual Landscape," is published every Monday on the Progressive Christian portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.