Fleabites, or looking at the crusades from another angle (Philip Jenkins)

Since people are talking about the crusades a lot lately on FB, which seems to have to do with something the American president has said on some breakfast prayer thing, I thought it might be a good idea to bring some balance and  some historical perspective with a quote from Philip Jenkins, from his very interesting but challenging book ‘the lost history of Christianity’

“The story of the Crusades is well known, but less celebrated is the much more acute challenge to Muslim power caused by Christian attempts to create an Eastern Front against Islam. During the thirteenth century, the Muslim states suddenly found lost historythemselves under attack from a lethal enemy whose activities made the Western Crusades look like fleabites. The Mongol assault on the Islamic world began in 1219 when the forces of Genghis Khan attacked the Khwarezmid Empire of central Asia, taking such great cities as Bukhara and Samarkand. Over the next forty years, Mongol power extended over most of western Asia, through a series of campaigns in which they devastated ancient cities. When Merv fell in 1221, the
Mongols slaughtered virtually every man, woman, and child in the city, not to mention many thousands of refugees from surrounding areas. Contemporary accounts claim that the dead ran into the hundreds of thousands, or even millions. Ani in Armenia never recovered from the sack of 1236, while Mongol devastation ended the golden age of the Christian kingdom of Georgia. In 1258, the Mongols under Hulegu, Genghis’s grandson, perpetrated a historic massacre in Baghdad itself, ending the caliphate and conceivably killing eight hundred thousand residents. Over the next century, Hulegu’s successors ruled the Ukhanate, one of the Mongol successor states, a vast empire stretching from the boundaries of India to western Anatolia. When modern-day Iraqis denounce American occupiers as the New Mongols, they are invoking memories of the direst moment of their history. The Mongol threat remained acute until 1303, when Egyptian forces decisively defeated them in Syria.” (p120-121)

Yes, thinking of the crusades as very important to the history of Islamic empires in the middle-East is quite Eurocentric and not very realistic in that it forgets much more powerful and important players, Philips even says the crusades were like fleabites compared to the Mongol powers, who did end the mighty Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad in 1258, the third caliphate to  sucdeed prophet Muhammed himself. (As a sidenote: there were parallel caliphates in this age, but afterwards the caliphate has never been resurrected in the same way, even though two rogue groups did proclaim a new caliphate in 2014, the IS in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria!)

Some more historical notes:

1. The Mongols did have several state religions, afterwards they converted to Islam and they were part of the erasure most of Asian Christianity between the Middle-East and China, often without a trace.

2. the crusades did harm other Christians too, and more than fleabites actually: the fourth crusade, which didn’t even reach Jerusalem did bring a much greater split between the Catholics and the Orthodox than the great schism itself did: when they conquered Constantinople in 1204 and did a lot of evil and very unchristian things there. It was the final break-up between Western and Eastern Christianity!
(Not to mention the later Albigensian Crusade which did erase the heretic Albingensians and  most of the Waldensians from Europe… They just had the wrong religion…)

3. We should not think of the Europeans as being more powerful colonisers and conquerors than the Muslim empires all the time. If we go back and forward in time from the crusades we see that there are other times when a Muslim conquest of Europe wasn’t as unthinkable as it is to us now. Charles Martel had stopped the early Arab conquests into Europe at the Battle of Tours in 732, which might have meant the end of Western Christianity in the heart of Europe (at a moment where Eastern Christianity in the form of the East-roman empire was quite strong btw).
The Ottoman empire after overtaking the Byzantine (East-Roman) empire  by conquering constantinopole in 1453 was a formidable power that, again, could have succeeded in taking over much of Europe. Emperor Philips II of Spain managed to drive them back (a turning point was the battle of Lepanto in 1571)
But don’t forget that parts of Spain (yes, the mighty mighty European Power that not only did send the inquisition and the army of Duke Alva here to the Netherlands long ago but colonised much of South and Middle America) was in hands of Islamic powers between 711–1492. The year the Americas were discovered was the year Europe was freed of Muslim powers, and then they could go on colonising themselves…
By the way: f Philips II wouldn’t have to fight the Turks he probably would have had the power to fight the protestants in the North, and have erased protestantism not just from the Southern Netherlands (He did that very thoroughly, Flanders  and the Southern part of the current Netherlands were quite universally catholic after the fall of Antwerp in 1585 and remained so until the dechristianisatoion of the 20th century…)

(Someone of facebook told me this week that Americans associate Spanish with poor illegal immigrants. We in this part of Europe see the Spanish as a powerful aggressive invading power who brought the inquisition here to rid us from heresies like protestantism. And I do think the Inca and Aztec people would have even stronger opinions about them…)

