I accepted Christ at a Billy Graham rally in 1968 at the age of 14. I’d had no experience of belonging to a church, so when my best friend at school invited me to his church I was both relieved and delighted to go.
It was an Open Brethren group, full of lovely, uptight people. And lots of girls (so I could safely hover on the edges of friendships with girls for a long time).
I began to see cracks in the fundamentalism I was being taught, in the ways the scriptures had to be twisted to make them ‘inerrant’ and fit oh-so-neatly together. I began to see that taking the Bible seriously meant allowing its internal debate about things. Many things.
At the same time, I began to feel God was maybe calling me into the ordained ministry. Problem: The Brethren don’t ordain anyone. They argue against ‘one man ministry’ (I still do!).
When I plucked up enough courage to say this is what I wanted, and moreover in the Uniting Church, there was a great deal of resistance from some of my brothers and sisters. These people would accept my going to Sydney (nowhere else!) to be an Anglican minister. But Uniting? The word soon got out that Paul Walton may not be a Christian at all, even that he never really was. For a while, I doubted it myself. Leaving fundamentalism can be a scary journey at first.
That was around 30 years ago. A few years past, I went to a gathering of people from my old church. Enough time had gone by for me to be forgiven, and to forgive. I was keen to see how their views had changed over the decades. I was very disappointed to realise that their understanding of the Faith had stayed static.
Recently I read that
At its core, progressive Christianity maintains that there are no easy answers to the questions of faith simply because our understanding of God and Jesus evolves and changes (i.e., “progresses”) enormously over a lifetime. As we move through life, and as our experiences and knowledge shape and alter our view of faith, we come to see that we only have a piece of the truth and that we must be in conversation with others who themselves possess part of that spiritual truth.
It seems that this is one of a number of views on what ‘progressive Christianity’ is. It may be true, but I can’t accept it as an adequate definition.
Of course our understanding changes through life. Surely, no one has precisely the same belief in God in their adult years as they had as a young child. So if I can sense that changing understanding of God in my life, I must be a ‘progressive’ Christian? There is of course a necessary value judgement in the statement I quoted: a ‘progressive’ belief is one that has “come to see that we only have a piece of the truth and that we must be in conversation with others who themselves possess part of that spiritual truth”. There is a real humility here, but I’m not sure all ‘progressive’ Christians are this humble—a trait so many of us share. I’ll have to think some more. Maybe I’ll share again soon.
(See the articles in the What is Progressive Christianity? Symposium here.)