Is the Progressive Christian Movement Wrong About Jesus?
When I saw a progressive Christian church promise to answer a question about why they focus on Jesus Christ, I was more than a little concerned.
I sometimes call myself a progressive Christian. This is true in my areas.
Sometimes, though, I wonder about Progressive Christianity. Once in a while, I think their zeal to stand out from traditional churches they see as problematic, they make missteps of their own. I’ve written before about the large amount of profanity I hear from progressive Christian pastors and speakers. It’s almost as if they’re trying to out-curse each other just for attention.
For the most part, I see Progressive Christianity as a portion of Christianity that seeks to follow Jesus’s teachings more faithfully. Traditional Christianity, at times, seems to look for sins and call out the sinners a bit too much. In doing so, they seem to lose focus on “loving the sinner.” And let’s face it: it’s a lot more fun to hate and call out the sin itself. It’s a lot easier to do that if you give up all regard for the sinner.
Progressive Christianity seems to focus more on social justice and helping those in need than I’ve seen from some traditional churches.
Some Progressive Christians believe the Bible is not inerrant. I definitely believe that. As I’ve pointed out before, there is a discrepancy in the order of creation right in Genesis that makes it clear that both versions can’t be correct.
But I’ve found that progressive Christians put the authority in the words of Christ, not in the Bible as a whole. This seems reasonable to me, since the very name Christianity would seem to put the focus on Christ. We’re not “Biblians,” after all.
So the question about Christ surprised me.
Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ states the first tenet of their progressive beliefs is “founded on three primary calls we see through Jesus:”
To love God, to love our neighbor, and to love ourselves.
The same site lists another point that might make traditional Christians cringe: “Christianity is the truth for us. But it is not the only truth.”
I also share this belief. I think it’s entirely possible for Jews to be in Heaven. By their faith, the qualifications are different. But I don’t think that disqualifies them.
But as the site says, Christianity is the truth for me. Other people may find a different way and if they do, I don’t resent that.
At the same time, I know Jesus Christ is my way. Assuming that’s what they mean by that passage, I have no problem with that, either.
Even so, suggesting that there might be other ways besides Jesus Christ directly doesn’t mean anyone should expect progressive Christians to not mention Christ.
Then I came across an article by Michael J. Kruger, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. He is also an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian church. (So take this with a grain of salt, since his appraisal of Progressive Christianity is not necessarily complementary.)
He writes about one of the 10 “commandments” of Progressive Christianity, with number one on his list being this:
“Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.”
He then details how the Bible invalidates this notion. Christ, he says, was more than a moral example.
“The first thing to be jettisoned by liberals is always the divinity of Jesus–and therefore the worship of him,” he writes. “Moreover, if Jesus really is our divine Lord, how could worshiping him be secondary?”
But then he asks this:
Why would Jesus as example be more important than Jesus as object of worship?
Without a degree in seminary, I might suggest there’s a non-theologically-approved answer here that makes a lot of sense. When we hold Jesus as an object of worship — which I agree he should be — there’s some part of our brains that seems to reject the possibility that we can reach His status.
In a sense, we should understand that. None of us who receives the gift of salvation actually deserves it. It’s a gift given out of God’s love.
But at the same time, if we fail to hold Jesus as at least as imporant an example, it seems inherent to me that we can then think of ways to attempt to achieve Christ’s qualities.
Maybe it sounds like semantics. Maybe it is.
But I see a big difference there, and I think some traditionalists are too quick to assume the worst.
To the extent that I consider myself a progressive Christian, I also consider myself to be a Christian. That means Christ has to be at the center of my beliefs, even if I may disagree on particular issues within a Christ-focused belief system.
If you’re going to call yourself a Christian, Christ, for whom the term is named, should be the center of that faith. If He isn’t, you might be something else, but I think it’s wrong to describe yourself as a Christian.
Any branch of Christianity — or even any splinter off a branch — that doesn’t recognize the divinity of Christ is one that I’ll have a hard time embracing fully.