“There is a way of seeing Christianity that makes persuasive and compelling sense of life in the broadest sense – a way of seeing reality and our lives in relationship to what is real; a way of seeing God, our relationship to God, and the path of transformation. The sacrifice that Christianity asks of us is not ultimately a sacrifice of intellect.” – Marcus Borg (1942-2015), The Heart of Christianity
Recently, theologian and author Marcus Borg shared with a number of ministers serving mainline congregations the importance of embracing an identity and theology that is an expression of what some call “progressive Christianity.” Here is a summation of his comments:
When we say we are theologically progressive, we are acknowledging that we approach the Scriptures specifically and theological language in general through a historical and metaphorical lens. Or, as has been said in and of the United Church of Christ slogan, “we take the Bible seriously, but not literally.”
By that phrase, we make several important distinctions. The Bible is a complex collection of ancient texts, a library of 66 different books often by different authors and from different sources. Even when translated into modern, accessible language, it carries with it an ancient context that is crucial to understanding of its meaning and message. The Bible is the product of two faith communities and, while we affirm the inspiring activity of God’s Spirit, we realize that it shares their common, often limited understanding of God and the world.
When we speak of the Bible’s historical context and meaning, we are not insisting “it happened exactly this way.” We are saying that we need to take into account that these writings are indeed ancient texts for an ancient audience, and we can only come to a reasonable understanding by taking that context into consideration.
When we speak of the Bible’s metaphorical approach, we are acknowledging the often more-than-literal meaning of the language used by the ancient faith communities that gave birth to these books. The fact that the authors used poetry, metaphor and archetypal language to give words to their experience of the living God should caution us against reading the Bible with a flat “the Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it” kind of literalist or absolutist interpretation.
We remember how the Bible has been used to persecute scientists like Copernicus and Galileo, to defend antiquated institutions like slavery, and as an excuse for all manner of –isms that empower the interest of some over the needs of others, -isms like patriarchy, racism, sexism, economic oppression and homophobia. The major message and theme of the Bible, following the teaching of Jesus, calls us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When people use particular verses of Scripture to excuse a spirit of “unlove” and exclusion, we believe they have used the Bible in a way that denies the overarching themes of love and justice.
When people use a more historically informed and metaphorical approach to reading and understanding the Bible, it can be vastly illuminating. Many of the problems associated with biblical literalism and absolutism disappear. No place is that more obvious than in the current debate fueled by literalist readings of Genesis. In the progressive approach, we find no real conflict between Christianity and science, and often see considerable complementarity at work. We are a church where you are not asked to park your brain in the narthex.
And this reading further allows us to affirm religious pluralism, and engage honestly and compassionately in interfaith dialogue. We do not feel that we have a lock on the truth, so that there is no other way to think or act or believe. We trust that the God of the universe is not only available to us and through the church, but can and does work in the world and the experience of the other enduring religions of the world. We seek to move beyond mere tolerance, to real working relationships and understanding of the religious practices of others.
Thus, we affirm and invite each person to think critically, freely and well, both about the Bible and the spiritual understandings that undergird their faith. We invite people into intentional communities of faithful inquiry and engagement. We are committed to the idea of transformation in this life, not merely as a preparation for an afterlife with God. We believe that in loving God and neighbor, we are invited to participate in a two-fold transformation: transformation of ourselves as we live into our best true selves, reconciled to one another and to God, and transformation of our world, as we seek to embody the Gospel’s teachings of a “beloved community,” where peace and justice are love’s greatest fulfillment.
“Come let us reason together,” says the Psalmist. As a progressive community where Faith comes to Life, David’s UCC is a congregation where we can come with our questions and our longings for fulfillment and work out our salvation and understanding of God’s will and way together.