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Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity Paperback – August 7, 2012
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“Progressive Christianity is about embracing mystery. … Accordingly, the authors believe that the necessary incompleteness of our theology is an invitation to ongoing creative transformation. . . . Living the Questions is an excellent introduction to progressive theology.” (The Christian Century)
“I’m so grateful for Living the Questions. These progressive voices offer less rigid and more expansive approaches to Christian faith, and make room for people who practice critical thinking and question the gatekeepers. They help us see that questioning the gatekeepers is exactly what Jesus was all about.” (Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity)
“Among the most dynamic and talented clergy in the world, David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy speak with high levels of credibility to the deep and abiding human hunger that yearns for a Christian future.” (John Shelby Spong, author of Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World)
“A welcome book that is bold (without being contentious) and courageous (without needing to be triumphant), Felten and Procter-Murphy give voice to a faith that provides a profound alternative to the dominant ideology of ‘American Christianity.’ Attention should be paid!” (Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary)
“A rich, wise, helpful and important book—virtually a manifesto of progressive Christianity.” (Marcus Borg, author of Evolution of the Word)
“This has been sorely needed for years. Felten and Procter-Murphy provide an unusual clarity about the issues that commonly confuse and divide people in our churches today and then open a pathway to a more vital and even exciting way to approach the Christian faith in the 21st century.” (Fred C. Plumer, President, Progressive Christianity.org)
“Calls Progressive Christians to live out their authentic mix of faith and doubt, to practice nonviolence, to stand in solidarity with the poor, to eschew the idolatry of wealth, and to seek ‘justice and inclusivity in a culture dominated by suspicion and fear.’” (Spirituality and Practice)
“Felten and Proctor-Murphy salute the mystics of the past and some of the present moment who help us to be more open to the Divine, to let go of our clinging to ancient dogmas about God and Jesus, and to surrender to ‘not knowing’ all the answers.” (Spirituality and Practice)
“Most people in church grew up listening to those who claimed to have all the answers. Who knew that the questions were more interesting, that ‘living’ them is true faithfulness. Felten and Procter-Murphy have given the class such superb resources that no one is in a hurry to graduate.” (Dr. Robin R. Meyers, Senior Minister, Mayflower Congregational UCC Church; Professor of Rhetoric, Oklahoma City University)
“Amidst the impression that Christianity has an unchanging, singular vision of the world, this book shows how the Christian tradition actually involves a rich, dynamic and diverse conversation where critical reflection, differing opinions and honest engagement with the biggest questions is happening under the very nose of the dogmatists.” (Peter Rollins, author of The Idolotry of God)
From the Back Cover
Bringing together the voices of top Bible scholars and church leaders —including Marcus Borg, Diana Butler Bass, John Dominic Crossan, Helen Prejean, and John Shelby Spong—pastors David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy present a lively and stimulating tour of what it means to be a "progressive" Christian. Based on the bestselling DVD course of the same name, Living the Questions explores matters many churches are afraid to address including the humanity of Jesus and homosexuality, and examines in a new light traditional faith topics such as the Bible, atonement, salvation, the rapture, and more.
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The first section of this book entitled, "Journey" spends a lot of time focusing on the fundamental theology of progressive Christianity. While I myself am progressive, I am not convinced the theology described in this section is universally adopted by those of us who are progressive. According to the authors of this book, the Bible is very ambiguous and primarily metaphorical. While I appreciate this view, I do believe most of the content in the Bible is literal, but certainly there is a lot of metaphor and symbolism mixed in as well. This is when we need to use discernment in our hermeneutics of Scripture to make an informed decision. Furthermore, there is plenty of extra-biblical evidence that support the historicity and veracity of the events, people, and geography of the Bible to totally dismiss it as metaphor... making the Bible to be what it truly is, a God-inspired narrative of the unfolding of God's plan for the redemption and reconciliation of mankind to their Creator. However, I agree with the authors that Christianity today is stale, dogmatic, and institutional. Heavily doctrinal driven and fundamentalist. Perhaps, a leftover of medieval-era religion. I agree that we need to always be reassessing what we believe and potentially change our views as we grow and mature in our faith in Christ. And, I believe this can be achieved without losing the overall integrity of Scripture or adopting heretical views.
The second section of this book entitled, "Reconciliation" continues with some fundamental issues along with several secondary issues. I, in most part, agreed with much of the content of this section. That Jesus exemplified a servant who often acted counter to the institutions of His day, and proclaimed some teachings that were completely counter cultural. Two of my favorite parts of this section was about The Myth of Redemptive Violence and Debunking the Rapture. Two subjects that I am in total agreement with progressive Christianity. Redemptive violence (i.e. war, military, vengeance, etc) is not something that Jesus taught, in fact, taught completely against it. And yet, most of today's evangelical Christianity has embraced it. Often times being the first to beat the war drums in support of any military action against another country. Similarly, the doctrine of the Rapture, a rather new doctrine and fanciful imagination of end-time dispensationalism promulgated by John Nelson Darby, does not appear to be a biblical doctrine but a man-made one that not only instigates violence, but promotes escapism, tribalism, and describes God as a wrathful and cranky curmudgeon to those who are "left behind".
The third and final section entitled, "Transformation" addresses issues such as inclusivity, social justice, prayer, compassion, and embracing mystery. While this was a valuable section that touched on important issues it seemed the book lost it's flair by this time and I struggled to finish it. It just seemed tired. But, there were a lot of valid points to be made. I especially appreciated the last chapter "Embracing Mystery". It's okay that we don't know all of the answers. It's okay we don't know everything there is about God. Sometimes it's good to just recognize the fact that we don't know, embrace it, and enjoy it. One of my favorite quotes in this chapter is this: "The image of God as a person has to give way to the image of God as presence."
