The research and the evidence is clear: the Christianity so many of us grew up with, the Christianity of the 20th century and earlier, is changing. In place of beliefs and dogmas, Christians are seeking experiences and wider connections. From the books we've reviewed and the practices we've done, we can envision a new Christianity — one based on progressive understandings of the faith in a multifaith world and one arising from the great ocean of spirituality that unites all traditions in an essential Oneness. What is the shape and substance of this spirituality?
Progressive Christian Spirituality begins with the foundation stone of mysticism, a path that encompasses union with God, the paramount importance of experience, an ancient wisdom tradition, and a contemplative way of life. As Progressive Christians ourselves, we hold in our hearts love and respect for all the mystical traditions within the world's religions and indigenous cultures.
Progressive Christian Spirituality welcomes seekers from all paths. As the French philosopher Louis Claude de St. Martin put it: "All mystics speak the same language for they come from the same country." Pluralism and diversity are held in high regard. We acknowledge that there are many paths to the same goal, and whereas one path may be our choice, this does not make it superior to all the others. Progressive Christian Spirituality moves beyond the dualism that has caused so much havoc and hatred in our communities and the wider world. There is no room for "us vs. them" thinking.
Learning spiritual practices from other communities is part of the new landscape of Progressive Christian Spirituality. So is gathering in groups to do practices together, one of the hallmarks of the growing interspirituality movement. We first became aware of this through the writings of Catholic monk Wayne Teasdale and it is the inspiration behind S&P's Living Spiritual Teachers Project and Remembering Spiritual Masters Project.
Progressive Christian Spirituality is being transmitted in new ways. No longer will churches, monasteries, and retreat centers be the only conduits of teachings and practices. More and more Internet users (64% in 2004; most likely, a larger percentage now) are searching for religious and spiritual information online. Those looking for faith outside the traditional boxes will find it on websites such as SpiritualityandPractice.com and through sharing with kindred spirits on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and other social media.
Progressive Christianity Spirituality endorses a different understanding of Jesus. Traditional Christianity looked up to Christ as the perfect human being; in some denominations he is still regarded as the only begotten son of God who died for humanity's sins. In Progressive Christian Spirituality, we are called to be Jesus every day of our lives; all of us are sons and daughters of God meant to be of service to each other and our communities. Jesus models the path of transformation that enables us to live in the world in a new way. Fifty recent books provide a wide spectrum of ideas about Jesus as prophet, wisdom teacher, spirit person, movement founder, mystic, troublemaker, peasant, and more.
Progressive Christian Spirituality prioritizes "equipping the saints." A traditional job description for a church leader included preaching the Gospel, administering the sacraments, and equipping the saints. The latter becomes more important as the physical church becomes less so. We've discovered this to be true when we've read evaluations of our E-Courses and Online Retreats and the reports of pilot projects for our Spiritual Literacy DVD series.
Study goes hand-in-hand with practice in Progressive Christian Spirituality. A creative devotional life includes moments of worship, prayer, meditation, and mindfulness. It uses a wide variety of spiritual tools — mantras, gathas, yoga, tai chi, kirtan, and more. Seekers supplement their disciplined study of the Bible with explorations of other sacred texts and the wisdom of many traditions, their teachers and sages.
Progressive Christian Spirituality encourages us to work on what we call the spiritual practice of You. We undertake the process of divinization where we are transformed into the image and likeness of God. At the same time we try to avoid the traps of spiritual materialism where we turn the noble ideals of our faith into projects of the ego. Both taming the mind and polishing the heart are crucial elements of this spiritual maturation.
Spiritual literacy is a cornerstone of Progressive Christian Spirituality. It is the ability to read the signs of God's presence in the texts of our own experience. Both a skill and a gift, it acknowledges that the sacred is evident in every precinct of our daily lives. The theological expression of this is panentheism which means "everything in God and God in everything." Under this rubric, separation becomes sin and our connections with others, with God, and with the whole Creation are essential. We have written about this in our books Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, Spiritual Rx: Prescriptions for Living a Meaningful Life, and 100 Ways to Keep Your Soul Alive.
Progressive Christian Spirituality arises from spiritual practice. Practice is where the tire hits the road. Spiritual practices are activities you do to deepen your relationship with all the many manifestations of the sacred. Some are formal and have been practiced through the centuries. Others are part of what we like to call the Indiana Jones School of Spirituality in that we make them up as we go along. At SpiritualityandPractice.com, we have special sections devoted to 37 essential practices of the world's religions — The Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy. All the content on the website is coded to one or more of them, demonstrating how everything from a book to a movie to a quote gives us another way to practice.
Tikkun (mending the world) is another cornerstone of Progressive Christian Spirituality. What does this entail? We become active contemplatives and contemplative activists. We work for social justice, widen the circle of our compassion, serve the poor and helpless, are nonviolent and take stands against war, advocate for and protect our environment, and seek ways to end the growing gap between the rich and the poor. We defend human and animal rights, oppose capital punishment, support gender equality, support same-sex marriage, and welcome LGBT people in our spiritual communities. We are peacemakers not just peacekeepers. We mend ourselves as a first step in mending the world.
Those who desire to be part of Progressive Christian Spirituality will want to keep abreast of the latest spiritual resources in books, including children's books, music and spoken word audios, films, and DVDs. We are especially excited about what we have learned from our personal exploration of these resources about the end of the long war between science and religion and the proliferation of fresh scientific research on meditation, health and healing, the power of the emotions, character development, spurs to ethical action, civic virtues, mind training and changing the way the brain works.
Progressive Christian Spirituality can reach two important demographic groups: elders and those who call themselves "spiritual but not religious" (SBNR). A member of the Baby Boomer Generation is turning 65 every seven seconds, and they have a vested interest in spiritual practices for life review, relationship enhancement, serving others, and sharing wisdom. The SBNRs are the vanguard of a spirituality that goes beyond religion; they are already supporting new configurations of spiritual communities and using a wide variety of spiritual practices.
Progressive Christian Spirituality is not exclusively Christian. Reading this vision, you might very well say, "The same could be said of a Progressive Jewish Spirituality or a Progressive Hindu Spirituality or a Progressive Muslim Spirituality or a Progressive Native American Spirituality." And you would be right. And that would be the point. The twenty-first century is a post-religious era.
We invite you to make our vision your own: a global circle of seekers and believers who are vitally engaged with the wisdom and practices of all the spiritual traditions and ready, willing, and able to live deeper and fuller lives by serving others and the wider world in love.