Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why Progressive Theology Matters: God is Still Speaking (Bruce Epperly)

There is a verse that appears near the close of the book of Revelation, which suggests that anyone adding to the book faces divine curses.  Some have taken this little message to be speaking of the Scriptures as a whole, so that if you share any revelatory materials beyond this passage, then God will get you.  In other words, God has spoken once and for all and is now forever silent.  But is God forever silent?  Could it be that God might still be speaking?.  Remember that this passage only works because of its placement at the end of the canonical books of the New Testament, a placement that was in doubt as late as the fifth century.  But, if God is still speaking, how is God speaking and what does this mean for us?  Bruce Epperly once again points us toward progressive theology, suggesting that it has resources that might help us hear God's voice today. 

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Why Progressive Theology Matters:
God is Still Speaking

Bruce Epperly


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.

6 comments:

Doug Sloan said...

(an excerpt from "Reclaiming God")
http://dmergent.org/2010/07/15/reclaiming-god/

God has always been the same. God does not change. What is changing is our expanding view of God and the increasing wisdom of our understanding of God and the Godly life we are called to live. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, through the entire course of the Biblical scripture, God is calling us from within the scripture to grow and to continually move forward and to mature beyond the view and wisdom found in the scripture. From mere existence through tribal justice through the detailed code of the Law of Moses through the revelation by Jesus of the dual foundation and purpose and expectation of the Law through the invitation to live a new life of resurrection and transformation with God as the only ruler of our new life. God is continuously calling us to grow and to move forward and to mature beyond our usual human existence to be the Kingdom of God. Without the requirement of death as a precedent, we are constantly invited to be resurrected for and transformed into the Kingdom of God for our life and especially the lives of others. We are called to live here and now a life of resurrection and transformation as the Kingdom of God - this is the Good News.

Doug Sloan said...

God is Always New
God is never old

God is Always Speaking
God is never silent

- - - - -

new additions to "GOD IS..."
http://dcsloan.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/god-is/

Thanks, Bruce!

John King said...

Bruce,

A great article. I think the experience of God fills the need of human spirituality. I am interested in the places, circumstances, and situations in which we encounter God. With God being everywhere and in everything it seems that we could encounter God at any time, place or circumstance (and I think that is true); however, for me, it seems that certain places, circumstances, and situations prompt the encounter with God more than others. I wonder how we can or if we can determine the validity of those encounters? I have many thoughts on the answers to those questions, but I enjoy the questions more - questions are one of the contexts in which I encounter God.

Doug Sloan said...

John King,

from "The Heart of Christianity"
Marcus J. Borg
P. 156

"A thin place is anywhere our hearts are opened. To use sacramental language, a thin plce is a sacrament of the sacred, a mediator of the sacred, a means whereby the sacred becomes present to us. A thin place is a means of grace."

"Thin places can literally be geographical places. For Celtic Christianity, the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland is a classic thin place. So also are traditional destinations of pigrimage."

"There are many kinds of thin places. ... Nature, especially wilderness areas, can sometime become a thin place."

..."Even times of serious illness, suffering, and grief can become thin places. They do not always, of course, but sometimes our hearts are broken open by such experiences."

"People can become thin places. Many of us have known at least one or two people through whom we experienced the presence of the Spirit at particular junctures in our lives."

Neil said...

“God is still speaking” is true provided that it means that God still speaks through his Word. However, liberal/progressive theologians tend to use this phrase to mean that God is changing his moral laws.

Remember, these are the people who didn’t believe what He said the first time around in his word. And I’m supposed to believe that He is speaking new truths through them?!

Some people appear to believe in Leopard Theology, the false notion that the Bible is only inspired in spots and that they are inspired to spot the spots. But the “God is still speaking” folks have also completed Advanced Leopard Theology, where God is also changing spots and adding/removing spots, and, oddly enough, He is only telling theological liberals and progressives in the West.

They don’t think He communicated his laws in a discernable way in the first place (i.e., in the Bible), but they now think He is communicating with Swiss-watch precision to them.

I'm skeptical.

Valerie said...

In the late 18th century, long before the emergence of the current "Progressive Theology" school of thought, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement, advocated a four-pronged method for theological reflection - now known as the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral."

These four components of theological reflection, according to John Wesley's thought, are: 1) Scripture – the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments); 2)Tradition – the two millennia history of the Christian Church; 3)Reason – rational thinking and sensible interpretation; and 4) Experience – a Christian's personal and communal journey in Christ. To take only one aspect of theological reflection in isolation from the other three - as is the case with Biblical literalists - is to produce a very lop-sided and uni-dimensional way of talking about God, not to mention a very lop-sided and uni-dimensional view of God.

God is much, much bigger than just one source alone, and we need to bring all four sources of information and knowledge to our reflection on the nature of God and how God works and operates in the world as we know it today.

Valerie