Denominational Litmus Test

Yesterday, Mackenzie Mulligan addressed Progressive Christianity. He expressed a number of good thoughts, so I’ll let them stand on their own. There is one point I’d like to push forward, however. Near the end of his post, Mackenzie writes:

If Jesus had been a Progressive Christian, he wouldn’t have been crucified.

This stood out to me quite strongly: surely this would be enough to damn the any ideology. If Jesus fits into your denomination in such a way that he would not have been crucified, it seems that you have missed the point of Jesus’ message.

There are, of course, limits to this. Some beliefs wouldn’t have much to do with Jesus’ crucifixion, regardless of their importance: the Romans and Jews of the first century probably wouldn’t have had much to say about our positions on homosexual marriage or abortion, even if our positions are an integral part of following the Christian way of life. This won’t function as a test for every belief we hold concerning Christianity, of course, but there’s a great conversation about this to be had: if Jesus were, say, a Southern Baptist, would he be crucified by first century Jews? What about a Roman Catholic?

A ‘yes’ here doesn’t immediately imply legitimacy. After all, there are a lot of groups out there who would be crucified for their outrageous and false beliefs (the Westboro Baptist “Church” comes to mind, here). But an answer of ‘no’ certainly seems problematic, here.

Forming doctrine should never be absent from a recognition of its place in history, and the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ should stand as a primary launching point for deep truths. Ideally denominations would only differ on “less essential” doctrines, as opposed to those that would be furthest from orthodox Christianity. This isn’t the reality, unfortunately, and wading through the numerous doctrines of any given denomination can be difficult. I’ve often used the Nicean creed as a starting point, at the very least, and I think that’s still solid advice. There’s something to Mackenzie’s suggestion that a particular branch of “Christianity” wouldn’t have led to the thing that Christianity is founded on.

The thought is new, so I’m no entirely convinced of its long-term usability. I doubt the question would be as reliable as the ones provided throughout history–the creeds especially–but might be worth considering.

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J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • Bob Beeman

    And he would have disappeared into obscurity with all the other false messiahs of the day.

  • Bob Beeman

    What was it that gave His followers the strength to withstand torture and death to try to silence them? It wasn’t some concept of political or social justice. It was far stronger and more tangible than that. His followers saw, spoke, and touched the resurrected Jesus.