In the past few decades, progressive ideology, specifically in regards to Christianity, has skyrocketed. More and more people are finding that is has a much broader appeal than Biblical Christianity, allowing it to fit into their lives in an easier way. What exactly is progressive Christianity, though, and is it a threat to the true Christian faith?
It can be pretty difficult to define progressive Christianity because it's an umbrella term for a wide range of beliefs. However, there are a few key distinctions that can help you understand what church might identify as progressive, and which one doesn't. Blogger Alisa Childers summarized progressive churches as having a lowered view of the Bible, feelings are emphasized over facts, essential Christian doctrines are open for interpretation, historical terms are redefined, and the heart of the gospel message shifts from sin and redemption to social justice.
When it comes to progressive Christianity, from the untrained eye it can look a lot like Biblical Christianity. There is still talk of the power of God, Jesus's love and the cross. Those who do not understand the theology of the Bible well probably won't notice the differences right off. However after doing some digging, you will begin to see the small differences truly add up. What progressive Christians are teaching doesn’t match up with the hard truth of the Bible and they alter facts to fit their agenda.
David Young, senior minister for the North Boulevard Church of Christ in Murfreesboro, spoke in a podcast about progressive Christianity with David Hunzicker, a minister for the multi-site church’s west campus. “But sometimes you have to draw the line and say, ‘This is how far we can go,’” Young said during the webinar, with concern for the growing movement. Churches and faith groups that adopt this ideology risk not only departing from the truth of the Gospel, but also declining membership, the ministers said.
"Progressives sometimes say things like, 'This verse just doesn’t resonate with me.' When they say this, they affirm that no verse can be true unless they feel like it is true," Young provided as an example.
This agrees with Childers' definition of progressive Christianity, where feelings become more important than facts. Childers further explained that some of the comments you might here in this regard include "I just can't believe Jesus would send good people to hell..." or "I thought homosexuality was a sin until I met and befriended gay people..." When looking at the Bible, though, it says that we cannot gain entrance into Heaven through our good works, and it’s only through redemption that we can enter Heaven. Jesus may not want to send good people to hell, but it’s a part of Christian doctrine.
In progressive churches, a person's own world experience trumps what it Biblical truth. This is due to seeing the Bible as a book that can be discussed and debated, rather than factual truth. They might say the Bible contains portions of God's Word, rather than it all being God's Word. Essentially the Bible can be reinterpreted to mean anything, on any issue, in the progressive worldview.
The word "love" is one of the biggest changes you will see with how progressive Christians define it verses historical Christians, for example. Young described in the podcast: "A big one is ‘love.’ If we allow a 21st century definition of love to be imported back into historic, biblical Christianity, we may end up with something quite different from what the Scriptures mean. ‘Love’ in the Bible means putting the needs of others first, but ‘love’ in 21st century thought means accepting or embracing whatever a person wants you to accept and embrace. That's not Biblical love."
The way progressive Christians redefine the words in the Bible is detrimental to getting out God's true Word and meaning. Young continued, "Often progressives use biblical language, but they shift its meaning: the resurrection becomes a metaphor instead of a historic fact, holiness becomes liturgy instead of sexual purity, and the like. Same language, but new meanings."
Many also criticize how political the progressive Christian church can be. During a study by George Yancey, he found that progressive Christians tend to put politics over theology. Political concerns are simply more important, which is similar to liberal atheist’s beliefs. A progressive Christian's dedication to liberal causes buys them "safety" from feeling any anti-Christian bigotry from the left, as that's typically only pointed towards evangelicals and conservatives.
They are more likely to ignore what the Bible says and put their own personal beliefs first.For example, you might hear a progressive Christian say "we don't need to preach the gospel, only show love through our actions and by helping the oppressed." This again takes away from the core beliefs of Christians that Jesus died for our sins so we could enter Heaven. We are to share out God's Word with all who will listen. As Young puts it, "Progressives tend to focus on social justice to the exclusion of the Gospel. The Gospel is not about God making paradise of this world, but God raising us into a new heaven and earth. When social justice replaces the Gospel, you won’t get the Gospel, but you also won’t get justice."
Progressive Christianity, at its core, may not be trying to do harm in the world. However they aren’t using God’s Word the way He intended. Progressive Christianity steers us away from really analyzing the Bible and Christian theology, by replacing it with “fluff”. Make sure that you are at a church where you feel God’s Word is what is being focused on, so that you can be truly saved.