Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
August 2018
Fred's Rating: 
Total Pages: 

Pastors David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy present a lively and stimulating tour of what it means to be a "progressive" Christian. Based on the bestselling DVD course of the same name, Living the Questions explores matters many churches are afraid to address. This was a gift book.

I have the paperback edition but I give here Amazon’s website for the Kindle edition:

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this book's covers at the website above.]

The home page has a brief summary that names five bestselling authors of progressive Christianity – five authors whose works I have enjoyed and learned much from; with the number of books given in parentheses, these five are Marcus J. Borg (18), John Shelby Spong (13), John Dominic Crossan (5), Brian McLaren (5), and Diana Butler Bass (4).

The statement “… Living the Questions is the most comprehensive, indeed the only survey of progressive Christianity in existence today,” was made in 2012, so it may no longer be true today in 2018. I recommend two of the home page's ‘Top customer reviews.' First is the brief review by ‘Ken.’ Second is the very detailed review by ‘Steven H. Proop’ – a ‘Top 100 reviewer.” Be sure to click on ‘Read more’ to get all of it.

Use Amazon’s option to ‘Look inside’ and scroll down to the 2-pp Contents. Be sure to read the 5-pp Preface. To give you something not available online, I select the 11-pp Reader’s Guide and give below the Focus for each of 21 chapters of this book, but I do not give the 6 to 9 statements or questions for each chapter. (The Kindle edition ends at the end of Chapter 1.)

CHAPTER 1 – An Invitation to Journey – Focus: Faith is not a destination, but a journey.

CHAPTER 2 – Taking the Bible Seriously – Focus: The authority one places in the Bible plays a critical role in one’s worldview and understanding of the Christian life.

CHAPTER 3 – Thinking Theologically – Focus: While family, education, social class, and geography all contribute to how we think about God, our experiences and perceptions along life’s journey also shape our thinking. Being comfortable with ambiguity, metaphor, and uncertainty help us get the Divine ‘out of the box’ and rethink theological ideas that have become barriers to our further spiritual growth.

CHAPTER 4 – Stories of Creation – Focus: How one perceives the creation stories is not only critical to the way one looks at the Bible, but how one understands the purpose of creation, the essence of human nature, and the attitude one takes toward the environment in which we live.

CHAPTER 5 – Lives of Jesus – Focus: From divergent opinions on Jesus’s ‘program’ to the reasons for his having been killed, the many portrayals of Jesus in the gospels, various other traditions, theologies, and the arts, amount to a Jesus who lived many different lives – each of which helps us in teasing out what it means to be a disciple of this mysterious and profoundly significant phenomenon called Jesus of Nazareth.

CHAPTER 6 – A Passion for Christ – Focus: Little of what most people think of as Christianity has been untouched by the legacy of Paul’s writing and influence. The many understandings of his interpretation of Christianity continue to be re-examined in the twenty-first century.

CHAPTER 7 – Out into the World – Focus: There is a reformation afoot in Christianity – re-visioning of the traditional understanding of Jesus, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, and the Christian life as a whole. Long-held ideas of divinity and of faith are changing and evolving to reflect twenty-first century thought and spirituality. Inspired by these fresh insights, progressive Christians can claim a distinctive voice in solidarity with the poor, countering the idolatry of wealth, practicing nonviolence, and by seeking justice and inclusivity in a culture dominated by fear.

CHAPTER 8 – Restoring Relationships – Focus: There are three biblical ‘macro-stories’ that shape the whole of the biblical narrative: Bondage and Liberation, Exile and Return, and Sin and Forgiveness. Each representing a different facet of the human condition, they demonstrate what is necessary for the restoration of relationships on a variety of levels.

CHAPTER 9 – The Prophetic Jesus – Focus: Jesus was a troublemaker. He said and did things that were upsetting to agents of the political and religious domination systems that oppressed the weak and downtrodden. In this way, Jesus stood firmly in the tradition of the prophets of Hebrew Scripture – those who offered a clear and challenging ‘alternative script’ in the status quo.

CHAPTER 10 – Evil, Suffering, and a God of Love – Focus: If God is all-powerful, all loving, and all-good, how do you explain and respond to the existence of so much suffering and evil in the world?

CHAPTER 11 – The Myth of Redemptive Violence – Focus: The most potent religion in Western culture is not Christianity, but a belief in the redemptive power of violence. Although Jesus inaugurated a new order based on partnership, equality, compassion, and non-violence, his example and teachings have been eclipsed by an emphasis on a human unworthiness that demands and defends the need for Jesus’s violent, suffering, atoning death.

