Today’s comment comes from Fabio. The comment was actually submitted Wednesday – so my apologies for the delay in posting.
Fabio wrote: “More than a question I would like to share a thought I had. Yesterday I went to the men’s group at my church and I was amazed by how many of us were struggling with some kind of trouble, disappointment, or regret. The common thread was how all of them stated, in different fashion, that despite their current struggles they were saved, that they had hope because they had eternal life. What I thought was that it sounded like someone saying: ‘Despite I’m starving right now, I have a nice saving account for when I retire’. It does not make any sense! They are missing out on the blessing of the here and now! And yes, sometimes the ‘here and now’ sucks, but there’s a blessing also in overcoming difficulties, fight when it’s time to fight and let go when it’s time to let go, always knowing that God, however you interpret God, is on your side. That’s faith, isn’t it?”
Fabio, your comments touched on two important differences between Evangelical theology and Progressive theology. Let me touch on those differences briefly – and then talk about recent developments among these camps. (Please note that in the next two paragraphs I will speak in BROAD generalizations. I will then follow the two paragraphs up with a few words about an emerging trend.)
The first difference between the two camps has to do with the scope of their theological approach. Evangelicals tend to emphasize personal salvation. Progressives, on the other hand, tend to emphasize a concept of salvation (or wholeness) that transforms not just the individual – but the world in which the individual currently lives.
The second difference between the two groups has to do with their primary focus. Many Evangelicals have their attention focused primarily on heaven and the afterlife. Their time on earth is often viewed as something that stands between them and everlasting peace and joy. For Progressives, their primary focus is on the life which they are living. Picking up on the familiar words from the Lord’s Prayer – “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven” – they want to be active participants in helping facilitate the inbreaking of God’s Kindom/Kingdom/Realm. That’s why Progressives put so much emphasis on social justice.
So are these theological differences insurmountable?
I don’t believe so. The emerging trend these days is that each camp is trying to achieve a greater degree of balance in their spiritual lives by paying a bit more attention to areas they have historically minimized.
Many younger Evangelicals, for instance, are moving away from a primary focus on personal salvation and the afterlife and beginning to pay more attention to earthly matters (other than homosexuality and abortion, of course, which some Evangelicals had been obsessed with for the past 40 years). They have begun to play an important role in conversations having to do with global issues such as hunger, poverty, environmental concerns, and the death penalty. Some have even begun to get more vocal on matters of human rights: including rights for those of other faiths! You can a sense of this from the website www.redletterchristians.org.
There is a similar shift occurring in Progressive quarters as well. Many Progressives are beginning to balance their concern about earthly matters (i.e. systemic change and social justice) with an increased emphasis on personal spiritual disciplines and cultivating contemplative/mystical experiences. This has added new layers to their spiritual lives.
The challenge then these days is for those in each camp not to argue about who’s right/whose faith is the best. The challenge is to be in dialogue with each other and learn from each other.
While you might be frustrated when you hear some Evangelical friends talk in language that seems dismissive of their earthly experience (and they might be frustrated with hearing you talk about this world in ways that – at least in their minds – seem dismissive of the Bigger Picture), you can each learn a bit from each other about what gets you through the hard times and incorporate those things that seem helpful – and leave behind those things that aren’t.
So what about you? What do Fabio’s comments raise for you?