As its second defining point, The Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) characterizes progressive Christians as those “…who recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God’s realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them as our ways are true for us.”
One of the exaggerated ways that evangelicals used to parody liberals was with the comment that liberals taught “It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere about it.” As it turns out, this is no longer a parody but a confessional stance of “progressive Christianity.” However you want to define “God,” whatever spiritual requirements you believe your God to have set for you, whatever morality you craft in your God’s name, well, that is right and binding for you (unless and until you change your mind). Live and let live. It doesn’t matter how contradictory our competing beliefs may be with one another; we’ll all get to the same place eventually, wherever that is, no matter what we believe or how we act, as long as we sincerely adopt our particular worldview.
This point, in the name of nonsensical epistemological inclusivism, rejects apparently any absolute truth when it comes to metaphysics, soteriology and eschatology. “God” becomes a conceptual “wax nose” to be molded into whatever metaphysical shape you desire. Salvation (or enlightenment, or connecting to God) can comprise as many different paths as human beings can imagine. The ultimate destiny of human beings may be an eternal heaven (but certainly not an eternal hell, for that might entail the wrath of God, which no enlightened person could allow as part of their concept of God), or a cycle of reincarnation ending only with losing one’s illusory individuality in a return to the cosmic oneness of the Universal Mind (much as a droplet of water vanishes when it falls into the ocean), or merely the benign annihilation of life at the point of physical death. If you believe any of these notions, then it’s true for you, regardless of the fact that, objectively speaking, two or more logically contradictory claims cannot accurately describe ultimate reality. In the well-meaning desire to be inclusive, progressive Christians jettison the principles of rationality.
From the perspective of time-honored, orthodox Christianity, I find three troubling elements to this “progressive” position, two of which (as beliefs) put such progressivism outside the admittedly big tent of orthodox Christianity, while the third (as an attitude) is merely sinful.
The first heretical belief is a rejection of the Christian claim to special, divine revelation. Progressive Christianity cannot stomach the assertion that the Bible is specially privileged as God’s written revelation to the world, and as such provides the epistemological context and content by which to judge all proposed truth claims in the realm of faith and lifestyle matters. That is not to say that progressives dismiss the Bible completely; they simply determine what will have authority for them and what won’t. It is not God’s Word, but a collection of writings by ancient people who shared their understandings as best they could in their relative ignorance. We today, who have so much more advanced knowledge of life, can weed out their errors and prejudices, and so arrive at a higher plane of truth. Not surprisingly, however, progressive Christianity has not come up with a definitive platform of what these biblical truths are. There are as many renditions of acceptable truth as there are progressive Christians, for no one can tell someone else what they should believe about the Bible, other than that it is not God’s revelation. We stand in authority over the Bible in deciding how to read it and what to accept; it does not stand in authority over us, demanding our submission to its truth. Such a view flies in the face of all our Presbyterian Reformed confessions regarding their stance on the position and authority of the Bible in the Church, not to mention the claims found in the Bible itself as to the nature of its teachings.
The second heretical belief is a rejection of the exclusivistic claims of Jesus as both the fullness of the revelation of God and the sole means for the redemption of the world. The word of the hour for progressive Christians is “inclusivism,” or even better, “radical inclusivism.” It’s not just that all are welcome into the big tent of Christianity, should they embrace what we teach. It’s that all are accepted whatever they believe, and the big tent of Christianity is merely one canopy among many, all equally available as spiritual avenues to “He/She/It who/which cannot be named,” otherwise known colloquially as “God.”
Let me be clear about the position of orthodox Christianity on the matters of inclusivism and exclusivism. With regard to the conditions human beings find themselves in (i.e., their race, gender, social standing, ethnicity, age, etc.), the gospel is radically inclusive. All human beings are welcome at the foot of the cross. But with regard to beliefs and allegiances, only human beings willing to confess their own sins, to surrender any hope of other means to find peace with God, and to embrace God’s offer of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ can have any assurance of salvation. Christ’s arms are open wide (inclusivism) to all who will turn their lives and futures over to him alone (exclusivism).
