Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. -Jude 3
The words above describe both Jude’s heart and desire as he wrote to brothers and sisters in Christ scattered across the Roman Empire in what was likely the middle part of the 1st century. By this early date, some false teachers had either infiltrated the church, splintered away from the early church, or both. Jude, hoping to write a letter of unity and encouragement at one time to the church, had now been compelled to write a different sort of letter, one calling on believers to hold fast to and defend the “traditional” faith.
Near the conclusion of my message last Sunday, I mentioned “Progressive Christianity” and indicated strongly that we would not be following that movement at LifePoint, neither in our ministry nor our preaching/teaching. Since then, some have asked me to define the term (something I should have done during the message itself). So, here is a quick overview of Progressive Christianity:
- An emphasis on social justice and environmentalism.
- A watering down of biblical authority — the Bible is not the final word on truth, justice, salvation, human relationships, nor on the nature of God or his revelation to humankind.
- An emphasis on the divine — goodness and sacredness in all things. Another term for this is “Panentheism,” meaning “God in everything, and everything in God.”
- The general belief that there is a spirit or being greater than us. We should desire to experience him/her/it.
- A strong focus on moralism; with a very weak (or nonexistent) view of salvation.
- Generally marked with a very low view of human sinfulness and a very high view of human goodness.
- Jesus was a very good man, maybe even “divine” in some spiritual sense unknown to us. He desired to show us a path by which we could experience “fullness” while living in community with each other and in harmony with nature. He was not God, nor the Son of God, nor should we necessarily consider his sayings any more authoritative than those positive statements of other great divines (e.g., Zoroaster; Plato, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, etc.).
- When Progressive Christians do speak of salvation, they generally speak of it in collective terms. The salvation of cultures, or societies, or of the oppressed, etc. Salvation is often expressed in socioeconomic terms, which are almost always demonstrated to be some form of Marxism.
- Less dogmatic forms of Progressive Christianity are probably best described as a newly developed form of (or even a rehashing of) Protestant Liberalism.
- A firm rejection of many orthodox Christian teachings, such as the virgin birth, the return of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus. The call is to take hold of what science, reason and the modern world clearly demonstrate, that miracles do not happen, in Jesus’ ministry nor in any other ministry.
- The need to “detach” from the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, and to focus on justice, love, acceptance, and helping each other along on a spiritual exploration of ourselves and our world is a common theme. Creating “sacred spaces” is often championed. Some more “orthodox” teachers in this movement would even say that Jesus is the best end to all spiritual journeys.
More could be said, of course, but this should give you a brief overview of the movement. Progressive Christianity is not a brand-new idea, as you can see from Jude’s exhortation in his letter, and in its modern form reaches back to the turn of the 20th century. Likely its most notable champion from the pulpit in America was Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of the famous Park Avenue Baptist Church/Riverside Church in New York City in the 1920’s -40’s. Fosdick’s ministry, and the funds to build his megachurch, were undergirded by none other than John D. Rockefeller.
If you would like to read a very good accounting of modern Progressive Christianity from a woman who experienced it firsthand, I highly recommend to you the book entitled Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity by Alisa Childers. It is not academic, very readable, and not mean-spirited. I think you will find it helpful.
Grace and peace,