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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Roots of Social / Progressive Evangelicalism and Movement Towards Radical Christianity




Introduction

I have reached a milestone in my life this week. It is the week where I turn sixty and leave behind the last vestiges of my once youthful body. Though I am good health I am beginning to notice a tiredness I had never felt before. And a willingness of my youthful spirit that is not quite matched by my body once so eager for sports and athleticism, adventure and competition.

Years ago I had reached another milestone. A life event marker that put me into a place of lament for about six years as I approached the age of thirty. I knew then that what I once could do as a youth I could do no longer. And yet, what a surprise I found in all the things I could do that I hadn't considered in my earlier youth. But unlike that lengthy time of despondency I now consider my end years to bear good surprises of expectation and endeavor I would not have expected but a few, spare years ago.

And so, I will take this week in stride and own up to the Lord's grace and blessing in granting to me the many years I might yet give back to Him as I move beyond this next age-based plateau. To consider it a blessing and triumph and not a place for dread and fear. Five or six years ago I would not have guessed the extent of my life's dramatic turn-around in its later years - but perhaps this is a part of wisdom that my former self as a younger, practical man of thirty could not have meditated on. Even so, I wish to contemplate on it now for the days ahead.

A Time of Examination

Not long ago I had been self-employed for some 27 years and found myself beginning to tire of my occupation and wishing to step away from the business world where I had provided IT consulting and technology services. It wasn't the big-money business then as it is now, but even so, I was allowed to invent processes, explore innovation, and even produce one or two successful entrepreneurial projects against several other losses of opportunity.

About five years ago I thought I might try to write poetry - something I had wanted to do for a very long time and never did. And so I did, producing quite a quantity (unpublished) over two to three years as I laboured from dawn-to-dusk to the task I had assigned myself. Eventually I began to burn out and knew I needed to find a new philosophical foundation for my poetry if I were to continue.

A foundation which required me to explore my beliefs and background. A foundation which ultimately I had to break apart and glue back together again on my own since there were none to travel my tormented road with me. A road that took my conservative Christian beliefs and demanded its reconfiguration, restitution, and renewal. A road that was very hard for awhile before it became easier and less burdensome. But a burden that has stayed with me until now.

And so I did. I laid down the poetry pen to take up the task of writing of an expanded faith and renewed theology deeply in need of repentance and resurrection. It was not an easy task but one that I was thankful to employ under the driving burden of the Spirit of God. One which has birthed this website here for others to explore and consider.

Then, about two years ago, as I was heavy into writing of a new radical Christianity, I felt I needed to push away from the desk a bit and get out into the fields and meadows of this good earth. Mostly because I needed someplace to be other than at the desk all the time, and also because I needed a new source of friendships. Friendships more at ease with the world that might provide a renewing outlet of vision and care for society.

And so, sometime during that Fall I read of an opportunity to study and become certified as a Master Naturalist through Michigan State University and enrolled for next year's workshops and field studies. I quickly became involved with a new society of care-givers dedicated to exploring, protecting, and preserving the fields and streams, meadows and forests, of the lands around us. It became a healthy experience and provided a place to become absorbed within where men and women of all ages were dedicated to restoring nature into a more positive balance with humanity. It was fun and I found myself willing to try new things through the early winter snows of Michigan to its late fall blooms along its coastal waters.

New Horizons, New Burdens

A year and a half later as I was finishing my certification in its required community service hours I began to wonder what I might do with it. I still was writing a lot and had not begun to slow down until this past winter. But I had also used that time to work with as many "nature organizations" in my area as I could, thus building up a practical base of knowledge of my area's capacities.

One day, as I was attending a coastal dunes field study class I began to wonder how I might help this dedicated core of conservationists. Soon after, the Lord placed upon my heart a clear-sighted passion that would not let go of me. I had considered a variety of projects - from counting butterflies to cleaning up riverbeds to purchasing conservation areas to preserve and restore. And then it dawned up me, "What if I became involved in public policy?" It was simple and direct and might afford the maximum amount of help to the greatest number of people.

