Against the Stream:
Progressive Christianity between Pulpit and Pew
Author: Rex A E Hunt
Publisher: Morning Star Publishing
By Dr Noel Preston
Aptly titled, Against the Stream: Progressive Christianity between Pulpit and Pew, this collection (to cite the back cover blurb) “is an important resource for those seeking a relevant faith beyond creed, set answers, and conservative neo-orthodoxy, which have shackled the church ever since the 1970s.”
In fact its centre-piece is a collection of twenty-six sermons delivered between 2002 and 2012 mainly at The Church of St James, Canberra, during his last placement as a Uniting Church minister before retiring. An extended essay on the characteristics of progressive Christianity, especially in the Australian context, precedes these homilies.
Against the Stream is significant because its author is a prominent organiser within the so called grassroots movement of progressive Christianity, the 'church alumni', as Bishop Spong describes them. Rex Hunt was the Founding Director of “The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought” in Canberra, initiated and chaired the Common Dreams national conferences (2007 and 2010) and the forthcoming Common Dreams 3 conference (September 2013). As an Associate of the Westar Institute he has also been a major Australian conduit to leading progressive New Testament scholars in North America, such as Robert Funk, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.
The sermons follow the seasons of the Christian Calendar and are mostly expositions of the lectionary Gospel of the day. Rex Hunt declares himself more an editor than an original thinker; as a consequence, the sermonettes (for brevity is one of their characteristics) contain rich quotations from sources which, altogether, represent a wonderful anthology for the inquiring and thinking pew sitter.
Even more significant to this reviewer is that this book comes from a practising pastor, a teacher/preacher with a Sunday by Sunday commitment within a congregation – a fact which adds authenticity and integrity to the text.
Clearly evident is the preacher's passion for the good news of the Jewish rabbi, Jesus/ Yeshua, the one hidden in the oral tradition which precedes early Christian documents. Exemplifying this passion, the conclusion of his 2011 Good Friday sermon reads: “Traditional theology has taught us: 'Jesus died so that we might live'. It suggests the torture and murder lamented this Friday is 'good'. Progressive theology teaches: Christians who ground their power in divine love mourn on Friday, keep vigil until dawn on Sunday, and say with joy, Jesus lived so that all creation might live (p.96)”.
Apart from giving clues to those dedicated to preparing sermons grounded in scholarship and relevance to the 21st century, Against the Stream also works well for the individual who wishes to nourish their faith with thoughtful reflections.