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What is Progressive Christianity, and is it biblical?

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The term progressive Christianity can mean different things. By some definitions, progressive Christianity is compatible with biblical faith. Other definitions classify progressive Christianity as contrary to Scripture or self-defeating. In most cases—but not all—the term is associated with an unbiblical perspective. When progressive implies an evolving or drastically changing theology, it’s invalid. When it implies an overly earthly focus at the expense of faithfulness to God’s revealed truth, it’s likewise incompatible with biblical faith.

Politically “progressive” Christianity

Political terms vary over time, as well as by culture. In the modern West, the term progressive is broadly associated with a desire to improve society: to make it “progress.” This implies a decided emphasis on government action. Progressivism is associated with concepts such as social justice, environmentalism, socialism, and so forth. While variations on those concepts can follow biblical ideals, modern progressivism typically aligns with non-biblical views of life, sexuality, gender, and family, and it generally rejects worldview assumptions undergirding the gospel.

In recent decades, implications of the label “progressive” have changed dramatically. Believers of prior generations would consider the expansion of racial and gender rights legitimately “progressive,” because they represented true “progress” toward an understood biblical ideal. But not every social change is compatible with God’s intent for humankind. In that sense, some goals pursued by “progressive” groups are merely “different,” not necessarily “better,” and many of their goals are worse.

A born-again Christian may legitimately believe in a collective responsibility to curate the environment, attain social justice, care for the disadvantaged, and so forth. Those ideas are not unbiblical in and of themselves. In that sense, some Christians may label themselves “politically progressive.” However, taking on that identity raises concerns about the unbiblical concepts also tied to the term. When secular political preferences begin to steer one’s beliefs about God, politics becomes its own form of religion.

Theologically “progressive” Christianity

As political progressivism has grown, so too have attempts to square it with claims to Christian faith. As noted, not all aspects of progressive thinking are unbiblical. Some facets are within the bounds of a biblical Christian worldview. Others are not. Mankind has always tried to take God’s Word and bend it to their preferences. Political trends influence how people attempt to interpret the Bible. That is to say, popular interpretation generally follows cultural trends. The two aspects resonate and amplify one another.

The greatest difference between political progressivism and “progressive theology” is that the latter is wholly incompatible with the Bible. Good theology isn’t guaranteed to remove all “doubtful issues” (Romans 14:1). Yet a person’s approach to theology is either correct or incorrect. God’s Word means what it means and says what it says. Convoluted rejections of clear biblical teachings about sin, gender, sexuality, salvation, sanctity of life, family, morality, Scripture, and so forth are not “progress” toward truth. Neither does a reinterpretation of Scripture represent an evolution of truth. Truth does not progress or develop: it exists, and we either come closer to it or drift further away.

Progressive theology broadly rejects historic views of the Bible. That usually means discarding concepts such as biblical inspiration, inerrancy, and preservation. Progressive-minded readers may attempt to insert their ideas into passages where such ideas were never meant to be found. When eisegesis becomes inconvenient or impossible, the progressive may dismiss certain texts or ideas as outdated and thus safe to ignore.

Christianity, as historically understood, and modern “progressive Christianity” are diverging enough that some consider them separate religions. What once implied “tolerance and openness within a biblical framework” has now shifted. In practice, modern “progressive” faith means “religion conforming to left-leaning political and social trends.” What’s celebrated as “progressive Christianity” today is mostly an earthly, secular, humanist political framework covered by a thin religious veneer.

Truth has no Tribe

Progressivism is not the only path to misinterpreting the Bible in service of cultural preferences. The mirror image of progressive Christianity is described using varied terms: hyper-nationalist, right-wing, fundamentalist, and so forth. As with their counterparts, those terms are sometimes used unfairly, and accurate definitions are important. But the fact remains that those opposing political progressivism are equally capable of warping God’s truth to make it fit their preferences. Just as with progressivism, some ideas associated with “political conservativism” are biblical, while others are not. Some right-wing concepts match the intent and wording of the Bible; others blatantly contradict it.

It's tempting to lump everything associated with a popular label into simplistic bins of “correct” or “incorrect,” for no other reason than association with the “right” or “wrong” side. Reasonable believers ought to carefully weigh issues on their own merits (see Proverbs 18:13, 17). This might mean disagreeing with nearly everything a particular group believes—making it reasonable to dissociate from them. It might mean agreeing with nearly everything—inviting association—while not blindly endorsing everything that group says or does.

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This page last updated: December 8, 2023