4. If we’re talking about the Europeans as colonisers we should not forget that the powerful European powers who colonised other continents were often oppressing other Europeans closer by. And the great colonising wave in the last 500 years is only unique in that Europeans did cross great distances. Empires in Eurasia, inculding the Mongols, Arabs and the Ottomans named already and earlier the Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Huns and Greeks have been conquering big parts of the Eurasian continent at least since Alexander the Great.  The crusades against Muslims were not that spectacular at all in this big picture., let alone successful.
The big difference with the European colonisation wave in the last 500 years is the superior technology, not only when it comes to weaponry but also far-distance travel, which made it possible to colonise places far away over the ocean. Something that hadn’t happened before in the history of the planet. The Arabs and Ottomans had conquered a vast empire for example in West-Asia and North-Africa, but only in places they could reach by land or from a short distance over sea… (This includes the crusades.)
The only parallel with  what Europeans colonisers did in the last 500 years might be the Polynesians who did colonise a lot of Oceania and even very remote places as Hawai, Easter Island and New Zealand, but they generally didn’t steal countries from other people with much violence as the modern Europeans did, they colonised mostly uninhabited places. (where they ravaged ecosystems and brought extinctions, but that’s outside of the scope of this post)

Last Note: Islam and Christianity are very diverse religions, and can never be seen as one ‘power’. If I speak about an ‘Islamic power’ or empire, I mean an empire that has the Islamic religion as core part of their identity. But there have always been more different Islamic countries, some of which did fight each other. Lumping all Muslims together is the same as thinking that the Byzantine empire of the 1400s and contemporary America or Mexico are the same thing, because they all are Christian…



Some interesting things elsewere (Jan 2015)


I used to have a series called ‘Some interesting things elsewhere’  that disappeared when my time got absorbed by other things very different than blogging. I was planning to resurrect those series, and make one list of interesting reads that I encountered each month at the end of said month, but suddenly it’s February already, not January anymore, and my list isn’t that long yet and I still haven’t posted the first one… But I still think it’s not a bad idea to resurrect this series so here is the first edition nonetheless…

So what did I read recently that stood out?

Lana hope with ‘an instrumental view of language and Christianity: a critique‘. Just read it!

Two interesting reactions to the whole Charlie Hebdo thing from Khanya in South-Africa and Vinoth Ramachandra in Sri Lanka.

Heather Goodman with some critique of a more fringe Charismatic theory that relates contemporary studies of epigenetics with the supposedly biblical idea of ‘generational curses’.

This Orthodox text would make a lot of sense if it wouldn’t have the exclusivisionist part in the end: the spiritual person is not  moral!

An older article from the ‘Anglican pentecostal’ that explores the idea of being ‘slain in the Spirit’ with the Orthodox idea of the ‘energies of God. Very interesting line of thought!

Magickal blogger Peregrin Wildoak makes a lot of sense here in his analysis of the word ‘love’ in the works of Aleister Crowley. Although not a Christian himself when he speaks from a Christian paradigm he seems to understand Christianity better and make more sense than a lot of Christians for some reason…

If Jesus talked about loving our enemies, he meant it, and he also meant our real enemies, not just people we vaguely don’t like. Good piece on formerly fundie.

Morgan Guyton is having a very interesting series called ‘radical Jesus ‘101’ on his blog. In the first issue about who and what is God he compares the trinity to ‘a polyamorous  love triangle’ (it even makes sense and is quite orthodox…)  Be also sure to read the second part called  is humanity good or evil.

And this just came in: Eric at the Jawbone of an ass with identifying religions to species. And when we’re in the category ‘other faiths': Iceland to build first temple to Norse Gods in 1000 years. (I decidedly like neo-paganism more than materialist atheism and logical positivism, so in today’s world I find this good news…)

so what did you read?


Bram Cools music electronic re-release: CCM II: psalms and prayers in lo-fi

(This is an update about the strange music of Bram Cools) Years ago I had a band called the Contemporary Christian Muzak collective (or CCMC). We tried to play some kind of experimental Christian music that did both try to connect to God and make some interesting sounds that hadn’t been used 100 times before already. Most of it was some kind of rough folky indierock, although we had some very weird free-from noise and experimental impro-parts as well… We only did a few concerts but we did have a lot of fun, and I really miss those days! But time passes and things change, and the bandmembers had families and other bands and other stuff going on, so it all sort of fell apart. We never did any studio-recordings as a band, and no real CD-worthy live recordings have been made. So all that’s left is my own home-recorded multitrack-versions with mostly myself on a lot of instruments. (And Bram Beels on didgeridoo sometimes) I still need to finish some of those songs, but the plan is still to have all the CCM songs available one day. But because that day will not be tomorrow, I will make some of that music available in another way:

So today we announce the bandcamp re-release of:

CCM II – psalms and prayers in lo-fi CCMIItracklist: 1. onzevader (intro) 02:30 2. dead end streets 03:17 3. the hippie song 04:28 4. not a tame lion (MiniDisk version) 03:46 5. Elvis has left the building (lo-fi mix) 03:59 6. Father I am tired (MiniDisk version) 02:38 7. stones cry out 04:13 8. last words to the first church (lo-fi mix) 03:52 9. Yeshua (MiniDisk mix) 04:28 10. qualities 05:47 11. feelings say nothing (reduction mix) 06:22 12. dood aan de graankorrel* 03:13 (* originally a hidden bonus track)

It’s very rare Bram Cools demo CD-R (on 15 copies originally) that was available only on one concert of the CCM (Contemporary Christian Muzak) collective in 2006. (Which was actually the last time we played under that name if I remember well) It does contain some classics in standard versions, and other songs in completely different incarnations, but it has most of the songs that we did play live with CCMC in one version or another. Some of those were recorded solo on MiniDisk, others were arranged very sketchily in primitive lo-fi manner…

Find more Bram Cools music for download at bandcamp.com. Or check out this older overview here on this blog.

