Sunday, July 8, 2012

Is Progressive Christianity "Progressive?"

In last week's post, I discussed some of the more inconsistent and self-defeating aspects of "Progressive Christianity." Ultimately, it seems apparent that at least half of their label is wildly inaccurate and misleading. They claim to be "Christian," while discarding Christian doctrines as not only unnecessary but actually harmful: This is very similar to Penny's (from "The Big Bang Theory") claim to vegetarianism: "I'm a vegetarian. Except for fish. And the occasional steak. I love steak!" A "vegetarian" who eats steak and fish is no vegetarian. A "Christian" who is "opposed to any exclusive dogma" does not follow the God-man who claimed to be the way, the truth, the life, and the only way to the Father. (I think this is extremely simple: If anyone disagrees, just let me know in the comments and I'll dedicate an entire note to the claim that Progressive Christianity is not Christian).

But now I want to investigate the other half of their label. In their very title, they claim that theirs is a Christianity that progresses. A look at (same link as above) reveals additional info: "We affirm the variety and depth of human experience and the richness of each persons' search for meaning, and we encourage the use of sound scholarship, critical inquiry, and all intellectual powers to understand the presence of God in human life." The way in which they want to progress, then (or at least one of the ways) is in knowledge of God. They wish to use "sound scholarship, critical inquiry, and all intellectual powers" to arrive at more knowledge of God then when they had started. This is a worthy goal: It's why the Bible was written, why the Bible is read: It's the reason for all theology ever written, from Justin Martyr to Thomas Aquinas to Martin Luther to The freaking Shack (not all of it good, of course).

So: Knowledge of God. Learning more about God and how He is present in human life. Awesome. Bravo. This goal, as a goal, is beyond reproach. Now, let's see how Progressive Christianity will progress towards this goal.

  1. They "affirm the variety and depth of human experience and the richness of each persons' search for meaning." This, combined with their search for understanding about "the presence of God in human life," suggests they are investigating God in each individual life. 
  2. They strive for "the acceptance of all people, and a respect for other religious traditions." So presumable every person, and every religious tradition, has something to bring to the table as they attempt to progress in their understanding of God.
  3. Finally, they are "opposed to any exclusive dogma that limits the search for truth and free inquiry." So any doctrine or dogma that excludes the experience of a person or religious tradition, that says to any individual or any religion, "Your doctrine is false," is not welcome in Progressive Christianity, because to do so would not be respecting that religious tradition, would not be acknowledging the richness of that person' search for meaning.

Their doctrine accepts everyone and everything: Nothing is to be excluded from this grand tapestry, made up of the entire human experience with God. Every person and every religion is respected, rich with knowledge to offer. Surely the picture to which the entire human race is contributing cannot fail to produce an ever-more-accurate portrait of God... except...

You cannot progress towards positive doctrine without dispensing negative doctrine as well. 

You cannot affirm anything without denying the opposite of your affirmation. Every step is both a step towards one thing and a step away from some other thing. A desire to keep everything, to disregard nothing, will only result in an accumulation of contradictory statements: You will be immobilized by the weight of all the different doctrines that you refuse to throw away.

Here's what I mean: Saying "God became man in Jesus Christ" would be a real progress in our understanding of God. It tells us something about God, about man, and about the relationship between the two. Saying "God did not become man in Jesus Christ" would also be a real progress in our understanding of God, man, and the relationship between the two. Unfortunately for Progressive Christianity, they can't say either: To say that God did become man would be to alienate all those who don't believe in a historical Jesus, or who believe that he was real but that he was just a man. To say that God did not become man in Jesus Christ would be to alienate all those who believe that He did.

Let's broaden the picture: Some people claim to experience God as multiple gods and goddesses. Some claim that there is no personal God, merely an impersonal force. The worshipers of Baal believed that God was best worshiped by infant sacrifice: There are many today who believe that God doesn't need to be expressly worshiped at all. Progressive Christianity must affirm all these people (and I do mean all, unless Progressive Christianity wants to break their cardinal rule and dogmatically exclude any remaining Baal-worshipers). To all these people, Progressive Christianity can say, "That is a wonderful idea. We can learn so much from that perspective." But they cannot say, "You are wrong" to any of them, and because of that, they can never say, "You are right."

And so they remain in exactly the spot they began, forever. Forever affirming any and all who come to them, forever "learning" from every person and every religion, and never progressing one inch closer to understanding God.

But perhaps that's not what they mean: Maybe they just mean that they will carefully investigate each religious claim and then... improve on them. Maybe they hope to take the best out of every tradition, and eventually arrive at a knowledge that merely excludes what is obviously erroneous. That is the only alternative to remaining locked in place forever, crushed under the weight of a thousand doctrines which cannot be proclaimed right or wrong.

But here's the thing: Once Progressive Christianity has arrived there, they will be in the same position that orthodox Christianity is in now. That is how the Church got to where it is today: By investigating each claim, each experience, and comparing it to the Bible (what they considered as the ultimate authority). Once Progressive Christianity actually begins to progress, by means of comparing various doctrines to whatever they decide on as their ultimate authority, they will have become that thing that they hate: Their churches will be full of exclusive dogmas. They will be forced into the deeply intolerant position of telling certain people that they are wrong. That is what it means to "progress" in truth: Learning what is false.

Again, Progressive Christianity finds itself forced to choose between two undesirable outcomes: Does it remain dedicated to its original exclusion of exclusionary dogmas and, in doing so, freeze itself in place forever? Or does it actually progress and, in doing so, exclude incorrect dogmas so as to proclaim correct dogmas? In any case, I feel it is obvious that whatever Progressive Christianity may be, two things are certain: It is not Christian, and it is not progressive.


  1. Thanks, Daniel! Great to know I've got a fellow Platonite reading these!

  2. Okay I've got it. Suggest they call it "Inclusive Theism"

    1. Same problem, really. If you are, by nature, "inclusive," then you cannot exclude things. You are still locked in place, and since they claim to value searching over finding, they should find this state of affairs abhorrent (you can't seek Truth when you're busy affirming contradictory doctrines all day).

  3. Very well put and well argued. In this movement, scripture and the gospel are more likely to be seen as "biased" than upheld as God revealing truth.

    There also seems to be a vicious streak within progressive Christianity. Not that other groups are immune to it, but it's surprising when you receive it from them. Ironically, progressive Christians (in general) only seem to give an aggressive defense for their approach and their particular opinions. "Exclude nothing" becomes "Don't you dare tell me to exclude something!" as soon as their stance is challenged on a particular point.

    On separate occasions I have received the wrath of a movie critic and a hyperfeminist, who would describe themselves as progressive Christians, when I told them they had a foolish opinion on this or that. Admittedly, I could have been nicer on each occasion, but they could have been more gracious and understanding (virtues which progressive Christianity incessantly boasts of). They HAD to be right, and I was the cruel attacker who was SO wrong they could barely dignify me with a response.

    I had to learn the hard way, while a lot of progressive Christians are truly nice, there are others with rusty nails and venom hidden under the intellectual mush and shoulder shrugging.