Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What is "Progressive"?

When we speak of being (or others being) progressive, what do we mean?

Historically, at least in the US, progressivism was associated with social reform that addressed working conditions, child labor, fair housing, and so on. Presently, however, the terms “progressive” and “liberal” appear to have become conflated.

Progressivism today seems to have more to do with the demand for individual rights than it does with social reform (although some might point out that the various legislations that emerge from those demands create reform). As new interest groups rise up to demand rights, their causes are typically championed by those who identify themselves as progressive.

There are also followers of Jesus who consider themselves to be progressive. From my experience, they seem to line up with those who live in the progressive political world.

As I consider this, I have to ask a question: What is the force that causes the progression in the first place? In other words, from what, to what, and by what do we progress? Is it some sort of evolutionary power that pushes us along? Is it popular consensus? Is it the mounting demands of various interest groups? What is it that moves us along?

There’s a great story in the New Testament (Acts 10-11) about something progressive taking place. The emerging followers of Jesus were seeing their experience as a uniquely Jewish story (can’t blame them, really). When Peter ended up meeting with a group on non-Jewish, God-fearing gentiles, the Spirit of God fell upon them. Peter realized that something he never anticipated was happening, and he reported it to his co-leaders in the Jerusalem church. They agreed (at least initially) that the Jesus experience was a much bigger story than they had ever imagined.

I think those folks would have claimed a progressivism that was caused by the movement of the Holy Spirit. But it wasn’t simply grounded in cultural or social preference. They (Paul, actually) would go back to their own Scriptures and discover that the grand preferences of God for the world were there all the time, but they had missed them. In that sense, they were actually becoming conservative, as they sought to conserve what they now believed was God’s true desires for all people.

We need to think about this whole idea of being progressive. I think we ought to pause for moment and think about the power that pushes us to progress through history.

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