Somewhere along the way the “church on the left” pulled a fast one on me — or maybe I was asleep — when their official representatives met in a massive convocation and formally announced they were no longer to be called theological “liberals”, but would henceforth be known as Christian “progressives.” Well, no convocation actually met, but the changeover has occurred with some rapidity by word of mouth. The renaming does not signify any real shift in theology, but rather seeks to present a kindler, gentler face for those wishing to jettison the 2,000 year old orthodox Christian faith in favor of a pale, non-judgmental, inoffensive imitation all in the name of “progress.”
New names often allow the opportunity to redefine one’s identity. But in this case, the goal is not redefinition so much as obfuscation. Classical theological liberalism (which progressivism still embraces) propounded three cardinal “doctrines”: The Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the mission of Jesus as exemplar to the human race. If we rush to apply today’s editing principles of political correctness, we find framed for us the central platform of “Christian progressivism”: God may be conceived of as the divine “Parent,” all human beings are by nature children of God and so belong to one universal family, and Jesus is our prime role model of how to function in this family as a well-adjusted child of God.
What is of most interest to me is not so much what these three statements openly declare but what they quietly deny or undermine. In upcoming blogs I will seek to point out some of these corollaries and show how they stand starkly outside the pale of biblical revelation.
In this post, however, I want to investigate the question, “Why has the theological left of the Church ditched the term “liberal” in favor of “progressive?” Three reasons seem likely to me:
1) The term “liberal” has lost its luster. Christian liberalism has demonstrated its substantive bankruptcy in the many years since loosing its moorings from the mainland of biblical revelation — its efforts at shaping the Church and culture have proven to be shallow and fleeting. For those wanting to revive the experiment and fool people into thinking that a new movement of the Spirit was at work, the only option was one of rebranding. Hence the new name, Christian progressivism. Or, in sequel language, “Son of Christian Liberalism.” Oops, I mean, “Child of Christian Liberalism.”
2) While the social goals of classical liberalism were focused on peace and justice challenges, these were defined according to the needs of the hour. In the 50s through 70s, issues such as anti-nuclear war activism, equal civil rights for women and ethnic minorities, and the recasting of political governance for the welfare of the poor took top billing. The goals of the new liberals, while not snubbing past agendas, have changed with changing times. Now the progressive agenda champions the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folks. It seeks to give voice to the “unjustly treated” minorities of our culture: illegal aliens, Muslims, AIDS victims, the chronically homeless, animal species under threat of extinction, even our besieged “Mother Earth” (feminine allusions are acceptable in this worldview, but steer clear of masculine ones…). New goals for the peace and justice devotees are thus worthy of a new moniker: Hence the “progressive movement.”
3) But the most compelling cause for the shift is the fact that theological liberals have bought into the myth of social evolution. They have confused the theory of material evolution with the fantasy of spiritual evolution (sometimes called essential social Darwinism). Using two pole vaults of non sequiturs, they have leapt over the barriers of reason to embrace the notion that the human spirit is evolving and growing (read: progressing) as time marches onward. They take it as an axiom that we are progressing as a species. Christian progressives just have superior knowledge on how to progress that much more quickly, and they are willing to direct us in that evolution.
All this reminds me of the first stanza of a pungent poem by C S Lewis entitled “Evolutionary Hymn.” It’s worth pondering in light of the Christian progressive agenda:
Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.
Tomorrow we’ll examine the two pole vaults of illogic that progressives use to fling themselves over the chasm of reason in order to pursue “theology-lite.”