It is no secret that progressive “Christianity” has gained a lot of exposure over the past week. When I first heard Rachel Held Evans had died, I fought back tears. A life lost so early is tragic. The deep sadness of knowing two children and a husband will be facing life without their mother and wife consumed me. I prayed and will continue to pray for her family and friends. In the days following some evangelical writers took to Twitter and blogs discussing her impact upon them and within progressive “Christian” thought. What I didn’t expect was the incongruence of taught theology vs applied theology. Some leaders were theologically consistent, but others were vague and confused. More on that in a moment, but for now I want to state explicitly why I write this. I do not write this as a critique of Rachel. I write this as a critique of theology applied in evangelical circles. Although Rachel is involved, she is not my focus. I think Anne Kennedy said it best in her recent article titled, “Answering a Kind Comment.”
“If the election of Mr. Trump was one kind of evangelical crisis, the death of Rachel Held Evans is another. Both brought into the light the deep-rooted troubles that have been long growing. Both are forcing Christians to show to themselves, and to each other, and to the world, their true theological cards.”
What is Progressive “Christianity”
Progressive “Christianity” encompasses many subjects and invades critical areas of theology. It challenges the authority of Scripture and redefines Christian sexual ethics to name a few. Alisa Childers, a rising authority on the topic, defines progressive “Christianity” this way:
“Progressive Christianity is a theological progression beyond the historic Christian views of the Bible and essential doctrines of the faith. Progressive Christian beliefs tend to be in step with cultural norms, rather than biblical mandates.”
A trademark of this ideology is the seductive allure of boundless inclusivity for any and all. It sounds enticing to imagine. For instance, a person can focus on social issues by making a change in the world without being forced to change themselves. This isn’t to say a person doesn’t change in the process, make no mistake they do. The issue isn’t at root change, the issue is the change isn’t prescribed. One can be changed by dusty scrolls found in the desert we now call Scripture, but one doesn’t have to be, at least not in the way the Scriptures intended. The only change required is the change you want. It doesn’t have to be anyone’s path it only needs to be your path.
The sentiment expressed in their public speakers is a thin veneered hope. The call heralded is to break out of the tyranny of the patriarchal shackles of a 2000-year-old religion and help usher in a new form of Christianity. The stories are essential to selling this idea. The picture is painted with the wide brush strokes of pain and hurt. Who hasn’t been hurt? Then they draw correlations to Scripture being followed a particular way that has brought about this suffering. Of course, it is true some people take some Scriptures out of context and hurt others. But progressive “Christianity” often discards nuance for emotional appeal. If someone is hurting, nuance needs a swift kick in the butt and self-healing and acknowledgement of the pain often overrides any logical appeal. As this develops into a system of thought it is concluded there can and will be a new church. Progressive “Christianity” promises a church community where you will not be judged but you will be embraced. After all, Jesus had a message of love and this acceptance of “you be you” is seen as a beautiful expression of love. For what could be more loving than inviting the disenfranchised to the table of Christ? At least that is how it is put on display to the masses. It sounds so freeing and of course loving. But any true freedom isn’t boundless. If something is boundless that is true anarchy. To be fair, it isn’t as though there are no rules within the progressive crowd, rather the rules are different. The perceived broken ideas of the past have healed in the soothing balm of redefinition.
Evangelical Theology Applied
Albert Mohler once spoke of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order issues within theology. The idea here is there are somethings a person can believe and do (1st order) which exclude them from salvation through Christ. There are other things a person can believe and do (2nd & 3rd order) which isn’t a salvation matter but a freedom in Christ matter. The conversation over the past week has shown some in the evangelical world think there are no issues which separate from Christ. One can be in “error”, say with sexual ethics, yet still be a “Sister or Brother” in Christ. One prominent evangelical wrote this:
“As evangelicals, we can respond better when our brothers and sisters have serious doubts and ultimately end up on the other side of the line as us on certain issues. We must do better. J.R.R. Tolkien, one who believed differently than me on many theological issues, once said, “Not all those who wander are lost.” This I believe”
To be fair, I asked the author to clarify, but he never did. To be more generous in my reading of the author I acknowledged this could extend to a general group of people; however, the article was about Rachel. It is hard to know if his spoken theology is different than his applied theology. But I write to raise the flag of awareness to this kind of response. If people who preach same-sex marriage as a Holy and God glorifying institution are only on “the other side of the line” then I understand very little about Scripture.
Two Tables of Christ
Moments ago, I mentioned that proponents of progressive “Christianity” pride themselves on the idea that it invites the disenfranchised to the table of Christ? However, what I want to leave you with is this question. Is Christ at their table? Scripture is clear, the table where Christ sits calls for the disenfranchised, not only to come, but to deny themselves and follow Him. I will again quote Anne Kennedy from the same article listed above:
“And so we are not sitting at opposite sides of one long table. We are not eating of the one bread and drinking out of the one cup. We are talking about two different faiths, two different kinds of love, two different lords.”
And I conclude we are talking about two different tables.