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2023 – Moving Forward 

 January 1, 2023

1) Introduction

Dear friends,

Have a Happy New Year 2023 ūüėČ

David and I are so glad to be able to see this community grow in 2022. It’s probably something we didn’t expect when we started our first meetup in September 2022. In total we have had 3 face-to-face meetups and 1 on Zoom with about 60 people in attendance in total. And we now have about 40 people on our main Telegram group.

We‚Äôve had a lot of discussions behind the scenes as to how to bring this group forward and what exactly it stands for. As with any new group, we didn‚Äôt exactly have any definite idea in the beginning. Many meetup groups start and fail and thus we had no idea what would become of this group. However, we definitely knew that there were a lot of Christians who were dissatisfied with mainstream conservative evangelicalism in Singapore ‚Äď and we knew that this would be a group that other like-minded Christians (and even non-Christians) would appreciate.

So here are our plans moving forward:

2) Purpose of  "Progressive Christianity Singapore"

The purpose of this group is to provide a community for people to find support and explore certain beliefs and practices that would not be accepted in mainstream Conservative Evangelical Christianity in Singapore. In our Meetup page - Singapore Open-Minded (Progressive) Christians Meetup - and our Progressive Christianity Singapore Webpage, we listed certain beliefs and practices that many of us have questions about ‚Äď and in which we would differ from more mainstream Churches.

We do not see this group as a Church community offering what you'd expect from a local Church (ministerial support, etc.) but see ourselves currently more as an informal community gathering around what we define as "Progressive Christianity" (see more below).

3) Defining "Progressive Christianity"

There will always be questions about the definition of ‚ÄúProgressive Christianity‚ÄĚ and whether that‚Äôs the best ‚Äúterm‚ÄĚ to use. I (Jonathan) used that term when starting the Meetup group in February 2019 because I didn‚Äôt know any other accepted term out there that would help people immediately grasp what the group was about. I have always used the term ‚ÄúProgressive‚ÄĚ for my political views and I‚Äôve always been more ‚Äúprogressive‚ÄĚ in my theological views too.

The term "Progressive" is a relative term and the because of that the meaning depends on context. Whether this is the best term to describe what this group is about or whether this group changes its name in future to better represent what it‚Äôs about (e.g. "Post-Conservative Evangelical", "Progressive Evangelical", etc.) ‚Äď all this doesn‚Äôt matter as much as what this group stands for.

In late 2020, Alisha Childers came out with the book ‚ÄúAnother Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity‚ÄĚ to huge acclaim in the Conservative Evangelical world. This was of course a book critiquing ‚ÄúProgressive Christianity.‚ÄĚ I‚Äôll have to acknowledge I haven‚Äôt read that book (hope to do so one day) but I‚Äôve read a lot of writings and also watched a lot of YouTube videos (e.g. from the channels of Dr. Sean McDowell, Mike Winger, Capturing Christianity, etc.) that present, or at least focus on, only one side of Progressive Christianity ‚Äď which is the much more progressive and liberal leaning side. In many instances, I wouldn‚Äôt even agree with the claims of the people (who are supposed to represent ‚ÄúProgressive Christianity‚ÄĚ) they interview. I don‚Äôt know why they choose to interview and critique the much more liberal leaning side of Progressive Christianity and make it seem that such people and beliefs would represent the whole ‚Äúmovement‚ÄĚ. I would have expected a bit more nuance, but then again, I understand that a lot of these people do not want to grapple with certain difficult questions and issues that the Evangelical church needs to confront.

I appreciate Roger E Olsen‚Äôs understanding of ‚ÄúProgressive Christianity‚ÄĚ. He wrote two articles in Patheos and also a book about Progressive Christianity:

While I haven‚Äôt read his whole book yet, let me quote from these 3 pieces of work above in which he distinguishes between two camps among those who would identify as ‚ÄúProgressive Christians‚ÄĚ (emphasis mine):