In preparation for this attitude the Lord had placed me into local city government and now was pushing me into county government to think through our region's agricultural policies. I then interviewed for the vacant position and was later accepted over several dozen applicants. Next, I joined a regional environmental group that I once was a part of decades ago when it first formed to bring technology to the public and non-profit sector. By this time this public transit authority had added an environmental group focused on restoring the watershed in our West Michigan region.

To prepare, I joined a three day river expedition composed of trout enthusiasts, river restorationists, several scientists and professors, and a general cadre of nature enthusiasts. This group of 65 environmentalists composed the base elements of three river sections that ran nearly the entire width of the state of Michigan. It was the ideal group to be a part of as we paddled and kayaked flood stage river waters at the height of its torment amid a wet, cold rain plunging down upon us for the first two of those three days. I felt as if I was more water bug than human but in the late afternoons we would camp along the surging river's edge to dry out and explore our evening's habitats, watch the night sky by a warming fire, and share story after story.

I soon became one of the board of directors of the Lower Grand River last year and have since found the doors flung open to me across agriculture, conservation, water, and open lands policy from a local, to a regional, to a state level. I am simply amazed at the opportunities being presented to me by so many governmental agencies and organizations. Opportunities that will help the many groups I have met towards better earth-care and land management. Opportunities that I feel passionate about as an advocate/consultant for urban-environmentalism and green infrastructure planning and development.

And as of last week, I am now presented yet another opportunity to become involved in translating my passion for green infrastructure projects into the area's school districts themselves. For myself, as for many others, it is important to have a vision of the future through the eyes of the next generation of youthful millennials who might carry on the burden of earth-care through all the many opportunities that technology may now offer us. Opportunities to refashion costly, crumbling grey infrastructures into organic, living, natural spaces utilizing water, earth, light, and air, into the public and private spaces of human communities. Today's youth are the seeds to tomorrow's future.

The Need for Re-Visioning

And so, as you can tell, I have drifted a bit from formally writing poetry and theology as rigorously as I once was doing. But now I have found the foundations I required to continue my writing. Examples abound of earth-advocate poets like Wendell Berry who never ceased from writing poetry even as he engaged public policy. Nor did the statesman Benjamin Franklin cease from his "common man's homilies" even as he became engaged in fashioning the 13 Colonies of America into the United States of America. It would be unwise to stop writing. To stop, would negate the sense of purpose that could be granted a society of people searching for vision and justice - both in the human realm as in the natural.

Nonetheless, I do wish to also pursue the idea of what a Millennial Christianity might look like for this 21st Century so tormented with oppression, hatred, and greed. It is a vision which I have been exploring since beginning this blog site. A vision that would provide a newer philosophical foundation to the one I grew up with. A foundation that might engage a form of postmodern Continentalism rather than Western Secular Enlightenment. A foundation onto which a vision of a Radical Christianity might be created which I have before described as Emergent, Post-Conservative, Progressive, or even Postmodern, in the highest and best senses of the word which keeps Jesus at its core and God's love and grace as its guide.

Perhaps this is what it means to experience a mid-life crisis. If so, praise God. This time of sanctuary has indeed been rich and fulfilling. And praise the Lord for His goodness during the hard times of existential crisis when the very foundations of my life had been torn to shreds both personally, in my family, in my worship, and finally in my professional life. The late fifties had not been an easy time for me much like my late twenties once had been. But life after the mid-seasons of traumatic events have shown that if you can push through them in some semblance of survival and disorder than eventually a peace will be found accompanied by personal direction and satisfaction.

Of late, my children have grown up. Each has graduated from college or graduate school in the past year. Each has married since last fall within three months of the other. And my wife and I find ourselves learning to become reacquainted back to the happy days of our first espousal, discovering the love we once had before becoming encumbered with obligations and responsibilities. A grown-up love that is clear-eyed with one another and with what we wish to complete in our lives before this good life ends.