(All music is currently ‘choose your price’) enjoy (if you’re into that kind of music…)



2015: Looking forward, looking back..

This blog haJANUSs been a space to can write out my thoughts and process my spiritual journey in recent years. My readership has never been very big although I’ve sometimes had very interesting comments on my writings (here and elsewhere) from bloggers whom I repsect enormously as thinkers so I don’t think what I’m doing is completely worthless.  I’m writing in the first place because no-one else says what I want to say anyway. The thing is that need to not forget this, an that jumping on bandwagons and writing about ‘canonical’ blog subjects ould probably give me a bigger readership, but it’s not what I’m writing fir.
At certain moments in the past I’ve been influenced here a lot by the international (read: mostly American) Christian blogosphere, but 2014 has seen me finally letting go more and more of any attempt to fit in anywhere in that world. Only by not being chained to the same old consensus as the rest (often in the form of petrified false dichotomies) I can really have something to say about them on the occasion that I stumble across them…

But what did happen here in the last year? You can see it here and here if you want a summary.

2014 might not have been my most productive year but it surely was an interesting one, a year of picking up the pieces and reconstructing what’s left to have something to start over with again after all the things I’ve let go. What started as a year of demodernisation (and more de-Americanisation) got me had me investigating a lot of stuff that doesn’t seem to exist for neither Evangelicals nor academics, and plunging into more occult and esoteric terrain that is completely not taken serious by most people. which is a pity.
I do think the late great ’emerging church’ discussion could have learned a lot about postmodernity, religion and paradigm shifting by studying the principles behind chaos magic for example instead of sticking to the contemporary academic canon.  We can and should go much further out of the box if we want to find our way back in my opinion…

All of this doesn’t mean at all that I’m letting go of my faith in Christ. To use a Pagan term, I’m oathed to Christ and it’s not likely that I would ever let go of Him… He is more real to me than anything I’ve encountered yet, although it’s hard sometimes to make sense of anything at all. In fact I might even be sliding a bit back in the ‘conservative’ direction on the spectrum (which still is as far away from fundamentalism as it is fom liberal theology), towards some basic Christian middle-orthodoxy that I’ve alwayw been seeking… Quoting more C.S. Lewis her might have been a sign of that. I’m also in a new way going back to my more Charismatic roots, including the stuff no academic Christian will talk about, and also with and openness to Truth anywhere.

And yes, I’m eucumenical  as a Christian and go far into dialogue with other religions and traditions, but you’ll see me stay away from any form of enlightenment materialism for a while. I’ve had more of it lately than can every be spiritually healthy for anyone… Letting consciously go of it was big relief

I also need to just be still and know God is God.

God is too big for any of our systems. If we think we’ve completely got him in our system, we’ve only created an idol… God just is, and our thoughts about Him are not that relevant actually. Living in connection with Him, through Christ led by the Spirit is what matters. Loving all of His Creation including all of our fellow humans more than our systems of thought is what it is about.

Listening to everybody (especially those not listened to) might not be a bad idea though. And asking the Spirit for discernemt. The majority can be wrong, as has happened so many times.

2015 will probably be a year of slowing down, re-evaluation what I’ve found, deepening, and throwing out some clutter that I’ve been collecting for years… Learning to ignore the big noise and the cathedrals of wind that have kept me distracted for way too long and held me from developing what’s been waiting to be discovered more from the beginning on. And listening to new voices, Christian or Pagan, Muslim or Atheist or whatever, that have been unheard, and also to a Voice that I’ve been ignoring in all the noise regularly.

Or it could be something completely different…

We’ll see..

I hope to see all of you readers back for this new chapter…



This post is part of the January 2015 Synchroblog – Looking Back, Looking Forward.

Here are the other participants:

My own top-15 of favourite posts here in 2014

DSCF0083After my list of the 5 most-read posts here in 2014 I now give my own list of favourite posts, with a short description and sometimes the reason why the  posts are important to me, or how they describe a part of my journey this year.