‚ÄúIn the past decade, ‚Äúprogressive Christian‚ÄĚ (here in the U.S.) seems to be a label preferred by real liberal Christians (whose Christianity seems dubious to me) but also by non-liberal Christians who are ‚Äúopen‚ÄĚ to new ideas such as gay marriage, LGBTQ rights within society and the churches, passionate social justice activism, egalitarianism, etc.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhen I hear someone labeled ‚Äúprogressive Christian‚ÄĚ by themself or others I do not know what is meant‚ÄĒother than open to new ways of thinking and ‚Äúdoing‚ÄĚ Christianity within a certain context. However, in my experience, the label is increasingly being ‚Äúowned‚ÄĚ by formerly conservative Christians who are moving toward liberal Christianity but hesitating to go all the way there.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe subtitle of my book is ‚ÄúPutting the Brakes on Progressive Christianity‚ÄĚ because I have known and I now know many especially young Christians who also call themselves ‚Äúprogressive‚ÄĚ but are not yet full-blown liberal Christians. I see many of them moving in the direction of full-blown liberal theology which concerns me greatly. I want to warn them against going over that ‚Äúcliff‚ÄĚ insofar as their ‚Äúprogressive path‚ÄĚ leads in that direction.‚ÄĚ
This book is a warning aimed mainly at those who think of themselves as progressive Christians ‚ÄĒ to not adopt liberal theology or believe in the liberal Christian way. Many regard progressive Christianity as a path toward liberal theology and Christianity; there is some truth in that.

This book, however, is not a diatribe against progressive Christianity. Progressive is a label used by many different kinds of Christians. I do wish to warn at least some who identify as progressive Christians against sliding into liberal Christianity. Of course, these labels are complicated because some truly liberal Christians prefer to call themselves progressive Christians. But many who call themselves progressive Christians are not really liberal in the sense I mean it in this book. So, to put this simply, not all progressive Christians are liberal Christians, even if all liberal Christians at least sometimes call themselves progressive Christians. (Introduction to his book)

Unlike Alisha Childers and many others, at least he understands that those who identify themselves as ‚ÄúProgressive Christians‚ÄĚ do not all believe the same thing. In fact, I believe he also described himself before as a ‚ÄúProgressive Evangelical‚ÄĚ. He also wrote the book ‚ÄúHow to be Evangelical without being Conservative‚ÄĚ in 2009. Perhaps it is because he is much more empathetic to the concerns of the "non-Liberal" camp within "Progressive Christianity" that he is much more nuanced in understanding this term.

Roland Chia, a respected Singaporean theologian, actually wrote an article about "Progressive Christianity" in Ethos Institute for Public Christianity (an institute formed by the National Council Of Churches In Singapore, Trinity Theological College and The Bible Society of Singapore in 2014), and noted our group in Singapore:

‚ÄúProgressive Christianity has gained some traction among Christians and Christian groups in the United States and Canada. There is a group of Christians in Singapore that is promoting a version of progressive Christianity.‚ÄĚ (‚ÄúProgressive Christianity: A Primer‚ÄĚ, 17th October 2022)

I‚Äôm glad that he, like Roger Olsen, understands that not everybody within this camp believes the same thing. He wrote: ‚ÄúThis broad and elastic term includes under its canopy believing Christians who simply wish to express a more questioning faith as well as those who still call themselves Christians but who have rejected most if not all the fundamental tenets of Christianity.‚ÄĚ

However, it‚Äôs unfortunate that his article chose to focus on ‚Äúthe claims of progressive Christians who are located at the more extreme end of the spectrum, such a Brian McLaren and Gretta Vosper.‚ÄĚ It would have been good if he would also seek to understand the concerns of those at the more ‚Äúconservative‚ÄĚ end of the "Progressive Christianity" spectrum ‚Äď the end that has not ‚Äúrejected most if not all the fundamental tenets of Christianity‚ÄĚ.

4) What "Progressive Christianity Singapore" Believes In

Anyway, the whole point of writing all of the above is that there‚Äôs no getting away from some hard questions as to what this ‚ÄúProgressive Christianity‚ÄĚ group is all about. How do we want to position this group and what does this group stand for?

