Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity by David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy (2 out of 5 stars)
What is Progressive Christianity and what are its major tenets? Pastors and teachers David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy seek to answer these questions in their book entitled Living the Questions. They do a very good job at elucidating the beliefs and practices of progressive Christianity, not necessarily following into the trap of making distinctions between evangelical thought at every point. The book here is based upon the bestselling DVD course of the same name. With a whole host of authors being referenced, the authors do an excellent job at bringing to the surface the main issues that concern a liberal or progressive Christianity.
The 2nd chapter on Taking the Bible Seriously is a review of some common understandings of the Bible being divine and the hesitancy of many Christians at asking tough questions. Rather, the authors propose that we look at the Bible in its different literary genres and not get caught up with the divine view of the Bible. Even more, having an evolving relationship with the Bible, asking the tough questions, and wrestling with its contradictions is what the authors have in mind (14-16). Felten and Murphy also yield a heavy hand against those who would seek to stand upon the literal truth of the stories of the Bible rather than drawing a distinction between the fact of the matter and the truth or application that the story exhibits. Although I agree with the authors that we need to be careful at taking into consideration the various genres in the Bible and the troubling passages, I think both authors have a misconception about how many evangelicals view the Bible. The supposed contradictions and tough questions don’t always have easy answers but many evangelicals are not scared of these ponderings. One of the questions these authors failed to ask in their book is ‘What do the authors of the Bible believe about the Scriptures and how should this influence our belief?’
I was disappointed on the chapter on creation. The authors came to the table with their presuppositions that the historical-critical lens of studying Scripture is the most correct lens to view the Scriptures. While affirming the resistance motif of the Genesis 1-2, the authors then go onto surmise that Genesis 1 is a product of “Priestly” writers and Genesis 2:4 is a product of “Yahwist” editors. Therefore, there are two different creation stories with two different sets of editors, one story much older than the other (33). You get no mention that many critical scholars fail to agree on what sections of the early Genesis narrative are Priestly and what are Yahwist. Secondly, we find no cogent argument as to why we need to read both Genesis 1 and 2 as separate creation stories. We find a jab at evangelicals at the end of the chapter in their failing to separate the two stories. “The names of God are different , the style is different, the cadence is different,” says Jill Levine (37), therefore, there must be two different creation narratives. The events are told in a different manner but does this necessarily imply two different stories.
Probably the best chapter was the one on social justice in which the authors put forth a view that includes both personal and systemic justice (individual and collective). They perceive that the prophets come to the people yielding judgment because the systemic weight of justice has been tipped in favor of injustice, violence, and greed. Recapturing the vision of a just and righteous society is part of the Christian’s goal.
I think people who are already progressive in their thinking will benefit from this book, but others like me who come from an evangelical perspective, will be frustrated to no end and encouraged at times with this book.
Thanks to Speak Easy and Harper One for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.