Progressive Christianity: Throwing You Off a Bridge, Selling It as ‘Compassion’
Weirdly enough, it means they've got a lot in common with New Atheists.
Listen to anyone talking up progressive Christianity, and it won’t take more than three minutes to hear they major in compassion. The self-styled “New Evangelicals” preach how they care for people who’ve been “marginalized and disenfranchised by the American Evangelical Church,” Progressive Christian apologist Randal Rauser says right actions — caring actions — get priority over right beliefs.
ProgressiveChristianity.org says, “We are opposed to any exclusive dogma that limits the search for truth,” and, “We promote an understanding of Christian practice and teaching that leads to a greater concern for the way people treat each other than for the way people express their beliefs, the acceptance of all people, and a respect for other religious traditions.”
There’s a lot missing there, and the strange thing is how much it reminds me of the New Atheists who cropped up after 9/11. The atheists showed up preaching “reason” as their identity — reason as opposed to the superstitions of faith, naturally. Atheist author Sam Harris co-led “Project Reason.” A huge atheist rally in 2012 was called the “Reason Rally.” All their organizations listed “reason” listed as a core value. Peel back the veneer, as my co-authors and I did in True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism, and you find just how bad they were at practicing the skill of reasoning.
Falling Off One Side, Falling Off the Other
Progressive Christianity’s “compassion” is almost exactly opposite, yet weirdly similar. The New Atheists were all for the cold hard truth, and if it meant dehumanizing every person on the planet, well, tough. Progressive Christianity goes the other way: It’s all about caring for people, and never letting questions of truth get in the way.
So they make a neat complement to each other: You can choose truth that kicks humanity off one side of a high bridge, or heart that kicks truth off the other. There’s only route that will keep you on the highway. The way of Jesus Christ. The real Jesus, that is. Not the progressive “Jesus.”
Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14 and 17). You’ll see it in everything He taught, everything He did. This wasn’t about being half grace and half truth. His truth was entirely gracious, his grace was completely committed to truth, each sides filling up the other and also setting its boundaries. Progressives say they follow Him, too, but who is this “Jesus” of theirs? No one you ever saw in the Bible.
Truth-less Grace in Action
Kevin Young is a great example, a progressive pastor we’ve met before in these pages. Someone on Xwitter (X, Twitter, whatever you want to call it) asked him, “Can you define grace?” He xweeted this for his answer:
Sitting at the dinner table with those Christianity condemns … and doing nothing more than enjoying good food, good drinks, good laughs, and telling good stories.
Just radical hospitality.
It’s a great sales job, I’ll say that much for it: Love means never worrying about a clash of opinions. And yet it would appear that love also means stuffing your beliefs so you don’t have to burden anyone else with who you are and what you think. How is it grace, I wonder, to get along by hiding your differences?
What is This Grace?
I also had to wonder how he made this fit with Jesus as we know Him from the gospels. So I asked him,
Did Jesus ever dine with sinners where sin and repentance weren’t part of the context or conversation? When he brought it up, which was pretty much every time, was it because he wasn’t as gracious as you are?
He answered, “‘Pretty much every time’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting here.” I’d call that doing a lot of ducking the question.
Maybe he thought he knew what he was talking about. I don’t know. So I invited him to show me his list of exceptions, and so far he’s ignored it. I can’t help wondering if he did some research and figured the safe thing would be to pretend he wasn’t listening. Because quite clearly, Dr. Young’s example of “grace ” looks nothing at all like Jesus’.
Jesus’ Grace and Truth
The gospels tell of four times Jesus had meals in homes. At each of them He rebuked some religious leader or other. That’s the part progressives love pointing out. They’re right about that, no one would disagree with it, and every leader needs to listen well to what Jesus says there.
Don’t listen the way progressives tell you to, though. They only teach half of Jesus. The rest of Him they throw off the bridge. The truth is, Jesus had words of faith and repentance for everyone at these meals:
- He dines in the home of the newly repentant tax collector Levi, also called Matthew, meaning repentance is in the air to start with. And when He calls some of the people “sinners,” He’s not talking about the Pharisees.
- At another meal a woman barges in to show her grateful love for Jesus, and He says her sins had been “many.” I can’t imagine Dr. Young permitting such language under his “radical hospitality.” Granted, Jesus doesn’t preach repentance or faith to her, but why would He? She was already there.
- At the outcast tax collector Zaccheaus’s house (Luke 19:1-10) the whole message is about repentance and forgiveness, and nothing but repentance and forgiveness.
- With the pair at Emmaus, he taught the Word — and not without calling them “foolish and slow to believe.”
And that’s it for meals Jesus had in homes. Does that sound to you like Dr. Young’s “grace”? Even outside of homes, it’s hard to find a meal he ate without calling people to repent and follow Him. There’s no preaching recorded at the feeding of the 5,000, but the next day He used it as a tough object lesson with many of the same people.
More Gracious than Jesus, More Godly than God?
That’s Jesus’ example. You might think our progressive pastor Dr. Young would take it as a good one. You might be wrong on that, though. He’s not sure even God is good enough:
No good theology says MORE MERCY is a bad thing.
Does God care that we try to out-mercy him? Is God so insecure??
If Progressive Theology strives for radical levels of mercy, then it stands in good company with Micah 6:8 and the Beatitudes.
Let’s re-phrase that: Does God care if we try to out-do Him at being God? Don’t be distracted by his mindless and misdirecting emotion-word “insecure.” The reason God doesn’t want us to try out-doing Him at being God is because it’s a damnable lie, and yes, God still cares about truth, even if progressives don’t like Him for it. And it’s also because He knows how horrifically bad we become when we try being God.
How Little They Understand
He asked the wrong thing, anyway. It’s not whether more mercy is a bad thing, it’s whether less truth is, and whether true mercy can even exist if divorced from truth. There’s no mercy in looking the other way, pretending nothing’s wrong while people jump to an eternal death.
It’s no mercy to re-write John 1:14 and 17 to chop re-make Jesus into half a “Jesus,” uninterested in truth, “full of grace, grace, more grace, and don’t you dare bring up sin and repentance!”
Progressive’s “compassion” looks great as a veneer, but the reality it hides is rank idolatry, the blasphemous evil of trying to out-God God Himself.
I’m not saying we evangelicals get grace and truth right all the time. What I am saying is that when a so-called Christian jumps off the bridge on the side of truth-less grace, he’s fallen off the bridge. When they push people off, they fall too. There is no soft landing down there, not unless Jesus rescues them by His own truthful grace.
Real compassion doesn’t push people off bridges.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.