So if I wasn't supposed to be nice, ecumenical, and pastoral, I'd be really angry right now. I flipped to the back page of the New York Times Book Review, and encountered an advertisement for a video series bible study, Living the Questions, that a quasi-progressive group of Christian intellectuals has been touting for some time.
Here's why I'm angry, or sad, or frustrated, or confused, or whatever it is that got my hackles raised when I read the advertisement. So, they give it the title, "Not Playing in your local pulpit," with a a sub-head, "If you've ever walked out of church thinking this can't be the whole story, now you can hear the leading voices of progressive Christianity tell it like you've never heard it before."
The leading voices recorded on this DVD are: Marcus Borg, Diana Butler Bass, John Dominic Crossan, Matthew Fox, Amy-Jill Levine, Brian McLaren, Robin Meyers, Helen Prejean, John Shelby Spong, and Mel White, among others.
The problem I have with this advertisement: it sets up an opposition between most churches and progressive Christianity that is neither true nor helpful. It's actually almost libel, and if not that, at least a violation of the 8th commandment to not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Here's why it bothers me. It seems that progressive Christians (at least the ones funding this advertisement) have decided to use the kind of rhetoric to publicize their form of Christianity, emphasize divisions in the church, and play the kind of partisan politics the rest of us are so tired of.
Additionally, I happen to know a lot of progressive Christians who regularly read everyone listed above and incorporate their insights (or at least some of them) into their preaching and teaching. So my guess is that in basically any place you find yourself, you can find a faithful pastor "living the questions" and playing progressive Christianity from the pulpit.
If the advertisers of "Living the Questions" really believe in social justice engagement and concrete spiritual practices, I can recommend two.
Spiritual practice: reconciliation. Instead of setting up false oppositions between progressive, academic Christianity and the rest of the pulpits around the country, be reconciled, admit common ground, and advertise that what you're putting on this DVD can supplement rather than replace what is preached from so many pulpits.
Social justice engagement: Support the ministries of local congregations. Instead of offering a DVD as a replacement for preaching in local congregations, provide links to, or even advertise, congregations engaged in such practices, teaching, preaching, and ministry together with your DVD.
And then a challenge: come visit my church, and hear what is preached from this pulpit, and see if your advertisement is true. I dare you. :)
And a second challenge: perhaps the theologians and preachers who are in this series didn't know about or approve this advertisement. Given some of their forms of ministry and preaching, I'm guessing that may be the case. If that's so, then take the time to make sure this kind of advertising stops, and disavow it. Thank you.