Postmodernism and Christianity
Let's start by examining postmodernism and comparing it to Christianity. Why start here? Progressive Christianity sprouted out of postmodernism. To discuss postmodernism, we need to go back further and start with modernism. Modernism was the 17th and 18th century worldview based on the Enlightenment that focused on individual autonomy, trust in the power of reason, the objectivity of human reason, and the rational human mind being able to discover truth (Hodge & Patterson 128). This view valued scientific investigation, absolute truth, logical and pragmatic organizations, and orderly surroundings (Hodge & Patterson 128). "While the modernism of the Enlightenment period encouraged people to look to reason and science as a source of authority, if man's mind is fallen, if man's mind is by nature rebellious as the Bible reveals (Rom. 3:10-12), then the conclusions one may make from science and reason alone will at times be faulty" (Hodge & Patterson 129). The Bible tells us that our minds are limited (Isa. 1:18; Acts 17:2, 18:4). Thus, modernism's problem was that it did not "recognize that man's reason must be brought under the authority of the Bible," and it thus rejected the Bible as absolute authority (Hodge & Patterson 129). The reasoning was that the Bible is wrong if it doesn't align with what science was saying. In reality, our logic and reasoning are dependent on what God has to say.
Although some think postmodernism started in the 1930s, it took off during the 1960s and 70s (Hodge & Patterson 130). Postmodernism is a "skeptical worldview, founded as a reaction to modernism, that is suspicious of metanarrative and teaches that ultimately reality is inaccessible, knowledge is a social construct, and truth claims are political power plays" (Myers & Noebel 148). "There are seven assumptions on which postmodernism rests: they reject the idea that universal truth can be known (all people can know is whether their individual experiences are true for them); reject "reason" that applies everywhere at all times (reasonableness rests on whatever narratives, traditions, institutions, and practices various groups find reasonable); reject that we can be objective in our knowledge; reject modernist narratives that try to explain everything in the world and claim universally valid, neutral, objective knowledge (the world is too fragmented and complex to say that any one worldview explains everything); reject the idea of 'God' or at least the ability to gain a God's eye-view of the world (we have to draw meaning of the world for ourselves); reject the idea that we can design institutions in society that would make objective decisions based on reason (knowledge about the social order is constructed through the language we use to describe reality to ourselves and is biased by its nature); and reject the notion that any person can be 'neutral' (our cultures, languages, histories, and genders all color how we see the world)" (Myers & Noebel 151).
This philosophy believes that there are no absolute truths since there is no way to measure truth from error, acceptable from unacceptable, or right from wrong (Hodge & Patterson 131). Thus, to them, all beliefs are equally valid, and there is a heavy emphasis on relativism, whatever is true for you is true for me. Truth to the postmodernist is whatever works or makes you feel good and is based on sincerity (Hodge & Patterson 136-137). Aren't these all truth statements in themselves? This also somehow only applies to morality and religion but not to math or science (137). On the other hand, biblical truth is, as the Hebrew word says, emeth, which means "firm, constant, and durable" (137). Truth comes from an unchanging God who reveals it, and it is available for all who seek it (138). Since there is no absolute truth, the highest virtue in postmodernism is tolerance (132). Postmodernists view Christianity as intolerant because we believe that Christ is the only way to heaven, where as they believe that there are many paths to heaven (132). However, Scriptural Christianity does recognize people have free will choose their own path and tolerate that, but postmodernism still finds anyone who believes their own worldview to be more correct as intolerant (133).
Teachings of Postmodernism/Progressive Christianity
Deny the exclusivity of the God of the Bible. Various positions exist, but all would deny the exclusivity of Jesus as Savior. (PC: God is not wrathful and would not require a sacrifice to be at peace with man)
Holds a humanistic view of truth, looking to man as the source of truth. (PC: The Bible is not the Word of God, only what the writers though of Him, progresses over time)
All men are able to determine truth on their own. Various positions exist on the nature of man, but most would view man as basically good.
Sin is a relative concept and generally denied. The Bible cannot be seen as the absolute authority on what is sinful.
Most would hold the position that if there is an afterlife, there are many different paths to get there. (PC: Hell is evil on earth)
Most would hold to evolutionary views, though positions vary.
Jesus lovingly gave Himself to satisfy the bloodthirsty man, not to pay their sins to satisfy God's wrath against sin.
Hodge & Patterson, 145 (plus my additions for Progressive Christianity)
Defining Progressive Christianity and Its History
Progressive Christianity arose out of the Emergent movement of the 2000s, which sought to adapt Christianity to the postmodern culture (Childers 72). Tjis movement brought in ancient mysticism and resulted in promoting spirituality over religion (72). Essentially, lines are blurred between religions, embracing and learning from other belief systems (72). The foundation of this faith is what someone does more than what they believe and is built on community, friendship, justice, and, unity (all of which are important but are fruits instead of the foundation for Christianity) (73). For more on the history, watch this video here.
