The apostle Paul, in his letter to the believers in Galatia, was troubled and concerned that they were “so quickly deserting” the gospel of the true grace of Christ and turning to a “different gospel.” It was a false gospel. Here’s what Paul wrote, “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.” Galatians 1:6-9
Those are strong words, and rightly so. His concern was that they were abandoning the truth for a lie, one that was (as with all false teachings) culturally acceptable and approved. John Piper said this concerning the false gospel that had infiltrated the Christian community within Galatia: “And what makes that underlying truth in the text so powerful is that the “different gospel” in the churches of Galatia was not a religion from a foreign land. It was a close counterfeit to the real thing. The people in verse 7 who were perverting the gospel were professing Christians. They probably belonged to the church in Jerusalem and knew its leaders (Galatians 2:12). This “different gospel” was not on the order of Buddhism or Hinduism or Islam. It was an in-house distortion. It was promoted by men who called themselves Christian “brothers” (Galatians 2:4).”
With progressive Christianity, it has become, as Piper says, an “in-house distortion.” This issue was of such grave importance that Paul repeated what he said about those who preached a different gospel, be it men or even an angel from heaven, and he used strong language to indicate the destructiveness of such a false gospel. Paul used the Greek word “anathema,” which means that they are cut off from Christ. That’s harsh, but if nothing else it reveals not only the worth of the gospel, but also the great cost of the gospel through the substitutionary atonement death of Christ.
Richard Rohr, who is a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, as well as the author of several books, has gained an audience with those who have become disenfranchised with and disillusioned by the evangelical Church, many of whom are Millennials. His influence has marked the lives and teachings of notable “Christian” leaders such as Rob Bell, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Brian McLaren, William Paul Young (author of The Shack) to name a few.
In a blog post entitled, “Jesus and the Cross,” Rohr said of the crucifixion of Jesus, “Salvation became a one-time transactional affair between Jesus and his Father, instead of an ongoing transformational lesson for the human soul and for all of history. I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is a revelation of the infinite and participatory love of God, not some bloody payment required by God’s offended justice to rectify the problem of sin. Such a story line is way too small and problem-oriented.” In other words, Rohr denies what Jesus validated in the Scriptures. It doesn’t take long to see, as you read through Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 53, and the gospel accounts as well as, that the prophets and Jesus spoke of His death as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Author and social critic, Os Guinness quoted theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to describe Rohr’s version of the gospel when he said, “Rohr’s cross is the very different cross of modern liberalism that Reinhold Niebuhr described so perfectly as ‘a God without wrath bringing men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.’”
In essence, Niebuhr concisely summarized the core belief of progressive Christianity: a God without wrath toward sin, a Kingdom without walls, and a cross-less gospel. That, my friends, is not the gospel of the Bible.
In addition to denying the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ, another aspect of the salvation theology of those who consider themselves to be progressive Christians is universalism, which basically says that all people will, in the end, be saved.
In his writings, Rohr says, “salvation is not a question of if but when,” and “We are all saved in spite of our mistakes and in spite of ourselves.” Rob Bell in his book, Love Wins, writes: “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided, toxic, and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” (Love Wins, viii.)
Jen Hatmaker, who is a talented writer and seems genuinely nice from what I can tell, is admittedly greatly influenced by the teachings of Richard Rohr, which I believe is greatly problematic for the reasons I’ve stated. I do not disagree with having conversations with or interviewing those who hold different beliefs than what is biblically true. As a matter of fact, I believe those conversations are crucial in order to gain understanding, as well as an opportunity to present the truth of Scripture.
It is altogether different, however, when a person’s errant view or theology is accepted and even celebrated under the false pretense of seeking “unity.” Light and darkness cannot be unified. As Paul asks, “ . . . what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14
This is some of the introduction to her podcast interview with Richard Rohr:
“Speaking of heroes, if you know my guest today, you are probably freaking out because I am too. When I say he’s one of the greats, I mean, that in the most sincere possible way. If I sound a little verklempt right now, it’s because I just finished the interview. I am now recording the intro, and I finished this interview by crying my eyes out, trying to tell him how special and important he is to all of us. I’m not over it yet because today we have on Fr. Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest. He’s the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. He’s known around the world, I mean, around the world for the way he teaches about contemplation, and radical compassion, and social equality. He’s been on the front lines of social justice thought for decades, and he is literally one of our best teachers. His newest book is called The Universal Christ, which just came out, and we’re going to talk a bit about it and hear his thoughts on it . . .It’s not an exaggeration to tell you that Richard Rohr’s work has been so deeply meaningful to me and has shown me truly things like I didn’t even have the imagination for, frankly.” (Series 16, Episode 6)
There are other aspects of her beliefs (on sexuality/gender, authority of Scripture, etc.), as with those who hold to a progressive theology, that simply don’t align with the whole counsel of God’s word. For one who professes to be a follower of Christ yet not accept by faith that all Scripture is God-breathed, as the apostle Paul affirms in 2 Timothy 3:16, is to dismiss Christ’s high regard of the Scriptures (the Law, the Prophets, and Wisdom writings of the Old Testament).