It is stunning to observe the eisegetical gymnastics of progressives as they try to dismantle clear biblical claims to exclusivism. They all recognize the power of John 14:6, where Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Even though the Greek of this undisputed text contains definite articles before each of the nouns “way, truth and life”, and has no qualifier attached to the term “no one” (e.g., except Buddhists or Muslims or good agnostics, or people who would rather find their own way…), nevertheless progressives bulldoze the plain meaning of the text in order to claim that Jesus meant that he was a way to God for his disciples, or that he was in some way not claiming for himself the exclusive role of being humanity’s link to the Father. In response to such blindness one could point to the six other “I am” statements of Jesus, or to his even more baldly divine claim in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.” But failing any exegetical leg to stand on in overturning these exclusive claims by Christ, many progressives write off all these texts as inauthentic, never spoken by Jesus himself but placed in his mouth by an overzealous Christian community seeking to divinize him long after his death. “The Gospel of John cannot be trusted as history; we are on safer ground with the Synoptics,” they object. Yet when we turn to the Synoptics and point out Jesus’ self-description as Lord of all and Savior of the lost, we are told those are not authentic either. How about when he claims authority higher than the Mosaic Law in the Sermon on the Mount (“You have heard it said…but I say to you…)? Or when he claims that all the Law and Prophets pointed to their fulfillment in him? Or when he speaks of himself coming again on the clouds in glory to judge the world? Or after his resurrection (a unique event in all human history) when he declares he will be with his followers for the remainder of time as they carry out his will to make disciples of all nations? How much of the Gospels do we have to reject in order to blind ourselves enough to become progressives? And, of course, this does not even take into account the letters of Paul which by all accounts predate the writings of the Gospels. Jesus is Lord, for Paul, the image of the invisible God, the One in whom all creation holds together. He is God emptying himself of prerogative and becoming human, a servant willing to suffer the ignominious death of crucifixion for humankind, who as a result has earned in stature what he always had by right, the name that is above all names, the name before which all creatures in the universe will bow. The Bible allows for no other path to God except the one Jesus blazed through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. This is not because Jews and Christians are arrogant and want to claim that “our way is the only way.” It is because God has only one Son and has devised the only means to justify His righteous wrath against sin without destroying us – by laying the infinite penalty of that evil upon the only one able to bear that cost in our place. His Son. The exclusiveness of the gospel is due to the fact that it is God’s offer. It comes down from heaven as the only solution possible to the human predicament. The inclusiveness of the gospel is due to God’s command to spread this news to the ends of the earth and invite all who will to come to Jesus. But if the progressives are right, then Jesus was wrong to send his disciples out to the world with a message to become his followers, for whatever they believed should have been fine enough. The Great Commission, for progressives, becomes a policy of domination and oppression. Who does Jesus think he is to seek to trump other belief systems with his own claims? There can be no evangelism in a world view that rejects clear claims of truth and falsehood.
Progressive Christians seem to see all religions as blindly groping upward together for some access to God, and so bless each of those efforts as equally valid. But the Bible declares that from eternity God has had a plan for the salvation of cosmos – “the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world….” We are not left to our own devices in seeking God. He has come in Christ to seek and save us. His offer is universal in scope. There are no other offers. Hence, we must reject the foolhardy pabulum which acknowledges that there are other paths called by other names by which mortals can find access to God, which are as true for them as the gospel is true for us. Again, as Peter declared in Acts 4:12, “There is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
Finally, the third element in TCPC’s Point 2 that I find so troubling is the attitude of arrogance hidden under the thin veneer of humility. It sounds so self-deprecating and open-minded to emphasize that all paths to God are equally valid, that no one position is privileged over any other. But for those under the Christian umbrella to claim this, they must be willing to declare the vast majority of Christians over the last two thousand years, leaders and followers alike, to be completely wrong in their understanding of Jesus and the gospel, of God and His universal plan. Even more, they must be filled with such blinding hubris as to believe they are the arbiters of truth and falsehood. They know how to rightly divide between fact and fancy in the Bible. They see more clearly than the apostles and early Christians as to Jesus’ true nature and purpose. They know what he can and cannot have said. They dismiss as communication from God anything that does not fit their view that all paths to God are equally valid. In fact, they are willing to embrace as good all sincerely held religious beliefs except those of orthodox Christianity. How strange for those who want to bear the name of Christ. The progressive “Christian” religion fits well in a post-Christian, postmodern culture where truth is thrown to the wind in a World Wrestling Free-for-All of beliefs. It’s the PC religion of the day – politically correct, that is. I hasten to clarify that because I have discovered that Progressive Christians refer to themselves as PCs. I’m sure any connection between these two uses of the abbreviation is purely accidental. But then I also remember Puddleglum’s wise words in The Silver Chair, “Don’t you mind him. There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan.”
Is the PC movement PC because it is so PC? I’ll leave that for you to decide….