21 Jun Regressive Christianity
What goes around, comes around. What’s coming round now is a resurgent liberalism that aims to accommodate Christianity to contemporary society and the moral revolution that’s virtually swept Western Civilization into its camp. That moral revolution has its ideological roots in the Enlightenment but surged out of its hothouse of the academic elite, where it gained a hegemony until it emerged in the 60’s to become a pervasive social movement.
Moving co-tangent with the radicals of the moral and sexual revolution of the 60’s was a resurgent interest in Christianity that breathed new life into a moribund church. The Jesus People Movement was a genuine revival that renewed thousands of churches and birthed new fellowships that stripped the Church of empty rituals in favor of a deeply held faith in Jesus as personal Savior. One of the marks of this resurgent Evangelicalism was a return to the Reformation belief of Sola Scriptura; that Scripture is God’s inspired and inerrant Word, sufficient for faith and practice.
But the Jesus People Movement which fueled a resurgent Evangelicalism was just one stream in Western Culture; a minor one at that. While it did exert some influence during the following few decades, the liberal Enlightenment culture as embodied in the moral revolution carried on apace; moving the wider culture ever further from a Judeo-Christian worldview.
By the dawn of the 21st Century, secular humanism had co-opted the culture of Europe & North America, leaving Evangelicals as an intellectual ghetto. A decade later, a triumphant secular humanism has turned on that ghetto with vehemence to eradicate it. In a kind of intellectual urban renewal project, it has targeted conservative Christianity for demolition and remodeling after its own image.
Secular humanism fancies itself tolerant and enlightened. It professes to allow room for religious groups, so long as they give allegiance to secularism’s values. The idea is, “Believe what you will, so long as your behavior aligns with our social agenda.”
This presents a problem for Christians desiring to remain faithful to Biblical and historical Christianity. Central to our faith is an abhorrence of hypocrisy; of claiming to believe something while living as though we don’t. Ideas have consequences, or they can’t be considered as personally held beliefs. Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord, but do not do what I say? . . . If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
Yet today, an accelerating number of one-time “conservative Christians” are renouncing that label to align with a liberal faith less antagonistic to secularism. They’ve accommodated themselves to the world by accepting the agenda for the moral revolution. They call themselves “Progressive.” Ignorant of history, they think they’re bringing the Christian faith in line with the findings of “science” and the enlightened morality of the modern era. They don’t realize they have in reality, ignored the work of some of the Church’s most brilliant minds, theologians of the Church’s earliest age who contended with many of the same issues they now want to surrender on. The moral revolution of modern secularism is reminiscent of the debauchery and brutality of the 1st Century Greco-Roman world. Christianity was appealing to many pagans precisely because it offered an attractive alternative to the immoral cesspool that was Pagan Rome.
A recent blog post by a “Progressive Christian” illustrates the several errors this movement makes; fatal errors if we take Scripture seriously. Titled “I’m Sorry Conservative Christianity, I Just Can’t Do It Anymore,” the author lists the problems he has with what he calls “conservative Christianity.” I would argue what he identifies is less true of Biblical Christianity as it is of “cultural evangelicalism” which has touch points with a Biblically consistent faith but isn’t to be equated with it.
Here are the points of contention he identifies . . .
“I Can’t Believe The Bible Is Perfect”
While the bulk of the article is a Progressive Christian’s response to a caricature he calls “conservative Christianity” this point, found further down the article (but I’ve moved to the beginning) doesn’t just exclude him from Conservativism; it exiles him from historical Christianity. In my review of the rest of his points, I’ll summarize and lift select quotes. But this point is so important, I’ll include all he says. He writes,
Grace has convinced me, nothing and no one is perfect but Jesus. He is the only Word of God, everything else is human words about God. Yes, they can be deemed as inspired, but never infallible—for aren’t we all inspired by God anyways, with a story to tell and perspectives along the way? For how can you not be—He is all and in all things. Inspiration never guarantees accuracy.
