Five Signs Your Church Might Be Heading Toward Progressive Christianity

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Several years ago, my husband and I began attending a local evangelical, nondenominational church. We cherished the sense of community we found among the loving and authentic people we met there, and the intelligent, “outside the box” pastor who led our flock with thought-provoking sermons. Sadly, the church started going off the rails theologically, and after about a year and a half, we made the difficult decision to leave. Today that church is a self-titled “Progressive Christian Community.”

Back then I had never heard of “progressive Christianity,” and even now it is difficult to pin down what actually qualifies someone as a progressive Christian. However, there are signs—certain phrases and ideas—that seem to be consistent in progressive circles. Here are five danger signs to watch for in your church:

1. There is a lowered view of the Bible 

One of the main differences between progressive Christianity and historic Christianity is its view of the Bible. Historically, Christians have viewed the Bible as the Word of God and authoritative for our lives. Progressive Christianity generally abandons these terms, emphasizing personal belief over Biblical mandate.

Comments you might hear:

“The Bible is a human book.”

“I disagree with the Apostle Paul on that issue.”

“The Bible condones immorality, so we are obligated to reject what it says in certain places.”

2. Feelings over facts

In progressive churches, personal experiences, feelings and opinions tend to be valued above objective truth. As the Bible ceases to be viewed as God’s definitive Word, what a person feels to be true becomes the ultimate authority for faith and practice.

Comments you might hear:

“That Bible verse doesn’t resonate with me.”

“I thought homosexuality was a sin until I met and befriended some gay people.”

“I just can’t believe Jesus would send good people to hell.”

3. Essential Christian doctrines are open for reinterpretation

Progressive Christians are often open to redefining and reinterpreting the Bible on hot-button moral issues like homosexuality and abortion, and also cardinal doctrines such as the virgin conception and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In a New York Times interview, Union Theological Seminary President Serene Jones was asked about these doctrines. After redefining (and essentially denying) them, she compared this new way of thinking with the Protestant Reformation. Rather than seeking to return to a more historic and orthodox faith, she recommends that we “envision and build” something new. In progressive Christianity, the only sacred cow is “no sacred cows.”

Comments you might hear:

“The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t have to be factual to speak truth.”

“The church’s historic position on sexuality is archaic and needs to be updated within a modern framework.”

“The idea of a literal hell is offensive to non-Christians and needs to be reinterpreted.”

4. Historic terms redefined

There are some progressive Christians who say they affirm doctrines like Biblical inspiration, inerrancy and authority, but they have to do linguistic gymnastics to make those words mean what they want them to mean. I remember asking a pastor, “Do you believe the Bible is divinely inspired?” He answered confidently, “Yes, of course!”

However, I mistakenly assumed that when using the word inspired, we both meant the same thing. He clarified months later what he meant—that the Bible is inspired in the same way and on the same level as many other Christian books, songs and sermons. This, of course, is not how Christians have historically understood the doctrine of divine inspiration.

Another word that tends to get a progressive makeover is love. When plucked out of its Biblical context, it becomes a catch-all term for everything pleasant, affirming and non-confrontative.

Comments you might hear:

“God wouldn’t punish sinners—He is love.”

“Sure, the Bible is authoritative—but we’ve misunderstood it for the first 2,000 years of church history.”

“It’s not our job to talk to anyone about sin—it’s our job to just love them.”

5. The heart of the Gospel message shifts from sin and redemption to social justice

The Bible commands us to take care of the unfortunate and defend those who are oppressed. However, the core message of Christianity—the Gospel—is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and resurrected, and thereby reconciled us to God. This is the message that will truly bring freedom to the oppressed. 

Many progressive Christians today find the concept of God willing His Son to die on the cross to be embarrassing or even appalling. Sometimes referred to as “cosmic child abuse,” the idea of blood atonement is de-emphasized or denied altogether, with social justice and good works enthroned in its place.

Comments you might hear:

“Sin doesn’t separate us from God—we are made in His image, and He called us good.”

“God didn’t actually require a sacrifice for our sins—the first Christians picked up on the pagan practice of animal sacrifice and told the Jesus story in similar terms.”

“We don’t really need to preach the Gospel—we just need to show love by bringing justice to the oppressed.”

Conclusion

The signs are not always obvious—sometimes they are subtle and mixed with a lot of truth. Progressive Christianity can be persuasive and enticing, but carried out to its logical end, it is an assault on the foundational framework of Christianity.

We shouldn’t be surprised to find some of these ideas infiltrating our churches. Jesus warned us, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). So if you spot any of these five danger signs in your place of worship, it might be time to pray about finding fellowship in a more Biblically faithful church community.  

©2017 Alisa Childers 

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