Postmodernism, the school of “thought” that proclaimed “There are no truths, only interpretations” has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for “conversations” in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster…The best way for the humanities to get back their mojo is to learn from the invaders and re-acquire the respect for truth that they used to share with the sciences. — Daniel Dennett
Science and Philosophy, while not suggesting a specific truth nevertheless seems to imply that there is a truth. Why, then, do humanities (supposedly built upon or making use of these other two disciplines) deny truths exist?
This is, I fear, the nature of modern religion, specifically modern Christianity. There is no truth. There are only matters of interpretations so that regardless of what one believes, it is a personal matter of no importance. Where is the power, where is the human flourishing, in this sentiment?
Orthopraxy, the theme for a while among us United Methodists, is not new. The discussion is ancient. It is old. It will happen tomorrow as well. But, what is it? Is it necessary? Do progressives have a monopoly on suggesting that we need orthopraxy? No.
The only thing they have a monopoly on seems to be arrogance.
Well, not really. Fundamentalists have the same thing.
This summation of St. Thomas on the sanctification of theologians is important.
It is impossible to know God if one is not first known by him. This fundamental tenet of Christian thought summarizes the first half of our remarks. Now we can add: one must do God’s will in order to know if this knowledge comes from him. The practice of theology must cause the theologian to grow in holiness. Not only are theologians called to this as disciples of the unique Holy One, but their profession adds to this call a singular exigency: they should be holy because they are theologians. Their orthodoxy must redound to orthopraxis. Here I have stated four principal points that ought to verify this relationship. Obviously, none of these pertains exclusively to theologians, but their discipline gives them a particular reason to apply these points.1
The author, Torrell, cites St. Thomas several times but this one stands out:
“For just as it is better to illumine than just to shine, it is better to pass on to others the things contemplated than just to contemplate.” (ST Ia-IIae, q. 188, a. 6)
And similarly the doctors of theology are like principal architects, who research and teach how others ought to work out the salvation of their souls. Simply put, therefore, it is better to teach Sacred Doctrine, and more so meritorious, if done in good intention, which hangs the particular care of salvation of this one and that; thus the Apostle speaks about himself, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” [I Cor 1.17]; although to baptize is work most suited for bringing about the salvation of souls; the Apostle again, “Commend to the faithful who will be suitable to teach others” [II Tim 2.2]. Quaestiones de quolibet I, q. 7, a. 2
Jean-Pierre Torrell, Christ and Spirituality in St. Thomas Aquinas (ed. Matthew Levering and Thomas Joseph White; trans. Bernhard Blankenhorn; vol. 2; Thomistic Ressourcement Series; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 32. ↩
In the town of Fountain Hills, Arizona, 8 local churches have come together to preach a series of sermons about the differences between progressive “Christianity” and traditional Christianity. The above is from a newspaper ad taken out by the churches and includes the churches and their websites. Most, if not all, of the websites have a way to listen to the sermons given during this campaign. There has been much made of this on their local news and of course in the world of social media. I amgoing to provideseveral links here in case you are unfamiliar with the story, including links to statements made by a local church who felt “attacked” by this series of sermons by the 8 churches in question. What the media has not covered is the campaign by the progressives before this Fact or Fiction round.
With a casual web search I am certain you can also find a variety of blogs on the subject. In a good bit of the news coverage, it is stated that these 8 churches are trying to besmirch one. The statement by the 8 churches preaching however seem to make rather clear that this is not about one progressive church in their community, but rather about the movement as a whole. I also want to note that many of the news stories seem to try to include LGBTQ issues. Feel free to disregard this red herring as an examination of the sermon topics does not seem to include anything regarding same sex, or opposite sex for that matter, issues.
