In his paradigm shifting book Christianity and Liberalism, J Gresham Machen makes the point that modernism and Christian orthodoxy are not just incongrous; they are fundamentally different faiths.
The modernism that Machen was referring to was the “enlightened” theological liberalism of the early 20th century. As scientific discovery (including Darwin) promised to reveal more of the secrets of the universe, mainstream Christian culture found many of its basic tenents unacceptable. In the age of vaccinations, we know people do not actually rise from the dead. When birth control can open a world of sexual exploration, a virgin birth becomes mythical. Thus, mainline denominations and churches began to substitute the spiritual and supernatural bedrock of the Gospel for more accessible narratives, such as social justice, poverty relief, and activism.
Machen, however, called a spade a spade. The Christian Gospel was necessarily supernatural and metaphysical. The Gospel of Jesus was a message about God taking on real flesh to deliver a real atonement for man’s real sin. Social implications of Christ’s work are legion; but Christ’s work remains the work of God to redeem sinners, supernaturally, to Himself.
Machen believed the modernism of Harvard and the New York Times and mainline Christianity to be a different religion than orthodoxy altogether. His words are still true today, and apply just as well to the controversies and conversations taking place in our own religious context.
Today, the push towards theological modernism is most concentrated in ethics, specifically gender and sexual ethics. I believe with all my heart that the writings and ideas of people like Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Matthew Vines and others represent nothing less than a substituion of Christianity with an impostor.It should be emphasized that the question of whether homosexual activity is sinful or not is NOT the prime issue here. The issue is the attitude of Christians towards Scripture, theology, the Church, and the world. The writers I mentioned above suggest that the Scriptures are written by fallible men and should be amended to reflect an enlightened understanding. They insist that theology and doctrine are barriers to interpersonal trust and relationship, and unnecessarily alientate others. They are dismissive towards the assembling of the local congregation and are quick to suspect the worst of Christian organizations and churches. Finally, these writers express an urgent desire for the church to look more like the world in order to become loved by the world.
But Christianity and liberalism are still different religions. The Jesus who comes forth in resurrected glory from the pages of the Gospels is not a culturally sensitive, gender-identity conscious psychotherapist. He is a radically God-centered, Gospel-focused, sin-destroying prophet, priest, and King. The Gospel of the Biblical church is not a gospel for those wishing to actualize their sexuality, but for those who want their sexuality redeemed by the One who makes all things new.
Progressive Christianity is neither progressive nor Christian. It is not progressive because it simply repeats the mistakes of previous generations who were also convinced that the path to cultural relevance went through the limbo of compromise. And it is not Christian because it fails to represent Jesus in all his resurruection glory, and instead substitutes a therapeutic ideal with no atonement, no demands, no eternal promises and no glory. The Church of the Lord Jesus has a fierce duty to reject liberalism wherever it emerges, and especially when it masquerades as truth in the houses of God.