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A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-First Century

A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-First Century

by John A. Buehrens, Rebecca Ann Parker

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Hope is rising. The political tide in the United States has turned, and people across the country who have been working for years for social change and justice finally feel as though they aren't struggling alone. Yet for those who ground their social activism in progressive religious belief, it is all too easy to feel spiritually divided and isolated, daunted by


Hope is rising. The political tide in the United States has turned, and people across the country who have been working for years for social change and justice finally feel as though they aren't struggling alone. Yet for those who ground their social activism in progressive religious belief, it is all too easy to feel spiritually divided and isolated, daunted by the apparent dominance of religious fundamentalists in the media and politics. The impact of liberal religion is richer and more far—reaching than many know—a force for good that has inspired and supported two centuries of American social progress, from the abolition of slavery and the securing of women's rights to the present-day struggles for marriage equality, ecological responsibility, and global peace. In order to sustain our spirits and advance positive social change, progressive people need to claim the transforming power of our theological heritage.

Authored by two leading progressive theologians, A House for Hope affirms that the shared hopes of religious progressives from many traditions can create a movement far stronger than fundamentalism: a liberal religious renaissance. Yet for it to flourish, progressive people must rediscover the spiritual sustenance available in the theological house our liberal forebears built, and embrace what our tradition truly holds sacred, as well as understanding what it rejects.

In lively and engaging language, A House for Hope suggests that liberal religious commitment is based on expansive love for life rather than adherence to narrow dogma. With chapters that reveal the political and personal relevance of the enduring questions at the heart of this theology, A House for Hope shows how religious liberals have countered fundamentalists for generations, and provides progressives with not only a theological but also a spiritual foundation for the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Progressive Protestants are committed primarily to the healing and creative transformation of themselves, their neighbors, and their world. They often experience 'theology' primarily as ideas and teachings that are authoritatively presented and hamper more than they help the work of the followers of Jesus. Their lack of a positive theology is one reason for their marginalization in today's religious scene. Buehrens and Parker begin with the life of service and work for justice and deepen it to show the implicit beliefs that it assumes and that are implicit in it. They show that progressive Protestants can be proud and articulate about their beliefs.—John B. Cobb, Jr., coauthor of For the Common Good

"To make hope something more than just another four-letter word we all need some positive evidence, which is just what this solid and well-crafted book supplies. Bombarded as we are by so much sound and fury from the religious right, we also need a credible voice from the often-ignored progressive wing of American religion, which is also what this work gives us."—Harvey Cox, author of The Future of Faith

Publishers Weekly
Coauthors Buehrens (A Chosen Faith) and Parker (Saving Paradise), both progressive clergy, engage in conversation with each other and with theologians ancient and modern (Origen, Barth, Buber, J.L. Adams). Using the metaphors of garden, walls, roof, foundation, threshold, they construct a theological “framework” that faith communities can apply to stimulate reflection and reform, which will develop communal hope, discipline, and activism. To educate contemporary faithful about progressive theology's deep roots, the authors offer complementary chapters within thematic sections, reviewing historical ecumenical and universalist movements and illustrating their arguments with personal anecdotes. Exploring such religious themes as eschatology, salvation, and sin, the authors provide credible alternatives to traditional biblical interpretations, arguing, for example, that apocalyptic scriptures don't predict Earth's ultimate destruction but a future when God's will is done on Earth, and that humanity needs salvation not from God's wrath, but from the consequences of sin. Closing chapters introduce “process theology,” which argues that God both abides and changes. This accessible, engaging book may inspire religious progressives to claim their proud history and vital role in contemporary theological conversation. (May)

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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.

Meet the Author

John A. Buehrens was president of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1993 to 2001 and is now minister of the First Parish Church in Needham, Massachusetts. He is coauthor, with Forrest Church, of A Chosen Faith and author of Understanding the Bible.

Rebecca Ann Parker
is president of and professor of theology at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California, and coauthor, with Rita Nakashima Brock, of Saving Paradise and Proverbs of Ashes. An ordained United Methodist minister, Parker has dual fellowship with the United Methodist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

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