Why Progressive Theology Matters: The God of Possibility (Bruce Epperly)
There is the assumption on the part of many that liberal or progressive Christianity talks more about what it doesn't believe in than what it does believe in. Bruce Epperly is one of those progressive theologians who is concerned about probing what is possible to believe in today's world. Today's essay speaks of the "God of Possibility," a piece triggered by the meditation written for this blog by seminarian Dwight Welch. I invite you to read and engage in the conversation -- Who is the God of Possibility?
Why Progressive Theology Matters:
The God of Possibility
Yesterday I received the latest edition of the United Church of Christ Desk Calendar. The cover announced the following: “Imagine What’s Possible. God is still speaking,” – a reminder of the UCC affirmation from Gracie Allen, “never place a period where God has placed a comma.” Imagine what’s possible! Look beyond the data and bottom line, and awaken to God’s holy adventure!
In the past few months, I have reflected on naturalistic visions of healing and miracles. On the whole progressive Christians have taken the position that God works within the naturalistic matrix of cause and effect to transform bodies, minds, spirits, and communities. Divine power is always relational and contextual, rather than unilateral and coercive. In a recent “Ponderings on a Faith Journey” essay, Dwight Welch insightfully noted that continuity of divine action and human experience does not rule out extraordinary awe-producing events. There is enough wonder in the world without needing to invoke supernaturalistic explanations.
As a spirit-centered progressive, I affirm that God is present in every moment of life. With the causal interdependence of life, there is no ultimate distinction between sacred and secular. While most moments appear ordinary, deep down every moment reflects God’s movements within the each moment of experience and the causal interdependence of life. All moments can potentially be “thin places,” epiphanies and energetic vortices, revealing God’s vision for ourselves and the world. In the continuity of life, there is an ongoing call and response, which invites us to look deeper for God’s touch in our lives and experience the divine aim at beauty and complexity of experience.
For good reason, progressives have shied away from focusing on discrete and supernatural “acts of God.” However, our reticence to identify certain moments as uniquely God-inspired should not prevent us from opening to greater expressions of divine power in our lives and in the world. A key question for progressives is “what can we expect from God and what can we expect from ourselves in the dynamic divine-human call and response?” Although we cannot ever fully discern the divine intention, progressive theology can affirm that God, like ourselves, is a visionary and volitional being in such a way that some moments more fully reflect God’s vision and energetic activity than others. This is a matter of divine choice and personal and communal openness. These moments do not violate the causal relatedness of life, but express a deeper energy and vision within the creative interdependence of life. These are moments of incarnation and possibility that lure us forward toward new and life-transforming adventures.
Progressive theology is forward thinking and forward looking. This present moment and the future are not fully determined by either God or prior causes. In the spirit of Alfred North Whitehead, the limitations of the actual world are the source of possibilities that invite us to go beyond the familiar to embrace a world of adventure. These possibilities are never abstract, but always concrete and continuous with the environmental given. From the womb of possibility come bursts of energy and creativity that can transform our lives and the world. Our openness to God through spiritual practices – prayer, meditation, mindfulness, energy work, social concern, hospitality – opens persons and communities to more transformative possibilities and greater energy to embody these possibilities. God is moving within each moment of experience providing lures for adventures and making a way where there is no way.
These days, two of my best friends have life-threatening cancer. Two years ago, our son was diagnosed with a rare cancer. In all three cases, I committed myself to praying for them in words, visualizations, and hands-on and distant energy work. My prayers are part of a larger matrix that includes chemotherapy and other medical interventions along with their own spiritual practices, healing relationships, and God’s movements through each and all of these.
There are no guarantees of cure, but I believe that a naturalistic approach to divine activity suggests that prayer and optimism open the door for new energies and more lively expressions of divine activity.
As progressives, who are often daunted by the budget bottom line and the medical diagnosis, we need to be hopeful realists, fully aware of the current situation, but equally aware that each moment can be a revelation of divine vision, possibility, and energy. Imagine what is possible when we awaken to God’s movements in the concrete moments of life!
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. For more on his vision of divine activity, healing, and wholeness, see God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus and Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice.