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In Honor of James R. Adams

Founder of The Center for Progressive Christianity

June 30, 1934 - September 13, 2011





It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that TCPC Founder, James R. Adams, passed away on September 13th, 2011. He founded The Center for Progressive Christianity in 1994. He has been an inspiration and a leader to many people in the field and had a profound

James R. Adamsimpact upon progressive Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic.  Among his many publications are So You Think You Are Not Religious and From Literal to Literary. Jim will be missed as a dedicated churchman and an endless source of challenge and support to clergy and laypeople alike. He leaves behind his loving family. He will be greatly missed by us all.  In this eBulletin, we pull together people's thoughts on Jim, some of our favorite articles of his, and offer a great sale on his books. 


To read his bio, click here. Services will be held on Saturday Services at Christ Church on September 17 at 2:00 pm.  


To make a donation to TCPC in honor of Jim, please click here.

A Tribute to Jim
By: Fred Plumer

Fred Plumer

It was sometime in 1996. I was at a meeting with a group of other clergy and scholars in Southern California.  I was honored to be included in this group of approximately eighteen people, most of who were well known in their respective fields and endeavors. We were there to talk about forming a new Christian organization that might inspire and help empower mainline churches to respond to the growing influence that the religious right was having on public policy and programs in our governments at the time. I believe there was a second agenda. It was the assumption that if more churches got involved with what were largely social justice issues, they would begin to thrive again. There was also some talk about presenting a more informed, and possibly new terminology for the Christianity that we were going to represent.


In our next meeting I asked if we were ever going to discuss the theological and Christological foundation of this new organization. After all, Christian scholarship was going through a period of de-construction and it seemed to me that if we were going to be effective in the public place, possibly effecting public policy, we should have some clarity about what we believed. In other words, what would be the basis for our actions? Was it biblical? Which part of the Bible...Leviticus or the Prophets? Was it because Jesus instructed us to do these things? Who was Jesus? Was it because we had direct instructions from God? And what do we mean by the word "God?" Or are we simply compassionate, secular humanist. 


Everyone looked at me like I had stepped of a space ship. Finally after several minutes of near silence, the moderator suggested that I write a paper and present it to the group at the next meeting. It is probably no surprise that when I gave my paper, it was not well received. I even had a response that I would call hostile. I was not devastated but I was disappointed. 


There was a tall lanky man at that gathering, I did not recognize, sitting off to the side of the large conference table, quietly observing the exchange. I thought he was a visiting professor from one of the nearby Universities. Unlike some of the other attendees, he was not wearing anything that would suggest that he was clergy-just the same funky blue plaid sports coat that I would see for ten more years and grow to love. 


After the meeting was over, this same man walked up to me and handed me his card. Yes, it was Jim Adams, President of The Center for Progressive Christianity. I did not know it, but this was a turning point in my life. One long letter, packed with information about the new organization he was heading, a follow up phone call and the course of my life had been changed. 


Reflections on James R. Adams

By Janice Gregory


Janice Gregory

On October 13, 2011, James Rowe Adams, founder of The Center for Progressive Christianity, died at home after a year-long battle with brain cancer. He was 77. Amazingly, his boundless curiosity and zest for life stayed with him until the final few days. Janice Gregory, Vice President of TCPC, member of St Mark's Church and friend, reflects on his creative spirit.


"Some people must ask questions.  They are born that way," said Jim Adams.  And he was one of those people.  "Some people cannot accept Biblical miracle stories as historical fact," said Jim Adams.  And he was one of those people.


By being honest and open about where he was, Jim Adams opened the benefits of honest spirituality and open religious community to thousands of people...including me.  His primary crucible was his home parish church of thirty years, St. Mark's Episcopal in Washington, D.C.  Subsequently, he took that same open spirit to the establishment of The Center for Progressive Christianity.  



