Pete Enns had a recent post about the Evolving Faith Conference that he recently attended and spoke at. The Evolving Faith Conference looks to me like a gathering of Progressive Christians. See their website here and their speaker biographies here . Now lately some of the more conservative Imonk commentators have tried to label Chaplain Mike and myself as progressives or even liberals. It is simply not true, both CM and I have deep streaks of conservatism running through us. We are creedal Christians who affirm the orthodox creeds and both of us have a deep and abiding respect and affection for the Scriptures. Up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have paid the slightest attention to an Evolving Faith conference.
But thanks in large part to the writings of Michael Spencer, we have come to see the deep flaws in conservative evangelicalism as well as conservative politics. We have realized that the “other side” has some valid points to make and some valid criticisms to level. Does acknowledging the good points the other side makes now make you one of the others? I don’t think so and I kind of resent the implication, or the outright accusation, that it does.
What resonated with me in Pete’s post was this:
I spoke at last year’s conference as well, and what has once again left a great impression on me is the raw pain that many, if not most, of the attendees live with. That pain, to get right to the heart of it, was generated by their experiences in Evangelical and Fundamentalist spaces. I am not suggesting that Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians do little else but make the lives of others a living nightmare—it’s not so much individuals as it is the ecclesiastical systems within which Evangelicals and Fundamentalists live out their faith. These systems in particular offer the seductive promise of doctrinal certainty, impervious to critique from outside and within. Questions that threaten these systems must remain unasked, or the repercussions are swift. Anyone who has experienced the wrath of these systems doesn’t need me to elaborate.
Now I write at the intersection of faith and science, issues that are very important to me, as both a scientist and a Christian. I have a strong interest in helping Christians accept and appreciate science without feeling they have to give up their faith. But for that to happen, as the Evolving Faith blurb says, one must be willing to accept some changes in their thought process. There has to be a willingness to re-examine previous belief structures. In other words, by default, accept some Progressive Christian ideas. Pete Enns notes:
As one speaker mentioned (I forgot who, I should have taken notes), Evolving Faith exposes the lie that so-called progressive Christians (I really don’t like the term but that’s another blog post) are only too eager to leave Scripture and theology behind so they can run naked through the streets. That simply is not true. They are calling out the failings of systems that have too long simply equated themselves with Christianity undefiled and used Scripture as a weapon to make their case.
Now I don’t want to undertake a full defense of Pete Enns in this post. He is certainly capable of defending himself. Just see this critique of How the Bible Actually Works with Pete’s response to that critique. But my point is that just as Enns is often accused of not respecting Scripture, so am I. Because I try to give bible-believing Christians a way forward to remain bible-believing without rejecting the tenets and provisional conclusions of modern science, I’m accused of being a progressive while I am only in agreement with; “calling out the failings of systems that have too long simply equated themselves with Christianity undefiled and used Scripture as a weapon to make their case.” In regards to modern science and literal interpretations of the bible, I’m in agreement with this particular progressive view. Other aspects of the progressive view… not so much. On those aspects I’m more in line with Richard Beck’s views as expressed in his series on being a post-progressive.
I know some people take the pathway from fundamentalist to evangelical to post-evangelical to progressive to agnostic to atheist. I’m not on that pathway. From time to time I examine my faith, or some horrifying crisis appears that prompts that re-examination. But after reviewing the reasons and feelings that prompted me to leave atheism, I still find them valid and persuasive, and I remain committed to following Jesus.
I also want to encourage others to follow Jesus. I want them to have a robust faith that accepts the inspiration and authority of the scriptures handed to us by the believing church to reveal Jesus, but not the type of biblio-centrism for which Evangelicalism is rightly criticized. In my opinion, too many Evangelicals tend to walk that thin line between respect for Scripture and idolizing it. I want them to engage their minds and reason to love and embrace science as the “other book” that reveals God’s glory in his creation without having to look to phoney-baloney pseudo-science interpretations of scripture that, in essence, deny reality and saddle the scriptures with a burden the writers never intended for them to bear.
Recent polls show 38% of Americans and 68% of Christians still believe that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago. So if you’ll pardon me… I’ve got work to do.