Overall, it was a decent read and I recommend this book to Christians who are tired of what seems to be an apathetic and tired Christianity. But, I also offer a word of caution. While progressive Christianity has a lot to offer to our post modern society today, it does seem to have abandoned some important fundamentals of the Christian faith that are cautionary at most. And, while I and many that I know are progressive, I don't believe this book speaks on behalf of all of us who are progressive. Nevertheless, this is a good read and there are a lot of gems that can be found throughout this important book.
They continue, “As pastors, we [realized that what]… we needed was a practical tool to bring together, reeducate, and equip thinking Christians to wrestle with the latest scholarship… It soon became clear that if we wanted it, we would have to produce it ourselves… the result was the Living the Questions DVD series… This book is an effort to expand the conversation even further… With fewer and fewer people looking to church-sponsored studies or a person in a pulpit for guidance, it made sense to us to make the resources of the DVD series available in another format.” (Pg. xiii)
In the first chapter, they suggest, “On any authentic spiritual journey, asking the hard questions is not only permitted, but necessary! What we learn along the way, through difficulties and disequilibrium, mistakes and challenges, discoveries and unlearnings, is that the process is what’s important. The unanswerable questions asked in the company of fellow seekers along the way become a central part of the process of the deepening quest, the broadening understanding, and the journey beyond our otherwise limited horizons.” (Pg. 8)
They point out, “one of the most notable characteristics of the Judeo-Christian tradition has been its amazing flexibility in withstanding the changes and adaptations brought to them by cultures they encounter. The Bible itself is witness to the same event or idea being represented in a variety of theological interpretations, each of which was included in the canon of scripture despite obvious differences. Wrestling with those differences has always played a significant role in the history of … concepts of the Divine---and can again play a part in rethinking many of the staid theological ideas that have become stagnant and unhelpful in the twenty-first century.” (Pg. 28)
They state, “It’s hard to pin down a real center or core truth in Paul’s message. But if we’re willing to embrace the many different ideas tugging and pulling at one another in creative tension, we begin to sense his passion for Christ and his grace-drenched hope for humanity.” (Pg. 59)
They explain, “To ‘live the questions’ is to live into that same sense of ambiguity and certainty, of faith and doubt, that is at the heart of progressive Christianity. Inspired by insights that are at once fresh and ancient, progressive Christians can claim a distinctive voice in the twenty-first century by being in solidarity with the poor, countering the idolatry of wealth, practicing nonviolence, and by seeking justice and inclusivity in a culture dominated by suspicion and fear. In so doing, we may discover that the path of true wisdom is… in living the questions which shape our faith, our lives, and our world.” (Pg. 70)
They point out, “If you haven’t been made uncomfortable by the teachings of Jesus, you probably haven’t understood them… despite efforts across the centuries to tame him, Jesus is still controversial… He made radical statements every time he opened his mouth… In a culture where greed and domination are worshipped, talk of the ‘common good’ is suspect, and the media obsesses on the sensationalized exploits of celebrities, the prophetic words of Jesus are countercultural and subversive… It should be no surprise that Jesus saved his harshest words for the comfortable---those who think they belong in the inner circle with God… Jesus earned their wrath because he drew the circle wide.” (Pg. 85-86)
They admit, “There’s a lot of pain and suffering in the world---and the Divine is there. Our call as compassionate people of faith is to work toward overcoming evil and injustice in whatever forms they manifest themselves… As we do all we can to facilitate healing and reconciliation, offering comfort in a hurting world, we become the embodiment of an answer to the question, Where is God when bad things happen?” (Pg. 99)
They argue, “Some believe Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher. Indeed, there are passages in the Gospels that paint such a portrait. But if Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, he was wrong, since the end of the world didn’t come in his lifetime (nor has it since). But the question isn’t whether or not Jesus was wrong. Nor is it whether he preached divine retribution---on occasion the Gospel writers certainly put such words on his lips. The real question is: Was Jesus’s message of ‘the kingdom of God’ an inclusive realm marked by justice and divine love or not?” (Pg. 134)
They note, “it seems that what passes for Christianity today is really two different religions. One encourages people to ask, What can God do for me?... while the other asks, What can I do for God?... When someone asks you, Are you saved? … What he doesn’t ask is, Have you been in relationship with the poor in this world? Have you fed the hungry? Are you seeking justice for the oppressed?” (Pg. 171) Later, they add, “Both being ‘born again’ and being ‘saved’ suggest one-time, static achievements. But the first disciples were called the people on ‘the Way,’ suggesting just the opposite: transformation, transition, and change---a dynamic way of life.” (Pg. 215)
They say, “To transform God’s image from some sort of list-checking, gift-giving Santa Claus for adults is a tall order---and part of the change will come in redefining the purpose and practice of prayer. Prayer is not magic. Praying harder is not going to get you what you want or even what you think would be good for the world. Much of prayer’s power is in changing us.” (Pg. 198)
They conclude, “Awe at the beauty and complexity of creation gives us pause to consider---and perhaps compels a response: gratitude, a heightened consciousness, and constructive action. An awareness of our place in the universe and our responsibility toward creation is not only deeply biblical and practical, but increasingly critical---for both our present spiritual life and for our collective future… When mystery is embraced, freedom is embraced. Openness is embraced. The journey is embraced. Far from being cast adrift, those who embrace mystery are set on lifelong path of discovery, growth, and gratitude for the wonder of it all.” (Pg. 227-228)
This book is definitely one of the “classics” of contemporary Progressive Christianity, and will be “must reading” for anyone pursuing (or just interested in learning about) such a path.