Raise a Dark Brew to Jim!
By: Jim Burklo

Jim Burklo
"There will be no laugh that quite can replace the laughter of Jim Adams, who with straight talk and good humor blew away the prideful puffery that infected Christianity, and made expansive space for a kinder, humbler, happier form of the faith.  Jim Adams was a leader who encouraged others to lead the progressive Christian movement.  He embodied what it was about.  He went with the flow:  he didn't try to control it - he picked up on where people needed and wanted it to go, and supported their initiatives - and that was the whole point of The Center for Progressive Christianity from day one.  I'll never forget a conversation we had at one of our board meetings, when we were discussing a possible change in the Eight Point Welcome Statement.  Someone said that it would not work to make any changes, since the original statement was what so many churches had ratified by listing themselves as progressive congregations.  Jim and the rest of us - including the person who made that statement - paused, looked at each other, and started laughing.  And proceeded to modify the Eight Points.  (Which have been modified since - and, I pray, ever shall be modified.)  As it was with Tillich, so it was with Jim Adams, who knew that theology was impossible without beer.  So let us raise a dark brew in happy memory of this warm and kind and caring man who electrified so many people around the country and around the world with a way of opening Christianity to make room for those who felt shut out from it in the past.  Missing you more than ever!
God Talk

By James R. Adams


People sometimes ask me about what I believe about God. I finally learned to say that the question of believing does not interest me very much. I'll be glad to talk to you about God but not about belief. As a way of entering conversation, I'll tell you what I mean when I speak of God. I don't mean that the way I talk about God is the same way you talk about God, but if we are going to have God talk, we must be willing to tell each other what we mean when we speak of God.


When I speak of God, I may be talking about what Stephen Hawking had in mind when he announced that the universe began with an intensely concentrated bit of matter about the size of a shriveled pea. Then came the big bang and everything that followed. When I talk about God, I may be speaking about how everything came to be.


Or it may be that when I speak of God, I am talking about the way we human beings have of recognizing how the world is, as opposed to the way we know the world ought to be. We know the world is a terrible mess -- filled with crime, catastrophe and disaster -- and we know it ought to be filled with love, justice and peace. When I talk about God, I may be referring to whoever or whatever planted in our minds an awareness of what is as opposed to what ought to be.



Better Than Believing

Christianity for skeptics, agnostics, and atheists

By James R Adams  



Skeptics, agnostics, and atheists of all sorts are finding that progressive Christian churches accept them just as they are without insisting that they conform their thought processes to some real or imagined standard. One person may be delighted to discover that participation in the life of a Christian church does not require belief in propositions that run contrary to scientific education and training. Another, who values honesty above all other virtues, experiences a genuine welcome in a church that puts more emphasis on intellectual integrity than on religious doctrine. A person who struggled unsuccessfully to accept what was taught in Sunday school feels at home in a church that does not demand the pretence of believing what seems to make no sense.  


The growth of a progressive Christian congregation may not lie in its ability to make believers out of skeptics or to talk conventional Christians into switching their loyalties. Rather, the increase in membership is most likely to be the result of evangelism, that is, letting secular discover what others have found of value in the life of the church.



More Thoughts on Jim From Around the World

"Jim had a profound impact upon progressive Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic. I had the privilege of meeting him regularly for lunch on his annual Spring visits to UK. I also lunched with him overlooking the water at Grand Haven - we shared a great love of clam chowder as we talked about TCPC and PCNBritain. Jim was a great encourager of us all and will be sadly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and TCPC, as well as with Ginny and family at this very sad time." 
~John Churcher, Chair Progressive Christian Network, Britain

"Jim's invitation to start a network for progressive Christians in Canada has changed not only my life, but also the lives of hundreds if not thousands across the country. On a weekly basis, I hear of one or two or a group of people who finally feel they have been heard, validated, welcomed, and affirmed as Christians. I also hear from non-theists, atheists, and those who don't want to call themselves anything but who yearn for a place of spiritual nourishment that can help them grow and offer themselves more deeply into the world. They, too, feel affirmed and heard.  Jim made that not only possible, he blessed it into being even though the iterations of progressive Christianity around the world - most of which were brought into being through his touch and invitation - are each, some more, some less, different than what he had first envisioned. It is a big man who can share a vision and celebrate the varied ways it is brought into being, even those that build a skyline differing from the one he had in mind." 

~Gretta Vosper, founder of the Canadian Center for Progressive Christianity and author of With or Without God 


"I first met Jim Adams in person in 2005 when we had lunch together in the pub just outside the gates of Harvard University, in Cambridge. We talked about the many things we had in common and the issues and challenges facing the global progressive christian movement. He was a very gracious man. I appreciated his knowledge and respected his wisdom. He will be sadly missed by the global progressive movement. It is my hope that our tribute to him will be the continuing shaping of a vital, compassionate, and intellectually honest movement."

