The New Reformation!

Via Roger Wolsey
on Jul 22, 2011
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I’m a Christian. But I probably shouldn’t be.

And if you’re a young adult in America, you probably shouldn’t be either. The odds are increasingly against it. Few friends who went to high school or college with me, and even fewer of my more recent friends and acquaintances, identify themselves as being Christian. Many of my peers who were raised in the church have shifted away from Christianity toward other religions — or increasingly, to no religion.

A few years ago, the Barna Research Group conducted a study of young people asking them what they think of when they hear the word “Christian.” The top three answers were, “anti-gay,” “exclusive,” and “judgmental.”

If that’s what Christianity were all about, I wouldn’t want any part of it either.

Happily, it isn’t. Over the past 20 years, there has been a growing movement to reclaim Christianity from those who’ve distorted it into something that Jesus and his earliest followers wouldn’t easily recognize — conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism. The movement has emerged on two fronts, roughly simultaneously. One wing comes from the mainline Protestant and Catholic Churches that, due to the shift from modern era mindsets into postmodern ones, have shifted from liberal theology to “progressive” Christianity. The other wing comes from young people within the Evangelical communities who are questioning and redefining their tradition and is known as “emergent” Christianity. Combined, these movements are a new Reformation.

Scholar Dr. Phyllis Tickle asserts that every 500 years, Christianity has experienced such renewal movements. We’re due for another one — and it’s happening now. Emergent Christian pastor and author Doug Pagitt suggests that human society is now entering the “Inventive Age” and this correlates with reformation in the religious realms.

I’m a part of this reformation. As a proponent of progressive Christianity I’ve come to question some of the things that have been written about it. The description of progressive Christianity on the website conveys several misnomers. It begins by stating, “progressive Christianity represents the most liberal wing of Christianity, just as fundamentalist Christianity is the most conservative.” I challenge that statement in two ways. Progressive Christianity is influenced by a postmodern mindset and liberal Christianity is a product of the modern era. Progressive Christianity is a post-liberal phenomenon.

Moreover, people are increasingly not seeking to be convinced by logical or rhetorical evidence in order to come to Christ. They sense that faith isn’t something that one comes to through debate, data, or arguments. Instead, they realize that faith comes by noticing the lives of people who have faith and then living into it themselves. Today’s generation embraces a more nuanced, experiential, paradoxical, mystical, and relational approach to faith and spirituality. We like it relevant, down-to-earth, and real. This is the same approach that the early Christians experienced and understood. What’s referred to as “progressive Christianity” isn’t really new. It’s a reformation of the Church to its earlier, pre-modernist and pre-Constantinian roots. Rather than focusing on exclusion, judging, and damning, progressive Christians reclaim our original values of inclusion, grace, acceptance, justice, and unconditional love. In reality, it is progressive Christianity that is conservative — conserving what made Christianity such a beautiful gift to the world in the first place.

Progressive and emergent Christianities are trees that have been growing parallel to each other — largely without much awareness or inter-action. It may be fair to say that progressive Christians are more unanimously pro-LGBTQI while emergents are of mixed minds on those matters. However, we’re now in a “mash-up” culture where the lines are increasingly being blurred and emergent Christian writer Brian McLaren appears to now be identifying as a progressive Christian. The recent Wild Goose Festival held in North Carolina was a national gathering bringing together leaders and participants from both traditions.

Unlike the dated description from (“they are not particularly vocal about their beliefs”) progressive Christians are increasingly loud and vocal.

We are reforming Christianity for the 21st Century.


Reposted from Roger’s article on the Huffington Post

Roger is the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity


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About Roger Wolsey

Roger Wolsey is a free-spirited GenX-er who thinks and feels a lot about God and Jesus.

He’s a progressive Christian who identifies with people who consider themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” He came of age during the “Minneapolis sound” era and enjoyed seeing The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Husker Du, The Wallets, Trip Shakespeare, Prince, and Soul Asylum in concert—leading to strong musical influences to his theology. He earned his Masters of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. Roger is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and he currently serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at C.U. in Boulder, CO. He was married for ten years, divorced in 2005 and now co-parents a delightful 10-year old son. Roger loves live music, hosting house concerts, rock-climbing, yoga, centering prayer, trail-running with his dog Kingdom, dancing, camping, riding his motorcycle, blogging, and playing his trumpet in ska bands and music projects. He’s recently written a book Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity


10 Responses to “The New Reformation!”

  1. Bigdtootall says:

    I love Christianity, it's Those damned Christians I find to be disagreeable!

  2. Dan says:

    " reclaim our original values of inclusion, grace, acceptance, justice, and unconditional love"

    Says it all.

  3. sordog1 says:

    Very glad to hear these things from you. My father died in May and I wrote a short piece about my memories of him and my experience of feeling close to him from a distance as he was in his last stages. I realized as I read the remarks in the Methodist church that he went to that they contained references to meditation, chakras, and other concepts from my Buddhist and Yoga training. I felt nothing but love and acceptance from the attendees and both ministers. It was a wonderful comfort and perhaps a sign of some of the things you talk about.

  4. yogiclarebear says:

    "Moreover, people are increasingly not seeking to be convinced by logical or rhetorical evidence in order to come to Christ. They sense that faith isn’t something that one comes to through debate, data, or arguments."

    I really appreciate this statement. I might also suggest that faith isn't something to come to or even to change or LABEL according to social/political issues either. It always seems that the "reformed" or progressive or whatever you want to call it movement of Christianity is only in response to anti-gayness. That is getting old and its caused those social/political/media forces to turn it into a "right-left, conservative-liberal, us-them" thing.

    I wish that the ideas of the movement could be more in response to Christians simply seeking more meaning from Christ's life than what comes from a pulpit and following the liturgy on Sunday…and less about "issues."

    Is this kindof what you are getting at Roger, with outlining the "description" from the website you cited?

    • Roger Wolsey says:

      Progressive Christianity doesn't get its name from political "progressivism." It's a term to counter what's become known as conservative Christianity (which is a theological approach and not related to political conservatism). And progressive Christianity didn't originate in response to how conservative Christianity tends to treat and understand homosexuals. That said, it is likely the case that most people who identify as conservative Christians theologically tend to also lean toward political conservatism; and likewise, it's probably the case that most of the people who identify as progressive Christians tend toward liberal political agendas. Our faith (progressive Christians) informs our politics, not the other way around.

      • Roger Wolsey says:

        there are parallels that one can notice however: political conservatives tend toward a "strict interpretation" understanding of the Constitution and they also tend toward reading the Bible literally. The opposite tends to be the case with political liberals and progressive Christians..

  5. […] entangled with political power and social privilege, many Christians (including myself and the good Rev. Roger Woolsey) have been turning to Yoga, Buddhism and even Paganism as a way of broadening the horizons of our […]

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