...I Wish Everyone Knew About Progressive Evangelicals
by Doug Pagitt
1. We exist.
Really. There are a bunch of us and our numbers are growing. Churches, pastors, and individuals self-identify as progressive evangelicals, even if reluctantly at times (see #2). We are often part of other networks and relationships and have not until recently organized around our “progressive evangelical” characteristics.
Around the country there are large churches, small communities in homes, “free range” thinkers and practitioners, writers, and social and community organizers who are finding new ways of engaging in faith, life, and church. A number of us are conspiring with Christians from other streams of the faith to form new ways of being connected that we are callingConvergence. These relationships have played-out through organizations like Red Letter Christians and
2. We are not totally comfortable with the terms “progressive” or “evangelical.”
Many of us are uncomfortable with the word “progressive” when it is used primarily in the political sense. Not that we are afraid of the progressive political movement — many are deeply engaged in it — but because it often has a more limited scope in politics than it can in faith and religion. We are seeking a progressive posture to help us engage in all the work of God in the world, not only along one set of binary political choices.
We are also uncomfortable with the term “evangelical,” but since no one group owns the word, and scantly can a person give a coherent definition of what it means to be evangelical, most of us use it to describe our ecclesiology more than our theology. We tend to be from free-church, congregational, and anabaptist streams of faith.
Poet Michael Toy says, “We kind of resent having to add the word “progressive” to the label, but feel that in order to be part of a story which is good news to the world, we kind of have to. At the same time, we don’t want to stop being ‘Evangelicals,’ we are post ‘post.’ We are who we are.”
3. We are willing to reengage and reimagine our faith.
Pastor Stan Mitchell of Grace Point in Nashville likes to say, “We believe Scripture is less a set of fixed and final propositional truths and more an invitation into the right conversations. We believe the early church was an infant not an archetype.”
This gets at the heart of the progressive evangelical desire to work on our structure, style, theology, and way of thinking. The tendency has been for denominational churches to be progressive in thinking and theology while maintaining style, structure, and liturgy. On the other hand, evangelicals are often willing to change structure and style, but want to maintain a static thinking and theology. Then you have progressive evangelicals, who are engaged in following the spirit of God into new ways of organizing and new ways of thinking.
4. We became progressive by taking the Bible, Jesus, and history seriously.
Progressive evangelicals have reevaluated our stances on many issues, such as including all people in our communities and lives, understanding economics and how our financial structures affect the poorest in the world, looking at the way we live and reconnect with the earth, realizing the harm human beings are doing to it, and discovering more responsible, regenerative ways of life in it.
Those of us who have changed our perspectives on issues have done so because of what we have found in the Bible, the life of Jesus, and the way of faith. As pastor Ryan Gear of One Church in Phoenix puts it, “Contrary to accusations of not taking the Bible seriously, we take the Bible seriously enough to read it closely and with intellectual honesty. In a culture in which Fox News is the true pastor to millions of Christians, we attempt to resist over-reading our own views into the Bible. Reading the Bible closely and in its cultural context creates a stronger and more intellectually honest faith.”
5. We are interested in a full-ebbed faith — past, present, and future.
“A progressive Christian is a person of faith who is deeply rooted in historic, global Christianity and interprets and applies it by way of honest engagement with modern culture,” Spiritual Curator, Blue Water Church, Duluth MN Ryan Bauer said.
Toward this end, we host safe spaces for constructive theological conversation, seeking to root our practice in theological reflection and express our reflection in practical action. We seek to build inclusive partnerships across gaps between the powerful and vulnerable — including disparities based on wealth, gender, race and ethnic identity, education, religion, sexuality, age, politics, and physical ability — fully recognizing our limitations and biases in this endeavor.
6. We have big imaginations.
We are not concerned primarily with the role, function, and longevity of religious structures and systems. Rather, we seek to engage in the significant issues of our day to bring about healing of the human spirit, foster life in community, and cast a vision for living harmoniously with God and one another. We believe important and significant advancements can be made for all humanity.
7. We are excited about the future of faith.
We are optimistic about finding a way of faith together in the future as we seek the common good, locally and globally, through churches of many diverse forms, contexts, and traditions. We imagine fresh ways for churches to form Christlike people who join God in the healing of the world.
“We actually believe in Jesus, salvation, and the end times — Jesus is just more real and it’s all more fun than we can imagine,” said Adam Philips Pastor of Christ Church, Portland.
8. We embrace mystery, art, beauty, and science.
We desire to find goodness and expansive truth in all areas of life. We value art, mystery, science, and beauty, recognizing their unique role in nurturing, challenging, and transforming our humanity. We seek to grow, learn, expand through an openness to seeing truth, goodness, and beauty wherever they are found.
To that end, we tend to be more committed to growth than to conformity. As Emily Swan, pastor of Blue Ocean Faith says, “We are committed to discipleship, but it means growth and change and not all becoming the same.”
9. We don’t assume we have solved or can solve all problems.
We are not seeking some sort of global utopia in our lifetimes, but do take seriously Jesus’s call that we “will do even greater things” with our lives. We recognize that the way of goodness and peace in the world requires work on the inner life of people as well as the structural systems of power.
This means a commitment to finding new ways of encountering the other in today’s pluralistic world through the creative and nonviolent wisdom of peacemaking through collaborations with other religious and secular groups to work toward the common good.
Pastor Roger Flyer reminds us, “As Progressive Evangelicals we can be just as mean-spirited and defensive as anybody else. Hell hath no fury as a recovering conservative evangelical who feels they’ve been duped.”
10. We still love Jesus.
Really. Most of us find Jesus more compelling, more commanding, more converging than ever before. We believe Jesus and in the good news of the reign, commonwealth, or ecosystem of God, and we seek God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven by focusing on love — love for God and neighbor, for outsider and enemy.
Doug Pagitt is the author of Flipped: The Provocative Truth that Changes Everything We Know About God, recently released by Convergent. He is the founder and pastor of Solomon’s Porch, a holistic, missional Christian community in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the director of Convergence, which seeks to promote generous Christianity by connecting people and organizations. We asked him to list 10 things he wishes people knew about progressive evangelicals.