I recently read a book by Alisa Childers called “Another Gospel: a lifelong Christian seeks truth in response to progressive Christianity” and it reminded me of just how much evangelical Christianity has misunderstood what Progressive Christianity is all about. This author is no exception. The book goes through her intellectual journey leaving evangelicalism/fundamentalism and trying out Progressive Christianity. Eventually, she finds Progressive Christianity unhelpful for what she is seeking. I would have no issue with the book had she stopped there, but she goes on to make the point of how dangerous Progressive Christianity is.
First, a general note about Progressive Christianity. Not everything contained below is believed by all progressives. Progressive Christians represent multiple denominations within Christianity. There are also various reasons why a person might find themselves in a progressive church, even if they do not hold to all the beliefs their church does. In other words, Progressive Christianity is not one thing.
These summaries are based upon my experience within Progressive Christianity with some of my own thoughts sprinkled throughout.
About Intellectual Diversity
Believe it or not, one of Alisa’s criticism is how diverse her experience in Progressive Christianity was. She could not grasp just how people could believe such different things and yet still worship together. However, what Alisa fails to understand is that having a church where everybody believes the same things results in a lack of perspective and leads to, or more than likely is a result of, indoctrination. We should embrace intellectual diversity by welcoming the perspective that it brings.
A significant problem Alisa has with Progressive Christianity is their implementation of deconstruction. Deconstruction is not used as a means to destroy history, but to rebuild it in such a way that it has integrity and testifies to the truth of humanity. Evangelicalism has convinced itself of a certain historical narrative that is neither accurate nor useful. Deconstruction allows us to take apart those ideas that were simply handed to us by our tradition and reassess them. In reconstruction, it is certainly possible that we would end up with the same beliefs as before. However, we cannot simply take what we have been given and blindly accept it as truth.
About the Bible, Hermeneutics, and Truth
Years of being addicted to certainty has forced many progressives to take another look at evangelicalism’s version of truth.
Progressives are truth-seekers, not truth destroyers. We are interested in what is actually true instead of what we want to be true. We are willing to eliminate cherished beliefs if we deem them to be false or improbable. But what we are not willing to do is hold on to a belief just because it has precedent.
In general, most Progressive Christians believe the various writings that makeup scripture should be considered sacred for the Church. The Bible’s primary function is to participate in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit within the Church.
The purpose of the Bible is not to be a manifesto on metaphysical truth, but to empower and embolden the Church for living out the Will of God in the world.
Some would argue that the Bible can become God’s word through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. However, others would outright deny it’s inerrancy based upon historical arguments.
For example, some deny that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God because the idea is not one that is consistent with early church history (which is a significant misunderstanding that Alisa has.) The idea of Biblical inerrancy was formed later during the Enlightenment and therefore, does not have the provenance that many evangelicals claim.
Progressive Christians won’t necessarily deny that God is absolute truth. However, because God is the greatest possible being of truth any attempt at obtaining that truth (in absolute form) by a being less than God is not possible. Even God is limited by His own absoluteness in His ability to communicate to imperfect beings. And as imperfect beings, we are limited in our ability to apprehend the absolute truth of God.
That does not mean that we cannot know God’s truth for humanity, but we are looking through a glass darkly – only able to see some aspects of truth.
Progressive Christians generally hold to a contextually literal Jesus. Jesus was a real person, but information about Him may or may not be accurate given a wide array of contextual circumstances. Some of these circumstances include transmission of the sources, biases of the writers, memory, and the writer’s political milieu.
The purpose of Jesus is built upon the premise that He was a product of what was promised about Him. Namely, that He would be the “Savior” of His people. To “save” in this sense is not ethical, but is a restorative function necessary to establish a kingdom based on “doing the will of God.” Progressive Christianity does not necessarily deny atonement. However, they do not believe that this was Jesus’ primary purpose.
Ultimately, Jesus serves as the prototype “Christian” whose existence exemplifies what it means to live the will of God. His perfection is not necessarily defined by ethical standards but in his ability to accomplish the “will of the Father.” Although living an ethical life is important, it is not more important than doing the will of God.
Most Progressive Christians believe that “evangelism” occurs through the testimony of one’s life that is present in and through an ongoing relationship developed with an individual; that all of humanity is on a path of “working out their salvation with fear and trembling;” that we should live a “real” life before the world instead of portraying the “ideal” life as something attainable.
The job of the Christian is to build relationships with individuals demonstrated through various acts of love and service. That is why for many progressives, “love” is the core axiom of the faith. Love…not judgment; not pie in the sky evangelism; but a real life-long commitment to individuals and their spiritual well-being. That’s the model Jesus demonstrated; It’s the model we should live by.
About Ethics and Culture
Evangelicals have long been out of touch with culture – the very people they are responsible for ministering to. In general, Progressive Christians view culture as something in need of integration and not necessarily as something in opposition to Christianity. Progressives desire to go where the need is; instead of waiting for the need to come to them.
Ethics is often viewed situationally, instead of absolutely. In other words, the context of the situation determines the overall ethical weight needed for understanding right and wrong. Although the Bible contains ethics one can live by, they too are relative to their context and, as a result, may or may not apply to a contemporary situation.
Also, many within Progressive Christianity are tired of seeing evangelicals compromise the Gospel for political gain. What’s worse is seeing so-called Christians actively opposing important social improvements simply because it doesn’t jive with their preferred political platform.
For example, while inequality may be a product of a sinful humanity, the practical aspect of suffering and basic human rights can oftentimes be mitigated through the sharing of abundant resources.
Some Concluding Thoughts
I appreciate Alisa’s journey and I think she can teach many evangelicals from her experience about their faith. However, her historical understanding lacks the breadth that is necessary to make the historical claims about Jesus that she does. For example, she makes various fallacious arguments, such as her general assertions about older historicity claims about Jesus being more accurate simply because they are older.
Perhaps the biggest mistake Alisa makes is taking a single experience and extrapolating ideas related to a large group of people based on that limited information. It is my hope that she will engage with more progressives before spreading more misinformation about this group of Christians.
If I could tell Alisa one thing about Progressive Christianity it would be that many of us are here because we have identified serious problems within evangelical Christianity. Until evangelicals begin to exercise more tolerance and allow people to question the faith without being ostracised, then evangelicalism will continue to lose its people.
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