~Rev Rex A E Hunt, Founding Director, The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought, Australia Chair, Common Dreams Conference of Religious Progressives, Australia/New Zealand

"You will be comforted to know that in spite of his growing illness, he continued to cheer us with his presence at Sunday services right up to the last."
~Tom Bleser, Christ Church, Cambridge

"In retirement, Jim has been a faithful member of Christ Church, willing to fill in at a moment's notice when needed and always ready to share new ideas and learnings. Jim will be missed as a dedicated churchman and an endless source of challenge and support to clergy and laypeople alike."
~Joe, Christ Church, Cambridge


With the loss of our founding leader, our hearts are saddened. All of us in the progressive Christian movement will miss Jim. However, the greatest honor that we can stow upon him will be to continue the work that he started and to help people find a new Christianity. As Jim said, we must stand together in the face of discrimination, we must channel negative energy into something positive, we must support communities that are inclusive, and we must stand alongside any of our sisters and brothers who have a legitimate cause for justice. We must be as One. Thank you for supporting TCPC in this mission.


Fred Plumer

and the team at

In This Issue
A Tribute to Jim
Reflections on James R. Adams
Raise a Dark Brew!
God Talk
Better Than Believing
Favorite Quotes
From Literal to Literary
Favorite Quotes by Jim Adams 

James Adams

"To discriminate against some members of our congregation is to discriminate against us all. We choose to stand together. Since some of our members are homosexual, so are we all in the face of discrimination. Since some of our members are Jewish, so are we all in the face of discrimination. Since some of our members are children, so are we all in the face of discrimination. We are mothers, fathers, single, married, gay, straight, old, young, African-American, handicapped; we are many faces of humanity. As a congregation, however, we are one."



"I think science and religion operate in two quite distinct realms. And each has a contribution to play to the wellbeing of the individual in society. Religion is about community building and science is about observation and experimenting and the testing of hypothesis. Nothing in science, as far as I can see, is inherently (opposed) to religion or vice-versa. And there are people in the progressive church movement who are still active in their scientific endeavors. And they do cross over." 


"In most cases, there seems to be, as a sociologist taught me, that in times of stress, people need some way of channeling all of the energy which becomes negative if they don't have appropriate rituals to follow."


"As progressive Christians we are one. We will stand alongside any of our sisters and brothers who have a legitimate appeal for justice in the church or in society at large."


I don't think religious institutions should be attempting to influence and let alone control government. Many of my colleagues disagree with me. But for me the issue is that progressive churches should be equipping their congregations to act as good responsible citizens and they should be involved in these conversations but not religious institutions. I was appalled by Jim Wallis' book which was praised by some of the Rockridge people, God's Politics. I think that even the name itself is blasphemous." 


~James Rowe Adams



Quick Links

The Essential Reference
 Book for Biblical Metaphors

From Literal to Literary

By: James R. Adams 
book cover

The newly updated second edition of this professional reference tool examines over 165 biblical metaphors - 15 of which are new - and includes an index to Hebrew and Greek words, an index of Bible citations, and a pronunciation guide for transliterated Hebrew and Greek words. Will be useful for sermon preparation and Christian education, especially adult Bible study groups.

"An exceptionally fine book... a very relevant resource for recovering the rich resonances of biblical and Christian language." 


~Marcus Borg, author of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time


"Those who try to defend the claim that the Bible is the literal Word of God will be undone..." 


~John Shelby Spong, author of Reclaiming the Bible for the Non-Religious World 

"The author traces the origin of 164 words, from DESPAIR to SALVATION and from CHRIST to SATAN (even METAPHOR is there), shows how multiple translations of the Old and the New Testament from Hebrew and Greek color our attitude toward some of the most basic concepts, and does it in a lively, readable way."


~Anatoly Liberman

Professor of Germanic Philology
University of Minnesota 

Author of 

Word Origins... And How We Know Them - Etymology for Everyone

This Book is On Special Sale in honor of Jim Adams! Click here

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So You Think You're Not Religious?  
By: James Rowe Adams

So You Think You're Not Religious 2nd edition

In So You Think You're Not Religious, James Adams sets himself a formidable task: asserting the value of Christian faith and practice to skeptics, and overcoming their very reasonable objections. It's perhaps in his favor that he's an extremely reasonable man, and that many of these objections were his own, at other times in his life.


On Special Sale, In Honor of Jim Adams! 



Reflections on Creating Open and Welcoming Communities

By: Jim Adams


James R. Adams


What is Required to Make an Open and Welcoming Community Work?


1. Honesty 

2. Humility 

3. Acceptance

4. Discretion 

5. Diversity 


What Gets in the Way?

1. Pastors

2. Anxiety

3. Theology

4. Impatience