What is progressive Christianity? Dr. Michael Kruger shares some of the characteristics of progressive Christianity and how it distorts the gospel.
A number of years ago, J. Gresham Machen at Westminster Theological Seminary wrote a very well-known book which has become famous over the years called Christianity and Liberalism. That really is a book that needs to be read more and more today because what Machen argued in his book is that in his time period, there was a version of Christianity, a type of Christianity that was presenting itself as a real option for what to believe. But when you really looked down at the core beliefs within it, it wasn’t really Christianity at all. In fact, it was just a different version of the faith altogether. In fact, Machen wrote this whole book to try to warn people against that version of the faith.
In the modern day, there’s something very similar still happening, and we may not call it liberal Christianity today, although there’s a sense in which that’s true, but really the term now is progressive Christianity. It’s a version of Christianity that sells itself as a valid option for Christians that on the surface looks a lot like the Christian worldview and may seem in the eyes of many people to be more acceptable, more likable, a really more palatable version of the faith. But again, like in Machen’s day, when you really bore down into it, you realize there are some really serious problems there. So one of the common questions is: how do I spot that progressive Christianity when it looks so much like true Christianity? Well, just a few tidbits for you.
1. Progressive Christianity Has a Low View of Christ
One of the hallmarks of progressive Christianity is the way they view Jesus. The orthodox view of Jesus, of course, is that he’s the divine Son of God and worthy of our worship and worthy of our adoration and to be praised as God. But, of course, that’s not what progressive Christians believe. They believe that Jesus isn’t so much the divine Son of God, but rather just a moral example for us to follow. Jesus is more of a big brother that sets a pattern that we walk in his footsteps. That’s partly true, of course, we do follow Jesus’s example, but progressive Christians make that the main thing. Jesus is just a picture of what we can be and what we can do and his main point is just to set an example for us. The lowering of Jesus is the first mark of progressive Christianity.
2. Progressive Christianity Is Focused on Moralism, Not Salvation
The highest goal of the Christian life for progressive Christianity is that you just have to be a good person.Tightly tied to that, as I’ve already suggested, is a second mark, which is this big focus on moralism. If you don’t have any sort of sense of Jesus as someone to be worshiped, then he’s just someone to be emulated, so the highest goal of the Christian life for progressive Christianity is that you just have to be a good person. You should just follow certain rules. You should be kind to your neighbor. You’re not really left with the gospel of salvation; you’re left with a moral code, and it really reduces it to sort of this moralistic religion.
3. Progressive Christianity Downplays Our Fallenness
The third mark is tightly close to that, too, which is if you think you can be a good person, you must have a very low view of sin, which is another thing that progressive Christianity has. It’s this idea that people aren’t really that fallen and they’re not really that bad, there’s not really anything marring us, that we’re all good people at the core and therefore really do have an opportunity to be even better. You’ll find that in progressive Christian circles, there’s a downplaying of the word sin; there’s certainly no interest in talking about the wrath of God on sin. God is not portrayed as at all disturbed by or upset with sin. These are sort of the classic hallmarks of progressive Christianity.
That’s what’s really sad about progressive Christianity. At the end of the day, it’s really not good news at all.Now, when you wrap all that up, you’re left with something that’s not really Christianity at all at the end. If you don’t have a divine Jesus and if you reduce it all to moralism and there’s no real fall or sin then the cross isn’t really anything that saves you. When you look at the cross, it’s just a good example of a good person. It’s not really good news. That’s what’s really sad about progressive Christianity. At the end of the day, it’s really not good news at all. It’s really that it’s all up to you. If it’s all up to us, that’s bad news. But of course, the real gospel is good news that it’s all done and completed in the great and finished work of Christ.