Yesterday it came out that the definition of ‘literally’ was literally being changed in the dictionary. A CNN report said in places as informal as Google and as official as Mariam-Webster and Cambridge dictionaries it is now “”Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.”
The writer of the article was snarky:
Next thing they’ll be telling us that there’s no ham in hamburger, no egg in eggplant, a boxing ring isn’t round and tennis shoes aren’t just for tennis.
We’re literally over it.
The meaning of words drift, adapt and change over time. There is the famous example of “Thou” that Martin Buber brought so much attention to. The dictionary does not determine their meaning as much as it reflects their use.
Today an article appeared over at the Sojo blog by our beloved friend (and co-host of the Culture Cast) Christian Piatt who had a chance to interview Eric Elnes, author of Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of the Christian Faith and Asphalt Jesus, about the changing face Christianity in 21st America.
Elnes walked across the country:
in 2006 with a group called CrossWalk America, which included a network of 150 churches from a dozen or so denominations and over 11,000 individuals. We walked to raise awareness that not all Christians are alike, and that large — and growing — numbers of Christians embrace a more “progressive” vision of Christianity than what one finds portrayed in the media.
Part of what came out of that experience was an awareness of the need for some new labels and to modify the meaning of some old ones. In both classically liberal/mainline circles and, interestingly, in conservative camps as well.
I will let you read the article for the whole conversation. They part that stood out to me (and to Geoff Holsclaw who pointed me to it) was the section related to the label ‘progressive’. For the past couple of weeks I have enjoyed a lively set of conversation here about the Liberal Label and ‘progressive’ among others. Elnes explains why he has moved on from simple ‘progressive’:
Don’t get me wrong when I back off of the word “progressive.” This has been my adopted label for years, and the walk was made in the name of Progressive Christianity. But I’ve had to come to terms with its weaknesses. For many Christians, “progressive” is just another term for classic Christian liberalism. They have adopted the label because it’s more publically acceptable than “liberal.” Christian liberalism was an important movement in America in the 19th and 20th centuries, and without it, Christianity would be struggling even more than it already does to embrace science and issues of social justice. But like any movement, liberalism has had a certain lifespan. We gleaned the best insights of liberalism and moved on long ago.
My favorite line is “ We also appreciate many of the fruits of liberalism, like social justice, inclusivity, and openness to other faiths. We affirm the positive role that doubt and uncertainty play in a healthy faith, recognizing that faith and science can be allies in the pursuit of truth.”
The reason I enjoyed the article so much was that it reflected some classic journeys about how people came to envision themselves as liberal, conservative, and progressive. I hear these stories all the time. I love these stories. Listening to people’s faith journey is one of my favorite things about what I do. The problem is that I do not find myself in those stories – not exactly.
I grew up Evangelical with a hint of the charismatic. In my 20′s I went to Bible college was both emboldened in my charismatic leanings and horrified at the conservative nastiness I often encountered by those I shared the classroom with. People who grew up a little more fundamentalist or reformed than me had a very different experience of being Evangelical. They were some type of culture war … we were wrapped up in evangelism, missions, and issues of holiness – but without that culture clash. (in hind site, it was probably because we were allergic to politics).
After college I had a decade-long pastorate in an evangelical/charismatic church plant. I loved it. In the final years of that time I started reading N.T. Wright and then Brian McLaren – instead of Josh McDowell and Ravi Zacharias. I was warned by denominational leadership to be careful with that McLaren guy but by then I was on my way to George Fox Evangelical Seminary. I assumed I would study with Len Sweet until I met Randy Woodley.
Fast-forward 6 years and I am presently prepping for qualifying exams as a classically mainline grad school and ministering at a mainline church (albs & stoles – stained glass and lectionary). I never stopped praying however. I never went through that predictable thing that Elnes describes. Yes, I moved on from the superstitious elements of the tradition. Sure, I reformatted my cosmology and even adapted my metaphysics. I engaged Biblical scholarship which radically altered my view of scripture. I realized that politics wasn’t just permissible but , as Jesus modeled, was necessary.
All of that is to say that I stand by my posts of the past 3 weeks that we need to move on from the Liberal label and with Elnes we need to nuance ‘progressive’ in ways that are more clear. I like his distinctions within progressive christianity. I know people in all of those camps.
I , however, am going to stick with “spirit-filled processy christo-centric hyperTheist” for myself.