It is difficult to define progressive Christianity since there are various beliefs. What unites them is the questioning and redefining of historic Christianity concerning the Bible, the cross, the gospel, and God (Childers 76). Alisa Childers defines Christianity (see clip here) as "the view that Christianity itself is progressing," so the core tenants that Christians have believed since the beginning of the church can be reevaluated to see if they are to still be believed. The progressives justify disagreeing with the apostles by saying that the apostles' knowledge was "infancy" and that we have progressed in our knowledge about God since the Bible was written (Alisa Childers). They also assess how faith is expressed in the world with a heavy connection to modern social justice movements (Alisa Childers).
Deconstruction is "a method of literary analysis that questions the ability of language to represent reality adequately and seeks to discern and expose the purported underlying ideologies of the text" (Myers & Noebel 157). "In the context of faith, deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with" (Childers 24). After deconstruction is done, a version of Christianity that looks nothing like the Christianity of the Bible results (24). A reason for reconstruction is in response to church abuse and having been ridiculed for asking questions and/or having doubts, both of which are not right for the church to do (Childers 44). Ironically, progressive Christians dismiss anyone who affirms or defends historic Christianity as someone who just "living in fear" or unwilling to "intellectually engage the hard questions of faith," but view those who embrace opinions that challenge the views most accepted by Christians as "open-minded and intelligent" (Childers 87).
Others have turned to reconstruction as the result of shock from encountering worldly claims about Christianity after never having been exposed to any sort of worldview other than the shallow basics of Christianity, which is what happens to a lot of college students (Childers 44-45). Instead of dismissing doubts as lack of faith, the church should offer a safe place to help a Christian work through those doubts (48-50). "Biblical faith is trust, and that trust is based on good evidence" (Childers 50). Presenting Christianity as something that is blindly to be believed without question and without understanding why you believe it is cult-like and is only going to lead to an unstable faith. Instead of seeking to redefine Christianity to suit you, the response should be to seek Christianity as it is and get to the root, which is what Alisa Childers did in response to being presented the ideas of progressive Christianity.
Jesus + Social Justice
Jesus + anything is not the gospel. Colossians from the very first chapter discusses the preeminence of Christ and how our faith is in Christ alone. "We, like all the people who have gone before us, are influenced by our cultural paradigms, societal norms, and collective intelligence assumptions. Just because our culture has come to a consensus on something does not make it true or right" (Childers 110). One philosophy that has a firm grip on our society and that progressive Christianity has adopted is critical social theory (also popularly known today as critical race theory), which "understands and critiques power and oppression along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, sexuality, and many other factors" (Childers 58). This theory views the world as a power struggle between the oppressed and their oppressors, and then "attempts to recalibrate power in favor of the marginalized and disenfranchised through emancipation, including formal academic efforts and grassroots activism" (58).
Knowledge and truth is found through "lived experiences" and identity over "rationality in discovering and determining what is true," which traces back to postmodernism (Childers 58). Those who lack "privilege" and are "oppressed" are considered to have greater discernment and a "more complete view of the world" (58). If this is true, then that would mean that there is no objective knowledge and would ebb and flow with whatever the current social norm is. This view is why we have cancel culture. Progressive Christians have used this rationale to affirm LGTBQ+ as Scriptural (59). Accordingly, Jesus is not an atoning Savior but is viewed as "an example of how we can do good works in the world and forgive others," the basis for judging others (105). Here, the progressive gospel is Jesus + social justice (105).
Many progressive Christians use critical theory as their way to assess the world and their identity instead of using the word of God (Childers 60). Critical social theory, amongst other things, shifts the view from belief in God and what He says and does in the world to "excusing a person from upholding biblical morality and even considers the historic Christian sexual ethic to be oppressive" (61). Ultimately, it's just another works-based gospel that will continue to change with time because it lacks in any grounded foundation of truth (61).
A Progressive View on the Bible
Progressive Christianity believes the Bible is "our spiritual ancestors' best attempts to understand God in their own cultures, using whatever knowledge they had at the time" (Childers 155). They question the validity of the cannon of New Testament books; the existence of biblical figures such as Adam, Eve, and Abraham; the authorship of the gospels; and the virgin birth (78). Further, progressives view that there is no one "right way" to interpret Scripture since Christians have always disagreed on how to interpret the Bible (78). The one thing that Christians have always agreed on despite lack of unanimous interpretation is that Scripture is God's Word and should be interpreted in light of that (2 Tim. 3:16) (Childers 80). The progressives view the Bible primarily as a "human book," an "archaic travel journal that documents what ancient Jews and Christians believed about God" (82). Thus, the Bible is viewed as not authoritative or inerrant (82). Progressives just pick and choose what pieces they want to follow and which ones to ignore, throwing away all context for correct interpretation along the way (83).
