You Keep Using That Word, Part 2: Progressive

I need to preface this with a shoutout to the author whose podcast and book put a name to a dark and nameless dissonance I’d been often frustrated by in my walk with the Lord.

As an atheist who came to know God through the Bible long before stepping into a church congregation, I’d puzzled for years over a disconnect I found between me and some who call themselves Christian. We used the same terms, claimed the same Lord, even referenced a few of the same Scriptures, but what we meant by these things didn’t seem to mesh.

Then I heard Alisa Childers reference Progressive Christianity. Whether by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, instinct, or both, I knew this was the name of the lurking menace I’d encountered.

If you’re looking for an excellent Christmas present or a great Christmastime read for yourself, I HIGHLY recommend Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers. She writes with grace, tact, and candor of how a self-proclaimed “flaky artist type” took a plunge into the deep waters of apologetics and learned that her faith is built on Rock-solid ground.

Buy it. Read it. You won’t be sorry. Now on to today’s program:

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.

Galatians 1:6-8

Progressive. The word just sounds so… dynamic, doesn’t it?

It hints at sophistication; of gaining ground. When attached to a noun, this adjective lends a sense of importance, of forward motion, and of… well, of progress.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

– Inigo Montoya

But in truth, progress isn’t the significant thing. Making progress in the right direction is of far greater importance.

Four times now, I’ve made excellent progress on a hike – along a route that diverged moderately from the planned path. Once my companion and I forsook the path entirely and struck out on our own.

Such enthusiastic and progressive hiking experiences culminated in a variety of results. One particularly memorable result involved an unintended tour of adjacent mountaintops while keeping one eye on the sun’s position in the sky and the other on our (fortunately) distinctive goal.

We did make it to the goal before sunset, though our appearance must have been alarming. We were immediately offered food and water.

I suppose experiences like these have taught me to be cautious of vague descriptors such as progressive.

So when I first heard of “progressive Christianity,” I initially responded with a mixture of puzzled disbelief and a primal shock of icy horror.

If progressing up the wrong mountainside prompted wide-eyed day hikers to thrust their half-empty water bottles towards me, what is the appropriate response for people progressing towards the wrong eternity?

Though we’re easily lulled into believing our physical, mental, and emotional needs are the most important thing in life, the plight of those meandering comfortably and happily down the broad path to destruction is far more desperate than, say, a starving hiker lost in the backcountry with nothing but the clothes on his body and the seal of the Holy Spirit on his heart.

Progressive Christianity shares very little with actual followers of Jesus the Christ. It is progressively moving towards quite a different goal. A more honest devotee would call it progressive churchianity – or even what it is – secular humanism dressed in a dollar-store Jesus costume complete with Anglo-Saxon features.

Ironically, Christianity as it is understood through the Word of God, the teachings of the Christ, and the early Church is progressive.

It speaks of progressively becoming more like Jesus of Nazareth; of progressively dying to oneself and one’s sin; of daily progress towards the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Of progressive expectations of persecution and suffering laced with the joy of knowing it all has a purpose and an eternal hope.

However, the other thing wears the name of Christianity much like decaf wears the name of coffee. It has little of the flavor and none of the power.

What passes under the title of progressive Christianity has a form of godliness but denies its power. It promises something which resembles peace on earth and good will towards men while assuming a lack of peace and good will among men is the worst part.

Progressive Christianity treats the spiritual equivalent of ebola with a splash of lavender essential oil and a sweet little smile.

And it is making progress in our churches. Just not in the right direction.

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.