The message of Jesus as I understand it, is contained in the Sermon on the Mount unadulterated and taken as a whole. If then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, “Oh, yes, I am a Christian.”
But negatively I can tell you that in my humble opinion, what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount. Mohandas Gandhi
"Someone made a circle to keep me out, so I made a bigger one to include us all."
Native American Proverb
She loves her church and country and thinks they need some mercy. (paraphrased)
- Mercy Now, Mary Gauthier
I believe, help my unbelief! Mark 9:24
I probably shouldn’t be a Christian, and if you’re an early middle-aged Gen-X-er or a young adult Gen-Y “Millennial” in America, you probably shouldn’t be either. I say that I probably shouldn’t be a Christian because the odds were against it. Few friends who went to high school or college with me, and even fewer of my more recent friends and acquaintances, identify themselves as being Christian, and yet somehow I do. Many of my peers who were raised in the church have shifted away from Christianity toward other religions — or increasingly, to no religion.
The intended audience of this book is young adults in the West who don’t currently identify as being Christian — or who do privately, but are hesitant to let others know because the word “Christian” has come to be associated with behaviors, stances, and attitudes that they don’t want to be associated with. This book also seeks to speak to the multitude that go to church and yet feel a disconnect and a gnawing sense of discomfort or dissatisfaction because they don’t agree or resonate with what’s often said from their church’s pulpit or in their Bible studies. People who are active within the Church and trying to relate and connect with today’s younger generations will also benefit by exploring the ideas discussed within these pages.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I do have a theological education. I’ve experienced, and thought a lot about, God and Christianity. I’m knowledgeable about the current trends in Christian ministries, books, and websites. I’m aware of what’s working, what isn’t, and I have some hunches about what might work better for a growing number of people whose minds simply don’t “tick” the same way as those of previous generations.
If your only exposure to Christianity has been strident, greedy, or sunshiny televangelists, unwelcomed knocks on your door from people who want to “save your soul,” or harsh judgment and exclusion from persons who claim to be Christians, it’s no wonder you’ve not been drawn to Christianity. If your only experience of Christianity has been hearing about campaigns to support U.S. imperialism or wars, or to bring about a return to mandatory prayer in public schools, force public schools to teach “creationism” in science classes, remove references about Thomas Jefferson from textbooks, or legally limit what people may do with their bodies and whom they should love, it’s not a surprise that you haven’t been an active churchgoer. If your only experience of Christianity has been with family members or neighbors who smother you with unsolicited religious pamphlets or cheesy forwarded email messages and tell you that they’re praying for you for fear of you “going to hell” or being “left behind,” it’s no wonder you haven’t been interested in Christianity. Unfortunately, these forms of Christianity have so dominated the media and our nation’s attention that they’ve almost hijacked and monopolized Jesus, Christianity, and even the word “Christian” itself.
There are a lot of people who call themselves “Christians” who are judgmental and closed-minded. They’re not the sorts of folks most of us want to sit next to on a long plane ride. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians who seek to influence our political process with agendas that bolster our nation’s march toward wars and corporate imperialism. There are a lot of Christians who’ve been promoting archaic agendas that are laden with patriarchy and homophobia. Numerous individuals who call themselves Christians seem to turn off their brains as they shun the truth and insights of contemporary science. Many folks who claim to be Christians don’t give a damn about global warming, or taking care of the environment, or addressing issues of war and social injustice because they expect to be “raptured up” into heaven soon. Such persons apparently believe something along the lines that “since Jesus will be coming soon, there’s no need for any of us to be concerned about what’s happening on the earth.”
I’ve met plenty of Christians who come across as selfish, unloving, and judgmental and who don’t seem to give a rip about the plight and needs of other people. I’m guessing you have too. There are a lot of those kinds of folks. So many, in fact, that as far as the media seems to be concerned, Christianity has come to be equated with those ways and those forms of Christianity — as if those sorts of Christians speak for all Christians and all of Christianity. If those were the only ways of being Christian, I wouldn’t want any part of Christianity either.