For me, the idea of "balance and symmetry" might be appropriately applied here through the dangling threads of a life requiring a final act or ending to be applied into the lives of those coming after me. And if so, and if granted the days and years ahead to do this, then in God's wisdom and grace I hope to move into those complicating spaces by moving past myself into unknown mysteries yet awaiting discovery as best I can using the ready tools of bare word and thought, argument and instruction. To create a new syntax of speech that might create a new language for imagining grace-filled worlds of justice and solidarity amongst the nations. A new world order whose utopia might grant peace to a weary world sowing division and strife. Perhaps a new world order that could affect religion itself so firm in its resolve to hold stedfast to lesser visions for humanity and self.

A New World Order of Political and Theological Activism

And so, today, I wish to reflect again on the belated process I had come to so late in life in displacing the "faith of my youth" with a "grown-up faith" that has become more clear-eyed with the passage of time and distance. For now, I have come to embrace in the past dozen years or so what could be called a progressive evangelicalism which has caused for me a deep departure from my then-current conservative evangelical past.

I no longer shy away from words like social or political activism and theology as I once had when seeing so many militant strands of religious world oppression and tyranny upon the innocents of society. If I am to be militant than it is to be in God's love towards others and not by my own selfish self-love of fear and discrimination that has lately been framed into my conservative faith over the past decades by self-appointed religious mullahs to my once practical orthodoxy.

Nay, this kind of unjust, unequal, anti-intellectual Christian faith must be put to death finally and firmly if I am to get on with the task of living in the will of the Lord. I must have a personal faith that is renewing and resurrecting against the evil turmoils I see gripping the wicked of this world. I must help to promote and develop a Christian faith that does the same and knows why it wishes to proceed in this fashion against the strong dogmas of yesteryear's church striving for ascendancy but losing in its grasp the very thing it has come to idolized. An idol which has produced a misdirected sense of conservative doctrine as opposed to a radicalizing doctrine of humilty, forgiveness, mercy, and grace by our Lord Jesus Christ. To be a true Christian militant is to struggle not for dogma but for faith's first fruits of peace and trust in God's sovereignty whose rule shall move the nations by His incarnate Spirit not as man would do. But as a sovereign God will do in its paradoxical complexity and mysterious fashioning using the weak things of this world to confound the wise, the mighty, the strong.

Consequently I created Relevancy22 where I might speak my mind - while hosting many other minds and souls wishing to do the same - so that a perusing reader might come to understand that there are many voices speaking of this same radicalizing, resurrected faith. The same radicalizing faith found in Jesus who demanded a new allegiance, a new voice, and new missional fields filling with passionate labourers denouncing the many religious false prophets of our times abounding all a'glimmer with their own false foretellings, pejorative speeches, and "Thus saith God" pontifications.

Hence Relevancy22 - along with many other writers we follow here - is committed to investigating biblical doctrines on an elemental level so that a new contemporary Christian orthodoxy might be presently founded on better hermeneutics, speech, and labor, beyond the current narrowness I have more recently found employed in my once conservative faith. Like so many ghosts echoing from my past I must confront those ghosts and put them away and will require the audience of many hands and feet that we labor together to regain sight of the Christ of Calvary who modeled for us the truth of God's grace and forgiveness.

Mostly I write and edit for those like myself needing new handles and a broader reach of theology than can be found within the Reformed halls of dogma and dictum. But as well, I write for the next generation of younger Christians who need a stronger vision of Jesus and theology that might persist into this post-modern, post-Christian, secular world. A world which has evolved on the doorstop of the failure of Secular Modernity. A new world unlike the old world I have lived through these past sixty years but am all-the-more-willing to embrace for the love of God, and the heart of Jesus, despite the personal distresses of leaving familiar grounds for foreign lands. Not unlike hesitant Father Abraham do we travel this unknown path of God to discover a City unmade with human hands. A City bearing a new earth and a new society. A City that truly is founded upon the renewing, healing God of creation who is our light and life.

