Progressive Christianity (Fool’s Gold)
“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” – Romans 10:9-10
Have you ever wondered why Progressive Christianity questions the authority of the Bible and the claims made in it? During a weekly meeting with my friend and co-contributor we wondered about this as well. We discussed some of the possible reasons why the ideas: Jesus wasn’t bodily resurrected, God doesn’t heal, there was no virgin birth, and the crucifixion was too violent an act of atonement, among other things have gained popularity in churches; and we concluded that it starts at the top—like most thing do—and has filtered down into the local church.
Evidence of this can be found in an article recently published in which Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, stated that:
- She rejects a literal bodily resurrection of Christ
- “… Crucifixion is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs. The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts. For me, the cross is an enactment of our human hatred… “
- She rejects the idea that God miraculously heals through prayer.
- She rejects the virgin birth.
- She doesn’t believe in the afterlife, “I don’t know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife.”
- She doesn’t worship an omnipotent, omniscient God, “But I don’t worship an all-powerful, all-controlling omnipotent, omniscient being. That is a fabrication of Roman juridical theory and Greek mythology.”
If ever there was a better example of “another gospel” which Paul warned about, I don’t know what it is. Richard Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, agrees this is another gospel and in the same article he states, “According to Jones there is no cross on which Jesus died for sin, there is no Father who sent the Son to pay our ransom, there is no bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead as a sign and seal of God’s promises – indeed, she has denied everything that makes the gospel good news. She even denies that God is a ‘being.’”
Adam Hamilton, pastor of the largest Methodist church in the country with over 22,000 members, says in his book, Making Sense of the Bible, that the Bible was, “written by men seeking to express what they believed was God’s will. They were writing in a given time and culture, and they were writing to address the needs of the people of their time.” 1 He views the Bible as a living document which, much like the Constitution, may need to be amended to match the culture. “I believe there must be a way for the church to continue to recognize that though God does not change, the needs of communities sometimes do.”2 An example of this would be when it comes to homosexuality; his view is that the biblical stances on this topic, “seem out of sync with God’s will as we understand it today . . . [it does] not seem to reflect the heart of God revealed in Jesus Christ,” and so the verses in the Bible about homosexuality and our response to them needs to be “amended.”3
Walter Brueggemann, William Marcellus McPheeters current professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia, attended Union Theological Seminary (yes, the one discussed above) and is widely considered one of the most influential Old Testament scholars agrees with Hamilton’s views on homosexuality and writes, “I know those texts are in the Bible, but the Bible is a dynamic tradition that’s always on the move to new truth.” [Source] Regarding his view of the Bible he states, “the Bible itself is not a package of certitudes but an act of faithful imagination.” And when asked, “Does this claim for the imagination conflict with orthodox views that the scriptures are the infallible word of God, essentially written by the Holy Spirit through his apostles and prophets?” He answers, “Yes it contradicts them. The intrusion of the word ‘infallible’ is misleading and unfortunate.” [Source]
Some other examples of this type of reinterpretation are found in the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible (Life With God Bible), which has as its editors or contributors for commentary Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene Peterson. This Bible teaches that:
- Moses did not write Genesis. (refuted here: Exodus 17:14, 24:4; Deuteronomy 31:9, 25; Joshua 8:31–32; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Chronicles 30:16; Nehemiah 8:1, Luke 24:44; John 1:17, 45; 5:45–46; 7:19–23)
- Genesis as oral tradition of narrative stories passed down from generation to generation….Borrowing from other creation accounts…stories with parallels to ancient Near Eastern religious narrative and mythology were reshaped with monotheistic intent….These strands of varied materials were gathered and edited into the written text….”
- Denies the authorship of Daniel to Daniel. (refuted here: Matthew 24:15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Jesus refers to the personhood of Daniel, the spiritual gifting of Daniel as a prophet, and the specific prophecy given to Daniel.)
- Rejects the prophecies of Daniel, including the proof in Daniel 9:24-26 that Jesus is the Christ.
