Jesus was a progressive in every sense of the word.
While he respected tradition and appreciated orthodoxy, he offered a deeper understanding of these foundations and a new way to think about God.
In my previous column, I explained that seven truths have shaped my progressive faith. I shared three yesterday; here are the remaining four.
- Progressive faith prioritizes love above all else.
I revel in theology. I enjoy asking hard questions that have no easy answers. I’ve grown comfortable with unanswerable questions, relying on my faith but with a commitment to keep exploring.
I embrace hard problems needing solutions, knowing the difficulties and complexities may stymie me.
It would be easy for me to concentrate all my efforts in analyzing and exploring life’s most perplexing universal questions.
However, as Paul suggested, all of that would simply be a noisy cymbal without love in my life (1 Corinthians 13:1).
My progressive faith lives on the love breathed into me by God. God’s selflessness gave me life, breathing the divine spirit into my soul.
This selflessness is the first demonstration of love, both emotion and action rolled together identifying the very nature and identity of God.
There is no greater acknowledgment of that nature than when John writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
And before that, when the young lawyer asked Jesus about the most important commandment, Jesus turned to the love of God and neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40).
For my progressive faith, love must be at the heart of everything I believe and do. Divine love guides my thoughts and empowers my actions.
Even when I call out the thoughts and actions of others, I must do so with love supervising me. Criticism offered without love can quickly turn to hate. Love should cover every word with a balance of kindness and directness.
Martin Luther King Jr. summed it up by saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
King knew hate, having been the target of it all of his life. Yet, he did not let hate take hold of him. Love remained his anchor.
- Progressive faith seeks inclusion for all but excludes exclusionism.
Why would we want to remain the same, milling about with the same people and thinking the same thoughts under the same size tent until the end of time?
My progressive faith challenges me to embrace “the other” in an attempt to understand and relate to people outside my communal tent.
I concluded long ago I did not need to agree with someone, as long as mutual respect fueled our desire for a relationship.
When both parties genuinely seek relationship and understanding above all else, the potential for the inclusion of both is possible and probable.
Progressive faith cherishes inclusion because conversation and understanding are the first steps toward peace.
However, there is a paradox to the progressive practice of inclusion. For inclusion to thrive, inclusionists must exclude exclusionism.
Philosopher Karl Popper drew this conclusion when he stated this concept addressing tolerance, “In order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.” The same can be said about excluding exclusionism for the sake of inclusion.
- Progressive faith advocates for justice, especially for the oppressed and marginalized.
My progressive faith excludes exclusionism because of justice. Exclusionist theology and practice tends to advocate for self-serving justice.
In most instances, this comes from a place of dominance mistaking privilege for justice.
My progressive faith advocates justice for all, but primarily for the oppressed and marginalized.
It recognizes centuries of systemic injustices that have suppressed people based upon racial, religious, cultural, sexual orientation and socioeconomic arguments.
The dominant society thrives through maintaining injustices, keeping oppressed and marginalized peoples in their places based upon evil ideas and practices.
The only way to free the oppressed and marginalized is to advocate for them and empower them as human beings free to achieve every opportunity God has given them.
The dominant society came to power by oppressing and marginalizing others for centuries.
My progressive faith calls me to advocate for and empower the hope of creating a more equal and just society.
As Jesus said when he began his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
- Progressive faith takes Jesus seriously, but compromises on other points.
Jesus is the filter through which I choose to see life. His teachings and works are the rulers by which I measure my work and life.
Other points of faith, which I think are critically important, pale in comparison. The example of faith Jesus demonstrated inspires me to be a better person, to show kindness to strangers, to advocate for social justice and to love as the world depended on it.
The Apostle Paul may have said it best, “Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
This world of ours seems to be spinning out of control. I still have more questions than answers when it comes to faith and life. I still see and hear about the hurts, pains and injustices. However, the one person who still gives me hope is Jesus.
The world – and more so the Christian church – needs a revolution to supplant power and influence with the humility and love of Jesus.
As I conclude, I want to return to Tolkien. In his first masterpiece, The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins laments what to do on his adventure, “Go back? Not good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”
My progressive faith demands I go forward. With one foot still rooted in The Shire, I continue the journey forward toward exploration, discovery and adventure.
Faith in the divine should not be a set of rules to recite, but an adventure to experience. Therefore, with one foot before the other, I progress toward a greater understanding of God and how to do good in this world.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.
CEO of Good Faith Media.