For myself, as for some of you here, the 1960s and 70s became the launching site for dissettlement with religious conservatism after seeing its secular fruition carried through into the 1980s and 90s by its unending wars and recessions, political storms and turmoil. Obviously it took decades of living through these events before understanding how my hallowed faith had become fundamentally altered and changed from the biblical forums I had once adhered to. But now, after doing the hard work of deconstructing my faith by the Spirit of the Lord - and then by reconstructing it into a more living, vibrant form - I can now breathe more easily in the Spirit in missional outreach, love, and care for society and this good earth.

Below will be found Dr. Roger Olson's kind review of progressive Christianity. And if, like myself, the reader wishes a little historical background to his or her's present Christian faith, than I think this very short review will be most helpful. Especially within the social-progressive-activist context that we see abounding around us today in so many directions and endeavors. I am tempted to say I would wish to somehow go beyond this form of social / progressive Christianity to expound a new kind of "radical Christianity" if I could use this phrase in its highest and best sense of our Christian faith. One that doesn't confuse it with the fears of my former tribe nor the Christless-core of its liberal disbelievers. If I could, then there is much to be done both on the doctrinal level as well as on the social-political level in Kingdom theology requiring a new critical base for reflection, fellowship, and worship.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
April 19, 2015
edited April 24, 2015




“Progressive Evangelicals”:
Where Are They Now?

by Roger Olson
April 18, 2015

Recently I received two relatively new, very similar books (complimentary copies provided by publishers). Their similarity lies in the subject they both cover: “progressive evangelicals.” They focus on progressive (some would say “liberal”) evangelical social and political beliefs especially among younger evangelicals in the 1960s and 1970s (some before, some after).

The two books are: The Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism by David R. Swartz (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) and Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice by Brantley W. Gasaway (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). I would say there is an overlap of these books of about sixty percent. They are about the same length (300 plus pages). Swartz’s book is a bit more scholarly while Gasaway’s is a bit more popularly written. (By no means do I intend that as a value judgment on either book or either author! It is only meant to indicate ease of reading and depth and detail of treatment of the subject.)



Reading these two books is like reading about my own journey in evangelicalism. I grew up in an extremely conservative evangelical context where many people sympathized with the John Birch Society, despised John F. Kennedy and Humbert H. Humphrey, grieved over Barry Goldwater’s loss to Johnson (1964) and hailed Richard Nixon as a fellow evangelical and near political messiah. I will never forget the day Nixon’s motorcade drove from the airport to downtown in front of the fundamentalist Bible college I attended. Many of the students, faculty and staff (I among them) stood for about an hour next to the street with a huge banner that read “God Bless You, President Nixon!” We were “blessed” that he rolled down the window of his limousine and smiled and waved at us.

Then came Watergate, the disaster of America’s increasing involvement in Vietnam, “Kent State,” and revelations / dawning awareness (at least in my mind) of government corruption, enduring racism in America, atrocities committed by Americans in Vietnam. As I began to question the fundamentalism of my upbringing I began also to question the political and social views of my spiritual mentors. Sometime toward the end of my Bible college student career I learned about what has been called “The Great Reversal” of evangelical social activism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I stumbled on it on my own; it wasn’t taught by my college professors. “The Great Reversal” was, of course, the change from social progressivism among evangelicals to disengagement from political-social activism to conservatism. Both of the books mentioned above and under consideration here mention this as a factor in the rise of young evangelical progressivism in the 1960s and 1970s. Books by evangelical scholars such as Timothy Smith, David Moberg and Donald Dayton revealed that throughout much of the nineteenth century our own evangelical ancestors had been in the forefront of abolition of slavery, movements for equality of women with men, and even redistribution of wealth. I began to ask myself what happened to that evangelical heritage?


