Hijacking Words: Progressive

Despite what you’re bound to assume from the title, this is not a post about the auto insurance industry.  That would be a sweet post, but I don’t think I’m qualified to write such compelling prose.  No, this post is the first in what might become a series of posts (read: if others come into my consciousness in the future)about the way certain words are hijacked to have a certain meaning that may not accurately represent what they’re representing (I know that’s redundant–give me a break).

A word that gets tossed around in reference to certain strains of theology and church practice is “progressive.”  This has an inherently positive connotation since we affirm the value of progress.  However, it is not universally true that something increases in value just because it changes.  For instance, when fast food became a pervasive reality in the world some might have said that we were making great progress in the area of consumption because of the convenience of it.  Now, however, those concerned with nutrition and obesity would say that people make great progress when they wean themselves from the reheated paper-wrapped food objects (even if my kids would not say that is progress since healthy places don’t give toys with the food).  When restaurants come up with newer and bigger food items they have not made progress, they have just given people more of what they want.

In the area of Christian faith it seems “progress” is at times akin to these calorie-bombs.  It is not better, not truer to the teaching of Jesus, not more beneficial in helping people reconcile with God–but it does give people more of what they want.  I suppose this post isn’t as beneficial as it could be since I’m not really giving concrete examples, but giving examples might negate the point I’m trying to make.

I am not trying to say change is never good in Christian faith, certainly it can be extremely important (i.e. debunking the belief that the Bible can used to support the practice of American slavery).  What I am saying is that change is not automatically progress and we should not label theologians and practitioners “Progressives” just because they are changing things.  We should ruthlessly go back to the words, example, and call of Jesus, and at the points that we can more faithfully fall in line with those things then we can change and speak of progress.

About Big Tasty

Be better today than yesterday.

Posted on November 30, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Progressive was adopted as an alternative to “liberal” because of the development of liberal as a pejorative term. Clearly this swung the vernacular pendulum in favor of progressives, implying that those who are not liberal are not progressive. However, at this point we have no clear alternative. Maybe “status-quo challenging” would work, but it doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Speaking of words/phrases that don’t mean what they mean anymore, we need to ban “ironic” for a few years so everyone can brush up on what it actually means.


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