My own 15 favorite posts of 2014  here:

1. So why is there no ‘occult-mergent’?

This post was ironically, among other things, probably my farewell to the whole ’emergent’ thing. I have learned a lot from the whole ’emerging church’ dialogue in its days, as I am both incurably postmodern and a Christian looking out for new ways, but I don’t have too much interest in a lot of things that go under the name ’emergent’ nowadays, and it seems that a lot of people did emerge outside of Christianity anyway. I did miss any intelligent discourse on the supernatural from the beginning in the while ’emerging’ thing, and when the whole thing went closer to naturalist materialism in some corners while never even coming closer to any non-Christian supernatural tradition I summoned ‘occultmergent’ from the realm of non-existence… I still am of the unpopular opinion that Christianity can learn a lot more from neo-pagans and certain ‘occultists’ than from scientism and modern atheism if we want to transition from the modernist clutter we’ve accredited…

 2.Why are asexuals the most ignored sexual minority?
From my usual choice of subjects, you probably already gathered that I don’t like to just jump on the popular subjects, but instead try to address the things that no-one speaks about but that need to be talked about nonetheless. That’s why I do think that awareness of asxuality as a sexual orientation is very important, especially since it seems that a lot of advocates for sexual minorities are good in ignoring it as much as the rest of us does. Obsession with sex and having sex as a part of our identity is quite all-pervasive in our culture, and so the idea of asexuality alone is a threat to some people… At least 2 people from my FB-list outed themselves to me as asexual after this post and thanked me for bringing the subject to the light, so I don’t think writing posts like this one are in vain…

 3.Abundance is the enemy of capitalism…
The title speaks for itself: The basic idea is that our modern economical systems that are built about the idea of ‘scarcity’ are completely incompatible with the biblical idea of abundance as a part of shalom…. Should not be a controversial idea at all…

4.No, the ‘Islamic State’ isn’t medieval.. (it’s even worse: it’s modern!)
Probably partly inspired by my attempts to demodernise myself and look at my own culture as a stranger would: People keep on using the word ‘medieval’ to insult groups with barbaric behavior like the ‘Islamic State’, but they are not at all rooted in modern ideologies but have a very strong basis in modernity. Like the word ‘State’ already hints at the Islamic State is much closer to the guillotines of the French revolution with ‘reason and progress’ replaced by ‘Islam’ than to most medieval wars.

5.On basic human dignity and ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…
The saying in the title is completely abused out of context when used in discussions about homosexuality, and therefore quite impopular among a lot of people. I do think it is a very important principle though, even though we might to adjust some of our ideas about what sin is…

6.Some thoughts on thoughtform-creation
Even though I coined the word as a joke and for thee sake of protesting, occultmergent became a project of investigating the ideas behind modern ‘occultism’ as some call it, which provided me with a whole new world of ideas that I had never heard. In this post I explored and evaluated the idea of ‘thoughtforms’, entities that come into being from human thoughts. From the tulpas created by an individual as some kind of more-than-just-imaginary friend to the egregores arising of groupthought, I found the subject fascinating, although I remain sceptical about a lot of things, it might explain certain things.(And it can be helpful when writing scifi…)

 7.A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?
Back to my writings about sexuality from a Christian viewpoint, I do think the title speaks for itself here. The bodies portrayed in porn are human beings created in Gods image, and should not be treated as only an evil temptation! That approach is equally dehumanising as reducing them to lust-objects…

8.The power found in the True Language of the Universe…
A more philosophical post that explores an idea that is fundamental to both a lot of magical traditions (real and fictional) and modern science: if you know the language in which the world is written, you do not only understand it fully, but you can also control it.

 9.We’re one, but we’re not the same… (or how different identity doesn’t have to mean violence!)
A reaction to a meme with a Krishnamurti quote that says that every identity we assume for ourselves is a form of violence because it means that we do separate us from the others who are different. I completely disagree…

10.Some postmodern paradigm-shifting: from C.S. Lewis to chaos magic and back…
I never had heard from Chaos magic until I started my inter-religious dialogue with pagans and real occultists (and found out that they were completely not what I expected.), and as someone with an interest in the intersection of religion and postmodernity the philosophy behind it it is completely fascinating… Paradigm-shifting was a word I knew from the emerging church dialogue, but I never imagined that people would use it pragmatically! I do balance it here with good old C.S. Lewis and some pictures from Narnia though…

11.10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
A post on the last day of 2014, and not an unimportant one. If the original
‘occultmergent’ post was a parting of ways with all things ’emergent’, this one is a bit of a distancing myself from what goes for ‘progressive Christianity’ these days. In the post I list 10 things that are claimed to be progressive while they actually are not new at all, and have biblical and/or traditional roots in historical Christian orthodoxy. On the other hand this also implies that there’s nothing ‘conservative’ (in the sense of Christian conservativeness that is, American conservatism has some roots far away from Christianity!) let alone ‘orthodox’ about opposing those things…

12.On the magic of willpower and exercising strong faith
With faith you can move a mountain… But does our faith lie in God or do we just use faith as a tool to get what we want (like happens in some magical traditions). I sometimes wish some of my Charismatic fellow Christians would be able to see the difference more clearly…

13.Charles Fort as the ultimate free thinker…
A book by Charles Fort, father of paranormal studies and very original thinker, made me wonder what a real ‘free thinker’ is. My conclusion is that Charles Fort is much more of a ‘free thinker’ than the self-proclaimed modern atheists who use that word can ever be. And it is the question if there’s much merit in just being a ‘free thinker’, nothing guarantees that a free thinker will be more right than the traditions he rejects…

14.On magic, miracles, and the differences between them.
Investigating the thought of people who claim to do ‘magick’ like I did in more posts of my ‘occultmergent’ series will lead to questions about the nature of miracles, and the difference between human magic and miracles. I try to find the difference between both in this post…

 15.Atheism, the supernatural, gaslighting and modernity…
People whose worldview is based around the non-existence of the supernatural can get quite difficult if you talk about experiences with the supernatural. This can lead to them completely denying any validity to your experiences, which might end up as a form of gaslighting. (“Your experiences are not true, and if you insist they are you are probably crazy”) That’s more or less what this post is about…

Apart from these 15 posts I do want to mention a few more posts, starting with 2 of the posts that I excluded because they already were in my top-five list. Our nonmagical modern world as the biggest magical trick ever… is one of my favorite thought-experiments ever, and Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’ talks about stuff that I’ve written before but that is quite important nonetheless.