The theological discussions that have taken place on WhatsApp and Telegram since this group started in August/September 2022, our reflections as to what ‚ÄúProgressive Christianity‚ÄĚ means to us and the kind of "Progressive Christianity" we want to promote, as well David‚Äôs and my own personal spiritual journeys (and our own relationship with God) ‚Äď all of this has resulted in the following conclusions:

  • We see this group of ‚ÄúProgressive Christianity‚ÄĚ as advocating akin to what Roger Olsen wrote: ‚Äúnon-liberal Christians who are ‚Äúopen‚ÄĚ to new ideas such as gay marriage, LGBTQ rights within society and the churches, passionate social justice activism, egalitarianism, etc.‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúformerly conservative Christians who are moving toward liberal Christianity but hesitating to go all the way there.‚ÄĚ Of course, these statements are still quite vague, but it is within this "non-liberal" camp that we wish to position this group.
  • For David and I, we definitely want to stay within the tenets of historic Christianity. Of course the question can be asked as to what we mean by that and what is considered "outside" of this? That‚Äôs probably not something that can be defined so easily or definitively (by us and maybe even by scholars) and we are still on a journey ourselves. But it is important for us that we do accept at least the historic Christian creeds.
  • If you ask us who are the authors we love that to us represent the kind of ‚ÄúProgressive Christianity‚ÄĚ we believe in, we‚Äôd probably throw out names like David Bentley Hart, Robin Parry, Brad Jersak, C. Baxter Kruger and Gregory Boyd, among others. I'm sure none of the above would identify themselves as ‚ÄúProgressive Christians‚ÄĚ (nor would we agree with everything these authors believe and in the same way they would not agree among themselves about many things), but these are the kind of authors that express the questioning faith we have and hold to certain positions that would not be accepted in Conservative Evangelicalism ‚Äď yet would still be more or less within historic Orthodox Christianity. (Someone that would defend the type of Progressive Christianity that we're generally talking about is Randal Rauser - Jonathan)
  • There's definitely still a lot more to work through with regard to what this group promotes and believes in. Perhaps in due time, things will be more concrete. But at least for now, the above should suffice.

5) Telegram Channel and Group

In August 2022, we started with a WhatsApp group for communication among members. Subsequently, we moved to 2 Telegram Groups - one for the Main group and the other for Theological discussions. 

We have noticed in the past 5 months that participation within the Theological group has been limited to only a few active members. The level of engagement and participation on Telegram is certainly something we wish to improve and as a result we have decided migrate everybody to our new Telegram Channel interface and focus our efforts on building a community through this for the time being.

The way a Telegram Channel works is that only the Admins will have a right to Post. However, all members can reply to the posts through the Comments.

How can having this Telegram Channel improve our community?

  1. We hope to focus our Posts more on our members' experiences as a Christian (and just generally life in this world) - and less on theological issues and debates - so as to make the topics more relevant to everyone
  2. With Posts and Comments, Chats (Posts & Comments) would be much more organized for everyone - it will kind of function like a Facebook Post with people commenting in the comments section. This will allow everyone to follow each others' responses more easily and hopefully it will encourage people to participate in commenting and sharing. 
  3. Also, we understand that not everyone uses Telegram so actively every day. Therefore, with a much more organized format, Posts won't get lost so quickly and members who check their Telegram only every few days would still be able to find the Posts and write their Comments. Again we hope this will encourage people to participate in commenting and sharing.

There will also be opportunities for members to suggest topics for the Posts.

While face-to-face meetups would always better in terms of building trust and community (and we will continue to have Monthly F2F meetups - see below), we hope to also encourage more sharing through our Channel.

6) Monthly Meetup

We hope to continue to have Monthly Meetups. If and when the community grows bigger and there is a desire for more regular meetups and we have more help in organizing more events, we will definitely welcome that. For now, we hope to stick to at least a Meetup a month.

In addition, we are also planning various kinds of meetups this year - perhaps getting a guest speaker to share about a specific area, or even visiting a more "progressive" Church together, etc.

7) Improving Our Website

One way to build our community - that also doesn't take that much time - is to build our website - www.ProgressiveChristianity.sg. This year we hope to get more people involved in writing and sharing their stories through this website. The more articles are on the website - quality ones, of course - the more visibility our website will have on the Search Engines and as a result more of the right people will get to know us.

8) Call for more involvement in running this group

As mentioned above, when David and I started the Meetups and Telegram groups, we didn't know what to expect. While we're happy to see the growth of this small community, both of us also probably did not anticipate the amount of time needed to maintain and grow this community. Both of us can only do so much.

We are always looking out for suggestions and help and even people to be more involved with various aspects of running this group.

If you're seriously interested to help in any way, do let us know. 

Love,
Jonathan & David

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