Why Progressive Theology Matters:
God is Still Speaking
My denomination, the United Church of Christ, proclaims “God is still speaking” in much of its literature, but is still trying to figure out what this statement truly means for moderate and progressive Christians. I believe this statement takes people in the United Church of Christ and other denominations much further than its original intent: it asks us to become practically-oriented mystics. In fact, the affirmation that “God is still speaking” is at the heart of a spirit-centered progressive faith that can transform the face of North American Christianity. In light of the recent Pew Center report, indicating that 50% of mainstream Christians have had mystical experiences, today’s progressive and moderate Christians are challenged to claim their spiritual experiences and develop open-ended practices appropriate to progressive Christian theology.
Today, progressives need to claim a holistic spirituality that embraces action and contemplation, and mysticism and social transformation. Progressive theology has untapped resources for holistic mysticism and spiritual transformation. First, of all, progressive theology affirms the universality of God’s presence and revelation. God is moving in and through all things; no one is exempt from revelation. God touches everyone and everyone can touch God. Second, progressive theology affirms that God is alive and constantly creating in our world. The affirmation that “God is still speaking” embraces and joins spirituality and social transformation. God is constantly doing a new thing in widening the scope of liberation and healing for us and all creation. God’s new vision invites us to go beyond biblical literalism and exclusiveness to affirm God’s presence in science, medicine, evolutionary theory, and gender and marriage equality. But, just as important, God is inspiring us in new ways as individuals, calling us to explore new dimensions of spiritual formation and healing and wholeness. Third, the dynamic divine-human “call and response” brings forth constantly new possibilities for creativity and adventure in spirituality, politics, and relationships. Our changes inspire God to act in new ways and divine activity inspires us to embody new paths of faith and action.
The God who is “new every morning” and “new every moment” invites us to novel forms of spirituality and social concern appropriate to our time and place. A joke among United Church of Christ folk is “God is still speaking, but is anyone listening?” Listening to God implies that we trust God’s voice in our lives as we open to the many media of revelation – in moments of quiet contemplation, intuitive experiences, dreams, encounters, literary work, meditative practices, yoga and energy work, and calls to service. Listening to God inspires us to let our lives speak through actions that transform our relationships and social structures.
Today, progressive Christianity needs to come out of the closet and claim its spiritual gifts and resources. Our churches need to become laboratories of the spirit, inspiring our care for this good earth. Today’s Christianity needs holistic spiritual practices, embracing the traditions of Christianity in a new and creative ways, and open to the insights of non-Christian spiritualities.
Progressive Christianity can be a leader in dynamic global spiritual formation that embraces the quests of seekers within and beyond the church.
Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary and co-pastor of Disciples Community Church in Lancaster, PA. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry.