Book review: Living The Questions, the Wisdom of Progressive Christianity

by David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy

★★★★★

Latin re-ligio: To relink, to reconnect.

Buy this book! If I do a “best of 2012” summary this January, I guarantee this one will be near the top. Heart and head both feel satisfied as I turn the last page.

This is what progressive Christianity is all about. It will toy with your emotions, lift you to the heights of compassion, and fill your soul with awe for the beauty and mystery of life we share. God is in this book, until you set the book down and discover He has wiggled out of its pages and into your soul. Perhaps God was inside you all along, waiting to be reawakened?

Many of us do need reawakening; religion has become a turn-off for many. In no other area of life is the denial of progress held up as a virtue. But according to Felten and Procter-Murphy, stagnation, not change, is Christianity’s deadliest enemy. Vital faith is dynamic, flowing, and moving. Progressive Christianity, by its very name, is about progress. Rethinking the meaning of Christology, atonement, and the Incarnation is part of the journey. Losing interest in the Rapture is a necessary side effect.

“Living the Questions” is an enigmatic title, and the book begins with this insight: “To not ask questions is tantamount to forfeiting one’s own spiritual birthright and allowing other people’s experience of the Divine to define your experience.” It ends with the reminder that “those who embrace mystery are free to interpret the Divine in new and fresh ways.” In the pages between, however, we travel back in time to the Jesus of history, a man of vision and compassion, and a this-worldly concern largely ignored by the creeds of the religion that sprouted in his name. The essence of Jesus’ ministry might be distilled down into one word: compassion.

Then we’re reintroduced to God who, through the scriptures, is Mother, Father, the Wind, a Rock, and finally just Love. God, says John Shelby Spong (who along with Fox and Crossan is quoted liberally in these pages) is the life power itself, the power of love itself, the “Ground of Being.”

One final note: I’m not a poetry reader, but the occasional sprinkling of poetry by Cynthia Langston Kirk was mesmerizing … I suspect in part because the atmosphere of the book primed me to appreciate the poetic. 

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5 Comments

  1. Sandra Currie

    Great review, Lee. I’ll be passing it along to my progressive Christian friends.

  2. Thanks, Sandra!

  3. What a shame then that Christianity’s sphere of compassion is so diminutive and under-developed compared to that of most other religions.

    If there’s one thing Christians excel at, it’s writing uplifing and inspirational books. Making Christians feel good about themselves and their religion is a multi-million dollar industry.

    And yet the world continues to become a less and less compassionate place, spearheaded largely by ‘Christians’…more and more of a hell for hundreds of billions of its inhabitants: crammed into ever-tighter concentration camps or cages, mutilated, orphaned, bred to have painfully fast-growing and massive bodies, and finally butchered. Tens of billions of God’s creatures living in far worse slavery than the Africans ever did, in significantly worse conditions than Auschwitz victims endured, and in astronomically higher numbers. Living in a hell constructed by their two-legged demons, who will give thanks to their two-legged God before feasting on the corpses, after which they may sit down to read a book about how lovely their religion is.

    This book will go on my list, because it sounds good. Though I’m more and more starting to suspect that books like this aren’t part of the solution, but may be part of the problem: simply reinforcing the same old pattern of ‘talk the talk, don’t walk the walk’.

    We don’t need yet another book to point out that Jesus was about compassion. Anyone who didn’t already know that is a fool. What we need is for people to stop talking about compassion, and start living it.

    Excuse my especial cynicism today, but hearing Christians talk about compassion can be frustrating. I almost have more stomach for the fundamentalist ‘God hates everyone who is different to us and will inflict severe punishment on them; bow in terror to our God and watch him bestow riches on us and only us’ type of books, because they’re at least more honest about the God that most Christians worship, progressive, fundamentalist or otherwise.

  4. :) We need more people in the world like you, Dave. Yes, Christianity quickly moved from a religion about ‘doing’ into one about ‘believing.’ Definitely time to reverse course.

  5. Wonderful review. Sounds like a wonderful book.

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