During seminary (mid-1970s) I began to read a magazine both books credit with being a major factor in the rise of “the evangelical left” in the 1970s: The Post-American (which eventually evolved into Sojourners). I remember that I somehow obtained and read every issue. At one time I owned every issue of The Post-American. I also came into contact, at a distance, with the World Christian Liberation Front—reading some of their literature which I found in the seminary’s library. Some of my seminary professors pointed me to Mark Hatfield as an example of a theologically conservative and evangelical politician who was also socially and politically progressive. I learned about Tom Skinner and Samuel Escobar, evangelicals critically sympathetic with Black Theology and Latin American Liberation Theology. I took a course on Liberation Theology at a Lutheran Seminary’s extension on the campus of a Lutheran College near my seminary. Gradually my mind began to change; I began to identify myself socially and politically with this “evangelical left” movement while maintaining my basically conservative and evangelical theological beliefs and spirituality.

Reading these two books is for me like the proverbial trip down memory lane. I learned some details from them, but for the most part they merely remind me of people, publications, events, organizations, ideas that I imbibed and mostly agreed with in the 1970s. Both books raise the fascinating question of how “evangelical” came to be a synonym for “political conservatism” in the 1980s and beyond and point to Jerry Falwell and other fundamentalists like him who hijacked the label “evangelical” and convinced the media to identify it with their hyper-conservative theologies and social-political views. Both books tend to “hype” Jim Wallis (wikipedia link / amazon books) as the key figure in the evangelical left—especially over the “long haul.” He was, perhaps, the organizing genius of the movement, but I personally found Ron Sider (wikipedia / amazon books) to be the more attractive thinker within the movement. That’s not to pit them against each other; they were and always have been co-leaders in progressive evangelicalism. I think my favoritism toward Sider comes from my gradual turn toward an Anabaptist vision of prophetic Christian social concern for peace and justice.

I would say that one of the greatest disappointments in my life as an evangelical theologian has been the popular misconception of all evangelicals as socially and politically conservative. I have friends who simply cannot understand or accept that an evangelical Christian can be progressive. Even after I mention Mark Hatfield to them (and they are old enough to remember him or at least know about him) they turn right around and use “evangelical” as a label for “Religious Right” attitudes and activism in the public square.

My hope is that somehow these two books will begin a shift in public perception of evangelical Christianity that distinguishes it from any one particular political party or platform and that honors its rich diversity.


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What Is Progressive Christianity?

 - Wikipedia

Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to "love one another" (John 15:17) within the teaching of Jesus Christ.[1] This leads to a focus on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, tolerance, often through political activism. Though prominent, the movement is by no means the only significant movement of progressive thought among Christians (see the 'See also' links below).

Progressive Christianity draws on the insights of multiple theological streams including evangelicalism, liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, pragmatism, postmodernism, Progressive Reconstructionism, and liberation theology.[2]

Though the terms Progressive Christianity and Liberal Christianity are often used synonymously, the two movements are distinct, despite sharing many similarities.[3]

The characteristics of Progressive Christianity can be summarized as:

  • A spiritual vitality and expressiveness, including participatory, arts-infused, and lively worship as well as a variety of spiritual rituals and practices such as meditation
  • Intellectual integrity including a willingness to question; distrust of dogma
  • Liberal interpretation of the bible as a record of historical human spiritual experiences and ideas rather than of historical or physical facts. Acceptance of modern Biblical criticism.
  • Acceptance of multiple understandings of the concept of "God", including God as Nature, as the Universe, as a shared psychological construct, and/or as community.
  • Understanding of communion as a symbol of the church community as the body of Christ
  • An affirmation of the Christian faith with a simultaneous sincere respect for other faiths
  • An affirmation of human diversity
  • Strong ecological concerns and commitments


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Follow up Articles -








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