I contacted the pastors of the 8 churches to ask a few simple questions and they graciously answered them. Please keep in mind that as they reflect several denominations, and some non affiliated, the answers will represent a variety of faith traditions that differ on much but agree on that which is the core of our shared faith. They will not be individually identified as per their wish not to hide who was making statements but rather to appear as one unified voice in the series going forward. This is a partial quote from the email response I received explaining their position (It is only partial as the rest of the email was personal and has no bearing on this issue):
The questions and answers appear unedited.
Trusting you have had a great week. I wanted to get back to you with the responses from our group of pastors here in Fountain Hills. I purposely did not give credit for specific quotes or answers because we want to speak as one voice on this matter. “
First, how is it that you all ended up deciding to preach about progressive belief? You are from several different backgrounds with differing points of doctrine after all.
We realize that the eight churches doing this sermon series have disagreement in many important areas as well as in the non-essentials. However, we believe that Progressive Christianity disparages the essential core beliefs of Christianity. On these core beliefs we are united and believe it is our pastoral responsibility to speak to our congregations about the differences between Biblical Christianity and Progressive Christianity.
For the last four or five years there have been a series of seminars presented in our community which promoted Progressive Theology. The joint effort of these few churches presenting these seminars has created confusion within our community concerning the differences between Biblical Christianity and Progressive Christianity. We who believe in Biblical theology felt it was time to address some of the concerns which have been raised.
While it is true that there are doctrinal differences between us, the fundamental doctrines of Christianity are shared by all: Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that He was buried, and then raised on the 3rd day according to the Scriptures.
The joint effort between our churches was in response to questions we as pastors had all been receiving regarding the differences between Biblical Christianity and Progressive Christianity. The real value in a joint effort like this is that it clearly reveals (and demonstrates) the unity of doctrine across a wide section of Christian denominations
Second, what do you believe the primary danger(s) of progressive belief is?
Progressive Christianity leads to a Christ-less Christianity. If Jesus is simply a good man we are trying to emulate and not the Son of God, then we dead in our sin and are dependent on works righteousness.
It’s all about Jesus. Progressive theology denies the Deity of Jesus, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus. Sin is not dealt with, thus salvation is not available
I told the congregation Sunday that for years Christians have been trying to keep Christ in Christmas, today we are trying to keep Christ in Christianity. The real danger that Progressive Christianity poses is that it undermines the very core of what Christianity is. To take the name Christian means not only to strive to walk as He did, but also to believe as He believed. Progressive Christianity has made it quite clear that they don’t believe in a theistic God, nor do they believe Jesus is the only way to God. Comparatively, Jesus clearly believed in a theistic God (He called Him Father) and it was Jesus Himself who said He was the only way to the Father. Do I think Progressive Christianity poses a danger? Absolutely! You see once you remove the atoning work of Jesus on the cross (which is the net result of removing a theistic God and the Deity of Christ) you remove any hope of salvation; you are left in your sin. With eternity in the balance, how can I be silent?
Third, what role does doctrine play in the life of your congregations and how do you foster that?
Doctrine expresses the beliefs that the church has forged over time as it has faced challenges to its beliefs in past eras. It provides us with a way to express our beliefs and gives us boundaries as to what is accepted and what is not.
This is the summation of our belief and a reflection of Biblical truth and guidelines for our faith.
Doctrine is at the very center of everything we do, but then that would be true for a Progressive Christian as well. In fact, it is at the center of what every human being does; even the atheist. A person only acts on what they believe. The real question is what do you believe? We believe the Bible is the Word of God, as such, inerrant. We then use the Bible as a guideline for the outworking of our faith in day to day life. Fostering that doctrine is really quite simple: blow the dust off the book and read it!
Fourth, do you believe progressive beliefs to be an expression of Christianity, or would you describe it as something that is separate from Christianity? (or of course if neither of those is a proper expression of your thoughts on progressive beliefs please explain why)
Progressive Christianity is neither. It is man centered rather than God centered.
Progressive theology is not Christian theology. It contradicts the core tenets of Biblical theology.