I’m tempted to break this down line by line for analysis because while what he writes seems generous and compelling, it’s shockingly inaccurate and reveals inordinately sloppy thinking. The author decries regarding the Bible as infallible by saying nothing is perfect but Jesus. “Grace” has convinced him of that. Presumably, he refers to the grace defined, declared, and demonstrated IN SCRIPTURE. How is the author to know the Jesus he believes in as perfect is real, since he disregards the accuracy of the Bible? It seems the Jesus he believes in is one of his own devising. So, we’re to trust the author of this article for the content of our faith rather than what Christians have looked to for 2000 years—the Bible. In upending the authority of God’s Word, the author makes himself and the common sense he’ll tout later, as more trustworthy.
Sorry, I’ll stick with God’s tried and true Word.
And what’s this about all people being “inspired by God” with their own story and perspective? Juxtaposing that remark in a paragraph about the inspiration of scripture means the author wants to set the authority of the individual on par with God’s Word. While shocking to the conservative Christians he eschews, that sentiment is part and parcel of his progressivism. He goes on . . .
I’m tired of reducing the Bible to a playbook for living, debate winning, and lording over my disagreers and those conservative Christianity deems to be sinning. I just want to live my life captivated by the mystery, experiences, and faith stories God uses in Scripture to lead me into a personal, life long, and ever expanding encounter with Jesus—progressively awakening to Him who is Grace.
Here again we’re confronted by a mindset that allows Scripture to be authoritative only as long as it aligns with the reader’s values and ideas. This cut and paste approach to the Bible is convenient, but inconsistent. Listen: I’d love it if I could pick and choose what parts of the Bible I wanted to follow and ignore. So would you. That’s human nature. It’s also a sign of the fallenness Jesus saves us out of. We CAN’T pick and choose what we’re going to follow. Either it’s God’s Word or not.
“I Can’t See People As Being Inherently Evil And Lost”
The author says this,
“We are all loved and accepted equally by the Father—all of us in Christ from the very beginning. . . . People are good, whether they believe incorrectly or behave differently. This is the way Jesus sees all creation, the entire expanse of humanity—I just want to live my life seeing people the way He does.”
That’s a nice sentiment, but is it supported in God’s Word? Is that what the Bible says? Not hardly. While God loves all, He only accepts those who repent of their sin and put their faith in Jesus. Yes, grace saves, but that grace has to be received by a faith that trusts in Christ. As for people being good regardless of what they believe or do, I guess we’re to take the author’s assertion as more authoritative than Scripture which says “none are good; no, not one.” I doubt seriously the author means EVERYONE is good. Is the sex-trafficker good? Looking at the author’s website, he appears to have a special loathing for Trump. I wonder if he’d call Trump good. His other writings certainly seem to want to lift that designation from at least the President. So, apparently not everyone is good. I wonder where the line is. I guess we have to leave it to the author to tell us instead of scripture.
“I Can’t Live With One Eye Open In Fear Of A Bipolar Deity”
Again, the author writes,
“God is love—wholly, completely, and purely. He has nothing but affection for me and every human being. No condemnation, no punishment, no desire for revenge—He perfectly loves me with perfect consistency. All this fiery talk about hell, wrath, judgement, and God’s discipline—it’s not only all highly debatable and open to be differently interpreted, but all silenced at the foot of the cross.”
The author once again conveniently sets aside what God Himself says. He takes his own ideas about what a loving deity ought to do and imposes them on God, as though he’s wiser than the Almighty. What about those who don’t want to go to heaven? What about those who hate God and find the prospect of spending eternity with Him utterly abhorrent? The author contends that love will force them into an eternity they’d abhor. Such is his idea of love. Maybe it’s not real love. Maybe he’s not as generous as he assumes and God’s plan is in fact better than his.
Interesting that the author mentions the cross. Apparently he admits the cross was necessary to atone for sin; that divine justice required an accounting. Yet his conception of love has just dispensed with that. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.
