Post-Progressive Christianity: Part 5, Enchantment

By and large, progressive Christianity is characterized by disenchantment, a skeptical stance toward robustly metaphysical and supernatural expressions, experiences, events, and beliefs within Christianity.

I've described already how many progressive Christians struggle with doubts concerning the existence of God. But it's not just God, it's a whole suite of supernatural beliefs: the activity of the Holy Spirit, miracles, the power of prayer, angels, demons, the Devil, and the existence of an afterlife.

And when progressive Christians do use supernatural language, it's generally given a disenchanted meaning. For example, prayer is largely understood with progressive Christianity as being a therapeutic exercise. We don't expect miracles from prayer, but prayer, as a form of meditation, can be an effective coping strategy in facing life stressors. In a similar way, visions of evil are also disenchanted. Evil isn't caused by supernatural agents like the Devil, evil is caused by systemic forces of oppression. Similarly, heaven isn't an otherworldly destination or reward, heaven is a political vision, the kingdom of God manifested in a just and peaceful world. And a final example. The death of Jesus on the cross didn't fix any metaphysical problem regarding our sin and God's righteousness. The death of Jesus is primarily a moral demonstration we follow and emulate, an example of what love looks like. Jesus only saves us through moral persuasion and emulation.

In short, progressive Christianity tends to unpack faith in disenchanted ways, either therapeutically, morally or politically. No reference to metaphysical or supernatural realities is required.

Again, as a post-progressive Christian I am sympathetic to these disenchanted understandings of Christianity. During a season of deconstruction these disenchanted understandings are very helpful. They make the burden of belief lighter for the doubting believer. An excellent example of this method is "Science Mike" McHargue's book Finding God in the Waves, a book that has been a lifeline for many Christians who are struggling with faith. Mike's strategy in the book is to give a disenchanted definition and description for a variety of Christian beliefs and practices. Mike doesn't want to wholly reduce faith to this bare, disenchanted minimum, but uses the disenchanted understandings to lay a foundation upon which faith might be rebuilt.

And yet, while I'm sympathetic to disenchanted visions and understandings of Christianity, especially during seasons of deconstruction, I'm increasingly skeptical that a wholly disenchanted Christianity is sustainable. As mentioned in Part 2, the general trajectory here is toward a loss of faith or a faith that is functionally agnostic or atheistic. I also think that it's impossible to be a Christian without some metaphysical and supernatural beliefs and commitments. Like believing in God, for example. The death of God theologians might disagree with me on this point, but if the point of Christianity is atheism, as they'd argue, I think I'll rest my case.

Basically, the point I'm making here is similar to my observations in Part 2, that deconstruction must be followed by reconstruction. In this case, disenchantment must be followed by re-enchantment.

Now I will admit that this is tricky business. How does a doubting, skeptical believer bring himself or herself to believe again in supernatural and metaphysical realities?

My recommendation here is to focus less upon belief as intellectual assent, as propositions to be asserted, than upon the emotional, experiential, behavioral, social and aesthetic aspects of faith. We believe with our bodies, hearts, habits, and relationships as well as with our minds. We can re-enchant through art, rituals, and practices. We can dance rather than think. Faith is also carried by the community and the tradition. We can believe for each other.

All that to say, I think there are some things we can do to bring enchantment back into life and faith.

So, the contrast...

I AM A PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN because I believe that disenchanted visions of Christianity are important for struggling, doubting Christians and are vital understandings in efforts to resist overly spiritualized and escapist visions of Christianity.

I AM A POST-PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN because I believe a wholly disenchanted Christianity eventually dilutes and destroys faith. Consequently, disenchanted Christians must be actively and energetically engaged in efforts to re-enchant their faith.

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