Post-Progressive Christianity: Part 3, Church

As I mentioned in my last post, progressive Christianity is associated with progressive politics and social justice activism.

This impulse is rooted in the Old and New Testament prophetic traditions. The Hebrew prophets ("Let justice roll down like a river!"), Mary's Magnificat ("He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty."), and Jesus' Nazareth Manifesto ("He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.") are all examples. Building upon these biblical foundations, liberation theology is a dominant impulse within progressive Christianity.

Because of this, progressive Christianity focuses a great deal upon oppressive politics and economic systems. Activism, in various forms, is used to change these unjust systems. Consequently, progressive Christianity is very focused upon controlling and changing the state. As is often pointed out in progressive Christian circles, we must do this work because lives are at stake.

And yet, because of this focus on social justice, progressive Christianity is tempted to reduce to and equate itself with progressive political activism. By and large, progressive Christians don't have much to say or offer that isn't already being said by progressive activists. There is very little, if any, daylight between Progressive Christianity and the Democratic Party (in its traditional or most progressive stances) on any political or economic issue.

As a post-progressive, this situation is worrisome for three interrelated reasons.

First, when equated with political action--control of the state--progressive Christianity is reduced to the science of power. And as important as power is, power alone cannot save the world.

Second, when reduced to progressive political activism progressive Christianity loses its prophetic capacity to criticize the political left when it falls short of the kingdom of God. Some of this is the loss of a theological capacity, the inability to see any daylight between the kingdom of God and progressive polices. Some of this is the loss of a moral capacity to love our enemies as the political struggle tempts us to demonize and dehumanize political opponents. And some of this is a loss of courage, failing to speak out prophetically to secular progressives for fear of the social media backlash. 

Third, when reduced to political action progressive Christianity turns toward the state rather than the church as the hope of the world. For many progressive Christians, the church is irrelevant. In the end, our actions, passions, focus and energies speak louder than our words: We believe Babylon will save us.

So, another contrast...

I AM A PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that Christians must prioritize social justice, seeking to reform and resist policies and economies that oppress, harm, and exclude. Lives are at stake.

I AM A POST-PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that I believe that the kingdom of God cannot be reduced to grasping and wielding the power of the nation state. Lives are at stake, but Babylon will not save us. I believe the kingdom of God speaks prophetic words of rebuke to the political right and left. I believe that the church, rather than the outcome of a presidential election, is the hope of the world, and the investments of my energy, time, emotions, and resources reflect that conviction.

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