I had the honor of guest blogging for Scot McKnight yesterday. It was a good opportunity to try something out with a different crowd. It was  instigated by last weeks post in response to Roger Olsen and Scot McKnight.Facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

It was a fantastic conversation and I learned several things that I will take with me into future engagements. Here are some observations:

  • I learned to clarify the difference between people in the pew and theologians.

I go to a mainline school and work at a mainline church. I have an amalgamation in my mind of the ‘average liberal’.  But if you are in the conservative camp, your main engagement and concern is with Liberal theologians who have a high profile.

If was starting the post over, I would address this up front and make an early distinction. I think that would have helped.

  • I learned not to use the word ‘versus’ if you don’t mean adversarial.

Neither Scot nor I think liberal is necessarily  a bad thing. Roger Olsen does. But some of the readers at JesusCreed think in adversarial binaries. I was not trying to say that progressives are good and liberals are bad. I was simply trying to distinguish the two – not pit them against each other. The argument culture is so strong – especially in conservative circles – that I should have preempted that.

  •  I learned that those in systematic approaches struggle to recognize non-systematic approaches.

This is an obvious and inherent problem. If you value systematic approaches, of corse you will criticize something as ‘not systematic’ and think that stands alone are a critique. I was trying to point out that conservative, liberal, evangelical, emergent, and progressive are not 5 categories of the same thing. Some are positions. Some are loyalties. Some are approaches.


Here is what I ended up with: 

Since my Cobb quick-definition was not working for folks I thought I would ‘shift’ the emphasis and see if this language worked better:

Liberal – a constellation of loyalties inherited from the Enlightenment that is settled/assumed.

Progressive – an approach that integrates such influences as Feminist, Liberation and Post-Colonial critiques explicitly.

I’m open to help refining this if you are a self-procliamed  liberal or progressive


My favorite response came from TJJ and it has me smiling ear to ear.

Qualities of a progressive ………as viewed by an evangelical……….

A. See more “grey” in their approach to scripture issues: inspiration, inerrancy, revelation.
B. Allow for more of a continuum on doctrinal/theological issues: hell, salvation, sin, depravity, exclusiveness of Gospel, etc.
C. More open ended on social issues : gay marriage, illegal immigration.
D. Trends more democratic/progressive politically
E. White, college degree and often more, affluent, alcohol, NPR, Toyota/Honda, MSNBC/CNN

Oh my. That is good.

At first read you may say “yeah – of course”.

But look at it again. It’s actually pretty helpful to see it all in one place.


I would love to hear your thoughts on any part of this whole episode.