The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity #6: Is Christianity Just about Being on a Spiritual “Journey”?

The sixth progressive commandment is “Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.”

In his sixth chapter, Gulley laments the fact that Christians are so concerned about protecting the church from aberrant views that they stifle free thinking and are even kicking people out who don’t conform. To make his point, he proceeds to tell stories about people he knows who were “disfellowshipped” or “shunned” by their churches for certain behaviors or beliefs. They were just trying to think for themselves, but the church was more interested in “group uniformity.”

 

Over the last few months I have slowly worked my way through a series entitled “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity.”  It’s an examination of 10 core tenets of progressive (or liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, but really based on the book by Philip Gulley.

We come now to the sixth progressive commandment: “Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.”

In his sixth chapter, Gulley laments the fact that Christians are so concerned about protecting the church from aberrant views that they stifle free thinking and are even kicking people out who don’t conform.

To make his point, he proceeds to tell stories about people he knows who were “disfellowshipped” or “shunned” by their churches for certain behaviors or beliefs. They were just trying to think for themselves, but the church was more interested in “group uniformity.”

Jesus would never have wanted the church to do such things, we are told.  Instead, argues Gulley, Jesus was merely for “spiritual exploration” (116) and “quite comfortable with independent thought and action” (118).

To be sure, Gulley’s chapter does make some good points about the way some churches practice church discipline. He’s right to be wary of the “shunning” approach of some groups, and is certainly correct that some churches are unwilling to engage graciously with people who ask hard questions.

But, the overall message of this chapter is far too simplistic. Churches which hold firmly to certain truths are portrayed as mean-spirited and vindictive, and those who question those truths are portrayed as heroically fighting the system for the sake of free thinking.

And, of course, Jesus would be on the side of the latter group.

While this entire narrative will play well with the progressive wing of Christianity, I think it has significant problems.

Christianity is Not Just about Being on a Journey

Progressives love to portray the Christian religion (and all  religion for that matter) as being on a spiritual “journey.”  It is just about “exploring” for ourselves what we think about spiritual matters.

The problem is that hidden within this approach is an enormous (and unspoken) assumption, namely that God has not clearly revealed himself.  Nor has he clearly revealed a message about salvation.

In other words, the liberal assumption underlying this entire narrative is that religion is about humans finding God, rather than about a God who has revealed himself to humans.

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