Progressive Christianity is neither. The term Progressive indicates something that evolves (changes from one state to a more improved state) over time. Is Christ progressive? Does Jesus evolve? What improvement would you add to His perfection? More to the point, what can man’s knowledge and learning add to Divine perfection? Regarding the term Christian, that is the term claimed by those striving to be like Christ. Again, this is not only in action, but also in belief. To say that you like what He did, but you aren’t interested in believing what He believed should be cause for alarm. Progressive Christianity is quite different from Biblical Christianity and the term “Progressive Christianity” is simply an oxymoron.
Fifth, a local church has made claims that this is directed toward them specifically. Did they factor into this decision? Did they inspire this?
The local progressive church has claimed that this is an attack on them. It is not. This is a sermon series to counter a larger concern; a teaching that is not biblical but disguises itself as Christianity. The progressive pastor in town has clearly stated his beliefs in the local paper and on the radio. Through these media he has denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the Virgin birth, and the Bible as the Word of God. His public statements caused many members of our congregations to ask us questions about Progressive Christianity and about the biblical view of Christianity. It is not our desire to attack any individual or congregation. Our motivation is to contend for the faith and to feed our own flocks the truths found in Scripture.
From the beginning it has been clearly stated that this is not about one individual or one congregation. The issue is theology. We are merely explaining Biblical theology and doctrine.
I have heard the same claims, but let’s think about this logically. How would it look for us to attack a specific person (or congregation)? That really wouldn’t help our case for Christianity much, would it? No. From the very beginning we have made it absolutely clear that the series isn’t about a person or congregation; it is about doctrine and theology.
So what is compatible with Christianity in this case (or to turn a phrase, what would Jesus do)? Would He say, “don’t worry, doctrine isn’t all that important anyway” or would He point out the false doctrine? Thankfully, we have the Bible to show us exactly how Jesus handled these situations. He said to take note of the wolves that slip in among you wearing sheep’s clothing (that is, point the wolf out to protect the sheep). Jesus Himself was quite confrontational when it came to people espousing poor doctrine (and He usually led with something like: “you brood of vipers”…) should His church be anything less? So, contending for the faith is very much a Christian doctrine. While the term “attack” has made for dramatic news coverage, it is wholly unfounded.
Finally, is there anyway that someone could, if they wanted to, listen to the sermons being given? (pod cast, online via YouTube, etc.)
Our sermons can be found on our individual church websites. (I don’t know if this is true for all of us.)
In regards to the actual messages, I believe that most individual church websites would have the messages available to stream or download. I would encourage people to download the messages and judge for themselves.
As a side note: It is interesting that those who are complaining about this series have held several seminars in collaboration with other congregations, to express their progressive theological beliefs. Their seminars have attacked the core beliefs of Biblical theology. Now eight Bible believing congregations are uniting to present Biblical theology, and somehow this is viewed as wrong?
This ends the questions I asked and the answers that the pastors generously provided.
In the Book of Genesis, the first words God speaks to humanity are “Be fruitful and multiply.” From ancient times to today, these words have been understood as a divine command to procreate. Fertility is viewed as a sign of blessedness and moral uprightness, while infertility is associated with sin and moral failing. Reconceiving Infertility explores traditional interpretations such as these, providing a more complete picture of how procreation and childlessness are depicted in the Bible.
Closely examining texts and themes from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, Candida Moss and Joel Baden offer vital new perspectives on infertility and the social experiences of the infertile in the biblical tradition. They begin with perhaps the most famous stories of infertility in the Bible—those of the matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel—and show how the divine injunction in Genesis is both a blessing and a curse. Moss and Baden go on to discuss the metaphorical treatments of Israel as a “barren mother,” the conception of Jesus, Paul’s writings on family and reproduction, and more. They reveal how biblical views on procreation and infertility, and the ancient contexts from which they emerged, were more diverse than we think.
Reconceiving Infertility demonstrates that the Bible speaks in many voices about infertility, and lays a biblical foundation for a more supportive religious environment for those suffering from infertility today.