What was missing from my progressive theology

Most of my twenties were spent immersed in Progressive Christianity, although I wouldn’t have called it that at the time. I would have explained that I was going through a season of heavy doubts and questioning, which happens to most Christians at some point. 

If there is any dogma I picked up in progressive Christianity, it’s this: question everything (which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing). But then don’t stop there: dismantle it. Rebuild it however you need to.

Practiced that way, it’s very difficult to know what’s true, and what’s essentially worshiping myself as God.

These are some of the important pieces that were missing from my progressive theology (this should go without saying, but take note that I’m speaking from my own experience, and not for all self-identified Progressive Christians):

An accurate explanation of “liberation”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what progressive Christianity teaches, because in many ways it is intentionally vague. My first concern comes from the fact that such a qualifier – “progressive” – is needed to distinguish this Christianity in the first place. If  “progressive” in this context refers to social or political progress or “liberation,” it implies that the gospel is not liberating enough by itself. It puts more faith in outcomes over sovereignty. That alone should raise a red flag. 

Of course, that’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t care about justice for marginalized groups. Christians absolutely must name and resist evils such as racism, abuse, etc. There is not a single person we will meet who is not made in the image of God. That inherent worth and dignity must be recognized and respected.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that our ultimate hope is not dependent on the outcomes of this life. Breaking the cycle of poverty doesn’t get anyone into heaven; Christ does.

A literal resurrection

At best, reducing the resurrection to a Hallmark metaphor about rising above adversity or personal challenges denies historic facts about the empty grave. 

By refusing to stay dead, Jesus conquered evil and death. That’s a far more powerful message than anything you’ll hear from any social justice movement. A literal crucifixion with a metaphorical resurrection packs no redemptive power. If the Christian story ends at the violence of the cross, we have nothing real to offer the oppressed. 

A solid identity

I attended various progressive-flavored churches over the years that strongly emphasized acceptance and affirmation, even when it contradicted biblical sexual ethics. It was hard not to notice that being one’s “authentic self” became more of a holy grail than salvation. How that can be squared with denying yourself, I’m not sure. When the idea of a “true self” has more to do with sexual or gender expression than being made in the image of God, there is a problem of serving more than one master

As multidimensional humans, we are many things to many people. We are spouses, parents, employees, Democrats and Republicans, and more. But in the grand scheme of life, which of those identities ultimately defines us? What is the core identity that qualifies the others? For the Christian, it is Christ, and none other. 

This was a hard teaching for me to swallow, as someone who spent her entire life defined as “the Jewish girl.” For years, it was extremely important to me that my Christianity be defined by the Judaism that came first. But standing next to my Christian brothers and sisters in worship (and one day, in heaven!), such differences don’t matter. We all bring different gifts and experiences to the table, but we are all one in Christ. 

Being a Christian doesn’t erase my Jewish heritage by any means, nor any of the other earthly roles I might play: wife, mother, writer, figure skater. Christ just orders them properly. 

Progressing” toward truth

At some point, I realized I cared more about pursuing what is true over what comforts and agrees with me. I realized that many of my internet “allies” were atheists and agnostics, who liked me because I wasn’t “one of those” Christians: the ones supposedly hardened by dogma.

It should have concerned me more than it did that I had no relationship with such Christians, since I still considered myself one. The beliefs that those “fundamentalists” had that I considered toxic and dangerous (pertaining to sexuality in particular) are, in fact, what the Church has been teaching consistently for over 2000 years. And with good reason: who among us can honestly say we are more loving and knowledgeable than God?

If Christianity is concerned about what’s true, being “outdated” doesn’t matter. Truth, like God, doesn’t conform to the trends of a certain era. If it does, it is likely not because we have finally succeeded in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. In all likelihood, it’s probably because we compromised too much. 


Photo by Thomas Vitali on Unsplash

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