One of the things that has surged dramatically over the last several years has been pastors and church members from Christian denominations who have become politically active based on their “Christian” beliefs. Interestingly, different “Christian” groups sometimes engage the exact same issue from entirely different perspectives. You have some who are pro abortion and others who are anti-abortion; some who are pro-homosexual marriage and some anti-homosexual marriage; some who are pro-illegal immigration and others who are anti-illegal immigration; and the list could go on.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being politically active; and people certainly ought to express their values outwardly in the culture. In fact, Christians ought to be leaders in promoting Christian values in the culture. But how is it possible for Christians to be on both sides of a given moral issue? Is there truly a Christian perspective on abortion, homosexual marriage, illegal immigration, and other hot button moral issues?
In fact, there is a Christian perspective. The problem we run into is that there are people who self-identify as Christians, and think they are following biblical teachings, who are actually expressing beliefs that are not Christian at all. This is made all the more difficult to sort out because the theology that has become dominant in certain “Christian” denominations has a veneer of Christian vocabulary, while the actual beliefs they teach are not from the Bible at all. So, when people in these particular groups, who go to church and claim to be Christians, begin to express their beliefs in the world, what they are actually expressing are naturalistic beliefs – and they don’t even realize it.
How Progressive Theology Answers the Essential Worldview Questions
In order to truly understand the foundation of Progressive Christianity, we need to see how it answers the three essential worldview questions. With that understanding, the goals and methods of people who adhere to this kind of belief become clear.
In Progressive Christianity, the very idea of God is quite nebulous. He is not regarded as a personal, objective, transcendent Creator who can be known. Rather, he is a being (or feeling) that is subjectively experienced by individuals in the course of living life.
Human beings, according to Progressive Christianity, are the beginning and end of all things. All of reality exists for humanity. Thus, everything that exists on earth is for the purpose of fulfilling temporal human aspirations. As humans are central, they are considered essentially good, and deserve to have their personal desires fulfilled.
According to Progressive Christianity, a loving God would never send anyone to hell. As such, salvation is considered to be merely the personal fulfillment of human aspirations.
Progressive Forms of Theology
The term “progressive” has been around for a while, but we are seeing it used more frequently in modern times. The more usual word used in the past was “liberal.” The common meaning of the word liberal has undergone quite a few changes over the last several decades, and in many circles has come to be associated with a lot of negativity. Thus, in order to deflect some of the negative connotations of this word, we see the word “progressive” being used more and more. In the article here, these words are virtually interchangeable.
As we explore progressive (or liberal) theology, there are a couple of things that we need to grasp in order to understand more fully what we are dealing with. First, progressive theology is actually not even based on a theistic worldview, much less Christian Theism. It begins with the belief that the natural universe is all that exists, then tries to interpret the Bible based on that set of presuppositions. While many people who adhere to this kind of theology say they believe in God, the God they believe in is, as was seen above, rather nebulous. It is not the God revealed in the Bible, and naturalistic beliefs govern the overall thinking. The second helpful matter is to realize that within the realm of progressive theology, there are several different theological schools that reflect various naturalistic streams over the last number of years. The most prominent of these liberal forms of theology include:
Higher criticism is an approach to Biblical interpretation that seeks to find sources behind the Biblical writings. It assumes that none of the Biblical writers had original thoughts, or that they actually heard from God, but depended on previous writers or philosophers for their ideas. Along with this is the tendency to discount all supernatural events recorded in the Bible.
Neo-orthodoxy begins by asserting that Jesus, not the Bible, is the Word of God (John 1:1). They believe that the Bible is simply man’s interpretation of the Word’s (Jesus’) actions. With that as a starting point, they believe the Bible is a purely human document, and parts of it may not be literally true. They believe that God spoke through “redemptive history,” and continues to speak to individuals as they encounter Jesus. Faith is, therefore, based on subjective experience, not objective truth. People are able to achieve salvation as they have a subjective encounter with Christ, not by faith in the atoning work of Christ. As for the expression of faith in daily life, Neo-orthodoxy emphasizes loving others.