I could give more examples of this, but I hope you are seeing the dangers of the heretical views of progressive Christianity. Again, don’t take my word for it, rather measure what you read, hear, and see over and against the whole of Scripture, and not just a few select verses that are carefully cherry-picked to justify a comfortable theology.
Those who proclaim these heretical teachings are nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing, cloaked as shepherds along a road that leads to a false salvation, which is not salvation at all. It’s just the opposite. These are the ones who the apostle Paul referred to when he asked the professing believers in Galatia, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” It’s as though Paul is saying and asking, “You were running this race so well, embracing and obeying the true gospel. Who put stumbling blocks in your way that caused you to abandon the truth and choose a path that leads to destruction?”
When I think of what Paul is saying, it reminds me of a cartoon I used to watch when I was a kid. It was the Bugs Bunny Roadrunner Show, and specifically the episodes of Wyle E. Coyote and Roadrunner. Every cartoon was the same theme: Wyle E. Coyote was always scheming to try and trick and capture the Roadrunner. And every episode ended the same way: Roadrunner always outsmarted Wyle E. Coyote. In one particular episode, the coyote painted a detour sign that was meant to lead the Roadrunner over a cliff. The sign worked, but the desired result failed.
In the same way, those who are seeking to persuade you with a false gospel are holding up “detour” signs that seem helpful, not harmful, but in reality are leading you over a theological and spiritual cliff. To be clear, though, unlike Wyle E. Coyote, I don’t think they are seeking to be diabolical. They, more than likely, are nice people; the kind with whom you could sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee. But nonetheless, the different gospel they preach is from one who is diabolical and seeks nothing more than to trip you up and convince you that the detour sign he’s holding is legit. Trust me, it’s not.
Paul wrote this to the Galatians, and it is just as applicable to us today: “This persuasion is not from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Galatians 5:8
This persuasion is from the enemy, Satan. And he loves to take the gospel and try to reinvent it as a cheap knock-off. It only takes a slight change to make what is genuine, counterfeit. The only way you can often tell what is fake from what is genuine, or what is a lie from what is true, is by careful examination and knowledge of what is true and genuine.
Tim Challies, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Canada, after visiting the Bank of Canada to see, if in fact, the illustration often used regarding the best way to detect counterfeit money is by knowing what authentic money looks like, said, “Training in identifying counterfeit currency begins with studying genuine money. There are certain identifying characteristics that are added to each bill printed by the Bank of Canada. These characteristics are necessarily difficult to reproduce. Some are intended to stump the casual counterfeiter, armed with no more than a scanner and color laser printer, and some will stump the more serious counterfeiter, even if armed with expensive, high-tech equipment. The currency expert at the Bank of Canada summarized the approach to distinguishing a genuine bill with the phrase, ‘touch, tilt, look at, look through.’”
Talk about a great grid through which to look at any teaching over against Scripture so as to know the truth. What if we took time, consistently (which is more than just a Sunday morning) and touched, tilted, looked at, and looked through the word of God? Without a doubt we would grow in our understanding of God, grow in our knowledge of the truth, and thus be more discerning as to what is counterfeit. In addition to that, we would be transformed by His word, conformed to the image of Christ, and more effective in our witness to the world because the Word examined, studied, meditated, and obeyed always produces Christ-like character and Christ-exalting awe.
Every follower of Christ should examine and test what they see, hear, and read to see if it aligns with all of Scripture, not just verses taken out of context. As well, cleverly said statements and creatively written words need to be parsed and evaluated rather than quickly embraced. The mystical and mysterious has a way of drawing us in and intriguing us, but not all that is mystical and mysterious is of God. As a matter of fact, God has not made it hard for us to know Him and the gospel hope He has revealed to us in Christ and His redemptive work.
There are many ways in which the enemy seeks to deceive us, one of which is theology that seems unifying and utopic, but in truth is divisive and destructive. Deconstructed truth is always easier to embrace and swallow. But in reality what you embrace is the bondage of deception’s chains, and what you swallow are the toxic lies of an evil foe.
So, dear friends, contend for the faith by knowing the truth. Hold fast to what is biblically true, and quickly let go of what is not. Please know that I’m not attacking the persons of Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Jen Hatmaker, or any other who holds to a progressive theology, but I most certainly will attack the false teaching they proclaim. I pray that the Spirit of God will draw them deeper into the Word, and that as He illuminates the whole counsel of the Scriptures their eyes may be open to the truth. I pray that will be true of each of us as we seek God in His word.