Hope is rising. The political tide in the United States has turned, and many are hoping for progress on issues such as global warming, health care, marriage equality, and international conflict. But religious fundamentalists of many varieties continue to promote frameworks of meaning that put earth’s global community, its diverse peoples, and its ecological systems at profound risk. More than political change is called for; America’s liberals and progressives need greater awareness that at the core of social and political issues lie competing responses to the classic questions posed by theology. Effective work for social change requires people of faith who are theologically literate and engaged. To that end, this book provides a primer in progressive theology. It recovers and reconsiders the hope-filled religious frameworks that inspired generations of activists to work for women’s rights, racial equality, economic justice, and peace. These frameworks embody reverence for the sacred, nourish community life, carry forward the aspirations of our forebears, and respond to legacies of violence and injus|tice that harm our bodies and souls. They hold promise for our time. As Sara Robinson, blogging in 2008 for the Campaign for
America’s Future, argued:
"Secular progressives don’t seem to understand that while politics is all about how we’re going to make the world better,
progressive religion tells us why it’s necessary to work for change.... Liberal faith traditions offer the essential metaphors and worldview that everything else derives from—
the frames that give our dreams shape and meaning. It has an invaluable role to play in helping our movement set its values and priorities, understand where we are in the larger scheme, and gauge whether we’re succeeding or not.
The conservative movement knew from the get-go that it would not succeed unless it could offer people this kind of deeper narrative. Providing that was one of the most important things the religious right brought to their party.
Progressivism will not defeat it until we can offer another narrative about what America can and should be—and our liberal churches have longer, harder, better experience than anyone at developing and communicating those stories, and building thriving communities around them."
This book uses the metaphor of a theological house to articulate the “frames that give our dreams shape and meaning.”
Through this metaphor we explore the classic topics of theology from a progressive vantage point—reminding the reader that liberal religion has a long history, and inviting reconsideration and reimagining of its key concepts. We write as coauthors because we recognize that no one authoritative voice can claim to speak to all of liberal and progressive religion.
Dialogue that opens up further conversation is integral to progressive theological method. We have been in dialogue with each other for a number of years about many issues in progressive religion today. We have much in common as a result, but we do not always agree about every issue or formulation.
To invite the reader into dialogue as well, in each section of this book there are two or more chapters: one by
Rebecca introduces the theological theme and identifies distinctive liberal perspectives on the topic; one by John offers further historical perspective, counterpoints, and reflections on the theme.
Each dimension of the house—including its setting within the natural world—corresponds to one of the classic issues of systematic theological reflection. Theology, we suggest, is architectural—it provides a framework for human life. It is also ecological—it creates an interactive system in response to a specific environment. And it is archeological—it unearths artifacts from the past that can inspire our imagination and understanding now. Here are the basic dimensions and coordinates of this theological house for hope, and the questions that each represents.