To complete my list of farewells, I must add that I not only implicitly parted ways with ’emergent’ and whatever the internet calls ‘progressive Christianity’, but also explicitly wrote a post called  farewell, online American Christianity… which was kind of serious.

The last thing I want to draw attention to because they never had much readers even though it’s very important stuff is my not yet finished series of meditations on 1 Corinthians 13:
part I
part II

part III
part IV
part V

I might evaluate my writings and spiritual journey in 2014 more, but I do think that this is more than enough for one post…



The top-5 of most-read posts here in 2014

DSCF0083A new year, a new beginning… And a time to reflect on what I’m doing in different areas of my life.

When it comes to this blog 2014 probably wasn’t my most productive year because a lot of other things took more time and energy. I did still manage to write 40 posts on a lot of subjects, including a series of meditations on 1 Corinthians 13 that isn’t finished yet.

I had planned 2014 to be a year in which I would lessen the influence of American Evangelicalism on my faith, and try to demodernise myself a bit while trying to find my way back as a human being, as a thinker and as a believer. All of that is just work in progress and I’m only still scratching the surface of trying to get somewhere, but I do suppose that I did take some steps and explored some new directions.
The most unexpected new direction (which might have cost me some readers) is probably that in letting go of the influence of modernist naturalism I explored the supernatural in new ways and ended up in new and unconventional ‘occult’ territory. I never believed in materialist scienctism anyway as a Charismatic Christian, but I have let it influence me way too much in the past years, which wasn’t very healthy for my faith. The exploration of the supernatural in different ways and interreligous dialogue with modern pagans that I had elsewhere on the internet led to my invention of the word ‘occultmergent‘ (first as a joke), which even turned into a Fb-group. And it may have made me be the first evangelical blogger to mention chaos magic

So let’s have a look now at the top-5 of most-read posts on Brambonius in English in 2014:

My top-five of most-viewed posts in 2014:

1.  on Ishtar, myopic Anglocentrism and sloppy ‘scepticism’…
My first post ever that went semi-viral and thus my most-viewed post in 2014 was a reaction a very sloppy meme that originated from the Richard Dawkins society. I do expect more from ‘sceptics’ than this kind of rubbish…

2. A prayer in C to an absent God (Lilly Wood and the Prick)
Pop culture does seem to get me a lot of readers too, so my second-most viewed post this year was my analysis of the song ‘prayer in C’ by Lilly wood and the Prick, which is one of the big hits of this fall (in a dance remix). The lyrics can be seen a dark prayer to a powerless God who doesn’t do anything to keep this world from ending and will not be able to forgive itself when everything  has ended.

3. Our nonmagical modern world as the biggest magical trick ever…
For the third post we go to my weird theoretical explorations of the supernatural far outside the usual box, with an exploration of the idea that the world is much more magical than we moderns want it to be, but that this wish for a non-supernatural world itself s what gave us this current world devoid of a magic as we know it.

4. Stop being influenced by America?
The only older post in the top-five, from 2013. I have no clue why so much people were interested in my reasons to shake off the influence of the US on my faith, but maybe it’s jest because the map I used to illustrate this post was quite high-ranked in google pictures searches for a while…

 5. Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’
And with this fourth post we’re back in one of my more usual territories on this blog: combatting sexism from a Christian viewpoint…

If I had to chose my best posts of 2014 the list would’ve been completely different, but that’s for another time

Which ones did you like best?



10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…

Foto0067Before we close the year with some lists of the most-read stuff of 2014 and an evaluation of my project of demodernisation (and de-Americanisation, see also here) I will post this one last long and maybe to some controversial blogpost. This time we’ll talk about certain basic Christian ideas or at least ancient minority positions within Christianity that are sometimes regarded as new and ‘progressive’ ideas and thus tied to a new and ‘progressive’ form of Christianity which is incompatible with either the old-fashioned nonsense of the past or the true ‘conservative’ Christianity, depending on which side of the false dilemma one finds themselves. Which is very problematic actually…

I’ve seen the combination of the words ‘progressive Christianity’ gain more and more influence over the last years on the English-speaking internet. The term itself is like other words including ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ a term that I find utterly unhelpful and quite ambiguous .  I’ve also seen a lot of very different and sometimes quite contradictory interpretations of what ‘progressive Christianity’ is supposed to be, some of which were interesting to me, and others which weren’t at all… It seems that the expression became more popular (at least in the blogosphere) when the ’emergent’ brand lost its prominence, and that it also took over some of the content of that label, especially in the form of its ‘updated protestant theological liberalism’ (which frankly doesn’t interest me at all as a moderate anti-modernist).

