Saturday, October 06, 2007

Progressives Wrestle with Evangelicals

A lot of people know that most of us here at Mod-Blog - a place dedicated to giving both sides of the issue - lean to the Right. How can a MODERATE blog be populated by people on one side of the spectrum? The answer has always been that we respect both sides, and try to tell both sides of the story. And not let either side get away with unexamined foolishness. And one area where a lot more engagement is needed is in the foolish "Red State vs Blue State" mentality in politics right now.

That is why it was nice to see this blog written by a Progressive Christian trying to reach out and understand Evangelicals. If those terms are unfamiliar to you, let me try and boil down the difference to its essentials. Progressives focus their faith around social action - especially around helping the poor. If anything gets in the way of that, it can be laid aside. Evangelicals focus their faith around the Bible, and its inerrancy and inspiration. If anything disagrees with the Bible, it can be laid aside. Now, both groups love Jesus, view the Bible as important, and want to help the poor and needy. But their different emphases lead to radically different priorities, methods, and allies. And perhaps most importantly, different cultures with different jargon. Ask an Evangelical and a Progressive what "God's Word" means, and you'll get a very different answer.

Click here for the blog author's attempt to lay out why he built the blog. He is a Progressive Christian who previously had been dismissing the Evangelical movement. I think his goal is the same as ours - to understand both sides and as much as possible bring them together... no matter what our own political leaning may be.


Sean said...

"Evangelicals focus their faith around the Bible"

This seems to indicate that progressives don't, which would be a total mischaracterization of how progressives see their faith. Both sides center their faith on the Bible and Christ, but have a different take on what are the most important things in the bible.

I disagree that there should be any distinction between social justice issues, evangelism and biblical faith. The most common command of the scriptures is to take care of widows and orphans and to act justly on their behalf. Social justice is the heart of God - hence why he sent his son to save a humanity that couldn't save itself. And a huge part of evangelism is showing that same type of love for all people facing injustice - whether that's spiritual or physical.

It's all the same ball of wax and when you try to separate it out you end up with a stick mess.

Nomad said...


I used these characterizations based on my experience with Progressives and Evangelicals, and neither characterization is intended to be insulting. I specifically said that both sides love Jesus, respect the Bible, etc. But the key is that one who views themselves as Evangelical believes that the Bible trumps all else - to the point that some Evangelicals have (correctly) been called Bible-worshippers. Progressives, on the other hand, respect the Bible but do not give it the same centrality. An extreme Progressive would be more likely to discount the inerrancy of scripture in order to preserve Christ's central message of hope in light of apparent contradictions.

I know my characterizations are RADICALLY simplified. They are not intended to capture every complexity of highly developed philosophies. They are intended to be gateways for those who may be unfamiliar with the terms.

This is about encouraging engagement between subcultures in a single Christianity. Did I fail to make that point?

Sean said...

nomad i think the problem is that you're associating progressives with liberals, because that's what we do with politics. in the range of christian perspectives progressives and liberals are two distinctly different beasts. a progressive IS an evangelical with a strong emphasis on social justice issues. the social issues are important BECAUSE they are biblical. a liberal on the other hand believes in social justice because they see jesus' primarily as a good teacher and a liberator. if the topics of the bible become a problem for that goal then the bible is discounted. for progressives jesus is the orthodox 'fully human - fully god', for liberals jesus is primarily human - while for evangelicals jesus is more often seen as more god than human, at least in our rhetoric. sin for progressives and evangelicals is missing the goal of holiness that god has set out, for liberals sin is oppression of any sort. evangelicals tend to be more spiritually minded, liberals tend to be more humanistic and progressives are trying to find a happy medium between the two.

progressives and evangelicals have a ton in common. i know that the article was supposed to be encouraging engagement, but i think the big problem is that we continue to point out that it's us and them and that only encourages or enhances the perceived difference between us all.

Nomad said...


The people I know who call themselves "Progressive" are accurately reflected in my comments. It appears this is one of those cases where the "scholarly" terminology and the locally common terminology are at odds.

But it sounds like you are somewhat of an expect on this topic, so keep teaching and I'll keep listening and reading.

Ward said...

I think this debate shows the total inadequacy of lables in our current setting. They're simply not descriptive enough and too simple. But even with that, I increasingly have less use for the term 'evangelical' as it has come to mean too many things that I cannot identify myself with. And I'm very grateful to be a part of a tradition that is once again purposefully moving away from the evangelical label.

Sean said...

amen to that ward. a good book on this topic is 'deconstructing evangelicalism'. it's worth a read for anyone interested in the way forward from where we are now.

Nomad said...

I certainly agree that modern labels can obscure the facts as help them. Especially when talking between different cultural subgroups. That is why it is key to keep the communication as open as you can, and keep listening. Part of the big problem right now in the Left-vs-Right debate of politics is that the major pundits on both sides have stopped listening. They hear only what they expect to hear.