- Downplays the powerful Old Testament prophecies of Christ (pp. 22, 32, 1375, 1377-8, 1384)
- Denies Isaiah wrote Isaiah (pages 982 and 1068), calls Isaiah “tradition” and “poetic imagination” (982-983), denies Isaiah 53 prophecies Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. (p984)
- Claims the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:7-14 which states Israel will be gathered and restored, is really God’s promise to homeless people everywhere and states “The prophets of Israel are not to be thought of as primarily predictors of the future, they were poets.” (p1080)
- Eugene Peterson, consulting editor for the New Testament of this Bible, reduces Paul’s book of Romans to being metaphor, and says Paul’s writing is the “opposite of precise use of language.” (p2045)
But why, what is the endgame? I believe we cannot know specifically and with certainty what the goal is, but we can know the impact. If people in the pews can be made to believe that the Bible is more or less just a book in which what was written can be manipulated, said to be imagination, or fashioned into being whatever we want for whatever occasion we face, then right and wrong can be thrown out in the name of subjective or relative truths. The logical progression of this is plain, for if this is true of the Bible, questions can be raised about the actual necessity of the Bible and the value of reading the Bible; furthermore, if the Bible can be said to be or taught to have no real or tangible importance, then this would naturally lead to a decline in the reading of the Bible by those being taught it wasn’t needed. And finally, because without knowing what the Bible says anything can and will be taught and believed as truth.
Their claim is that the Bible changes, has errors, is a product of imagination, or was just written by men; so a problem remains for me—how to prove the danger or error of Progressive Christianity without using the Bible? Because of their claim, I cannot use the Bible to prove the Bible without being accused of a logical fallacy (though this claim if brought is a logical fallacy, but that is a different topic), so what remains is logic. The premise of Progressive Christianity is concisely summed up as the belief that because God is love, love must be tolerant and non-judgmental. Hillsong’s media release regarding LGBTQ is just one example of this: “Believing the teachings of the Bible and loving all people – including those who have different perspectives – are not mutually exclusive. In fact this is the very definition of tolerance and inclusiveness.” [Source] They rightly get that God is love from 1 John 4:7-8 which says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Therefore, they conclude if we do not love others (i.e. if we judge) then we do not love others nor do we love God. But here is the catch-22, if the Bible is fallible or errant or just written by men, then how can they claim that the verse which states “God is love” is true and at what point does the Bible go from errant to true, back to fallible and back to true?
Think about that. If the Bible was simply written by men, or certain sins condemned are limited to a specific time or culture or the Bible is full of errors, then how can we know that the statement “God is love” is not written in the same manner or is not for a specific time or culture? If the Bible is not the inspired and unerring word of God, then all the claims made by Serene Jones, from the article above, could be true; and if they could be true, or only one of them is true, then we and our faith are to be most pitied as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19:
“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”
Furthermore, if even one verse in the Bible is a lie or was not written under the direction of the Holy Spirit, then why should we believe “God is love,” is not one of these errors? Why should we believe the creation account; the flood account; the prophecies about the coming and return of Jesus; the fact the Jesus was born of virgin, crucified on a cross, and was resurrected; the atoning blood for the remission of our sins; eternal life heaven; and so on? On top of this another problem exists—one of definitions. Who is defining words like love, sin, or experience? Are we to define these words or is the Word of God? If it is us, that is bad enough, but if it is the Bible, which Progressive Christians label as fallible and errant, then I ask again: at what point does the Bible move from erroneousness to trustworthy, and who decides? What if my opinion about the trustworthiness of a Bible passage differs from theirs and yours is different from both of ours, who is right? How do we decide? The logic is simple; if Progressives believe the Bible is not the inerrant and infallible Word of God, then their claim that “God is love” as well as their definition of love could be a lie. This, I believe, is the fatal flaw; for if the veracity, historicity, infallibility, and inerrancy of certain uncomfortable parts of Bible are said to be for only a certain time or culture or are myth and legend, then the following may be as well:
Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
Numbers 23:19, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”
Hebrews 13:8-9, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.”
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
John 11:25-26, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”
John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”
1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Revelation 22:1-5, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
They are then left with one of two choices; logic dictates that either all scripture is God-breathed written under the direction of the Holy Spirit and, therefore, all scripture must be inerrant and infallible, or that God is a liar and so nothing in the Bible can be believed nor should it be. It cannot be both.
Progressive Christianity focuses on its own distorted conception of love at the expense of biblical truth and justice: it is, simply put, another gospel. Why? Because if the promise of God, if the characteristics and attributes of God, if the holiness and justice of God are subjective, and if existence of sin and the judgement it brings only apply to certain times and cultures, and if salvation, atonement, and justification by the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus is merely one of many possible ways rather than the only way, then there is no Gospel message. There is no need of one because there is no bad news; Progressive Christianity would be the good news—the Gospel message: a universal teaching that teaches all go to heaven. If this is true, if everyone goes to heaven, then I would have to agree with Serene Jones and her claim that it was a cruel Father indeed who punished His sinless Son to die on cross for no good reason.
But if she and the other promoters of Progressive Christianity are wrong, then they offer nothing more than fool’s gold—it sparkles and shines brightly yet offers no value. The tragedy is—for all the hope Progressive Christianity promises—the price of redeeming this fool’s gold is eternal death though it promises life everlasting.