(The main reason that I’ll never use the word ‘progressive’ to describe myself is that I completely reject the modernist myth of ‘progress’, which seems to be the root of the whole idea of contemporary progressiveness. But that’s another story that would only derail this post)

All of this does not mean that ‘progressive Christians’ don’t  have a lot of interesting things to say. A lot of the stuff that progressive Christians believe in and want us to talk about (but not all!) is very important to me too, or at least stuff I agree with… The problem here mostly the false dilemma that some see that I’ve mentioned already: the mistaken idea that ‘progressive Christianity’ (or ’emergentism’, or liberal protestantism, or…)  is a new and better and modern thing (or postmodern or contemporary or whatever word  is used to describe both their chronological snobbery and modern-Western cultural imperialism/neo-colonialism) , something completely distinct from what came before disconnected from it, and better than anything before it anyway.

While the opposite is true: most of the prophetic things that ‘progressives’ have to teach us are quite old, and they are important truths that have a long history within Christianity. Some as a minority-view, some as the majority-view in other times or other Christian traditions. Some normative outside of modernism even…

Let’s also talk here  the confusion of terms with some of the other words besides ‘progressive’ before we start. I’ve written before about the term ‘conservative’, which only means an impulse to conserve a certain tradition. For example the American use of the word ‘conservative’ has nothing to do with ‘conservative Christianity’ as some kind of ancient basic orthodoxy, but with some fairly recent (last 200 years mostly) forms of protestantism tied to the political old-school liberalism of the founding fathers and the American constitution (which has nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy at all!)

Fundamentalism as a Christian movement has not much to do with a basic Christian orthodoxy either. It’s more an early 20th century reactionary antithesis to liberalism, emphasizing not at all the core of historical Christianity but some areas in which they disagreed with liberal theology of that time, which gave a very unbalanced view of what the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity were that did not follow basic Christian orthodoxy at all. So while fundamentalism might be a photo-negative of classical liberal theology, it still is thoroughly modern in a lot of ways.  (see also this post for my problem with the bad photo-negative copy of it in American anti-fundamentalism, which is itself tied completely to what it tries to escape from)

So let’s list some of the ideas that are rejected by some or all American conservatives and fundamentalists, while embraced by progressives and thus seen as ‘progressive’ (or ‘liberal’)  by a lot of people. Those ideas are not new nor progressive nonetheless but have been part of the rich and diverse history of Christianity from the early days and can be traced back to the bible itself.   Most of them can be solidly defended from a basic orthodox reading of the bible.

(Note also that some of the things that are very important to the current ‘progressives’ are absent from this list because they just don’t fit in the list. Some are new for the modern age or just repackaged old heresies or non-Christian philosophies adopted by liberal Christianity. Rejecting the supernatural -spirits, angels, the afterlife- for example is not a new idea that people  could only come up with after evolving to a new step and entering the modern age. The Sadducees, who were more conservative than the Pharisees, already taught this and Jesus and the NT writers could have easily followed them, but they rejected it in favour of the views of the Pharisees…
But my exclusion of certain progressive ideas from this list doesn’t have to mean that I either agree nor disagree with any of them, just that I did not include them. I probably have forgotten a lot of stuff that could fit in this list….)

1. pacifism and Christian non-violence
I always assumed that pacifism or at least a tendency to non-violence were part of basic Christianity from my reading of the gospels, and especially the sermon on the mount. (I say this as a pentecostal kid living in a post-Catholic Belgian culture btw.) I know that some see it as an ideal that doesn’t always work, but even then, with enemy-love as one of Jesus commandments I could not conceive of Christians who would completely dismiss the idea in favour of militarism.
Great was my shock when I explored the internet as a young twenty-something and discovered Christians (mainly from the US) who completely dismissed the idea of Christian non-violence as dangerous and naive and placed it under the category of ‘liberal nonsense’. Such a view is completely a-historical and completely ignorant of the words of Jesus himself.
Christian non-violence does have a long history. It was prominent in pre-Constantinian times and while it wasn’t the majority position in later times (Even with ‘just war’ doctrine most wars would be seen as illegitimate btw… You can’t defend any of the American wars of the last half century with just war theory for example!) it has popped up regularly in the history of Christianity among groups or people who wanted to take Christ seriously. We see it appear already with the first Christians -who rather died that killed for their faith- over St. Francis of assisi -who went to meet the Sultan unarmed to talk about Christ in the middle of a crusade- and the line goes all the way to the Quakers and Anabaptists, and the modern Christian peacekeeper teams.  Christian non-violence is a deeply biblical idea that has been held in different degrees by a lot of people who took the New Testament and the words of Christ very seriously!