He goes on,
“I refuse to live my life fearing, doubting, and in a constant state of paranoia of a conservatively-imaged god who could love me one moment and cast me into hell the next, simply because I don’t love Him back in precisely all the right ‘conservative’ ways.”
Is it a “conservatively-imagined god” or the God revealed in Scripture he has a problem with? God’s love doesn’t mean everyone has to go to heaven as the author seems to think. And God doesn’t “cast people into hell” as some kind of vengeful, angry deity. People who end in hell have to trample underfoot the patient, loving work of God pleading with them to turn to Him and be saved. The author’s idea of the “conservatively-imagined god” is a caricature more of his own assumption than the reality presented by evangelicalism.
“I Can’t Ask My Wife To Submit To Me”
The author once again manufactures an over-blown idea about what “conservative Christianity” teaches. But he touches on an issue Scripture does speak to; that of the order of authority in the home. And sorry if he doesn’t like it but God’s Word does say that a wife is to submit to her own husband as to the Lord. So it’s fine is the author doesn’t want to ask his wife to submit to him. Scripture does.
The next issue is to discover what precisely that means. That discovery has the potential of bringing immense blessing to both wives and husbands.
“I Can’t Deny The Validity of Science”
The author goes on to show he’s allowed himself to become a shill for scientism rather than science as he mentions the need to accept just one frame on such issues as the age of the earth, evolution, and global warming. Those who’ve imbibed the full range and scope on these fronts are aware both sides rally compelling supporting evidence. To act as though the issues are settled is to err and make the same mistake the Roman Church did with Galileo. Progressive Christians accept the positions of supposed science as adopted by a secular academia because they run under the assumption secularism is untainted by any agenda other than truth while conservative Christianity has to filter everything through a hide-bound interpretation of Scripture. Many Progressives are unaware of the tremendous debate taking place inside academia on many of these issues.
“I Can’t Turn Off My Brain, Deny My Individuality, And Freeze Dry My Beliefs”
I wonder if the author realizes how condescending and insulting that statement is. It implies those who disagree with his Progressivism aren’t just intellectually inferior, they’re also mindlessly following whatever their leaders tell them. Really, he more than implies that when he writes,
God gave me a brain with common sense and a conscience. I’m convinced that God’s desire isn’t that I land in a cold existence of conformity to a certain set of approved beliefs, but that I’m always growing in my awakening to His Grace—forever fluid to where that might take me emotionally, spiritually, physically, and confessionally.
Note that last word; “confessionally.” He refers to the creeds and confessions that have defined the Christian Faith. Now, what’s interesting is that he admits to a fluid confession as he processes his spiritual journey. But his positions on several issues raised in his article reveal a categorical rejection of a classic, orthodox faith that can make a claim at a genuine historical Christianity. For goodness sake, he’s just eschewed such “conformity to a certain set of approved beliefs.” Yet by embracing Progressivism, he’s simply thrown over one set of “approved beliefs” for another, equally approved set of beliefs, this time by his Progressive cohorts.
In another remark reeking of condescension we read this,
Jesus created me as a complicated, unique, divinely loaded individual that should resist all human-born labels that would seek to limit, control, own, cage, or define me. Where conservative Christianity largely desires to assimilate and mold me, I just want to live my life enjoying the freedom for which Jesus freed me.
Once again is the characterization of “conservative Christianity” as coercive and controlling. The author was either a former member of a pseudo-Christian cult or he’s maligning an imaginary enemy.
I embrace the label Conservative Christians as a proper designation for myself and the church I pastor. But we are NONE OF THE PEJORATIVES the author claims. None. Nor do I know of a single other conservative Christian church that looks like the group he paints.
