What is Progressive Christianity?

The “God is still speaking,” rainbow flag adorns church buildings across the country.  These flags represent a decades-long movement that has caused many an atheist to scratch their heads.  The rainbow-flag-on-church movement is an application of a growing ideology known as “Progressive Christianity”.

Progressive Christianity has become the application of the “Christian” liberalism from the 1800s and early 1900s.  Because of the Enlightenment, mankind sought to understand reality based on reason alone, with a goal of sheer personal happiness.  During this time, faith and science couldn’t be reconciled, and God’s “revelation” became whatever mankind could generate on their own.  Therefore, Darwinian evolution dominated theology, miracles were denounced, Jesus was a good man, and the Bible became more of an inspirational work of history rather than an inspired Word of God. This was the foundation of Progressive Christianity.

Progressive Christianity can adequately be considered the opposite of evangelical Christianity.  Although Progressive Christianity cannot be exactly defined, as it is a movement more than a set creed, it can be summarized as the modern movement of belief away from traditional, historical, orthodox Christianity toward a post-modern, subjective, redefined Christianity, particularly in the areas of moral issues such as human sexuality.

This last point is crucial.  Most, if not all, progressive “Christians” focus on their acceptance of the LGBTQ lifestyle.  Progressive “Christian” leader, Colby Martin, stated in an interview that all progressive “Christians” will likely hold four sentiments:

  • An open and affirm posture toward those who identify as LGBTQ
  • An egalitarian view toward men and women
  • An acceptance that “white supremacy” is a real thing that needs to be dismantled
  • An agreeableness toward science such that modern science accurately describes reality (implying a rejection of young-earth creationism)

The person interviewing Martin stated that he knew many evangelical Christians who would agree with points 2 through 4.  It is point #1, he said, that seems to be the source of the divide between evangelical and progressive Christianity, to which Martin replied, “I think that is an accurate assessment.”

Other sources show that Progressive “Christians” tend to focus on issues such as environmentalism and social justice, be universalist, embrace all religions, and value “questioning” over “absolutes and dogma”.

Now, what progressive “Christians” mean by “God is still speaking” is that the Bible is not a closed book of God’s revelation to mankind, but that God “still speaks” through changes of ideas – that truth shifts with culture.  Therefore, the interpretation of the Bible can be fluid with the culture.

We’ve seen this with political progressivism, namely that the Constitution is considered a “living document” that changes with time.  It’s the same with the Bible.  While a male sleeping “with a male as with a woman” (Lev. 18:22) might have been wrong for the Hebrew people in the days of the Exodus, it doesn’t mean that it is wrong for a modern gentile culture.

It would be wonderful and helpful to dig into the nuances of this harmful worldview, and to equip ourselves to respond with the truth in love.  However, for this article, an introduction with a simple response will help prime us for a larger conversation, God willing, in the future.  So, what are some things we can say in response?

Progressive “Christians” may have some valid complaints about evangelicals.

Before we begin a conversation to dismantle the wickedness of Progressive Christianity, it’s worth listening to the objections that progressive “Christians” have against evangelicalism.  Remember that because someone holds to a wrong perspective, it does not follow that they have no valid points to make.

Martin stated that his great grievance with many evangelical churches is their lack of transparency as to where they stand on the LGBTQ issue.  He feels that evangelical churches who do not believe you can be gay and Christian, and who will not perform a same-sex marriage, and who will not accept into their membership people who identify as LGBTQ, should state such in their policy and/or on their website, lest young LGBTQ “families” are given a “bait-and-switch” of being felt welcomed, but then rejected to have any participation.

I find this point helpful.  Martin, a voice for the LGBTQ community, is asking evangelicals to be open and honest with their position on this issue.  Isn’t it true that too many evangelicals are silent on the biblical positions of traditional marriage, sanctified sexuality, and the sin of homosexuality?

Also, both Martin and the interviewer admitted that there is a lack within evangelicalism of pastoral outreach to young people struggling with same-sex attraction.  Remember, the effects of sin are real in the world, and it is true that some people are born with a bent toward same-sex attraction, just as some people are born with a bent toward substance abuse.  Nature and nurture are both factors when it comes to sinful behaviors.

A young person may genuinely want to follow Christ – and even want a normal, biblical, and healthy sexual future – but, for whatever reason, they are struggling with unholy attractions.  Do pastors compassionately work with these people on an individual basis to overcome this unnatural bent by the power of the Spirit, or are pastors only condemning such same-sex propensities from the pulpit?

To be sure, Progressive Christianity is full of straw man attacks against evangelicals (“evangelicals are racist and unloving people,” for example).  But genuine criticisms from our enemies are not necessarily invalid because they are from our enemies (cf. Titus 1:10-13).  They could be valid.  What we need to watch out for is when progressives use a valid criticism to justify their unbiblical compromise (a “bait-and-switch” strategy of their own).

The Bible must have final authority

Progressive Christianity will inevitably reject the Bible as an authoritative Word of God.  Progressive “Christians” have made great attempts to interpret key Bible passages as not condemning homosexual behavior, but they ultimately fail.  1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 cannot be interpreted in any other way than condemning homosexual behavior for every culture in every era (along with other sins, mind you).

Jesus, the Person who Progressive “Christians” emphasize as a model for life, said, “Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.” (John 17:17  NKJV)  Either Jesus lied or He meant it.  If the Bible is truth, then what it explicitly teaches is truth – to be believed in and obeyed.

Ultimately, Progressive Christianity holds to views that are anathema

Although Progressive Christianity is not an official creed of beliefs, but rather a movement of beliefs – it is a movement in the wrong direction.  While a measure of charity can be given to have dialogue with progressive “Christians” about relevant issues such as theology, sexuality, race-relations, and poverty, we must remember that Progressive Christianity is an ungodly infiltration of compromise into the church.  To reject the authority of God’s Word, to promote the harmful and damning practices of homosexuality, to actively destroy the sacredness of the traditional/biblical family structure, to promote the termination of life made in God’s image, to go around shaming people because they are light skinned, to promote oppressive government and Marxist ideology, and to un-deify the Lord Jesus Christ is anathema in God’s eyes.

God cares too much for the world to promote such beliefs and practices.

My hope is that we can have many conversations about these very relevant issues and that God would equip us to engage the world with a biblical response, and ultimately, an answer found in the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.