I first heard about Progressive Christianity as a “thing” about a week ago, and I had a strong reaction to it. I did some more research and stumbled upon this: a series of affirmations, or doctrines. I want to engage with these ideas for a bit. Some of them are extremely attractive, on an emotional level, on what some would call a “spiritual” level. However, I think that many of them fall apart under scrutiny.
But before I begin picking at it at all, I want to make one thing very clear: Progressive Christianity is doing some very good things. They stress the loving treatment of all people, the importance of worship as something inherently central to the Christian life, our duty to steward the earth and all that’s in it, as well as several other essential virtues. In fact, I would imagine that the movement does some of these things better than many “orthodox” churches, and we can learn from many of these instances.
However, their failure is this: their language, the words they use and the ideas they express, imply that many of the good things they emphasize are simply not possible within the framework of orthodox, traditional Christianity. Many of their affirmations begin by stating something true, beautiful, noble, and everything else Paul says we should look out for: then it states, either implicitly or explicitly, how it’s just not possible within traditional orthodoxy. The very first affirmation, “Walking fully in the path of Jesus, without denying the legitimacy of other paths God may provide humanity,” is an excellent example of this.
It’s implied here (and throughout the document) that walking fully in the path of Jesus includes admitting the legitimacy of other paths: something orthodox Christianity doesn’t permit. This theme continues through most of the other affirmations.
They affirm that we should follow the Bible, but not too much, because it’s not inerrant, after all. They affirm that all people are made in the image of God, but that traditional Christianity is incapable of acting this out because they “have failed to recognize the essential goodness of God’s Creation by treating some classes of human beings as more godly than others” implicitly referencing the church’s stance on homosexuality (this, by the way, is something often raised by similar movements: my rebuttals are here and here). They affirm the need for witnessing to everyone interested it the revelation of God “in Christ,” but they do not evangelize to those who aren’t interested, because those people are simply on another, separate God-given path.
I can feel my sarcasm trying to get out, so I’ll stop there and say what I mean to say.
It sounds good, doesn’t it? Isn’t this so much easier than the rigid path of orthodox Christianity? Isn’t it so much more sensible, so much simpler, so much more politically correct, than dogmatically claiming that Christianity is the only path? I know I, for one, would love to believe that all paths lead to the same place. I would love to know that the people who aren’t interested in the Bible are going to be saved anyway. I would love to be accepted by the world, as Progressive Christianity is.
But that’s the problem. We aren’t called to be accepted by the world. We are told that if we’re doing our job right, the world will hate us, as it hated Christ (Matthew 10:22, Luke 21:17). Jesus wasn’t accepted by the world; if he’d followed these tenants, though, he would have been.
If Jesus had been a Progressive Christian, he wouldn’t have been crucified. He wouldn’t have told the Pharisees they were wrong: he would have simply acknowledged they were on a different path than he was. At the very least, he wouldn’t have called the Jews to repent when they clearly weren’t interested: he would have told them to keep on the path that they were already on. He also wouldn’t have preached indiscriminately, only to be abandoned by crowds who were unwilling to accept his teaching (see John 6:22-66).
No, the fact remains that Progressive Christianity wouldn’t allow the biblical Jesus to fly the Progressive banner. He’d be too harsh towards people who didn’t accept his words (John 8:44), too restrictive in his doctrine (John 14:6), too divisive in his words and actions (Mat. 10:34-39). I imagine he’d be politely asked to leave, and told that his path must be very nice, but it’s not the path of the Progressive Christian.
Please feel free to come at me in the comments; I’m open to rebuttals, questions, and conversation. Also, my original reaction to Progressive Christianity can be found at my personal blog here (I should say that my own blog demonstrates an informal, slightly hyperbolic tone which does not necessarily reflect the tone of Evangelical Outpost).