I try to be an equal-opportunity critic of both ends of the Christian spectrum. That’s not to say I don’t have friends on both ends that I love and respect (I certainly do), and it’s not to say I haven’t found myself on both ends of the spectrum (I have). But there comes a time when the ideological leanings become more important than the faith; the tail wags the dog, and little identifiably Christian substrate remains. Conservative Christianity can, if unchecked, devolve into fundamentalism or state religion. Progressive Christianity, on the other side of the coin, can devolve into paganism or mere activism. It is the latter I wish to address here, using two examples that recently came to my attention.
Exhibit A: The “8 Points of Progressive Christianity”
Found at ProgressiveChristianity.org, these 8 points offer a rallying cry for at least one brand of Christian progressivism (more on that distinction later). On my reading, these 8 points say:
- Jesus is about having an experience of the divine that is no more valid than anyone else’s.
- There are many paths to experiencing this “Oneness” of the universe.
- Questions are (absolutely?) more important than absolutes.
- We should all be really, really nice to each other.
Notice what is absent? No mention of truth, or revelation, or Scripture as inspired or even useful. Jesus is a window to the cosmic soup of love and warm feelings, but there is no indication he is any more special than Gandhi or Steve Jobs. And of course, no mention of the Trinity. Which brings me to…
Exhibit B: “Christianity” Beyond the Trinity
Mark Sandlin, a former Presbyterian pastor (who I think is, somehow, still ordained) says “no thank you” to the Trinity:
“I’m not saying the theory of Trinity is wrong. I’m just not saying it’s definitively right, which is exactly what many of its adherents do when they say that if you don’t believe in the Trinity, you can’t be Christian.”
Actually, confession (no one confesses a theory, after all) of the Trinity has been the distinctive mark of Christians from very early on. Did it take a while to work out? Yes. The Church had to wrestle for a while, but once the dust settled, this has been established doctrine for those who would claim to be Christians for over a millennia. No amount of Dan Brown conspiracies about “power” and “politics” changes that. Would Christianity be an easier “sell” without this particular mystery? Of course. But that’s just not how God has revealed Godself to us. Heresy always simplifies God’s amazing and profound revelation.
There’s a term among nerds called Jumping the Shark, based on an especially ridiculous episode of Happy Days. Now, thanks to Stephen Spielberg’s public defecation named Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we have a new term: Nuking the Fridge. I posit that when Progressive Christianity can no longer affirm basic Christian doctrine, when open season is declared on essentials like the Trinity, the fridge has been thoroughly “nuked.”
Conclusion: Don’t Nuke the Fridge
I have many friends who are progressive Christians. By that, I mean they lean politically left, but their heart is sold-out to Jesus. Their allegiance is to him before it is to any ideology, and their political action is informed by a deep love of Scripture and the calling of the church. They are orthodox Christians who happen to be progressives.
But then there are those who claim to be Christians but clearly have no use for Christianity. Their ideology is paramount, and only a thin veneer of anything identifiably Christian can be found. They are progressives who occasionally talk about Jesus.
That, to me, is the distinction between Christian Progressivism and Progressive Christianity. Christian Progressivism is a form of syncretism, in which two faiths are merged into one unholy, idolatrous union. Progressive Christianity is a popular movement among those who have found refuge from evangelism and fundamentalism, and has much to offer the Church universal. Folks like Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo were quite helpful to me in my journey out of fundamentalism.
So if you want to be a progressive and you are a Christian, good on you. The church needs your voice. But don’t put the cart before the horse. And don’t nuke that fridge.