Happily, there are other ways of being Christian — thank God! This book explores a certain approach to the faith that a surprising number of people aren’t familiar with and don’t know about — the approach of progressive Christianity. Despite its name, this is not a “new approach” to the faith. In fact, reading the Bible in a literal manner is instead a recent phenomenon for the faith. Fundamentalism is a reactionary response to the rise of science, particularly evolutionary theory, during the modern era. Today’s young adults aren’t seeking to be convinced by logical or rhetorical evidence in order to come to Christ. They sense that faith isn’t something that one comes to through debate, data, or arguments. Instead, they realize that faith comes by noticing the lives of people who do have faith and then living into it themselves. Young adults today embrace a more nuanced, experiential, paradoxical, mystical, and relational approach to faith and spirituality. We like it to be relevant, down-to-earth, and real. This is the same kind of approach to Christianity that the early Christians experienced and understood. Hence, what I’m referring to as “progressive Christianity” isn’t new or novel. In many ways it’s a reformation of the Church to its earlier, pre-modernist and pre-Constantinian roots. Ironically, this implies that in reality, it is progressive Christianity that is conservative and “conservative Christianity” isn’t! However, for the sake of consistency and using words as they are most commonly used, we’ll keep using those terms as they are conventionally employed.
This book will have us exploring various key pieces of the Christian faith and noticing the differences between the progressive and conservative approaches to them. I’ll also be weaving in some of my own story and how I’ve been finding a way to be a Christian in the 21st Century.
If you’re someone who likes Jesus and his teachings but you don’t really want to be associated with “Christianity” or “Christians” and so you’ve decided to check “Spiritual but not Religious” on your Facebook, MySpace, or Match.com profiles, or if you’re someone who resonates with, or owns, any of the following bumper sticker slogans:
“Christian – not closed minded”
“I like Jesus, it’s his followers who I can’t stand”
“I’m for the Separation of Church & Hate”
“Lord protect me from your followers”
“Straight but not Narrow”
“One nation, many faiths”
“Prays well with others”
“My Karma ran over your Dogma”
“Hate is not a family value”
“God bless everyone. No exceptions.”
“I love my Church but I think we should start seeing other people”
or if you like the idea of seeing the Darwin fish and the Christian fish emblems kissing each other on the back bumper of the same car, or if you simply think Christianity might be more about accepting and including than judging and excluding, then this book and progressive (“Kissing Fish”) Christianity are for you.
 Generation X refers to persons born between 1961-1981; Generation Y, 1982-2001.
 Epistemology is the study of what and how much we know and postmodern thought is a critique of the epistemological arrogance of the modern era, specifically, the Enlightenment period (Descartes to Kant), Euro-centrism in general and the politics and philosophies of colonialism. The term postmodernism was first used in the 1870s (describing art). Postmodernism as philosophical approach originated in Europe in the 1920s and gradually permeated the arts, literature, and then in the late 20th Century, it started influencing Christianity. Postmodernism is a contemporary paradigm/worldview with the following characeristics: skepticism toward claims of objectivity and absolute truth; wariness of alleged authorities; a rejection of rigid categories and dualities; an embracing of shades of gray; a tendency toward ethical relativism; and an emphasis upon how people’s respective contexts (language, culture, class, etc.) impact their values and ways of perceiving reality and the world.
 Many of the folks who’ve come across the things that I have about the origins of Christianity (several pagan roots, etc.) have opted out and have chosen instead to be atheists, agnostics, or “spiritual but not religious.”
 And then there are those who believe that they shouldn’t do anything to take care of the earth because “doing so would delay Jesus’ return.”
 Except perhaps for “the unborn”; i.e., fetuses that they don’t want to see aborted.
 I can be selfish, unloving, judgmental, hypocritical, and a jerk too. But, with God’s help, I’m striving not to be – and hey, at least I can admit this.
 Sadly, quite a few young people have come to think that those judgmental and exclusivist forms of Christianity are the only forms of Christianity. See, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/16-teensnext-gen/94-a-new-generation-expresses-its-skepticism-and-frustration-with-christianity
 Most all of the official dogmas and doctrines about Jesus were enacted during and shortly after the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. He had been persecuting Christians but had a dream telling him to have his soldiers paint the Greek letters “Xr” (chi rho) onto their shields before a major battle. He had his troops do just that, they won the battle and, in response (and in part due to the wooings of his Christian wife) Constantine ended Roman persecution against Christians and allowed it to be an allowed religion of the empire. It soon became the official religion of the empire (irony should be noted) and Constantine had his hand in helping to define and make official the boundaries of “official/orthodox” Christianity.
 I say more about this in Break It Down XII in Chapter 8. For now, suffice it to say that progressive Christianity doesn’t think that science and faith are incompatible or mutually exclusive.