The New Testament (NT), the source of the gospels, is viewed as a "compilation of books that were picked by theological 'winners,'" and the competing sects' books didn't make it in (Childers 36-37). These "competing" books are called the "gnostic gospels," which present a very different Jesus from the one in the gospels. The core cannon for the NT was established as Scripture among Christian councils who met to formalize and affirm the books that have always been recognized as undisputed (37). The other "gospels" weren't even written until the second and third centuries, so they didn't even exist to "compete" (37). "The Bible itself demonstrates that the earliest Christians knew the difference between books that were considered Scripture and books that were not" (Childers 38). Examples of this are when Paul quotes from Luke and calls it "Scripture" in 1 Tim. 5:18 and when Peter refers to Paul's letters as Scripture in 2 Pet. 3:15-16 (39).
Further, the progressive view is that the writers of the Bible have had a "gradual maturing" of their understanding of God, and we are called to do the same work of correcting the wrong doctrines and perceptions (Childers 109). There is progressive revelation in the Bible in the sense that God continued to reveal more information to man until the completion of the NT, but this doesn't mean the revelation progressed from "error to truth" (138). Progressives view Scripture through the "Jesus hermeneutic" lens, which says that Jesus ignored, denied, and openly opposed Scripture whenever they were "imperialistic, punitive, exclusionary, or tribunal," and that we should do the same (Childers 164). This is false since Jesus affirmed the Old Testament (OT) as Scripture, "fought" using Scripture, and has explicitly stated that it is the word of God (Matt. 15:4) (Childers 166-167,169). Instead of God, the reader is viewed as the authoritative standard. Today, how we determine what is "right and wrong" in the Bible is by using our own sense based on our own "cultural assumptions" (109). This reflects the postmodern view of relativism and is similar to what Satan has done since the beginning: twisting the meaning of Scripture. C.S. Lewis calls this "chronological snobbery," the "uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on the account discredited" (Childers 109). The Bible is filled with absolute truths that must be interpreted properly despite our own feelings. Instead of looking to ourselves, we should look to context, church history, cultural context at the time it was written, and the original Greek/Hebrew language for scripture interpretation. Scripture can interpret Scripture also, but that doesn't mean we decide which one "trumps the other" (Childers 173).
Moreover, the progressive view is that the Bible is not God's word. The biblical writers merely wrote about God's "nature, actions, and decrees may have been just their own sincere opinions based on the world in which they lived" (Childers 158). To them, the Bible is "limited" in the sense that it is the "story of God told from the limited point of view of real people living at a certain place and time" (158). Thus, they view the prophets as speaking about what they believed about God in the time and places they lived instead of speaking for God (160). The historic, Scriptural understanding has been that God inspired not the writers themselves but the words they wrote. These are God's actual words (2 Tim. 3:16) (168).
The process of textual criticism shows us that we have accurate copies of the Bible. This is a process that has been used by scholars to reconstruct the wording of ancient writings that no longer have originals, such as Plato's Republic, Homer's Iliad, Aristotle's Rhetoric, and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet ( Childers 122). What is undisputed among scholars is the general dating and how many manuscripts we have (124). How textual critics have determined biblical accuracy is by comparing as many copies they could find and to the earliest copies closest to the original they could find (127). The movie Case for Christ dives into this concept and explains it well.
A Progressive Understanding of God
The progressives describe God as a "being who inflicts punishments" and as "cheap," "toxic," "hostile," "petty," "abusive," "abhorrent," and "bloodthirsty" (Childers 184, 212). Jesus is painted as a victim of what progressives have termed as cosmic child abuse, but this could be further from the truth (219). Jesus is God, the one whom we have sinned against, yet He willingly came and laid down His life for us to take the punishment for our sins upon Himself (219).
This view of God is contrary to how God is described in Scripture (Childers 212). Instead, they believe in universalism, the "belief that all human beings (and in some cases, even fallen angels) will be saved and spend eternity with God" (186). Similarly, some progressives adopt the view of Christo-centric universalism or universal salvation/reconciliation, which views Christ as the only way to salvation but all, no matter what they believe, will eventually be reconciled to God through Jesus (186). These views deny that sin separates us from God, deeming salvation unnecessary (186).
