A friend of mine from high school popped up here at One In Jesus the other day asking what this “progressive Church of Christ” thing might be. He’s from another Christian tribe. And it’s kinda hard to explain.
I jotted off a response. Here’s a revised version.
Good to hear from you. The Churches of Christ drifted into legalism in the 20th Century after having been a unity movement in the 19th Century. There is now a movement within the Churches to escape fundamentalism/legalism and find a better path. We sometimes call it “progressive,” but it’s a very poor term. I’m continually looking for something better. “Third Way” has recently popped up, and it might catch on.
There is no one leader but rather an ongoing conversation regarding “what next?” I have written an article based on a post by Josh Graves that addresses this directly but only in the context of how the different movements approach the Bible – hermeneutics. He uses “Third Way,” and it’s growing on me.
I just posted a series on the Atonement that seeks to lay out a better approach to that part of our theology, based on a book by Michael J. Gorman, who’s in the theological camp along with N. T. Wright, James D. G. Dunn, Richard Hays, Scot McKnight, and others. (Even Wright has a problem labelling his views.)
Some progressive Churches of Christ have trended toward being kind of generic Baptist-ish, but I think the larger, longer trend will be toward what Josh calls Third Way theology — or, as it was known for a while, the Fresh Perspective or, before that, the New Perspective (things just won’t stay the same).
These men are heavily influential in other circles as well, but since the progressive Churches of Christ are aware of the need to find something better, we have less trouble seeing the advantages of their narrative, holistic approach to scripture. We’ve already seen that we need to change. And so we’re open to new ideas — new ideas that insist on a high view of scripture and on a Christianity that insists not only on believing but being. Even doing.
We’ll still baptize converts by immersion for the remission of sins and take weekly communion, but we will be more interested in serving our communities, in working with other churches even across denominational lines, less programmatic (lots of programs but more about personal transformation into servants rather than recruiting volunteers to serve — not that we’ll ever escape that).
I heard Rick Atchley, a prominent preacher in our movement, explain it this way. His parents would remember as their legacy a church with sound doctrine, teaching sound theology about how to be saved. He hopes his legacy will be people helped as they struggle to overcome AIDS, homeless shelters built and homeless people ministered to, people brought to Jesus to become not merely saved but followers of the Master, transformed hearts … You get the idea. It’s more about being than knowing.
It’s hard to summarize, and I really ought to think of a way to do that. In fact, Josh’s excellent article, which was aimed at something else but hit me here, has me reflecting on just what we “progressives” are about.
It’s a movement. And it moves. But right now, that seems to be the trend. I think it’s extraordinarily positive for us, but I have no idea how to compare it to anything or anyone else.
Does that make any sense?