Is Progressive Christianity right about Historic Christianity?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

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Question: According to Michael J Kruger, Progressive Christianity has 10 commandments or "tenants of their faith." It seems that they are most proud of #5 (uncertainty) because they see this as the truest possible humility. How do we address this challenge?

Answer: Michael J Kruger made a refutation of the misguided humility you mentioned in his book The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity … which I assume you read. If I were to answer this question without your referencing the volume, I’d probably use his work as a basis for my answer. But it looks like you might already know his response… so I’m wondering, what else could you be looking for? What I’ll do then is review Kruger’s work and add a few of my own comments.

A sister ministry, Got Questions Ministries, has weighed in about Progressive Christianity (PC), so some reliable resources are already in place. They have an article that gives an overview of the topic, and they also have a podcast featuring Alisa Childers. Childers is a Christian apologist who challenges Progressive Christianity as part of her ministry. Here are links to those resources.

https://www.gotquestions.org/Progressive-Christianity.html

https://podcast.gotquestions.org/episode-23.html  (Alisa Childers)

Progressive Christianity exists to challenge “Historic Christianity” (HC). Now, evangelicals may associate the term “Historic Christianity” with Reformed Theology — and indeed, Kruger is a Presbyterian. But don’t think of it as a challenge to Dispensationalism. Think of HC as the 2000 years of the beliefs, doctrines and methodologies that have been handed down to us by Spirit-led scholars to aid and stabilize the Church. That’s the dichotomy we need to keep in view today: PC versus HC.

But Progressive Christianity doesn’t just attack Historic Christianity. It attacks epistemology itself… the methodologies of how we “know” things. That’s what Kruger’s understanding of Command Number 5 is really about. He sees PC as challenging biblical inerrancy and sufficiency. (But the whole book shows that it attacks so much more.)

PC has a two-pronged attack. In its first prong, it asks of Historic Christianity, “Who says that’s what the Bible says?” … and that’s a straight-up challenge to everything reasonable people have thought the Bible says for two-thousand years. That level of hubris in itself should be a red flag… because there’s a great consensus about what the Bible says. I routinely use this consensus as a “sniff test” when trying out new ideas.

In the second prong, PC accuses us of being arrogant for claiming to know what the Bible says. As you can see, they’ve flipped that narrative. PC makes the case that the consensus has been wrong all these years! We’ve been wrong about things like sin, the atonement and biblical inerrancy. We’ve also been wrong about things like homosexuality… so you can see why they are gaining an audience. Even biblically faithful people are growing less inclined to call this sin a sin in the public square.

Let me give Kruger his due by citing his book and listing PC’s ten commandments. It’s easy to see what PC is up to when you see the flow of their challenges all in one place. Kruger makes the point over and over that people buy into these commandments because each one has an element of truth.

  1. Jesus Is a Model for Living More Than an Object for Worship
  2. Affirming People’s Potential Is More Important Than Reminding Them of Their Brokenness
  3. The Work of Reconciliation Should Be Valued over Making Judgments
  4. Gracious Behavior Is More Important Than Right Belief
  5. Inviting Questions Is More Valuable Than Supplying Answers
  6. Encouraging the Personal Search Is More Important Than Group Uniformity
  7. Meeting Actual Needs Is More Important Than Maintaining Institutions
  8. Peacemaking Is More Important Than Power
  9. We Should Care More about Love and Less about Sex
  10. Life in This World Is More Important Than the Afterlife

(The above list is from the Kindle Edition of The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity, Cruciform Quick, Cruciform Press. Michael J. Kruger.)

To see the damage a half-truth can do, let’s look at Commandment #1. Jesus was indeed a model of the best possible behavior! But PC wants us to stop there… because if Jesus is not God, then he’s no better than Gandhi.

PC pulls this trick over and over… like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe that Jesus is God. So they offer us a lesser truth: Jesus was a great teacher, they insist. But those of us who know the JWs know this is double-speak for “Jesus is not God.” Progressive Christianity “says” this of Jesus too — but there’s so much more. It challenges every orthodox Christian doctrine.

Now, Kruger says that every one of PC’s commandments is a half-truth. But I’m not so charitable. In my epistemology, a half-truth is a whole lie. I believe that when a person uses obfuscation to avoid “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” … if I may borrow from our courtroom dramas… their purpose is to deceive. And friends, deception is a sin. It’s lying by another name. But I think it’s worse than lying; at least lying is direct. PC’s teachers are sneaky… and I beg people everywhere… do not get snared.