Christians have always recognized that since God is righteous, good, and holy, He cannot abide sin (Childers 212). Sin "wreaks havoc" on His creation (212). Moreover, they reject any aspect of God that has to do with His wrath. We base God's wrath on our human understanding of wrath when they are two different things (213). "The wrath of God is not a divine temper tantrum triggered by erratic feelings of offense and hatred. The wrath of God is not petty or spiteful. It is controlled and righteous judgment of anything that opposes the Lord's perfect nature and love" (Childers 214). "The wrath of God means that one day all evil and sin will be quarantined and that those who have put their trust in Jesus will be entirely separated from wickedness and safe from the clutches of suffering and corruption forever. God's wrath exists because he is love" (Childers 215). God exhibits all His attributes at the same time, so even in His love, there is wrath, and even in His wrath, there is love (watch for more on this). Additionally, without God's wrath toward sin, "heaven would be full of hell" (Childers 218).
Is Hell Real?
Progressives do not view hell as being a literal place but the experience of evil on the earth (183). It is the "wounds left behind by genocide, rape, and murder" (Childers 183). This is actually a partial truth. "Every time we turn from the truth of God, we introduce hell into the world. Every time we call evil 'good' and good 'evil,' we create little pockets of hell on the earth" (Childers183). Nevertheless, Scripture teaches that hell is a physical place (Rev. 14:9-10, 20:13-15, 21:8; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 1:7; Matt. 8:12, 13:50, 22:13 25:30, 46; Mark 9:43,48; Isa. 66:24).
The Progressive Gospel
The progressive message of the cross is that a mob killed Jesus for speaking truth, not as a sacrifice, but as an example for forgiveness for us to follow (Childers 86). God didn't require a sacrifice but humans did, the ultimate act of love: to satisfy the bloodthirsty, violent nature of man (86, 203). The progressive version of the gospel denies original sin and God's plan to redeem man and reconcile them to Him, which presents Jesus as a deity who can only "stand in solidarity with human in our suffering and evil but can't cure it" (Childers 93). A really great example of the progressive gospel is in the book and movie adaptation The Shack, which I likely plan to be a future blog post itself.
Progressives seem to agree that Jesus did not die to pay for the penalty of our sins and didn't even need to die (Childers 206). They believe the sacrificial system wasn't part of God's plan, but was something the Israelites adopted from other ancient cultures (209). Hebrews is a good book to read on this, and it parallels Leviticus to show how the OT sacrifices were intentional and point to Christ's ultimate payment for our sins, which is called substitutionary penal substitution. The concept of substitutionary penal substitution dates back to the book of Isaiah (Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12) (222). Progressives argue against penal substitution as "dangerous" in the sense that it "distorts our view of the Father" because He didn't need to "kill someone to be 'happy' with humanity" (Childers 210). They assume they are making God look more tolerant by denying substitutionary penal atonement, but instead, Progressives "construct a codependent and impotent god who is powerless to stop evil" (Childers 224). For the reliability of the gospels, I suggest watching Case for Christ, and I also have a video on my channel touching on this linked here.
According to the New Testament, the essentials one must believe to be saved are: human depravity, there is one God, the necessity of God, Christ is God, Christ's humanity, Christ's atoning death, Christ's bodily resurrection, and the necessity of faith (Childers 232). Although belief in the Bible doesn't save us, the gospel can only be known if we accept the Bible as the inerrant, inspired Word of God (233). Progressive Christianity rejects the atoning message of the gospel, the Bible as the Word of God, sin as separating us from God, and God's attribute of wrath. When God and Jesus are different from Scripture, they are no longer the Christian, biblical God and Jesus but are an idol of something man-made. Why put the label of "Christian" on something you want to completely reconstruct? The best response we can have as Christians is to first and foremost pray, to also learn and encourage biblical literacy, and to walk with people who are experiencing doubts or have questions instead of dismissing them.
Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers (linked here)
Understanding the Times by Jeff Myers and David A. Noebel (linked here)
World Religions and Cults Volume 3 (Atheistic and Humanistic Religions) (linked here)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bGja8s8ZTI&ab_channel=GodisGrey (this is a very popular progressive voice's response to Alisa Childers, whose book and videos I used as source. I put this here to get the contrasting opinion, but I think the video speaks for itself, amongst the other videos on this channel)
By: Bible and Hot Cocoa (IG: @bibleandhotcocoa)
Jules is the founder of Bible and Hot Cocoa. She is a law student with a passion for standing up for truth. In any free time, she loves to read, study theology, write, and draw or paint. Jules's favorite book of the Bible would have to be a tie among John, Psalms, Ephesians, and Romans (as of now), and her favorite figure besides Jesus is King David or Paul.