Progressive Christianity is Cultural Relativism.
Progressive is a Converged Term
Jack’s post, Progressive (2020 November 10), pointed out the confusion that surrounds the eponymous word when used to describe culture or religion.
“Obviously, the word progressive cannot be used to refer to a return to Covenant theology, Biblical Law, and the Natural Order described by the Christian Red Pill. This word needs to be revised or replaced in order to avoid unnecessary confusion (and offence).”
I agree. The word “progressive” cannot be used at all to describe anything Christian — it is utterly tainted with another meaning that has nothing to do at all with anything Christian in substance. The whole idea of anything “progressive” is to move away from anything Christianity stands for, because Christianity is the “establishment culture of the past”, and of the West, par excellence.
In the same post, Jack also posed the question, What is a better word that we can use to describe “favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are?
As for this, “favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are”, I’ll comment on each word.
- I would not use the word “progress” at all. It is too similar in meaning and usage to progressive.
- I would stay away from the word “change” because, again, in Western culture, “change” is a byword that indicates a one-way liberating change — it is never “changing back”.
- “Improvement” doesn’t convey the fact that many converged beliefs and practices should be discarded.
- The word “reform” may be okay, but again this is also tainted now because it’s all associated with one direction of reforms — the liberating kind. Projects of restoration are, by definition, not seen as “reform” movements, and so the term is also a bit misleading in our cultural context.
I think in reality what Jack was describing is a kind of “neo-restoration” or a “neo-orthodoxy” — something that isn’t exactly a going back to the past, which is always impossible, but which does entail the following:
- Abandoning elements of the present which are inconsistent with the unchanging truth of Christ and of the Church.
- Restoring the Church to its purity and fullness of truth and practice.
Progressive Christianity is Cultural Relativism
“Progressive Christianity” is a term people are using to kind of repackage some things that came out of the “Emerging Church” movement — something which was openly about “embracing a generous orthodoxy”, which always comes down to meaning “disregarding orthodoxy”, because “orthodoxy”, whatever else it may be, is never “generous” by definition, because it always excludes things that are not considered “orthodox”. For example, …
In contrast to the “generous orthodoxy” of truth that they promote, there prevails an underlying spirit of agnosticism about the truth claims made in the past, which happens to reflect more or less entirely the cultural progressivism of the surrounding post-modern culture.
In reality, the “Progressive Christians” imitate liberal Christianity, but seek to be more culturally relevant in practice, by installing a trendy, post-modern mindset as the central feature of their consciousness. It is this centrality of the popularized mindset (rather than the renewing of the mind by the Holy Spirit) that leads to its corruption, similar to Gnosticism.
They are using post-modernism as a means to bring back certain elements of past (most often liturgical or devotional practices). But that’s a walk in the dark, because following traditional liturgical or devotional practices is useless unless they are grounded in the truth — the high church Episcopalians exemplify that quite well. As a result, this group tends to be “halfway” in nature — they get some aspects of contemporary “broad Protestantism” that are too weak or shallow in practice, but they do not want to embrace orthodoxy in substance or doctrine because they are post-modern in mindset, so instead they want a kind of “post-modern collage” of a church, which doesn’t work in practice any better than the late liberal Protestantism of the mainline churches did.
As bad as this seems, it is actually much worse. Elspeth alluded to this when she wrote,
“…progressive Christianity… basically sees the entire Bible as offensive (no matter how much they claim otherwise)…”
Some of it, yes.
The bigger problem is that those who advocate progressive Christianity use biblical textual criticism in a way that treats the Bible as any other text — that is, it treats the Bible as a set of human texts which can be (should be) deconstructed, analyzed and, in places, dismissed, like any other human texts.
The impact of this change is that it shifts how the Bible is viewed. Instead of being the Word of God expressed through human writing, it is now merely a collection of human writings about God which were inspired by the faith of the human writers. I’ve covered this subtle erosion here before, What is the Authority of the Bible, and why is this Important? (2020 November 12).
Once this bridge was crossed in the early 20th Century, the game was up when it came to “left” Christianity, whether of the original “liberal” kind, which now typifies the mainline, or of the newfangled “progressive” kind, like Brian McLaren and so on.
What Remains of Christian Faith?
The question then asks itself, why then, do these people remain Christian? That is, why believe any of the Bible if you are going to deconstruct it this way?
The answer, I think, if you look at the people at the “top”, in terms of say the leadership of the ECUSA or what have you, the most liberal theologians and so on, is that they do not, in fact, believe that what Bible teaches is true, in any meaningful sense of the word “true”, other than “mystical” or “symbolic”. However, they do think that religious practice is useful to people, and to society as a whole, and that for most people in the West this means some kind of Christian practice. Therefore, remaking Christianity into something that meshes better with the culture (by getting rid of aspects that conflict with the culture) is good for people and society, even if it creates a religion that is, in substance, a different thing from what historical Christianity was. It may be an entirely new faith in substance, in terms of its content, but it will appear Christian and look Christian in terms of its trappings, its catchphrases, and symbols. The preservation of an image that is outwardly recognizable as Christianity is critical to branding and marketing, because these are familiar to the West, and are a kind of “spiritual comfort food” for Western Christians through which a new religion can take shape and play the “important social and cultural roles” of building community, communicating and reinforcing shared moral commitments, and providing a context for personal and shared meaning making.
In essence, it expels the power and authority of Christ, but keeps the culture, religion, and tradition. It is not too hard to see how this has already happened within many mainline protestant churches in the west.
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.2nd Timothy 3:1-7 (NKJV)
And what is the new content? Generally speaking, it is something people call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD), coupled with a generous helping of progressive social politics and morals, cooked together into a new stew of progressive pseudo-Christianity. It’s something that looks Christian and talks Christian in terms of its words and symbols, but embodies a different worldview, a different moral system, and a different substance altogether in terms of what it teaches, if anything at all beyond merely Deism, therapeutic spiritual assistance, and new progressive social mores (affirmation, affirmative consent, equity, tolerance, etc.).
This is the new human religion project. It is not as weak as we might think. Old mainline liberal Christianity was blue haired and weak, and the Episcopalians are limited in scope and impact to their small church. This movement, however, is not. This is going to be the rising face of newfangled Christianity in the US, and we have to recognize it for what it is now.