I am a husband (to Linda, since 1973). A father. A father-in-law. A grandfather! A pastor (since 1970). A professor (taught at several seminaries around the world; taught philosophy at Monroe County Community College for 18 years). A philosopher, and a theologian. (PhD, Northwestern University, in Philosophical Theology, 1986).
I have studied people, and biblical and theological issues, and culture, for over fifty years. I am a constant reader and observer.
I present to you a series of posts I am calling "Deconstructing 'Progressive Christianity.'" Here are reasons why I could not be a "progressive Christian." The first two posts are especially about this, using semantics and some deconstruction thrown in. (See here.) Post #1 was: "'Progressive' is not a word that fits into a Christian eschatological worldview." Post #2 was "The term "progressive Christianity" is too vague to be useful." Post #3 was - "Progressive Christianity Wrongly Diminishes Confidence in the Bible." Post #4 is: "Progressive Christians wrongly downplay the importance of beliefs."
A final note before I begin this fourth post. I have read, as a theologian myself, several of the theologians who are usually associated with progressive Christianity. (Postmodernism, deconstruction, critical theory, linguistic semantics and philosophy of language (my dissertation was in this area), and, yes, political progressivism.) Some of them have written books and articles that I have benefitted from. But then, along the way, some of them turned away from some core beliefs that I see as important to our faith. Some of them were "deconverted" from evangelical Christianity. That has saddened me.
I want you to know that there are many theologians and biblical scholars, such as myself, who have not departed from what we see as essential. This is not out of ignorance. We are quite familiar with, and have wrestled with, all the questions progressivists raise. And wow! We see things differently. Which means: we disagree with each other. Which means: we think each other is wrong about some things. (For example, see Brian McLaren's vicious disagreement with The Nashville Statement, where he even brings in the KKK, implicating the 24,000+ theologians and biblical scholars, and even Francis Chan, J. I. Packer, and people like me, who agree with the Statement.)
I hope you gain from these posts. I will do my best to revolve around one main point per post. I'll do my best to make it accessible.
Today someone sent me this quote. The author of the quote is a spiritual director named Roger Wolsey.
Note the widely shared belief, adhered to by progressive Christians, in this statement: Progressive Christianity focuses more upon orthopraxy (right behavior, actions, and relationship) and less upon orthodoxy (right doctrines and beliefs). This is one of progressive Christianity's beliefs; viz., that we should focus less on beliefs and more on right behaviors and actions.
I agree that right behaviors and actions are important. Faith without actions is dead. But there are countless examples of the power of beliefs to effect actions. In numerous cases, a belief rightly ought to precede any action. And, the religion "of" Jesus is heavily, I'd say massively, invested in Jesus's identity. It is crucial to identify just who is ding on that cross.
Beliefs cause behaviors. Consider the belief Racism is wrong. Someone who believes this statement is true will have moral grounds to act upon it.
Consider the belief If I get the coronavirus vaccine, I will be more protected from coronavirus. Someone who believed that statement to be true would, presumably, act so as to get the vaccine.
A million examples could be given. Here are a few more that, if believed to be true, will likely lead to actions and behaviors.
Smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer.
The steel beams in this building have been structurally compromised.
It's raining outside.
If I fail this exam, then I will not graduate.
A sure path to wealth is to get a degree in philosophy.
The world is going to end one hour after I finish reading this sentence.
Often, we act without reasoning. Daniel Kahneman has called this "fast thinking." This is not always good. But sometimes, before we act, we engage in "slow thinking." We reason. We formulate and evaluate. Whenever we do this, we are dealing with beliefs. (See Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow)
I think what Wolsey said about Emphasize actions more than beliefs is wrong-headed. That belief is right out of postmodernism, which claims we cannot know beliefs (objective truths and falsehoods). This is so core to progressive Christianity that my refusal to believe it entails a rejection of progressive Christianity itself.
I agree that how a person acts in relation to a belief can be an indicator of whether or not the person really believes. But this does not mean that a person just acts, devoid of any belief that is good or true. We don't launch the manned spacecraft without months of checking hundreds of belief-boxes.
One progressive Christian example of the belief that Actions are to be emphasized more than beliefs is Colby Martin's interpretation of Jesus's questeion to Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" (In Martin, The Shift: Surviving and Thriving after Moving from Conservative to Progressive Christianity.) Here's the text. Brace yourself. Martin is going to take his postmodern metanarrative and force it onto the text.
Here is Martin's unbelievable explanation of what he thinks is really going on here (note: he has the answer, which is a progressivist no-no).
"Notice that Jesus didn’t exactly affirm that Peter got the answer right. That wasn’t the point. What Jesus did do, though, should slash most church’s evangelism budgets in half." (I'm calling our church's financial team right now!)
Upon hearing Peter’s belief that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus said, “Happy are you . . . because no human has shown this to you.” For Jesus, the best part of Peter’s response had little to do with accuracy and everything to do with the fact that he arrived at his conclusion on his own." Martin, Colby. The Shift (pp. 66-67). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
No human has shown this to Peter. Correct.
Peter said, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God?" But, according to Martin, that's not the point. Jesus doesn't care if Peter is correct or not.
All that Jesus cares about is this: "Peter! You arrived at this conclusion on your own! The conviction in your heart - that came from inside you! Yay! You be you!"
But what about the line in the text that says "my Father in heaven" has revealed this to Peter? Martin writes:
"When Jesus says, “my Father who is in heaven has shown you,” he’s naming that the conviction in Peter’s heart and mind—that Jesus was the Christ—came from within him.""
Martin is saying that this conviction of Peter's... didn't really come from the Father, who is in heaven? Wow. Now I am thinking of New Age theologies. Jesus becomes an ever-evolving Rohrshach test. One wonders if even God got it right at Jesus's baptism.
Martin concludes his chapter on "Who Is Jesus?" with this.
"In seeing the full humanity in Jesus, we wake up to the full humanity in us. Fully loved by God, just like Jesus.
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks.
We reply, “You are the human one, the loved child of God.”
Jesus smiles and says, “And so are you. How great is that?”
There are so many Christological things going on here that are questionable that I don't know where to begin. But I do know I could never identify with progressive Christianity if Martin is representative of it. And, I cannot help thinking of a dialogue that goes like this.
"Who do you say that I am? Remember, you don't have to get this right. All that counts is that it comes from you," says Jesus.
I reply, "You are a waffle chicken sandwich."
Jesus smiles and says, "And so are you. How great is that?"
I am now writing my book on deconstructing progressive Christianity.