Old Religious Walls Are Coming Down

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Old Religious Walls Are Coming Down

Today one is finding a greater openness to a “big tent Christianity” than Americans have seen for some decades now. Some mainline church congregations are closing as memberships shrink below the sustainable level. But others are growing and vibrant; they are finding ways that Christianity can speak to contemporary needs and concerns.

A similar spirit of “pragmatic idealism,” as USA Today recently described it, is growing in many wings of the evangelical church. People are willing to form broader coalitions and partnerships not controlled by theological agendas.

Of course, theology is by no means irrelevant in recent evangelical activism in areas such as global warming, biodiversity, and peace initiatives. These evangelical leaders can give powerful theological reasons for their activism — indeed, in ways that I think are models for the mainline. What is exciting, though, is that the mission statements and rationales are not narrowly focused. No “us vs. them” mentality motivates the calls to action. Rather, the appeals are to core features of Jesus’ life and teaching, and to passages such as Matthew 25, which resonate powerfully across the entire spectrum from evangelical to the more liberal reaches of the mainline.

Could it be that we are seeing the rebirth of powerful theological justifications for progressive Christian involvement in the world?

I explore some of these ideas in a short video at: http://www.cgu.edu/pages/4546.asp?item=2807


Eric H

April 26, 2009at 6:52 pm

I guess my question has to do with the term “progressive.” What does that term mean to the writer here? In my experience, those who describe themselves as progressives are actually liberals who are trying to re-brand themselves into something utterly not “liberal.” Am I wrong here? Thanks.

Lawrence, KS

Philip Clayton

April 27, 2009at 10:07 am


Some people who use this word hold liberal theologies. But the reason I think there’s something more going on here — something exciting — is that many people are now calling themselves “progressives” who advocate very different positions. I think of Glen Stassen, an evangelical professor at Fuller Seminary, who is actively involved in peacemaking issues; see his books “Just Peacemaking” and “Kingdom Ethics.” I think of Jim Wallis at Sojourners, and many of his followers. I think of the group “Progressive Evangelicals.”

Even progressive just meant liberal, “progressive evangelical” would be a contradiction in terms. Something new is going on here. And I believe that it’s really significant for the church … and for society. (Lots more on this topic at TransformingTheology.org and the blogs there.)

— Philip

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