“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude 3
There is nothing gentle about contending for the faith. It is an all out battle. Lest anyone think contending for the faith is one person versus another, it is not. It is much bigger than that, and much more is at stake than one person winning a debate or not. This is spiritual. It is the light of truth versus the false light of darkness. And yes, there is such a thing as false light. Listen to what the apostle Paul writes, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 11:14.
Satan is a master at appealing to our human preferences and biases, and twisting the truth of Scripture to fit into the context of the narrative of our lived experiences and feelings. As a matter of fact, those few words, “narrative,” and “lived experiences and feelings” are all too common language today when it comes to acceptable theology. If a certain biblical truth doesn’t fit the “narrative” we want, we create a new one; one that is much more comfortable and soothing. Or, if a certain command of Scripture doesn’t align with our “lived experiences and feelings,” because it seems unloving and too harsh, then the biblical text is thrown out as being irrelevant, or not culturally appropriate for our day and time. To acquiesce to this equates to nothing more than false teachings, heresies, which may have the appearance of being loving, gracious, kind, and true, but are nothing more than lies with soft edges. Just ask Adam and Eve.
These heretical teachings are nothing new, though. They have circulated since the days of the early Church, and not only do they exist within the Church today, it seems as though false teaching has become prevalent and embraced. The apostle Paul warned Timothy of this when he wrote, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wandering off into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4
As a result it has left churches weak and capitulating to more of what is trending in culture rather than submitting to the authority of all of Scripture. This is why Jude encourages true believers to contend for the faith: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed . . . ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude 3
That statement, “Certain people have crept in unnoticed” is troubling to me. And it should be because it is true. What initially crept in secretly now seems to walk through the front door arrogantly and unexamined. We (and by “we” I’m referring to the Church) have too quickly brought to the intimate table of fellowship those who have all the credentials and appealing characteristics often deemed as useful for the church and its “mission” (i.e., the well-known that bring notoriety; the community leaders that bring visibility; the wealthy that give monetarily), rather than meeting with them in the living room to get to know who they are and the condition of their soul. How many conversations have had to be had with those who were thrust into positions of leadership, untested and unexamined, who have not handled accurately the Word of truth, and the biblical doctrines expressly revealed in the scriptures? Even worse, how many conversations have still yet to be had with those who teach a different gospel? Jude referred to these within the church as “hidden reefs . . .shepherds feeding themselves . . .waterless clouds . . . fruitless trees . . . wild waves of the sea . . . wandering stars.” In other words, these aren’t true followers of Jesus or true shepherds, these are charlatans.
The fallout has resulted in a “progressive Christianity” that is certainly progressive, but most certainly not Christian.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “progressive Christianity;” maybe not. First, let me say that Christianity is not progressive. To make such a claim is to, in essence, say that the Christian faith evolves. That is dangerous ground considering that Christ, who is the hope, subject, and good news of the gospel, is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is unchanging. It would stand to reason, then, that the Christian faith does not evolve because Christ does not evolve.
So what is “progressive Christianity,” and why should it raise concern?
It’s hard to give a succinct definition of progressive Christianity because there is not a specific confession or creed that “progressive Christians” rally around. In some ways it’s like nailing Jell-O to the wall. Although their language can be similar to scriptural and doctrinal language (i.e., salvation, communion, baptism, etc.,), the way in which they frame and assign meaning to biblical language and truth are much different than what the whole of Scripture teaches. In essence, it is a cut-and-paste theology, mostly cutting out biblical truth and pasting feel-good and culturally appropriate me-ology.
But, in order to be able to recognize some of the areas where progressive Christianity has “progressed” into outright heresy, I’ll list a few, over and against what Scripture, within the context of all of God’s Word, says. As well, I’ll identify those who have become popular proclaimers of “progressive Christianity,” (Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Jen Hatmaker, Brian Zahnd, Brian McLaren, Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Sarah Bessey, Adam Hamilton . . . just to name a few), in order for you to research and examine for yourself.
As I mentioned earlier, trying to define progressive Christianity is challenging, not because it isn’t easy to see, because it is; especially when you look through the lens of Scripture according to Scripture. It’s hard to define because there are a variety of distortions when it comes to doctrinal issues such as salvation. For example, they deny the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ; they believe that everyone will be saved in the end (Universalism); they hold to a view of salvation that is more about social justice, activism, and identifying with the socially oppressed; or enlightening those who have been oppressed by traditional Christianity; and, that salvation is being morally good by following the way of Jesus.
When it comes to the doctrine of salvation, progressive Christianity attacks God as being a vicious and angry God who killed Jesus in an act of cosmic child abuse. If you think that sounds extreme it should, because it is. Such a statement is blatantly heretical. British author, Steve Chalke, in his book The Lost Message of Jesus, rejects the idea that Jesus died for the sins of humanity and went further by referring to such an act as “cosmic child abuse.” Although this phrase is unique to Steve Chalke, the errant theological thread that runs through the fabric of progressive Christianity is not. Brian Zahnd, the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri, has said, “The God who is mollified by throwing the virgin in the volcano, or the God who is mollified by His Son being nailed to a tree is not the Abba of Jesus.” He went on to say, “But particularly abhorrent is the penal substitutionary atonement theory that turns the Father of Jesus into a pagan deity who can only be placated by the barbarism of child sacrifice, and this will not do . . . it makes God a vindictive monster. Does God really love me, or has He simply been paid off?” Musician and host of The Liturgists podcast, Michael Gungor, tweeted: “I would love to hear more artists who sing to God and fewer who include a Father murdering a son in that endeavor.” He also wrote, “. . . that God needed to be appeased with blood is not beautiful. It’s horrific.”
Yet the Scriptures speak something very different. The writer of Hebrews says, “ . . . without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22b
What makes the gospel so beautiful is that Jesus Christ willingly laid down His life for the sin of humanity. Jesus wasn’t forced to die on the cross. There was no coercion. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep . . . For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.” John 10:14, 17-18
What makes the gospel so beautiful is that holy God would take on flesh in the person of Jesus, and willingly substitute His life for the lives of all of sinful humanity (past, present, and future) who deserve the just penalty of death, so that by the shedding of His blood forgiveness might be granted to those who, by faith, turn from their sin and turn to Jesus Christ. God, in Christ, absorbed our sin and endured His just wrath poured out on sin so that we might experience His righteousness. That’s beautiful.
What is horrific, however, is to twist the Scriptures in such a way that makes sin look petty, and Jesus’s sacrifice seem irrelevant. It’s a different gospel, as the apostle Paul spoke of in Galatians when he said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-10
This is exactly what progressive Christian theology is reduced to at it’s false-gospel core. It’s not good news they offer, it’s fake news.