The Future of Progressive Evangelicalism Is…?

PCUSAYou’ve likely just heard the news: the PCUSA has formally endorsed same-sex marriage, rendering marriage between “two people.” Yes, it’s that indeterminate: two people.

This landmark decision comes on the heels of another professedly evangelical church publicly affirming same-sex marriage (SSM). City Church of San Francisco just announced that they would no longer require “LGBT” individuals to remain celibate for life. In response, I wrote a piece entitled “City Church and the Affirmation-only Gospel” for CBMW.

It traces the connection between egalitarian gender roles and SSM-approval:

I grieve for what is happening at City Church and elsewhere. Many have already bought the falsehood that Paul spoke culturally and imperfectly on “gender identity” and gender roles. Now, they are tempted to believe that the Bible’s sexual ethics are simply wrong. This is a moment of decision, a time for choosing. I pray that many will see afresh that God’s law is pure (Psalm 119). God does not lie. No teaching of the Lord is harmful or wrong. All the Bible is good, and good for us (2 Tim. 3:16).

Read the whole piece.

If you are wondering what the future of “progressive” evangelicalism is, you are not alone. For years, we’ve heard that there is a “new way to be Christian.” We’ve been told that the church has it all wrong and that conservative evangelicalism will surely die out like the dinosaurs. But to the present, this has not proven true (see this great piece by Joe Carter). Conservative evangelical churches are taking many cultural hits, to be sure. The culture is pressing in hard against God’s people. But the church is not caving. It is unmoving.

Kobe doesn’t flinch, and neither does the bride of Christ.

But many people have and are. We see this in terms of leading progressive figures. Rob Bell once was going to be a champion for the Christian Left, but now he’s presiding over a TV audience. Rachel Held Evans has joined the mainline. Matthew Vines has argued for the full acceptance of transgender identity. Jeff Hood suggests that Jesus engaged in a polyamorous sex relationship with his disciples. Now, we hear the news about City Church embracing same-sex orientation and marriage.

You see these trends, and you wonder: where’s the “evangelicalism” in “progressive evangelicalism”?

There is a discomfiting trend with all of the above examples. In every case, each of these persons hold to egalitarian gender roles. They have rejected the biblical teaching of Paul and others that men are called by God to be heads of home and church. They have not stopped there. Now they embrace same-sex marriage and transgender identity. There is a disturbingly close connection between these views.

Of course, there are–thankfully–a solid number of egalitarian evangelicals who have not made this shift. They’re standing against it. But they’re pressed up against the wall by their fellow egalitarians. They’re under intense pressure from their own side to cave. Vines, for example, has publicly called for them to recognize that their hermeneutics drive them in the direction of SSM-affirmation. In his view, they’ve already moved past Paul’s patriarchal and culturally-conditioned view of gender roles. Now it’s time to move past his harmful teaching on sexuality. Follow the trajectory.

I do not observe these trends and celebrate them. I grieve them. I especially grieve what they show about the progressive view of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The human heart naturally craves affirmation of its sin. We do not want to be told we’re wrong. We want to be approved of, patted on the head, and allowed to rule ourselves. We want to sin with impunity, but not only that–we want others to affirm us in our sin. This is a natural instinct of our fallen heart.

The biblical gospel offers us the opposite. It calls for holistic change and total surrender. Jesus declares total war on our sin. The Copernican revolution of the soul does not come through life-tweaks and positive thinking, but through death to self.

Many people agree with this basic biblical assertion. I have been massively heartened by seeing the response to the little piece I wrote on Rob Bell a couple weeks ago. The original story on Bell’s comments that the church was “moments away” from affirming SSM received over 6,000 Likes. A lot. Numbers are far from the metric of faithful Christian ministry, but I was shocked to see close to 22,000 Likes of my essay (on Patheos, ChurchLeaders.com, The Stream, Black Christian News, and elsewhere).

To be sure, my piece said nothing fancy or new. It simply affirmed biblical truth. But the response reminded me that there are many, many people who stand with Christ and have no interest in bowing the knee to the culture. They are tired of being told the demise of their faith is imminent. They are sick of being bullied. I heard from believers across the denominational spectrum from Europe, Africa, Canada, and beyond, and the common response was this: we’re not giving an inch. Praise God.

The gospel is not a sin-affirming gospel. It is a sin-crucifying gospel (Rom. 6:6). It is a call to live, but first it is a call to die. It is an absolute offense to the natural man. It is a bold and bullish intrusion into sinful solicitude by the hound of heaven. It is a turning-over of the tables of our own sinful temple market-stall. It is a call to leave Egypt, to flee Sodom, to escape Jericho while there is still time. As I make clear in my forthcoming book on Chuck Colson, we leave nothing behind. We cling to no sinful desires, no sinful identities, no sinful acts. The city of man is on fire. We escape with nothing but our souls, our eternal souls.

City Church, the PCUSA, and numerous “progressive” voices are offering no such summons. They are encouraging people to stay in Egypt, to get comfortable in Sodom, to take rest in Jericho. There is no cruciform death that people must undergo in embracing the progressive message.

The true church will never trade its gospel birthright for this mess of cultural pottage. It will hold fast, come what may. It will wonder, as it watches these tragic events from afar: What happened to progressive evangelicalism? 

As it grieves these developments, it will hear, once more, an ancient call: hold fast to the trustworthy word as taught. This, by the sheer grace of God, it will do.

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(Image: PCUSA seal, 1892, from Wikimedia Commons)