Traditionalists Criticize Progressive Christianity’s Portrayal of Jesus


People who believe in a more traditional view of the Gospel and church are always quick to attack Progressive Christianity and its view of Christ.

What’s your image of Jesus Christ? To listen to some critics of Progressive Christianity, it’s of a laid-back Mr. Nice Guy who never gets upset and lets everything slide.

Only that’s a case of critics painting far too broad a brush without really considering the point.

Take, for example, this blog post that attacks Progressive Christianity’s so-called “Jesus Problem.”

The author claims that Progressive Christians tend to portray Christ as “a Zen, non-dualistic thinking, hippie, flower child” instead of a prophet.

He then says this:

Yes, Jesus welcomed tax-collectors, sinners and prostitutes, but his radical hospitality had a harsh, prophetic, and apocalyptic edge. Just ask the Pharisees.

I read this a couple of times and thought about what he’s saying.

Just ask the Pharisees?

What I suspect he meant to say is what many traditionalists say about progressives: they’re trying to throw out all of the legalism most of us who grew up in the church were taught from the earliest age in favor of a lovefest in which, essentially, anything goes.

But when you’re talking about Jesus as having a “harsh, prophetic and apocalyptic edge” and someone who “talked about damnation and hell all the time,” and then you point to the Pharisees as an example of people on the receiving end of that Jesus, you might just be missing a bigger point.

Who, after all, were the Pharisees?

Consider this definition of a Pharisee: “A member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.”

Did you catch that second half? “Strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.

That’s the whole point: Progressive Christianity isn’t out to paint Jesus Christ as unconcerned with the law. But it recognizes that Christ was often more likely to be “harsh” with the overly-legalistic who were more concerned with “hating the sin” than with “loving the sinner.”

My favorite Bible story is in John chapter 7, when the angry mob delivers a woman who was caught in the act of adultery to Christ, demanding to know what He would have them do with her. It was a test of Christ far more than an opportunity to simply “correct a fellow Christian.”

Christ didn’t order the mob to stone the woman to death as the law said. In fact, he knelt down and began writing something in the sand. The Bible doesn’t specify what he was writing, though some have speculated that Christ was listing the sins members of the mob had committed. He then told the mob that whichever of them was without sin should cast the first stone.

One by one, the members of the mob left in shame. We can hope, at that moment, that they lost their legalist mentality and began rethinking how they treated each other. Maybe they even began realizing at that moment that they weren’t nearly as “superior” as they previously believed.

After they were gone, Jesus told the woman He didn’t condemn her. He told her to go and sin no more.

He didn’t tell her to continue her activities as if nothing happened. But even though He was without sin, He didn’t stone her, either.

The legalists might say that Jesus failed to follow the law. The progressives look at the same story and consider that he put the woman’s failings aside so he could see the value in her as a person, not as a moral failure.

To put it more succinctly, given the opportunity to be “harsh,” he rejected it in favor of the opportunity to show love. And grace.

Given that Christ Himself stated that loving your neighbor as yourself was part of the Greatest Commandment, isn’t that what all Christians — traditionalists and progressives — should understand Christ’s image to be?

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.