I am not a humble person. I try to be…but I fall flat on my face most days. In college, I wasn’t exactly known for my humility, rather, I had no trouble belittling people for things they may not have known, be it some obscure band or how there’s not a whole lot of biblical evidence for premillenial dispensationalism. Acting all haughty and pretentious can have an element of comedy to it, but after too long…you just look like an asshole.
I think the turning point for me was when I began to experience this kind of arrogance from others, particularly after college, when I found myself out in the real world. I found people looking down on me for the same things I looked down on people for in college, like not having read any Zizek, or never having heard of some random local band that was just so much more innovative and interesting than that Imagine Dragons crap I was humming to myself. You guys know what I’m talking about. Bottom line: being arrogant about the things you know just makes you look and sound like a jerk. I don’t care about your PhD; if you talk down to me, then I’m not going to like you very much.
So we’re all pretty well agreed that arrogance is bad, right? Then why is there so much of it in so many things labelled progressive, particularly Christianity?
I started into Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity a few days ago, which is what prompted this little rumination of mine. As you can imagine, the book is promoting some very, well, progressive theories and such about things like the Bible, Jesus, Church, etc. I’m not bothered by this; we have to be willing to engage with people who might see things like this differently than we do because echo chambers are rather boring after too long and we need to learn new things. What’s bugging me so far (I’m only on page 21) is how they make their points of view sound so obvious, as if there’s no way you could think otherwise about the issues they’re discussing. The authors of this book also produced the Saving Jesus DVD series I reviewed a few months ago, and I heard a lot of the same tone in those sessions as I do in this book (so far).
I’m sorry, but for people who are all about “living the questions,” they’re talking with an awful lot of certainty about their views on Jesus and the Bible. This is something I see rather often amongst the more progressive and liberal Christian circles; the talking heads are all about “uncertainty” and Dark Night of the Soul-esque views, but venture the possibility that Jesus actually did physically resurrect, and you’ll be laughed right out of the auditorium, as if to say, “Oh, how quaint their thinking is!” Living the questions apparently means not thinking traditionally.
This isn’t to say that all progressives are like this; I’ve met and read a lot of very respectful, kind progressive Christians who retain a level of respect for those with a more traditional religious view. They do exist. I also thin that progressive Christianity is a really awesome thing that the church needs right now. We need an undoing of a lot of practices and beliefs in the church that have held her back from truly being the body of Christ. However, there’s a few things I wish the Progressive/Liberal Christian Community would remember:
- Education is a form of privilege. This isn’t any new idea, and we’ve actively been working to make this privilege more widely available to those who have been deprived of it for so long, but we still have a long way to go in that area. Not everyone has the means to get a bachelor’s degree, nor enough access to materials to educate themselves (15% of American adults don’t have internet access, and not every library has the materials for a good theological education), so while it might seem “obvious” to you that the Bible should be read non-literally, it’s not that obvious to those who’ve never heard such a thing (or have been taught by the one pastor in town that that’s a sin).
- You might think you’re only deconstructing “A” belief, but that’s not how someone who didn’t go to seminary is going to see it; you’re actually deconstructing THEIR belief. Progressives forget how personally people take their beliefs and worldviews, and have a tendency to write off hostility as ignorance. If you’re going to engage someone of a more conservative bent on these issues, the progressive needs to take great care on her part because of how closely people hold their beliefs. Carelessness isn’t going to tear down walls; it’s going to build them higher.
- For God’s sake, simplify, and not because your audience might be “simple” (trust me, they’re not). Did you forget that first time you sat in a theology class and your head spun around on its axis at the word ontology? That’s what’s happening when you try to articulate it to someone who’s never heard it before, and it’s not your audience’s fault. It’s because ontology is CONFUSING.
- Enough with the outright mockery of your opponents. I’m not anymore a fan of Mark Driscoll or John Piper or DA Carson than you are, but it’s time we stopped. Mockery is un-Christlike, and it’s childish. For all the the Fake Driscoll tweets and scholarships for women set up in his name, has it even slowed him down one bit? I have no problem with opposition, but I do have a problem with name-calling and ad hominem. I will admit to some ambivalence in typing this; I don’t like views that treat women as second-class citizens either, but behind the views are PEOPLE. Did we forget this somewhere along the line?
Look, I’ve really come to identify as a progressive Christian in the last couple of years as my faith has been stretched and ripped apart and put back together again. I think there’s a lot of good in the things I’ve read and heard preached, but this is something our group really gets wrong. We alienate, perhaps unintentionally, those whom we love (or at least are called to love) because they reject our views. Aren’t we trying to come out of that?
Help me out here, folks.