A century ago, it was ‘liberal Christianity’ that was putting out its newer, kinder, more modern agenda for the Christian faith. Around the time of the millenium (no, not that millenium, but the one we’ve already lived through) it was the Emerging Church that was seeking to free itself from the shackles of traditionalism. Now, it seems, the most popular self-designation for those disenchanted with orthodoxy is ‘Progressive Christianity’ (PC).
As is the case with all these movements, PC is a bit difficult to pin down. After all, if you are against definite belief, then you’re hardly going to state your position with a high degree of clarity or certainty. And, for similar sorts of reasons, there are, no doubt, some who march under this banner who are nearer to, and some who are further away from, orthodoxy than others.
So it’s helpful to know that a bunch of Christian leaders came together in 2006 to pen the Phoenix Affirmations as a statement of Progressive Christianity.
Because of the danger of misrepresenting the views of those one might disagree with, I’d like to reproduce a summary of the twelve affirmations just as they stand:-
A few observations are in order:-
Consistent with the outlook of PC, these affirmations are provisional, and therefore subject to revision. Note the version number: 3.8.
No thoughtful Christian could, or should, condemn these affirmations in their entirety. Not only do they, at least in part, harmonise with Christian orthodoxy, but also they include some emphases that are in danger of being lost in non-PC circles.
Nevertheless, these affirmations represent a somewhat wholesale re-definition and re-description of the Christian faith. This is a very different kind of Christianity. In fact, as J.G. Machen memorably said of the older liberalism: it is not only a different religion, it is a different kind of religion.
There is considerable overlap between the beliefs/values expressed here and those of the older liberalism. PC goes further, however, in its affirmation of (post?)modern types of thinking. There is also overlap between the content of these affirmations and the convictions and priorities of secular humanism. Further: current shibboleths about ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are embedded without reservation.
There affirmations are notable, not only for what they include, but for what they omit. There is mention of God, but only in terms of his immanence, not his transcendence. There is mention of Jesus, but no reference to his incarnation or cross-work; as example, but not as Saviour. There is mention of Scripture, but only as one of a number of ways of hearing God’s word. There is mention of human shortcomings, but no mention of sin. There is an uncritical promotion of self-love, but no mention that this can readily take the form of self-idolatry. There is an emphasis on living well in this life, but no mention of the life to come.
There is no ‘good news’ here about what God has done for humankind. There is no redemption, apart from that which we can try to achieve for ourselves. These fine-sounding affirmations are, accordingly, heartless (in more than one sense of that word).