About a year and a half ago, a self-described progressive “Christian” challenged me over my use of quotation marks around the word Christian in the label progressive “Christian.” He accused me of being uncharitable. From his perspective, I was guilty of judging and needed to be rebuked. Setting aside the internal hypocrisy in his thinking, I want to explain my use of quotation marks when using the label progressive “Christian.”
The overriding reason why I do so is because I want to make sure readers are not confused about where I stand. In my experience, progressive “Christians” will often dishonestly and patronizingly massage things I write into their worldview. For example, if I write anything decrying racism, progressive “Christians” that I know will use what I write for their own ends. The thing is, we do not have the same worldview; we are ultimately not saying the same things. While sharing some of the same language, progressive “Christianity” is a far cry from the historic, orthodox Christianity of the Bible that informs, shapes, and directs my faith.
As a general rule, progressive “Christians” have a low view of the authority of the Bible. At best, they will say that the Bible contains the words of God. At worst, progressive “Christians” view the Bible as little more than a collection of highly edited and error-filled texts that was developed out of a power struggle within the early church. They go so far as to reject the concept of orthodoxy because, in their view, orthodoxy is an oppressive system designed so that the patriarchy can retain power.
The refusal of progressive “Christians” to submit to the full and final authority of God’s Word, the Bible, is a rebellion that has found its pop-culture expression in the writings of men like Bart Ehrman.
Ehrman is the author of popular books like Jesus, Interrupted and Misquoting Jesus, books that take aim at the belief that the Bible is divinely inspired by God. According to Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger in their landmark book The Heresy of Orthodoxy, “Ehrman claims that the ‘winners’ (i.e. orthodox Christians) forced their beliefs onto others by deciding which books to include or exclude from Christian Scripture.”
Whether they accept Ehrmans’ thesis in whole or just in part, progressive “Christians” have adopted a view of the Bible that allows them to construct a theology and a belief system that is fluid, allowing their faith to conform to popular concerns as needed. Progressive “Christianity” is constantly in flux; the ethics of tomorrow’s progressive “Christianity” will look differently from the ethics of today’s progressive “Christianity.”
One of the most damning ways that progressive “Christians” allow their rejection of the Bible as God’s divinely inspired Word to pervert theology and help them keep in step with the world is their belief that sin is societal and not personal.
Plainly speaking, the Bible teaches that each and every human is ethically separated from God because He is holy and can have no part with sin. That’s terrible news because that means all humans are born under God’s wrath. Thankfully, the Bible contains some good news, too.
Jesus took on the form of human flesh, came to earth, perfectly obeyed God’s law, and then died on the cross as the righteous punishment for the sins of those who would repent and place their faith in him. Having been resurrected from the dead, Jesus defeated sin and death. God has dealt with the personal sins of His people by pouring out His just wrath on His son. The ethical divide between God and man created by the personal sins of humans has been bridged for those who will repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus.
In a nutshell, the two previous paragraphs proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the same gospel taught by the Apostle Paul; the same gospel taught throughout Church history; the same gospel reclaimed by the Protestant Reformation. However, it’s a gospel rejected by progressive “Christians” because they reject the notion that it’s a person’s individual sin that alienates him or her from God.
In a recent article, I quoted Emilie Townes, Dean of Vanderbilt’s Divinity School, confessing, “I have been trying to understand evil all my life. We are, in many ways, imprisoned by the cultural production of evil.”
In a nutshell, progressive “Christians” tend to believe that humanity’s greatest problem is an existential estrangement from each other that results in oppression. This redefining of what the Church has historically believed to be humanity’s greatest problem has produced a doctrine of victimhood that replaces the Biblical doctrine of personal rebellion against a Holy God. As a consequence, salvation is solely found in things like feeding the poor, combating racism, and affirming any and all sexual identities – reversing the power dynamics and ironing out oppression.
While racism and oppressing the poor are sins before God, no person can ever restore their relationship with God by what they do. Ultimately, it’s our individual rebellion against God — our individual desire to rule over our own lives that separates us from God. Doing good works isn’t going to fix that. Feeding the poor doesn’t solve your problem and it doesn’t solve the ultimate problem of those living in poverty. Only faith in Jesus can do that.
If the problem isn’t solved in the here and now—if an individual doesn’t bow the knee in repentance and faith before Jesus—God is going to solve the problem in the hereafter by sentencing that individual to an eternity in hell. All sin is worthy of eternal death, even the supposed “little” sins because all sin is a stench in the nostrils of a holy and just God. Progressive “Christians,” however, do not believe that a loving God will punish people for all eternity.
Defining “love” apart from God’s holiness and justice may be the most human-centered and rebellious act against God that progressive “Christians” commit. Contrary to what progressive “Christians” teach, it would be unloving for God to not enact justice on sin. If God didn’t punish sin, He would cease to be just, holy, and love; God would cease to be God.
Jesus talked about hell more than any other person in the Bible. That fact cannot be divorced from the rest of his teaching. Remember, according to Jesus, the greatest command is to love God. Loving God means obeying Him and doing His will. Refusal to do so will bring God’s sword of judgment down on your head one day.
Progressive “Christians” are living in direct rebellion against God, proving that they only love themselves and do not love God. That is why I use quotation marks when referring to progressive “Christians.”