In existential theology, the idea of subjectivity is central to everything. People who follow this form of theology consider God to be “the source of your being,” “the ground of all being,” or “your ultimate concern.” The God they are referring to is not the personal God of the Bible, but is considered to be “the meaning that arises out of the deepest concerns of a person’s life.” Salvation, then, is the completely subjective experience of acceptance that one feels during a crisis. When individuals work through a state of loneliness and angst and are able to accept their situation in life, fulfillment comes. While existential theologians use religious, even Christian, terminology to express their faith, they redefine the words to mean something entirely different from what is meant in the Bible.
Postmodernism is a naturalistic philosophy that is essentially atheistic. It asserts that there is no such thing as absolute truth, and there is no objectively true way to describe the structure of reality. In Postmodernism, religious belief is not based on any doctrinal explanation that can be considered true for everyone, but truth is considered private and individual. Everyone has their own truth, and whatever individuals consider true is true for them, regardless of what other people consider true for themselves.
Postmodern theology, then, is not Christian in any sense. It has entered certain churches and denominations as a result of those entities accepting naturalistic philosophy as their guiding principles, rather than biblical beliefs. While they use religious vocabulary to talk about life and the world, the meaning of their words is not based on biblical ideas, but on Postmodern notions.
Another notable stream of Liberal Christianity is Liberation Theology. Liberation Theology teaches that the Gospel message is a call to promote the freedom of people from political, social, and material oppression. Its main focus is freedom from oppression in this world, with little or no focus on eternity.
It was especially prevalent in the Latin American Roman Catholic Church beginning in the 1960s. Most of its inspiration comes from human interaction with society throughout history, and borrows its most basic ideas from the socialist ideas of Hegel and Marx, rather than from the Bible.
Liberation theologians believe that pain and suffering are what motivate individuals to seek God. As such, people find him by working to overcome oppression. Oppression is specifically defined as the subjugation of people groups by evil political and economic structures of society. In liberation theology, salvation is not a spiritual concept, but is liberation from oppression and injustice in earthly society.
Liberation Theology is expressed in numerous offshoots, often focusing on specific oppressed groups. Some prominent examples are Feminist Liberation Theology, Asian Liberation Theology, Hispanic-American Liberation Theology, Native American Liberation Theology and, Black Liberation Theology.
The Outward Expression of Liberal Theology
While the focus of biblical theology is to help people become eternally connected to God, progressive theology puts all its emphasis on accomplishing goals that are this worldly. Salvation, in progressive theology, is the effort to find those who live under oppression, and to right the wrong. Since the goal of their faith relates only to things of this world, the means that must be used to accomplish the goals are the tools of this world: particularly economic and political manipulation. Thus, they use their religion to further naturalistic political agendas under the banner of social justice.
Some of the more common goals of liberal theology include helping illegal immigrants, the ending of racism, promotion of prison reform, and advancing animal rights and environmentalism. To do this, they tout “love” and “justice,” but in order to make it fit with their theological point of view, it is necessary for them to redefine these terms so that they are not associated with biblical concepts, but with naturalistic political and economic ones.
The Deception of Progressive Christianity
In truth, many (though not all) of the goals of those who profess some form of progressive Christianity are fine. It is good to support those who are genuinely oppressed, to promote justice in the world, to end racism, and the like. The problem is not so much with the causes these groups promote, but the basis upon which they promote them. For progressive Christianity, the causes are ends in themselves. They do not promote them in the context of God’s greater purpose – the spiritual/eternal salvation of mankind.
As such, progressive Christians promote their causes as if they were doing the work of God when, in fact, they are not. It does no good to oppose oppression by creating oppression toward another group. It does no good to promote justice when justice is defined in ways that create injustice to other people. It does no good to end racism against one group by supporting racist policies against another. And these things are exactly what happen when the goals are based purely on a temporal rather than an eternal foundation.
Progressive theology has a veneer of Christianity because it couches its teachings in Christian vocabulary, while redefining the words to mean something entirely different. In truth, Progressive Christianity is not Christianity at all – it is naturalistic philosophy. It should not only be rejected, but we need to share the true nature of faith with people who hold these views in order to lead them to faith in Christ.
© 2017 Freddy Davis