We are often asked for recommended readings and we give reading lists to new ‘explorer’s’ of progressive Christianity. Top of my list is Val Web’s Testing Tradition and Liberating Theology: Finding your own voice for many reasons. I am sure many of our hundreds of followers will have already read this wonderful text, but just a few comments for others….
Val is an advocate for theology being done by every Christian. She asks How can the church be a force in the world if its lay people have nothing to offer but dogmatic sound bites that fade into nothing when taken up and challenged by others? Thinking theologically is not the same as believing and we should re-think and investigate what we previously simply ingested by osmosis. In that way we can make sure what we think or believe is not someone else’s formula for making our own lives make sense.
Many explorer groups exist on the sidelines, or in some cases even have a significant part to play in the life of congregations These are safe places for people to discuss questions without censure and to use their brains and life experience to make sense of everything. Nothing beneficial comes from religious debate where arrogant certainty or disdain, the use of clever words, or refusal to engage are the tools for discourse. These groups often share the growing number of books that demonstrate the great scholarship that exists in this field of thinking.
Val Webb’s book gives a good overview of the field of thinking around progressive Christianity identifying it as part of the stable of liberation theologies that have emerged from greater education, the impact of science and the challenges to the way in which church doctrine has evolved. It is also about a universal spirituality movement because the way God is discussed leaves room for openness to other religious traditions. We can learn more about our faith and ourselves by greater understanding of other faiths and atheism. Important to this is the move away from one meta story or universal truth and its medieval understandings of God as an external interventionist, in contrast with the notion of an indwelling Spirit.
Church historian Diana Butler Bass says that, for centuries, we have assumed religious commitment starts with assent to a set of beliefs that also dictates how we behave. This believing and behaving makes us eligible to belong to a church community. While this may have been the way of past generations, she suggests it should be the other way around – belonging, behaving and believing.This would take us to the way of Jesus who invited followers to join him – belonging – to proclaim and live the way of the reign of God – behaving. Beliefs emerged and these were fluid until the creeds declared orthodoxy.
Val manages, in one book to take us through the foundations of theology, the way in which we can all do theology, the history of the church and its theology, reasons for being bold with our doubts, the spiritual journey of life, and living out our theology in ethical and responsible ways.
I enjoyed this book immensely.
It is available from Morning Star Publishers