Why Does Progressive Christianity’s ‘Jesus’ Sound So Much Like a 21st Century Liberal College Grad?
Their religion isn't Christianity, it's Accommodationism.
The strange and sometimes tragic thing about conservative Christians is how often we fall short of the biblical ideal we aspire to. The strange and often funny thing about progressive “Christians” is that they try calling themselves Christians.
The word “Christian” should mean a follower of Jesus Christ. Progressives say they follow Him, but they’ve made up a new “Jesus” to chase after. Their “Jesus” taught love and grace, but he defines and practices them differently than the real Jesus.
The love their “Jesus” teaches is a welcoming sort of inclusiveness that accepts everyone, especially the marginalized. Above all he has open arms for “sinners” who aren’t really sinners after all, since what they’re doing isn’t wrong. The grace he teaches differs even more. The real Jesus forgives our sins and gives us much better than we deserve. That’s the real meaning of grace. The Accommodationists’ “Jesus” is more likely to say, “Sin? What sin? What’s to forgive?” Where there actually is “sin” — misgendering, for example, or saying there’s one true way to God — there is no pardon.
A “Jesus” Who Can’t Make Up His Mind
It shows how confused this “Jesus” is. They say their religion is loving, inclusive, and welcoming. But just watch and see how inclusive they are with conservative Christians teaching conservative moral principles, or proclaiming Jesus as the one way to God.
The inconsistency should come as no surprise. It’s literally impossible to accept all persons and beliefs equally. This puts their “Jesus” in a tough spot, doesn’t it? If “loving inclusion” is the number one moral principle he taught his followers to live by, what would he have them do when both the right-wing zealot and the gay activist both want “inclusion”?
Of course you know the answer: Someone’s getting excluded, and it’s not the gay man, thus proving that “inclusion” isn’t their highest principle. I don’t know how they’d say it, but here’s how it looks from where I sit: If you can’t include everyone, pick the one that will help you fit in. Fit in where? That’s up to you. Just identify some aspect of culture you like, and adjust your religion to suit.
So the result is, their “Jesus” comes out looking a lot like a 21st century liberal college grad, with high yet terribly confused moral aspirations. This is a “Jesus” who follows them, not one whom they follow.
Jesus Was No Accommodationist
This is what makes it so strange they call themselves Christians. Adding the label “progressive” doesn’t help one bit: It can’t be progressive Christianity without being some form of Christianity to start with. This religion of theirs loves accommodating itself to elite culture, so let’s call it what it is: Accommodationist Religion.
Just don’t try saying it has anything to do with the real Jesus. The real Jesus was no accommodationist.
He loved, yes, but He set the terms for it every time. If the other person didn’t want His love on His terms, He let them walk away.
He welcomed, but again, only on His terms. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit to follow Me.”
He forgave, but He set the terms for that, too.
I mean this in all reverence, because it’s true: He was in some ways the most stubbornly inflexible person the world has ever seen.
No Flexing Here
His hometown synagogue was all proud about Him in Luke 4, and started talking Him up as their hometown boy. He answered by reminding them how much God loves Gentiles. It made them so mad, they tried to throw Him off a cliff.
Some of His followers wanted Him to be their earthly King. He refused.
Peter tried to talk Him out of going to the cross, and Jesus answered, “Get behind me, Satan!” Religious leaders tried to draw Him over on their side. He flexed not one millimeter for them.
Sinners flocked to Him because He loved them, but He never approved their sin in the slightest. He told the woman in John 8, “Go and sin no more.” He told the Samaritan woman in John 4 that she and the rest of the Samaritans were worshiping in ignorance, and they needed to follow Him instead.
Throughout His ministry when He quoted the Prophets He did it less to give His teachings the Prophets’ stamp of approval, much more to place His own stamp of authority on them. He did the same with the Law: He affirmed, then proclaimed Himself its fulfillment. Jesus didn’t bend to anyone or anything: not even to the Scriptures!
The Most Unexpected Love
Jesus did follow the Father, as He explained more than once. You see Him praying, listening, obeying. (Surprisingly, you never see Him bowing before the Father in awe. This is wordless testimony to His own deity.) But you will look in vain to find Him following anyone on earth.
He didn’t care for anyone’s advice. When He asked others’ opinion, it wasn’t so He could learn, but so He could tell them whether they were right or wrong. When He asked a question it wasn’t because He needed an answer, but because they did. Or they needed a reminder they weren’t as smart or as good as they claimed to be
He bent over backwards — even being nailed to a cross — to serve others’ needs. He lovingly adjusted to others’ needs — yet still, He alone decided what counted as a real need.
No Bending on Identity, Mission, Truth
On His identity, His mission, and the truths He taught, He never bent one bit. He never so much as twitched an eyelid. If someone liked His teaching, great! If not, then it was up to them to bend. Not Jesus.
“You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” You never see Him inquiring how He might become someone else’s friend. You never see Him asking how He could become better accepted. We all adapt so others will like us better, sometimes legitimately, sometimes falsely. It’s bad enough to make that mistake, but Accommodationists make a religion of it.
It is not easy being so inflexible and so loving at the same time. (Pardon the understatement!) If you live as if you’re the one person who knows everything, who’s always right, then you’d better be that one person. Otherwise you’re a monster. It’s actually astonishing that such a single-minded person as Jesus would be so revered for His love. No mere human could have done that. This, too, is testimony that He is God, for only God Himself could do that.
How do we imitate Him in that? We don’t. We follow instead. That is, we don’t imitate Him in the things that were His and His alone. We accept His identity, His mission, and His teachings as truths. We do not take it on ourselves to overturn today what He never let anyone overturn then. That includes His consistent teaching and example concerning sin and sinners.
Don’t Misidentify Jesus
Jesus was indeed gracious with sinners, but Accommodationists get that badly wrong, too. Their “Jesus” may say, “What you’re doing with your sexuality or your marriage is exactly right,” but that’s no act of grace, it’s judgment. It may be positive judgment, but it’s judgment nonetheless. I have judged musical competitions, and I have given both positive and negative scores. I wasn’t “judging” the bad performances and “gracing” the good ones. I was judging them both. Giving a bad performance a good grade wouldn’t have been grace, it would have been bad judgment.
The real Jesus’ grace is totally different: “What you’re doing is wrong, and I could certainly hold it against you, but I’m not going to.” It’s different — and it’s better.
Accommodationists may say they follow Jesus. Maybe they can even make half a case for it, but they still end up with less than half of the real Jesus. You might as well tear a sleeve off your shirt and call it the whole shirt. You could write “shirt” on it, so everyone knew you were calling it a shirt. It still wouldn’t get you in the door at work or school.
Tearing off parts of Jesus’ life and stamping His name on what’s left over is no better. Any religion that does that to Jesus cannot be Christianity. It’s 21st century elite liberalism trying to wrap itself in a toga. With a sleeve. And nothing but the sleeve.
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.