Why Progressive Theology is Important -- Christian Faith and Global Spirituality (Bruce Epperly)

With Anne Rice's recent revelation that she's not leaving Christ, but is leaving Christianity, perhaps she'd change her mind if she were to read Bruce Epperly's series on Progressive Theology!   In this essay, Bruce addresses the Christian hunger for mystical or spiritual experiences.  In doing so, he writes about the ways in which progressive Christians can with discernment make use of a variety of resources, including those that emerge out of other faith traditions.  I invite you to read and respond to this word of guidance.


Why Progressive Theology is Important:
Christian Faith and Global Spirituality
Bruce Epperly

In the last few weeks, I have reflected on the importance of progressive theology for the future of Christianity. It is clear that theology is important and can be the difference between life and death, individually and globally. What we believe shapes our character, actions, political involvements, and vision of the future of the planet. Today, I would like to reflect on spiritual experience from the perspective of progressive Christianity. If, as a recent Pew Center Report suggests, over 50% of mainline Christians claim self-transcendent or mystical experiences, then the experiential side of religion is key to the future of progressive Christianity. Indeed, while today’s seekers are intellectually curious and want good theology, they are, on the whole, interested in experiencing the faith they affirm.

Most progressives are open to a variety of religious experiences. In the spirit of the Prologue to John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18), most progressives affirm that “the true light, which enlightens everyone” is the source of the many paths to the divine as well as the insights of agnostics and atheists. As progressive Christians, we look for truth wherever it is found, whether in the sanctuary, Benedictine monastery, Zen center, yoga retreat, or healing touch training program.

We are open to God inspiring us through Quaker silence, Gospel rhythms, Pentecostal tongue speaking, evangelical prayer, and Ignatian imaginative contemplation as well as Hindu meditation, Native American and traditional African practices, and Sufi dancing. While such openness has been critiqued as “designer religion” or “cafeteria Catholicism,” I believe that the progressive spirit reflects Paul’s vision of God as the one “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

Paul’s sermon in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) reflects the dialogical nature of progressive spirituality. On the one hand, Paul accepts the wisdom of Greek philosophy in his description of God as the reality in whom all things live and grow. He also affirms the universal and intimate divine-human connection – “for we are God’s offspring.” (Acts 17:28) There is always a point of contact between God and humankind, which is the source of the spiritual quest in all its forms.

Paul’s words are an invitation to an open-spirited, Christ-centered approach to the varieties of spiritual practices. So, in light of Paul’s affirmation of global revelation and divine intimacy, it is possible to integrate Christian prayer with Buddhist meditation; liturgical worship with Hindu breathing techniques; political action with Gandhi’s satyagraha (soul force) just as he integrates the wisdom of Christ with the wisdom of Greek philosophy. This is not a corruption of our faith, but an expansion of our faith, a growing in wisdom and stature.

Paul also reminds us, by his “distress” (Acts 17:16) that not all philosophies and spiritualities are compatible with following the way of Jesus and that Christians must be willing to evaluate critically the various religious paths in light of God’s world-affirming and healing revelation in Jesus of Nazareth. For example, progressive Christians can gain wisdom from the new age text, The Secret, in terms of its emphasis on positive thinking and visualization, while challenging its affirmation that “you create your own reality” and its tendency toward individualism and rewards-punishments thinking, which often leads to blaming the victim for her or his failures. Progressive Christians can learn much from Hindu meditation without adopting the theory of reincarnation or explanations for people’s suffering in this lifetime in terms of past life behavior.

Progressive Christianity is open to the world in all its wonder and complexity. As my teacher John Cobb asserted, Christ is the way that includes no way. Christ’s transformative power can inspire us to embrace a variety of practices in light of our commitment to the dynamic, all-inspiring, abundance-seeking God of all creation. Yet, our openness to global spirituality also calls us to deepen our theology and spiritual practices as Christians. In a global age, with many spiritual paths, we need to take Christian theology and spirituality more, rather than less, seriously. We need to articulate Christ-centered and Spirit-centered visions of the divine, which inspire us to seek justice, affirm diversity, and commit ourselves to healing the planet. Our theologies and practices as Christians are the center points that enable us to integrate creatively the diverse spiritual visions and practices of our time. Deep theological and spiritual commitments enable us as Christians to grow in wisdom and stature as we welcome and embrace the many faiths of our world. This is the way of peace both within our hearts and in our relationships with other spiritual pilgrims.

