Why “Progressive”?

from Aren’t We All Christians?  by Fred Plumer

Frequently, after a lecture or seminar, someone will ask me:

“Why do you have to call it Progressive Christianity?  Aren’t we all Christians?” These were usually people who seemed to be a little on edge, and sometimes even angry, but their questions were sincere and frankly, they are good ones.

I think it is important to note that the term “progressive” was part of the American Christian dialogue over a hundred years ago. Toward the end of the nineteenth century there was an active group of well respected clergy who initiated a movement that had a profound impact both short and long term.

In his fascinating book, The War for Righteousness, Richard M. Gamble writes: “The self-described “progressives” among America’s Protestant clergy at the turn of the twentieth century were well known in church circles and beyond for their advanced thinking on theology, politics, and foreign affairs. As they faced the prospect of a new century, these ministers and academics thought of themselves as broad-minded, humane, and cosmopolitan, in harmony with the very best scientific, political, and theological wisdom of the age. In short, they were among the “right thinking” leaders of their day. These reformers have since been labeled “liberal” or modernist by historians, the word “progressive suited their character and their times.”…

I believe that the church needs progressive Christianity for survival. As [Henry Emerson Fosdick] eloquently said, Progressives “deliberately, sometimes desperately worked to adapt Christian thought and to harmonize it with the intellectual culture of our time…adaption was the only way we could save our faith and its achievement was a matter of life and death.”

And yes, my friends, that was over 100 years ago. Don’t you think it is about time?

Read the rest of Fred Plumer’s article on the international Progressive Christianity website.

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