“Groping, Guessing, Yet Progressing…”

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.”

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5 Responses to “Groping, Guessing, Yet Progressing…”

  1. Pat Nichols says:

    I enjoy reading your sagacious insights into “Christian” progressivism.

    Perhaps we should also review the word Christian, as it may be evolving into more of a pejorative term.




  2. mateenelass says:

    Thanks, Pat. Indeed, in some contexts “Christian” has become pejorative. Partly, it seems to me, because of those who want to twist it to mean something it never originally meant, but mostly because those who claim the name of Christ act publicly in ways which shame the name of Christ, in fact which even stun the non-Christian world by the extent of the evil done in the name of Christ.


  3. Neil D. Cowling says:

    Your piece reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a member of my first congregation fresh out of seminary. By all accounts, the man was conservative, politically and eonomically, I am sure. Theologically, he was probably middle of the road. In any case, I enjoyed his company and conversation and he enjoyed our give and take. Conservative that he was, he commented once “Of course we want progress. Who wouldn’t?” He was wise and well-educated, a community leader, and a farmer. How many farmers do you know that hold a Ph. D. in anything?

    So when the so-called liberals adopted the moniker “progressive” I rather resented it and still do. In fact, I have refused to use that descriptor and if I have used it I precede it with the words “so-called.” I have told friends whom one might describe as conservative that if you give in to using the description “progressive” to describe “liberals” you are surrendering intellectual territory that ought not be surrendered. You are surrendering to the assertion that those who are not “progressive” are in fact “regressive.” To do that is plain silly!


  4. Love the “evolutionary hymn” from CS Lewis! I’m glad to add your blog to my reading list. Enjoyed your presentation at MDPC in Houston a couple of years ago and your book.


    • mateenelass says:

      Thanks for your kind words. The Lewis poem is found in the small post-mortem compendium edited by Walter Hooper simply entitled “Poems.” There are some gems in the collection. I plan to use a few more stanzas from this particular poem in my upcoming blog series on liberal theology and the chasm in our denomination.


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