As a guy with many progressive sentiments, I admit to finding it helpful to listen to card-carrying Christian Progressives try and define themselves more precisely—something currently taking place at Patheos.com. Such self-definitional claims always seem to bring out an important tension intrinsic to Progressive Christian thought: that a group relatively inclusivist ideologues have to define themselves in such a way that they concretely exclude others from their tribe. (This is self-understanding that I, at least, think is worthy of embrace.) However, such conversations also get me to thinking, as I have in the past, precisely where I find myself drawing the line with Christian Progressivism, three points of which I’ve outlined below.
1. Socially-conscious but not reductionist: I generally affirm Christian progressivism’s forays into fights for gay-rights, its support of ecological responsibility, and its dedication to helping the underprivileged. After all, I find all of these issues of utmost contemporary social importance and believe that, to no small degree, the Gospel helps us to address social problems prophetically. There is a huge difficulty, however, when progressives confuse these principles of their social morality with the Gospel itself; they too often implicitly believe not that God came to save the world as a whole but to ensure that we drive hybrids and vote Democrat. The Gospel, however, is and must be grounded in something beyond social issues and progressive answers to them or else the Gospel would provide no means for actually assessing such issues; rather, the Gospel would become a piece of propaganda defined by these social issues and our answers to them. I personally would have no interest in such a Gospel.
2. Christianity is not a gateway religion: I’m afraid that I’m not onboard with my progressive, mystical buddies who think that, by affirming some ultimate reality beyond the Christian faith, they are engaging in some deeper and more coherent form of faith. I’m Christian, rather, in the sense that, as a Christian, I’ve found myself able to love because God has first loved me. God is, after all, love; and when I say this, I don’t mean that we can throw away the term God in its Christian form and retain the term love. I mean that love only makes sense in the prior and cross-bound form of God as Trinity. My desire to communicate with persons, for instance, of “other faiths” (for a total lack of a better term) does not reflect my desire to overcome old Christian dogmatic statements (pursuit of the truth allows me that luxury) but stems from the self-expropriations pushed for, and demanded by, the dynamic persons of the Godhead. God, as Trinity, is always moving toward “the other,” including us.
3. Yes, sin is social…and still original. The talk of original sin in the neo-Calvinistic forms gets old; but so, too, does the talk of something like the intrinsic goodness of humanity in progressive circles. The benefits of the latter group, however, is that it has rightly recognized something like a proper “ontology of sin”: the fact that sin is not simply a matter of whether I myself am good or bad but that my self—intrinsically relational as it is—is bound to sin because the cosmos (yes, even so-called nature) as a whole is bound to the violence of sin. However, there is a certain lack of recognition, sometimes, that Progressive solutions to the problem of sin are as bound to sin as the rest of the cosmos. Progressives too often think that they’ve found the right set of issues and answers .If the world as a whole, however, is bound to sin, so, too, are the progressives who try to contain it, and the benefit of admitting to this fact is twofold. First, we can recognize that there is only so much that we human person can do to set things right and that we ultimately need God, who comes to us on a cross, to set thing right. Second, we can recognize that even our attempts to set things right are bound to a certain amount of failure: they will advocate in some manner not God’s will and intentions for the world but our own as we try to re-orient that which we call “Good” to our own positions. Knowing this allows us to rightly settle for “better” rather than “best” with the full recognition that our own understanding of what is both “better” and “best” are, for now, intrinsically skewed.