Having said that, I will say this: If I believe truth is real, that there is an objective right and wrong and that what one believes determines where she/he spends eternity, it would be the height of hypocrisy to not seek to lovingly persuade people to embrace truth. Since God gives people free will and the power to choose, I must honor their choices, while disagreeing when they choose a path that leads to ruin. Since God doesn’t force people, I ought not either. I will respect their choice, while seeking to persuade them of what I believe is true. To not do so would be hypocrisy. Reading between the lines, it seems the author evaluates my attempt to persuade him as being controlling and coercive. Apparently, he can insult me as a narrow-minded judgmental bigot while remaining free of that label himself because he’s Progressive and I’m Conservative.
“I Can’t Love People Conditionally”
The author mistakes Biblical agape (love) for assuming everyone is okay and living their own story on their way to heaven. Because God loves ALL people, even those destined to hell, we’re called to do the same. But loving someone doesn’t equal agreeing that they’re going to heaven because they are being true to themselves. The vast majority of people on the highway to hell are being true to themselves. The author thinks it’s shameful I would assume ANYONE is on the way to hell. That makes me a conservative Christian “hater.” It also, by the way, aligns me with nearly ALL Christians of the last 2000 years.
Progressivism is really just one branch of what’s known as liberalism. One of the major values of modern Liberalism is tolerance. In classic liberalism, tolerance simply meant respect for the opinions of others. It didn’t require agreement, just respect. Modern liberalism has altered the value of tolerance to the assumption of acceptance. When truth becomes relative, owning no fixed point of reference, tolerance demands an acceptance of the opinions and beliefs of others. Oh, with this caveat: You have to accept only those positions sanctioned by modern liberalism. Any viewpoint that lies outside the liberal canon is fair game for intolerance and a duty of annihilation. “Conservative Christianity” is Enemy #1. Thius the ire of the author of this article.
“I Can’t Condemn The LGBTQ Community”
The agenda of Progressive Christianity is set by the wider culture’s progressivism. Since LGBTQ issues are front and center at this time, that’s become the cause celeb of Progressive Christians. What do they do with the obvious passages of Scripture which define all sex outside of Biblical marriage as sinful? This is the primary reason why they’ve given up on the historical view of the Bible as God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word. Whenever Scripture stands in opposition to what they WANT to be acceptable, they simply get out their knife and go to work.
Oh, and by the way, be forewarned: They have a stable of so-called experts ready to wave the wand of “scholarship” over their views. Don’t assume that just because someone has a PhD they’re worth listening to.
“I Can’t Embrace A Gospel That Is For Me, No Gospel At All”
Did you catch that MOST telling remark, “that is for me.” There it is! The author’s viewpoint in four words and eleven letters. That’s the viewpoint of the progressivism he espouses and spends thousands of words explaining as he assails so-called “conservative Christianity.” It’s all about what he wants to be true; what he wants to believe.
In justifying this point, the author speaks of “grace.” But what he speaks of has nothing to do with the charis of the New Testament. We ought not expected it to, since he’s already relegated the Bible to being an errant and fallible tome, unreliable as a guide of life and living.
The author ends with,
The conservative Christian gospel filled with “to do” steps, conditions, rule-keeping, fear-living, and hell-requiring is to me, no Gospel at all, but rather a sure ministry of death. I just want to live my life truly living because my heart has been overcome and irrevocably endeared to a Gospel that is nothing but Grace, life at its very best, and pure freedom.
It’s not that I don’t love you anymore—I do. It’s not that I don’t accept you without conditions—I do. It’s not that I don’t believe you are filled with good intention and tremendous God-adorned worth and value—I do.
I’m sorry conservative Christianity, I just can’t do it anymore.
He ends with a line that hearkens to the title. While he tries to end on a generous note, one demanded by the progressivism he enthuses, his earlier words give the lie to his final remarks. He doesn’t love the conservativism he rejects. He despises it. His loathing is revealed in the many pejoratives he uses describing it. And as I’ve said, the conservative Christianity he describes in the preceding points finds little connection to the position held by real conservative Christians and churches. There may be some radical cults akin to what he describes, but not historical Evangelicalism.