Progressive Thinking

Once upon a time, a cousin and I decided to hike up the unmarked back way of the Chimney Tops in the Smoky Mountains, an off-trail hike that was – and likely still is – illegal.

Long story short: We got lost.

A 90-minute hike morphed into several hours of struggling through dense underbrush on our bellies and the like. For lack of a better idea, we kept climbing until we made it to a summit from which we could see the Chimney Tops in the distance. Relieved, we trekked across the mountaintops until we arrived, bloodied by thorns and mud-caked, at our destination.

We took the trail back down.

Modern society seems to equate the idea of making progress with improvement. However, much like the progress I made by ignoring the rules, we frequently make progress in the wrong direction.

It’s a happy accident the progress my cousin and I made revealed a glimpse of the distinctive bare-stone peak of the Chimney Tops instead of a spectacular view of similar-looking forested hills prevalent in the Great Smoky Mountains. Even happier, our progress delivered us in sight of our goal instead of in between a black bear and her cubs.

The ancient nation of Israel also made progress – 40 years of it round and round and round again until an entire generation died. And they started by progressively ignoring the commands of the Lord.

These two historical journeys spring simultaneously to mind when I hear the term Progressive Christianity. One bit of progress supposedly made by this movement is the bringing up to date of antiquated ideas and mores. It implies an improvement on the original Christianity.

Ironically, the ideals behind Progressive Christianity are not new. They are very old. Older, even, than Christianity. As old as the serpentine question, “Did God really say–?”

Make no mistake: anything – whether person, book, song, ideology, or trinket – calling itself Christian that forgets to insist on Christ as its focus has also forgotten to be Christian.

I’ve read countless “Christian” articles begun more than a few “Christian” books that had far more to do with humanism than with Christ.

Christianity aims to exalt God by belief in Christ’s atoning work – a belief which inevitably results in complete surrender to Him as Lord. In the process, loving thy neighbor and all those other things do happen. But loving God comes first.

For a genuine Christian, neighborly and charitable acts are merely the natural outpouring of a life overflowing with love and adoration for the God Who Saves. Gratitude for being forgiven prompts forgiveness. Awe at being loved despite our wretchedness prompts acts of love and sympathy towards others who are unloved.

The visible work is the building, not the foundation. The foundation is solid, immutable, eternal – the Rock of Ages. Truth is a fixed point, fixed by the One who invented it.

The definitions of right and wrong do not shift simply because we are a little older than we were a week or a decade or a century ago. The progress of time does not shift the foundation of Truth. What’s good yesterday does not become bad tomorrow any more than left becomes right on certain days of the week.

An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays.

From Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Like it or not, truth remains true. The truth of gravity asserts itself with painful clarity when I miss a step walking downstairs even though falling down stairs is something I object to both on an intellectual and visceral level. My preferences and feelings do not cause me to levitate; gravity has its way regardless.

Just so, evil does not become good because time has passed, nor does it become less evil when there is more of it around.

God does not cease being Holy and Sovereign simply because the passage of time and the long miles of the journey have dimmed our understanding of holiness and sovereignty.

He is no less awesome because a fashionably modern fatigue has drained our ability to feel awe.

One cannot start with Truth and make progress unless one proceeds away from it.

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