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Progressive Christianity

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Pride flag banner hung over the entrance to the Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C. with the words "ALL ARE WELCOME" printed underneath
Pride flag banner hung over the entrance to the Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C.

Progressive Christianity represents a postmodern theological approach, which developed out of the liberal Christianity of the modern era, itself rooted in the Enlightenment's thinking.[1] Progressive Christianity is a postliberal theological movement within Christianity that, in the words of Reverend Roger Wolsey, "seeks to reform the faith via the insights of post-modernism and a reclaiming of the truth beyond the verifiable historicity and factuality of the passages in the Bible by affirming the truths within the stories that may not have actually happened."[1]

Progressive Christianity, as described by its adherents, is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to "love one another" (John 15:17) within the teachings of Jesus Christ.[2]

Progressive Christianity focuses on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, and tolerance, often through political activism. Though prominent, the movement is by no means the only significant movement of progressive thought among Christians. It draws influence from multiple theological streams, including evangelicalism, liberal Christianity, neo-orthodoxy, pragmatism, postmodern theology, progressive Christian reconstructionism, and liberation theology.[3] The concerns of feminism are also a major influence on the movement, as expressed in feminist and womanist theologies.[4][5][6] Although progressive Christianity and liberal Christianity are often used synonymously, the two movements are distinct, despite much overlap.[7]


A priority of justice and care for the down-trodden are a recurrent theme in the Hebrew prophetic tradition inherited by Christianity.[8] This has been reflected in many later Christian traditions of service and ministry, and more recently in the United States of America through Christian involvement in political trends such as the Progressive Movement and the Social Gospel.[9]

Throughout the 20th century, a strand of progressive or liberal Christian thought outlined the values of a 'good society'. It stresses fairness, justice, responsibility, and compassion, and condemns the forms of governance that wage unjust war, rely on corruption for continued power, deprive the poor of facilities, or exclude particular racial or sexual groups from fair participation in national liberties. It was influential in the US mainline churches, and reflected global trends in student activism. It contributed to the ecumenical movement, as represented internationally by the World Student Christian Federation and the World Council of Churches internationally, and at the national level through groups such as the National Council of Churches in the US and Australian Student Christian Movement.

Contemporary movement[edit]

The ascendancy of evangelicalism in the US, particularly in its more socially conservative forms, challenged many people in mainline churches. [10] This has enabled many Christians who are uncomfortable with conservative evangelicalism to identify themselves explicitly as "Progressive Christians".

Notable initiatives within the movement for progressive Christianity include the Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Beatitudes Society,[11] the campaigning organization CrossLeft, the technology working group Social Redemption and The Progressive Episcopal Church (TPEC).[citation needed]

The Sojourners magazine was founded in 1971 by the Sojourners Community and was the first progressive magazine.[12] In 2007, the Red-Letter Christians movement was founded by Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne to insist to Jesus' words by promoting biblical values such as peace, the fight against poverty, the defense of peace, building strong families, respecting human rights and welcoming foreigners.[13] [14]

In the UK, the Progressive Christianity Britain network has adopted eight non-credal points which reflect the nature of a Christian life explored from a progressive standpoint.[15] The network holds group meetings in many locations around the country.[16]

Wolsey notes that progressive Christianity is not necessarily synonymous with progressive politics.[1]

Compared to traditional Christianity[edit]

According to Archbishop Wynn Wagner of the former North American Old Catholic Church, holding to the ideals of progressive Christianity sets the movement apart from traditional Christianity. Inclusiveness and acceptance is the basic posture of progressive Christianity.[17]

Seventh-day Adventism[edit]

Within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the liberal wing describe themselves as "progressive Adventists". They disagree with some of the traditional teachings of the church. While most are still of evangelical persuasion, a minority are liberal Christians.[citation needed]

Environmental ministries[edit]

Central to this recovery of awe in the cosmos is the epic of evolution, the 14-billion-year history of the universe. Scientists (Edward O. Wilson, Brian Swimme, Eric Chaisson, Ursula Goodenough and others) initiated this story which has been perpetuated with a religion component by some liberal theologians (Gordon D. Kaufman, Jerome A. Stone, Michael Dowd, etc.).[18][19]

