don’t like Christianity
“This book is an attempt to understand and explain how I, a postmodern, politically liberal Gen-Xer, have come to be an intentional follower of Jesus—who actually calls himself a “Christian.” My larger purpose is to share about progressive Christianity—the approach to the Christian faith that inspires and feeds me. I probably couldn’t be a Christian if it were not for this approach to the faith.” Wolsey, p. 17
Roger Wolsey was raised as a Methodist. Following a call to vocational ministry, he attended seminary and became a pastor. He perceived that his liberal beliefs would not be acceptable to most in his first congregation. Like many educated clergy, he learned religious double-speak—he did not feel safe to share his views about God and faith. His spiritual journey is the subject of Chapter 1 and provides the context for this book.
In Chapter 2, Wolsey introduces us to his bifurcation of Christianity into “conservative and progressive” camps. This sounds familiar to me—it’s the way I presented the moral diversity in A House Divided. His definition of the two groups is worth considering (see pp. 50-51).
Conservative Christianity focuses on the religion about Jesus and getting people to agree with certain intellectual truth claims; for example, “people are sinners who aren’t right with God” and “Jesus is their personal Lord and savior;” and it asserts that it’s important for people to believe these things here and now if they want to go to heaven when they die.
Instead of getting people to agree with certain assertions about various dogmas, doctrines, or “truth claims,” progressive Christianity focuses more upon following a certain, radical way of life; namely, following the countercultural, subversive, and life-giving teachings and example of Jesus.
Chapter 3 is about God. He presents a view of God as loving people. He answers the challenge to God’s alleged destruction in the Old Testament in two ways. First, some of the events in stories did not happen but the stories convey truth. Second, if a town was destroyed by natural events, he suggests the views are those of people who interpreted the tragedies as events caused by God.
Jesus is the subject of chapter 4. He contrasts the conservative emphasis on the death of Jesus and personal salvation with a progressive view focused on Jesus’ mission, which he declared when he read from Isaiah 61:1-2 in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. The emphasis is on restoring people to society.
Perhaps you noticed that Wolsey is working through classic theological topics? So, the next chapter is about the nature of humans and sin with an emphasis on redemption. Next, he offers a progressive take on salvation as a focus on right relationships with people in community. “Salvation is about showing loving kindness…to people in need (p. 152).”
The existence of hell and the non-Christians are addressed in chapter 7. Wolsey appears to take a “no worries” approach. He encourages readers to focus on God’s grace and love. And he asserts that God is at work among those who are not following Jesus’ path that is, not identified as Christians.
The Bible is the focus of chapter 8. I won’t quibble with the placement but I think interpretations of the Bible are a key difference among the Christian groups so, perhaps placing this chapter first would be worth considering in a future edition. Here, Wolsey invites readers to consider different ways to understand the stories in the Bible. He treads carefully as if afraid of being accused of rejecting the Bible.
The problem of evil discussed in chapter 9 shows that Wolsey is not afraid of taking on the big topics. He affirms what many intelligent young Christians see as a poor answer saying that God’s ways are a mystery. Alas, I don’t think Wolsey has a useful answer here yet, perhaps some readers will find his musings helpful. The end is near. This is a short chapter (10) summarizing the views of those who hold end times doctrines. Wolsey attempts to focus his readers on living in the present.
In the final three chapters, Wolsey presents the key tenets of a progressive Christianity with a focus on love, spiritual practices like centering prayer, and promoting peace and justice.
There is a postlude and eight appendixes, which add additional features for readers who want to go deeper into progressive Christian thought.
I recommend Kissing Fish for those who are fed up with forms of Christianity focused on hostile political actions, demonizing people of other faiths, nations, or groups, and lacking a focus on helping Christians live lives demonstrating a love for God manifest in loving others as oneself.
I think the book would be useful for group discussions and I think some of the detailed notes could be skipped without a loss of appreciating the points he is making. The book fits well with those of other writers who offer various takes on appreciating a nonliteral interpretation of the biblical texts and an emphasis on the many metaphors Jesus and his followers used to understand the new way at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.
Cite this review
Sutton, G. (2021, June 28). Kissing fish- Progressive Christians – a book review. SuttonReviews. Retrieved from https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2021/06/kissing-fish-progressive-christians.html
Wolsey, R. (2011). Kissing fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity. xlibris.