Review: Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity

Living-the-Questions-coverWhen I was in high school, I frustrated every single teacher I ever had. I wasn’t a bad kid; aside from a few detentions for minor things, I was pretty well-behaved and even contributed to class discussion. I was certainly no model student, but I never interrupted the learning experiences of those around me.

What frustrated them was that I never did my homework. Ever. There’s an issue of the school paper where I was featured in the student profile, and the caption below my picture was “I don’t do homework.” Had I actually disciplined myself and committed to doing the work assigned me, I could have been at the top of my class, and that’s what frustrated my teachers so much; I just seemed interested in doing my own thing. I heard the potential talk over and over again from them, and I still do if I run into them while I’m visiting my hometown.

Which brings me to my complete frustration with this book: it has so much potential, but the writers are only interested in doing their own thing.

Living the Questions is an organization that creates education materials for churches using progressive Christian authors such as Diana Butler Bass, Helen Prejean, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Cobb, Brian McLaren, and a host of other brilliant amazing scholars that have made astounding and insightful contributions to theology and historical study. The book is very much a compilation of things from their DVD curriculums (I noticed a lot of carry-over from the Saving Jesus DVD).

As I said in my review of Saving Jesus, they’ve got an all-star cast who can put out some good content, and by all means, this should have been an insightful, powerful book. Anytime that John Cobb is going to contribute to a conversation means it’s going to be a hell of a good time, and I had hoped that this book would have been a better examination of progressive Christianity.

But it wasn’t, and here’s why…

  1. Underuse of their sources.  Now, I know this is David M. Felten’s and Jeff Procter-Murphy’s book, but there are just so many good authors and they hardly use the quotes they pull well! Seriously, Marcus Borg is one of the biggest scholars in the Jesus Seminar, but you wouldn’t know that from this book; you’d think he just said a few pithy things about Jesus just to give the authors a quote for a newspaper article.
  2. The obvious agenda to promote progressive Christianity as the truth. Now, the book has “the wisdom of progressive Christianity” in the title, so that shouldn’t come as such a shock, but it does considering that the OTHER part of the title is LIVING THE QUESTIONS.  There’s no questions!  It’s just a manifesto about how wrong fundamentalists and evangelicals are for their literal reading of Scripture.  You can’t say you’re living the questions when you’re so damn certain about your own views.
  3. Alienating and exclusive language.  For a group that certainly is all about being inclusive, they don’t seem to be very accepting of someone who might actually think that Jesus performed real miracles.  This struck a nerve with me; I’ve definitely fallen down the progressive rabbit hole, but you know what? I still think there really was a  resurrection, and no it’s not because I “steadfastly avoid reading the Bible” (pg. 116) that I came to that conclusion (yeah, that quote came up again).
  4. Promotion of personal life choices as the primary viewpoint of Scriptures. My case-in-point here is the section of chapter 14 entitled “WWJE?” (What Would Jesus Eat?) which promotes a vegetarian lifestyle.  Now, I’ve got no issue with vegans or vegetarians; I have a few friends that have maintained such a diet in the past or that continue to do so.  However, I’ve heard these arguments in the past that the Bible pushes for a vegetarian lifestyle and I find them wholly unconvincing.  You could certainly read Genesis to say that every living thing was vegetarian prior to the fall, but I think you’d be A) missing the point, and B) unscientific in your conclusion (carnivores don’t do so well without meat).  It’s also hard for me to believe that the writers of Genesis were promoting vegetarianism while following kosher laws (which allow for the consumption of meat).

Bottom line, I really didn’t like this book at all.  If you’re really interested to hear the voices of progressive Christians, look at the authors this book quotes and you’ll find it. Heck, read the ones where they dialogue with their more conservative colleagues (Borg does this great book with NT Wright called Jesus: Two Visions).  You’d be better off going to the authors own source material than reading little snippets through their own rose-colored glasses.

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