CHAPTER 12 – Practicing Resurrection – Focus: While much has been made of Jesus’s literal and physical resurrection being the core historical event of Christianity, the biblical texts themselves present conflicting evidence. For many today, the resuscitation of Jesus’s body is less important than the idea of resurrection as a credible and meaningful principle for living.

CHAPTER 13 – Debunking the Rapture – Focus: Failing to understand the message of hope offered in the Book of Revelation, many Christians have been misled by nineteenth-century doomsayers and modern-day apocalyptic preachers who proclaim that their vengeful god’s impending extermination of the apostate masses. Just what a part of ‘love your enemies’ doesn’t their god understand?

CHAPTER 14 – Honoring Creation – Focus: While human beings have been gifted with a beautiful and complex world in which to live, its systems and resources are being stressed by our behaviors, lifestyles, and arrogance. Care for the environment is not only deeply biblical and practical, but increasingly critical – for both the present spiritual life and for our collective future.

CHAPTER 15 – A Kingdom without Walls – Focus: The good news of the gospel tells of a radical hospitality where boundaries, barriers, and walls are overcome by a grace that knows no bounds.

CHAPTER 16 – Social Justice – Focus: Being a person of faith demands balancing spiritual pursuits with action. In a society which is often unjust, inequitable, and whose very structures are responsible for generating untold suffering and poverty, we are compelled to pursue social justice as an expression of hope in realizing a better world.

CHAPTER 17 – Incarnation – Focus: The meaning of incarnation has been debated since the beginning of Christianity. Although often associated with Jesus alone, the notion of incarnation can be understood most fully when it also includes Jesus’s followers, called, like Jesus, to enflesh the Spirit in divinely human ways.

CHAPTER 18 – Prayer – Focus: The idea of prayer as the primary method of interaction with God is best thought of as a way of life rather than an activity reserved for specific times, places, and formulas.

CHAPTER 19 – Compassion – Focus: Jesus was not primarily a teacher of correct beliefs or right morals. He was a teacher of a way that transforms people from legalistic rule-followers into compassionate disciples who put people first.

CHAPTER 20 – Creative Transformation – Focus: The essence of human nature is to take part in the dynamic and imaginative process of creation; transforming us, our relationships, our institutions, and our world.

CHAPTER 21 – Embracing Mystery – Focus: Christian practice is being re-visioned, re-tooled, and re-claimed by those who are living the questions of their faith. They’re attentive to ancient ways, comfortable with ambiguity, and open to the unknowable and indescribable mystery of the Divine.

After reading Ch. 21, I closed the book and was soon contemplating the ‘indescribable mystery’ of God. As human beings, nearly all people of the three Abrahamic monotheisms have no choice but to envision God as 'in the image and likeness' of a human being. Few people have realized that the human mind is so limited compared to the Divinity that this ‘indescribable mystery’ has been described as the ‘ineffable Godhead’ – the Divine Being (or the Ground of Being, as Paul Tillich preferred to call it) lay above the so-called ‘Cloud of Unknowing’, an idea from about the fourteenth century (perhaps earlier), by an unknown author, presumed to be living in Europe.

There is a figure in my website that illustrates the ‘ineffable Godhead’ and the ‘cloud of unknowing’ that can be reached from the first book I reviewed – Why Religion Matters by Huston Smith. On my website go first to Book 1, then read my review near the top, where I’ve included some simple instructions for viewing the Figure 3 on Amazon’s website for Why Religion Matters. If you do this you’ll see a simple two-dimensional figure the shows a convergence that the unknown author of the figure assumed was a feature of the ineffable Godhead. Figure 3 has some virtues at the human level of Earth converge into a point at the Godhead above the Cloud of Unknowing. Understanding why the several virtues focus to a single one at the level of the Godhead is very difficult for the human mind to understand. But this is just a single mystery revealed in this simple figure. The universal Unity of the ineffable Godhead must contain very many other things besides human virtues that humans are unable to comprehend while still human beings. The Mysteries of the ineffable Godhead cannot be numbered by human beings.

But the 20 Focuses of Chapters 1 – 20 are important topics for humans to focus on and discuss. This book often refers to and contains well-selected paragraphs from the five progressive Christians that I’ve named above, as well as from several others.

I think the two pastors have done a very good job in providing us with the ‘Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.’ I thus rate this book at five stars.