2. Anticapitalism
Recently the pope said some things about capitalism that were not received well by some American evangelicals. But contrary to what some people thought he did not say anything new and did only reword catholic doctrine that was already popetrickleaffirmed by the popes before him. What he said was quite logical for most non-American Catholics and other Christians also. I’ve never understood why capitalism is such a holy cow to certain (mainly American) Christians. It is a very modernist economic idea that has not much to do with classical Christianity but is tied to historical liberalism, and it can devolve very easily into economical and social jungle-law Darwinism, which is the opposite of anything a Christian could ever defend. So while it cannot be linked to the bible being a modern invention, it also goes counter to some Biblical and historically Christian ideas. Look at this list of quotes from the church fathers for example.
I once wanted to write a series about Christianity and capitalism but never got further than this first post  I also have written a post called Abundance is the enemy of capitalism. starting from the biblical idea of abundance as a part of shalom, which is opposed to the capitalist basic principle of scarcity…

I can also add that there is nothing new or ‘liberal’ about vaguely ‘socialist’ ideas and ways of living. The church of Acts was quite ‘communist’, as well as most monastic orders.
And let’s not forget that the only false god that is called by name in the gospels is Mammon, of with Jesus says that he cannot be served together with God…

3. ‘Green’ lifestyles and ecological awareness
If God is Creator (which all Christians including all evolutionary Creationists affirm – as far as I know) , and we are to love God above all, some respect for His creation seems to be very logical to me. Taking care of creation is also a commandment in genesis (unless you see ‘ruling’ as a very oppressive dictatorship, but I would say that we aren’t to do anything to nature we wouldn’t want rulers to do with us…) It always was logical to me that Christians should have a lot of respect for nature as the work of Gods hands, although it might be that this impulse was fed more by my (almost post-)catholic teachers in school than in my pentecostal upbringing.

Premodern people did live a lot closer to nature. Jesus spent a lot of time in nature praying and meditating throughout the gospels. Our modern disconnect with nature is far removed from the world of the bible, but respect for nature as Christians is a tradition that goes back at least to (again) Francis of Assisi, and probably the Celtic Church.
There is no good reason for us to condone destruction of Gods creation in favour of our idols like ‘the economy’ or ‘progress’. None of these does have to have any of our allegiance as followers of Christ…

I could also refer to Pope Francis here, who is rumoured to write an ecological encyclical in 2015  and repeat that there’s nothing progressive at all about conserving nature. If there’s anything at all that deserves to be called ‘conservative’ if that word has any meaning at all, it’s conserving the creation in which God has put us…,
(The same is true for most of the other ‘progressive’ views of Pope Francis. They are -like most things in this list- not new at all and actually quite ‘conservative’ in that they have a long biblical and traditional history)

4. Not taking the first chapters of genesis as literal history
And then for something completely different: I can’t be the only one who has noticed that the debate about a literal reading of genesis does mainly live in fundamentalist and evangelical circles, while it is more of a non-issue in most other classical orthodox denominations, including the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. Which already should say something about how ‘progressive’ the idea of a  non-literal reading of the first chapters of the bible actually is I guess.
There have been a lot of readings of the Creation story throughout church history, some of which were literal while others were completely allegorical. Augustine for example, while writing about ‘the literal interpretation of genesis’ assumes that the seven days where metaphor and that the whole cosmos was created at the same moment…

Even Charles Darwin himself did not think that his ideas of evolution were incompatible with his Christian faith. He did lose it over the cruelness of  nature though.

5. Rejecting the idea of hell as eternal conscious torment for all non-Christians
Another debate that is as old as the history of the Church is the fate of those not in Christ. While universalism has always been a minority position, belief in hell of some sorts seems to be a majority position, the details vary a lot throughout church history. Some of the church fathers seem to tend to very generous inclusivism or even in the direction of hopeful universalism, with some like Origen even arriving at full universalism. (Which means that Christ in his death and resurrection was able to save all from hell, not at all that all religions are the same or so…)
Another part of the discussion is the nature of hell. C.S. Lewis seems (in line with more orthodox church fathers) to see hell as being cut of from God, the Source of all life. Other orthodox thinkers see hell as the same place as heaven, where the undiluted presence of God is unbearable to those who hate Him.

Another alternative idea about the fate of the wicked is Annihilationism (the wicked are just annihilated and cease to exist after the judgement), and old and in origin Jewish idea that has been made popular in more recent times by the seventh-day adventists (also followed by the Jehovah witnesses by the way) for mainly biblical reasons.

6. Rejection of an exclusively ‘penal substitution’ view of the atonement in Christ
And another important discussion, but here the evangelical default itself is historically a more recent minority position: penal substitution atonement as we know it (Jesus saved us by taking Gods wrath upon Himself on the cross) is only as old as protestantism. For the other 1500 years and in other traditions very different ideas existed about how Jesus saved us by his life, death and resurrection. We even see this in the famous Narnia story, where Lewis follows a classical ransom-version of Christus Victor atonement: the sinner (Edmund) is freed from slavery to death and sin (the witch) because Jesus (Aslan) took his place and defeated death and sin in the resurrection… Note that this still IS substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal substitution. (If I understand correctly the idea of penal substitution as some protestants teach it is regarded as abhorrent and even heresy by a lot of Eastern Orthodox thinkers)