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


Anirudh Kumar Satsangi said…
An article on Logic of Reincarnation by Steven J Rosen has been published in The Speaking Tree of 11the July 2010. In this article the author enquires what is it that reincarnates from one body to another? Is it the soul? the mind? the intellect? To understand this we should suggest answer to these questions. We all know that there are four fundamental forces in the universe viz., gravitation force, electromagnetic force, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force. I have written a paper entitled ‘Gravitation Force is the Ultimate Creator’ and presented it at the 1st International Conference on Revival of Traditional Yoga held in Lonavla Yoga Institute, Lonavla in January 2006. In this paper I have defined soul (individual consciousness), mind and body. According to this every point of action of Gravitational Force Field is individual consciousness or soul, electromagnetic force as the force of mind and weak and strong nuclear force as the gross material force which constitute physical frame of body.
Consciousness is All Intelligent and pervades everywhere. Although all other remaining three forces are also intelligent but they are subordinate to Gravitational Force. THIS DESCRIPTION WILL HELP TO UNDERSTAND ‘WHAT IS IT THAT REINCARNATES FROM ONE BODY TO ANOTHER.
According to Buddhism this is not the supreme atman or soul that ties one life to another, instead it talks about past lives as evolvement of consciousness, emergence of a new personality from the same stream of consciousness.
Unaccomplished activities of past lives are also one of the causes for reincarnation. Some of us reincarnate to complete the unfinished tasks of previous birth. The is evident from my own story of reincarnation:
“My most Revered Guru of my previous life His Holiness Maharaj Sahab, 3rd Spiritual Head of Radhasoami Faith had revealed this secret to me during trance like state of mine. This was sort of REVELATION.
HE told me, “Tum Sarkar Sahab Ho” (You are Sarkar Sahab). Sarkar Sahab was one of the most beloved disciple of His Holiness Maharj Sahab. Sarkar Sahab later on became Fourth of Spiritual Head Radhasoami Faith.
Since I don’t have any direct realization of it so I can not claim the extent of its correctness. But it seems to be correct. During my previous birth I wanted to sing the song of ‘Infinite’ (Agam Geet yeh gawan chahoon tumhri mauj nihara, mauj hoi to satguru soami karoon supanth vichara) but I could not do so then since I had to leave the mortal frame at a very early age. But through the unbounded Grace and Mercy of my most Revered Guru that desire of my past birth is being fulfilled now.”
I am one the chief expounder and supporter of Gravitation Force Theory of God. This is most scientific and secular theory of God. I have also discovered the mathematical expression for emotional quotient and for spiritual quotient.
Austrian Scientist Rudolf Steiner says,
“Just as an age was once ready to receive the Copernican theory of the universe, so is our age ready for the idea of reincarnation to be brought into the general consciousness of humanity”.
John said…

My father once told me that he was comforted in the certainty that God speaks to each in his own tongue. And not just in ones own language but in the context of each pwrosns culture and idiom of faith. God is not one size fits all. A singular truth, yes, but in a voice and in a context which each person has an opportunity to comprehend and experience.

For example, in spiritual terms is there such a great distinction for God between karma and purgatory and sanctification? Between rebirth/resurrection and reincarnation and conversion? Or even between praying to departed saints for intercession and prayers of intersession for one another and hope filled prayers to the Great Spirit?

Each tradition and each denomination offers an idiom of spirituality, and a unique appreciation of God and sacred living which are idiosyncratic and which claim and even require adherence as a sign and symbol of faithfulness, yet each must apprehend the same godhead, because there is but one God.

Each tradition offers hope (s) beyond the human capacity to comprehend and each requires trust, fidelity, and social justice. Each eschews violence while at the same time comprehending the human capacity for it.

God is one, and we are all God's children.

Anirudh Kumar Satsangi said…

If there will be a Universal Religion
in near future, what we think and say will be the basis of this religion.
John said…
I don't imagine a universal religion is a serious possibility. Humanity, even within the same culture, even within the same family is too diverse, for each of to have the same relationship with God. Even within faith traditions there are denominations, and that is because even if we share a cultural idiom, we each relate to God differently and to some extent uniquely. And God is willing to relate to each of as we are ..."in our own language."

As a father, I have very different relationships with each of my two adult daughters. But I am the same man. Their relational needs and our relational styles are as different as night and day, but we are all of the same family. I think God is open to just such plasticity (though on a far grander scale) in relating to humans.

And I don't see God compelling all of us to fit into the same relational box.

Anirudh Kumar Satsangi said…
Rebirth and reincarnation in one form or the other has been the bases of all religions. Radhasoami faith guarantees liberation of soul from the cycle of birth and death in maximum four births. All religions have their own views on reincarnation. Effort is to create awareness to bring about objectivity and uniformity with regards to reincarnation and emancipation. It becomes important in view of the fact that Christians and Muslims share about half of the world’s population.

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