Anabaptism and Progressive Christianity

(This is a blog I just wrote for my own website, but I felt that it should be shared here too.)

As I am sure many already know, I am training to be a minister of the Progressive Christian Alliance, yet I also identify as an Anabaptist. At first glance, it would appear that I am serving two masters, but I think that this is not the case. Instead of seeing the old Anabaptist spirit of the Radical Reformation and contemporary Progressive Christianity as two independent things, I see them as a single movement.

The idea that the two are related is not uncommon:

If you participate in the “emerging church conversation,” you are probably aware of Brian McLaren’s writings. His book A Generous Orthodoxy includes Anabaptism as one of the traditions he values. Elsewhere he writes, “Anabaptists know things that all of us need as we slide or run or crawl or are dragged into the postmodern world.” He suggested in a recent interview, “Emergent represents a rediscovery of the Anabaptist spirit. It’s very hard in other Protestant denominations to find people who take Jesus as teacher deeply seriously, and take Jesus’ teachings and the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus’ example of nonviolence, seriously.” (Murray, The Naked Anabaptist, pg. 27)

In addition, I find certain core Anabaptist beliefs reflected in the Progressive Christian community, and this is especially true of my spiritual home — the Progressive Christian Alliance (PCA). The second core conviction of the Anabaptist Network reads:

Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.

This is very similar to a teaching that is found within the PCA:

The words of Jesus found in the gospels – specifically, what he states are the greatest commandments: “Love God with all of your essence and love your neighbor as you should love yourself” – are to be the focus for any disciple of him. We submit the rest of Scripture to the position of “sacred commentary.”

Also, the core convictions of the Anabaptist Network reflect that following Jesus is counter-cultural and radical. Well, so does the PCA:

Following Jesus is counter-cultural, radical, and disrupts the status-quo. The good news of the gospel is intentional in its inclusion of those who are traditionally marginalized and refused by Mainline Christianity.

This passage from the PCA website also reflects a movement away from Christendom, which I am sure Anabaptists can completely identify with. Also, both Anabaptism and Progressive Christianity have, in addition to christocentrism, have stressed doing good works in addition to faith. You will find many Progressive Christians who work for peace and social justice, and you will even find the occasional Christian Anarchist within such circles.

For me, Anabaptism and Progressive Christianity (or Emergent Christianity, Emerging church, etc.) are not two unrelated movements. Rather, I think that the emerging church is a reincarnation of the old Anabaptist spirit. Once again we have a radical return to Jesus, peace, and social justice in the face of a collapsing Christendom and economic struggle.

Postscript: There is already a small organization that has developed a similar synthesis of Progressive Christianity and Anabaptism — the Progressive Brethren— that are worth checking out.

– Kevin Daugherty

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3 Responses to “Anabaptism and Progressive Christianity”

  1. John Arthur Says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I very interesting and enlightening post. I think I concur wholeheartedly with these similarities between Anabaptist and Progressive Christianity.

    Thanks for your post.

    John Arthur

  2. Tim B Says:

    I don’t really dig what typically happens when we apply broad terms like “counter-cultural” or “Good works” to Jesus.

    The former can be anything. It extends through our own worldview, as in: “I see the prominent culture as ‘X’, therefore Jesus is opposed to ‘X’.” Is that true? Just because something is accepted by the wider culture Jesus is therefore opposed to it? “Culture likes cookies, therefore Jesus hates cookies.” or “Everyone in our culture places a high value on dental hygiene,. Jesus doesn’t want you to brush your teeth.” The statement “Jesus is counter-cultural” doesn’t stand up to even rudimentary scrutiny.

    “Good works” reminds me of “free thinker.” It’s a term people only apply to the things they, themselves, are doing. The word “Good” here is applied as a matter of opinion. “I think standing up for puppies is good. Therefore, inorganic puppy chow is bad.” “Good works” is the ultimate defense for “I do what I want to do” simply disguised as something else. It is a justification of self.

    And isn’t it self that Jesus asks us to die to?

  3. John Arthur Says:

    Hi Tim B,

    A culture usually comprises the norms (accepted rules of behavior), values, world views and ideologies (reasons to justify the status-quo).

    In any society there is usually a dominant culture and one or more subcultures. Among the minority subcultures there may be some significant norms and values of culture the dominant that are not accepted by this sub-cultural group.

    It appears to me that Jesus opposed some significant parts of the dominant culture of his day while accepting others. Thus he would, in some sense, be considered a counter-cultural model for his new community of disciples.

    Jesus sometimes crossed the dominant Jewish purity boundaries welcomed outcasts and had table fellowship with sinners, touched and healed
    lepers etc.

    I do not think that the Progressive Christian Alliance was using counter-cultural in the sense you are using it.

    If good works are faith based works of compassion, healing-mercy and loving-kindness, given without expectation of being returned and out of appreciation for the free and overflowing generosity and graciousness of God with a servant heart like the heart of Jesus, why would these kind of works be seen as a justification of self. Progressive Christians see Jesus as a MODEL and so do Anabaptists.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

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