I am of the opinion myself that no theory of atonement will ever explain everything that happened so we need a lot of them together to have a more complete picture. Some popular versions of penal substitution, especially when elevated to the level of ‘gospel’ do sound very troubling to me though…

7. Egalitarianism in marriage and women preachers
As a Charismatic I became convinced of egalitarianism between the sexes for biblical reasons. I don’t see how a couple can be ‘one flesh’ as genesis says and still have one who always have to lead and another who always has to follow. I also am convinced by the bible more than by Christian tradition  of the importance of women in every role in the church., Jesus is quite ‘feminist’ (anti-sexist might be a better word) himself compared to his culture, like in the story of Martha and Mary for example, and the early church had a lot of women in a lot of positions, up to the female apostle Junia and the businesswoman Lydia who had a house church in her house.

It’s nonsense to put this kind of egalitarianism away as ‘liberal’ or claim it as solely ‘progressive’. I’ve seen women preachers in African pentecostal churches, and you can say a lot about those, but ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ did in no way apply to them. I’ve never had any interest in the liberal ‘we moderns know better than those dumb bronze-age desert people’ reasoning, and it still doesn’t convince me at all.
I do believe in the need of equality and mutual submission in marriage though for biblical reasons and from experience. I’ve met a lot of women who were used by the Holy Spirit through preaching, and denying that would feel quite a lot like blasphemy against the Holy spirit. God does use women in a lot of roles, and calls individuals for very different things, regardless of their sex.

(Let’s also repeat here that I don’t believe that any idea about ‘biblical manhood’ that does not fit with the fruits of the Spirit as described by Paul has any legitimacy at all. None of that stuff is biblical, it’s just unhealthy cultural stereotypes that are made legitimate by abusing bible verses.)

8. Rejection of the idea of the ‘rapture’ (and of dispensationalism as a whole)
Let’s be short here: the idea of ‘the rapture’ isn’t even 200 years old, so it’s from the same time as a lot of liberal theology. Traditionally most Christians have been amillenialist but there are more interpretations of biblical eschatology that make more sense than the dispensationalist one.
Nothing progressive about rejecting the rapture or dispensationalism, it’s just what every Christian before the 1800’s and most non-evangelicals since then did, whatever their eschatology was…
Some forms of dispensationalism do seem to border on heresy for completely different reasons too though.

9. ‘Mysticism’
Mysticism is a hot word in certain circles, and one that has a lot of different interpretations. The most basic meaning is to experience the presence of God yourself as a believer. It’s nothing new though, there runs a deep mystic tradition through both Eastern and Western Christianity which was already very important in the first centuries of Christianity with the desert fathers and mothers.
What does seem to be new and endemic to certain corners of contemporary progressive Christianity is that mysticism does in some way exclude the idea of supernatural beings. This is completely contrary to a lot of older Christian mystics who did encounter angels, demons and other ‘supernatural entities’ as if it were the most normal thing one could do…

10. Not framing the trustworthiness of the bible as ‘inerrancy’
The bible is very important for Christians for a lot of reasons, and it is one of the means through which we can encounter God. The bible is a library of books that are seen as inspired by God by Christians (‘God-breathed’ according to Paul in a very well-known verse) but the fundamentalist notion of ‘innerancy’ of the literal text of the bible goes further than how Christianity classically saw the bible. It did not by accident come into being around the same time  as the Catholics invented papal infallibility, a time when modernism eroded any faith in trustworthiness of the bible, the Christian tradition or Christian authorities.

This went further than the trustworthiness that premodern Christians ascribed to the bible, and gave rise to the modern ‘new atheist’ reading of the bible which is as far removed from the message of the bible as the fundamentalist one. (They are closely related anyway as purely modernist traditions)

So while I do affirm the trustworthiness of the bible (something that isn’t in the historical creeds btw!) I don’t think we should go looking for scientific or other details that are just not there. And we should not fear contradictions or paradoxes. God can speak truth through things that are not 100% historical as well. We have differences in the 4 gospels, and different theological agendas, even the church fathers knew that, but it wasn’t a problem until modern times (and it still if for the Orthodox and most Catholics…) so maybe we want the bible to be something that it isn’t meant to be.

In the end, the Word that became flesh is Jesus Christ, and the bible is here to point at Him, not at itself… It isn’t a paper pope and if it becomes an idol that distracts from God it’s really sad, not?  We should always seek God and Jesus in the bible, otherwise studying it won’t be of any worth, as Jesus says to the Pharisees somewhere…

So we come to the end of my list of things that are  not at all new to Christianity and can’t be claimed to be exclusively tied to ‘progressive Christianity’, whatever that even may be. Note again that the list is by no means exhaustive, and that I probably overlooked very important ones…

(I didn’t include much that goes against the republican ‘Americanist synchretism’ that some  American conservatives seem to believe in, with America as some holy entity that is more special for God than other countries or cultures. For non-Americans like me such things are too irrelevant and illogical to even address… Neither did I address double predestination for example, which is seen as heresy by the Eastern Orthodox and rejected by most non-protestants…)

So what do you think?