Progressive Christianity

IST 2206

Interterm 2020

Instructor: Antony Alumkal


Click link below for syllabus in Word file:


The course aims to familiarize students with the following aspects of the Progressive Christianity:

1) its historical and sociological context,

2) the arguments of its most popular writers,

3) critiques leveled against it, and

4) how it operates as a social movement.

Additionally, students are encouraged to arrive at their own theological and normative evaluation of this tradition.

  1. The following books are required texts for the course. (Note that inexpensive used copies are readily available online.)

Borg, Marcus J. 2003. The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. San Francisco: HarperSanFranciso.

Evans, Christopher. 2010. Liberalism without Illusions: Renewing an American Christian Tradition. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 2018. Unbelievable: Why neither Ancient Creeds nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today. San Francisco: HarperOne.


  1. The following readings are available as pdfs on the Canvas site:

Edles, Laura Desfor. 2013. “Contemporary Progressive Christianity and Its Symbolic Ramifications.” Cultural Sociology 7: 3-22.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. 1996. The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. New York: HarperOne. Chapter 1.

Tinker, Tink. 2013. “Why I Do not Believe in a Creator.” Pp. 167-179 in Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, edited by Steve Heinrichs. Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press.


  1. The following reading is available for free download:

Little, Anita. 2017. “A Progressive Christian Conference with an All-White Lineup: What Could Go Wrong?” Religion Dispatches.

Long, Thomas. 2017. “The Binary Christianity of Marcus Borg.” The Christian Century.

Sachs, William. 2018. Review of Unbelievable: Why neither Ancient Creeds nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today by John Shelby Spong. Reading Religion.

Iliff’s previous interterm courses all met in person for large blocks of time over one or two weeks. Given current realities, we will use a combination of synchronous Zoom sessions and asynchronous discussions on Canvas.

  1. Students are responsible for attending the four synchronous Zoom sessions. Please have the assigned readings finished beforehand. I will post a written lecture in Canvas that will provide some background information about the readings and some questions that we can include in our discussion. Come with any additional questions or issues related to the readings that you would like to discuss.
  2. Following the Zoom session will be a discussion assignment on Canvas. Please make a post engaging the readings in some way. Appropriate posts would include (but not be limited to): 1) discussing something that you have learned, 2) offering a comparison with your previous experience (“that reminds me of…”), 3) raising a question that you have about the readings, or 4) discussing your areas of agreement or disagreement with the readings.

After you have made your initial post, please make a substantive response to another student’s post. Appropriate response posts would include (but not be limited to) the following: 1) answering a question posed by your classmate, 2) discussing your agreement or disagreement with the post, 3) asking a question about the post, 4) relating the post to your experience. Deadlines for the two posts will be listed in Canvas.

  1. Students are required to write a final research paper, which will be due after the synchronous meetings have ended. Find a cultural product (book, article, website, video, etc.) produced by an individual or organization that identifies as Progressive Christian. Discuss how the theological ideas in this product compare to those in the American liberal tradition as described by Evans. Then discuss how the theological ideas compare to those of Borg, Spong, and their critics. Approximately 8 pages, not including bibliography. Due date: December 21.


Discussion Group Conduct

The course should involve a free exchange of ideas, which means you are welcome to express your viewpoints and to disagree with the viewpoints of the instructor or your fellow students. This should always be done in a way that shows respect for the other people involved in the course. If you are not sure how to disagree without coming across as disrespectful, try saying, “I would like to respectfully disagree with that.” Many students like saying, “Let me push back on that…” which also works. Posts that fail to adhere to Iliff’s standards of conduct will be marked down.


Zoom Participation: 25%

Discussion Posts: 25%

Final Paper: 50%


Students may take the course pass/fail. You do not need to provide an explanation for why you are choosing this option.

My assumption is that students in a masters program can be expected to produce above average academic work. Therefore, the modal grade I assign is B+. A paper will earn a B+ if it 1) fulfills all of the requirements of the assignment and 2) demonstrates that the student has a solid (though not necessarily flawless) understanding of the con­cepts in the course readings and lectures. A paper will earn a grade higher than a B+ if it fulfills the assignment and demonstrates exceptional insight into the course concepts. A paper will earn a grade of B or B- if there are minor to moderate shortcomings in either fulfilling the assignment or demonstrating understanding of course concepts. Grades below B- are reserved for papers with major shortcomings in either area.

Students will receive full credit (an A) for active participation in the Zoom sessions and for completing their Canvas posting according to the guidelines.

Nov 28, 2020SatCourse Introductiondue by 06:58AM
Nov 28, 2020SatIntroduce Yourselfdue by 06:59AM
Nov 30, 2020MonHistory of Liberalismdue by 07:59PM
Nov 30, 2020MonSynchronous Session 1due by 08:00PM
Dec 02, 2020WedDiscussion 1due by 06:59AM
Dec 03, 2020ThuMarcus Borg and Criticsdue by 07:59PM
Dec 03, 2020ThuSynchronous Session 2due by 08:00PM
Dec 05, 2020SatDiscussion 2due by 06:59AM
Dec 07, 2020MonJohn Shelby Spongdue by 07:59PM
Dec 07, 2020MonSynchronous Session 3due by 08:00PM
Dec 09, 2020WedDiscussion 3due by 06:59AM
Dec 10, 2020ThuProgressive Christianity as Social Movementdue by 07:59PM
Dec 10, 2020ThuSynchronous Session 4due by 08:00PM
Dec 12, 2020SatDiscussion 4due by 06:59AM
Dec 22, 2020TueFinal Paperdue by 06:59AM