Evolutionary evangelist and progressive minister Michael Dowd uses the term Epic of Evolution or Great Story to help construct his viewpoint of evolution theology. His position is that science and religious faith are not mutually exclusive (a form of religious naturalism).[20] He preaches that the epic of cosmic, biological, and human evolution, revealed by science, is a basis for an inspiring and meaningful view of our place in the universe and a new approach to religion. Evolution is viewed as a religious spiritual process that is not meaningless blind chance.[21]


Geoff Thompson argues that Progressive Christianity, as represented by Gretta Vosper and John Shelby Spong, "often over-reaches its arguments".[22] In particular, he concludes that "[i]t is very difficult to see how what [Vosper] proposes needs any church or even the minimalist, idiosyncratic definition of Christianity which she offers".[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Wolsey, Roger (10 February 2012). "Progressive Christianity Isn't Progressive Politics". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  2. ^ "Soul Play: What Is Progressive Christianity Exactly?". The Flip Side. University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Retrieved 23 December 2012.[dead link]
  3. ^ Witness Articles - Progressive Christian Witness Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Cobb, John, Jr., ed. Progressive Christians Speak: A Different Voice on Faith and Politics, Progressive Christians Uniting, Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. p. 72. ISBN 9780664225896
  5. ^ Flunder, Yvette, Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion, Pilgrim Press, 2005. ISBN 9780829816389
  6. ^ Heyward, Carter, Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right: Rethinking what it means to be Christian, Fortress Press, 1999. ISBN 9780800629663
  7. ^ Hal Taussig (May–June 2006). "Grassroots Progressive Christianity A Quiet Revolution" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 October 2011.
  8. ^ Ess, Charles. "Prophetic, Wisdom, and Apocalyptic Traditions in Judaism and Christianity". Drury University. Archived from the original on 23 February 2012. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  9. ^ Boulton, Wayne G., Thomas D. Kennedy and Allen Verhey (1994). From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 134–136. ISBN 0-8028-0640-6.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ "Christianity Today - Theology, Church, Culture". ChristianityToday.com. Archived from the original on 11 December 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  11. ^ "The Beatitudes Society". beatitudessociety.org. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 16 July 2009.
  12. ^ Brantley W. Gasaway, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice, University of North Carolina Press, USA, 2014, p. 14
  13. ^ Nick Tabor, Can this preacher's progressive version of evangelical Christianity catch on with a new generation?, washingtonpost.com, USA, January 6, 2020
  14. ^ Rosie Dawson, Red Letter Christians gear up for UK launch, religionnews.com, USA, January 4, 2019
  15. ^ Progressive Christian Network Britain, Homepage, accessed 19 January 2024
  16. ^ PCN Britain, Groups and Churches, accessed 16 January 2024
  17. ^ Wynn Wagner III, A Pilgrim's Guide to the Old Catholic Church, Mystic Ways, 2009,ISBN 978-1-4499-9279-8
  18. ^ * Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature, Harvard University Press,1979,ISBN 0-674-01638-6
    • The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos; Brian Swimme, Harper, 1992 (1994, ISBN 0-06-250835-0)
    • Ursula Goodenough - Sacred Depths of Nature, Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (15 June 2000), ISBN 0-19-513629-2
    • Eric Chaisson - Epic of Evolution, Columbia University Press (2 March 2007), ISBN 0-231-13561-0
  19. ^ * Jerome A. Stone - Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative, State U. of New York Press (Dec 2008), ISBN 0-7914-7537-9
  20. ^ "Evolution Theology: Religion 2.0 - Thank God For Evolution". thankgodforevolution.com.
  21. ^ "The Book - Thank God For Evolution". thankgodforevolution.com.
  22. ^ a b Geoff Thompson (February 2011). "Progressive Christianity: Testing Its Arguments" (PDF). Uniting Theology and Church (5). Archived from the original on 23 February 2014.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)