“And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Corinthians 11:12–15, NIV)

In the passage above, the apostle Paul called out the Progressive Christians of his day. Look at the parallels! It wouldn’t be so bad if all PC wanted was to be considered equal with orthodox beliefs. But they want to replace them… and that’s “agenda” plain and simple.

In my opinion, the leaders of the PC movement are false and deceitful people. They are masquerading as the ones who have the right to speak for God. In this, they are like Satan — and yes… I am calling them out on those terms — because Paul called them out on those terms.

Let’s turn our focus to Commandment 5 now… because that’s the one in your question. In his introduction to that section, Kruger tells us just what PC is up to here. So let’s review what he said.

“Perhaps no commandment in the series better captures the ethos of progressive Christianity than the fifth: Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers. It’s an effective strategy. Position yourself as humble and inquisitive, merely on a journey of discovery. Then position the other side as less-than-humble dispensers of rigid dogma. You’re just a well-meaning seeker; they’re mean, entrenched know-it-alls. Brilliant. Indeed, this is [Progressive Christianity’s] complaint about the church. [PC] argues that it has been “committed to propaganda” and “towing the party line” instead of engaged in a ‘vigorous exploration of the truth.’”

Kruger has three responses to this question. The first is that the PC creates a caricature of Christianity that does not represent its whole or its central positions. Once characterized as if we were all members of the Westboro Baptist Church (of Topeka, Kansas), then it’s easy to say we are all hateful, anti-intellectual propaganda dispensers… which is their pitch.

In logic, this is sometimes called strawmanning. The image is of a man building another man out of straw so he can have an opponent to knock down easily. This is PC’s response to the juggernaut that is Historical Christianity. They must misrepresent it so that people think it’s a righteous thing to knock it down.

His second observation is that PC casts HC as being intellectually irresponsible for making the truth claims it has made throughout history. These claims sound arrogant, they say… cocksure. How could anyone know such things? Certainly, the better action is to say, “I don’t know.”

This gives the air of humility, but it’s only the right answer if that statement is true. But if we do know something — and Christianity is founded upon things we do indeed know — then it is a lie to say we don’t. Furthermore, it is epistemologically (and morally) irresponsible to promote the idea that we can’t know things that are knowable. That’s obfuscation… which is deception and manipulation.

Kruger’s third observation is that Progressive Christianity chides us for our “certainty,” but it slides its own version of certainty in the back door. Let me quote Kruger here.

“Progressives are quick to condemn all sorts of behavior they see in the world around them, while insisting that Bible-believing Christians are wrong when they do so. For example, consider the debate over same-sex marriage. Notice that we hear very few progressives say things like, ‘Well, we just don’t know the answer here. We can’t be certain what to think about it.’ No, instead we get absolutism. We get certainty. We get dogmatism. Thus, one gets the impression that the real issue is not certainty at all. It is what one is certain about. Progressives have simply swapped one set of certain beliefs for another.”

In section 6, Kruger gives what I see to be the summary statement of Progressive Christianity’s problem. “Indeed, the assumption underlying this entire progressive narrative is that religion is about humans finding God, rather than about a God who has revealed himself to humans.” But that’s not how the biblical church operated. People received words from God, they spoke them… and those very words convicted people of sin and converted their souls!

PC dismisses all that because — among other things — it dismisses sin… and “owning” one’s sin is the gateway to salvation. Look at the apostle Paul’s testimony as to how “church” works.

“But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:24–25, NIV)

It’s useful to think of our relationship with God as a vertical relationship, and our relationship with each other as horizontal. Progressive Christianity only considers the horizontal — so much so that, if a vertical exists, they don’t mention it. But the vertical is where we worship… it’s where theology and doctrine come from and exist.

Now, PC’s point is well taken: the horizontal is about service — and we should be serving others. But the Progressives are like children who don’t realize what it takes to run a household. Their focus is totally on their own desires. They have no sense of budgets or adult responsibilities, so they build a worldview where there is no valid reason why they cannot have a bicycle. That’s the first step towards hating their parents — and hating one’s parents is the first step towards destroying the world.

Here’s the overarching problem with Progressive Christianity. Its purpose is to supplant our mature and time-tested Christianity with one designed only for children. But the adults among us understand that such a world is unsustainable.

I’m not sure that I answered the question you were asking, but I pray that these perspectives helped. God bless you.

 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20210913 Is Progressive Christianity correct about Historic Christianity? ).

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