Drag queens reading to children in church, pastors denouncing sexual purity, congregants being told to apologize for the color of their skin.
The past few years have seen churches across the country take a dramatic theological turn, abandoning traditional Christian values in favor of progressive secular ones.
In 2018, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber melted down a large collection of purity rings so that they could be recast into a sculpture of a “golden vagina.” According to HuffPost, the rings were “symbols of a patriarchal theology” that has historically evinced a “need to control women’s sexuality.”
The very next year, one Texas church held its very own “drag queen story hour,” The Hill reported. For those blessedly unaware, drag queen story hours involve men dressed as women reading books to children.
Drag Queen story time for children at the public library in Houston, Texas. Very Dangerous. Do you think this is ok to expose to Children? pic.twitter.com/7Af1OKy41M
— Pastor Mark Burns (@pastormarkburns) March 25, 2019
Also in recent months, many churches have adopted critical race theory, which teaches that race is the essential part of one’s identity and that “whiteness” is inherently racist and oppressive. Myers Park Baptist Church in North Carolina, for instance, is teaching white congregants how to deal with their “racial identity” and the “systems that it perpetuates,” according to The Charlotte Observer.
These instances are not outliers.
Rather, they are indicative of a larger movement growing rapidly within the church: progressive Christianity.
Progressive Christianity Grows
Progressive Christianity has indeed become pervasive.
The results of a Pew Research Center study published in December 2015 found that almost all Christian groups have become “more accepting of homosexuality.”
In 2007, 58 percent of Roman Catholics, 56 percent of mainline Protestants and 48 percent of all Christians said “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” By 2014, those numbers had risen to 70 percent, 66 percent and 54 percent, respectively.
A majority of Christians now agree that women should be allowed to serve as pastors, according to Christianity Today.
Furthermore, the teaching of race essentialism in churches is becoming more common. Christian apologist Neil Shenvi has given a number of examples of high-profile evangelical pastors and influencers promoting CRT and its principles.
In June, the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant denomination in the country — had the chance to officially condemn CRT. Church leaders decided against it.
Progressive ideas that run counter to historic Christian doctrine are undoubtedly spreading through the church.
What Is Progressive Christianity?
“The serpent in the Garden of Eden was the first progressive,” Darrell B. Harrison told The Western Journal.
Harrison is a fellow at Princeton Theological Seminary’s Black Theology and Leadership Institute and a host of “Just Thinking,” one of the most prominent Christian podcasts in America.
“What progressive Christianity really does is … convinces you to live outside of God’s boundaries as if — just like the serpent convinced Eve in the Garden — as if God was keeping something from you, as if God was really selling you short,” Harrison said.
“Progressive Christianity lies to us by displaying to us a visage, a mirage of something better when you cannot get anything better … than living within the boundaries that God has set for us.”
In Harrison’s view, the term “progressive Christianity” is an oxymoron, because man cannot “progress” past the truth of the Gospel.
Nevertheless, that is exactly what progressive Christians hope to accomplish.
“[Progressive Christianity] presupposes a call to append to Christianity an adjective such as “progressive.” It presupposes that you can make the core orthodox message of the Gospel somehow better,” Harrison said.
Progressive Christians do this by “imposing the cultural [mores] onto Scripture” and putting “extra layers of legalistic, moralistic requirements on the Gospel,” he added.
Put simply, progressive Christianity finds its authority not in Christ but in the culture. If the culture celebrates pride as a virtue, Scripture must be bent to fit that norm.
Moreover, rather than pointing to Christ’s sacrifice, progressive Christianity posits that our own works — fighting for “social justice,” for example — bring us closer to salvation here and now. If that were true, “then Christ died needlessly,” Harrison argued.
Progressive Christianity puts itself on the same level as all other religions in the name of “inclusiveness,” reducing the Gospel and ultimately undermining its own authority, he said.
In a nutshell, it is the belief that “we’re all just coming together to try to save ourselves,” Harrison added.
According to progressive Christians, “we adhere to God’s commands to love one another, but that’s where the biblical Gospel stops. Everything else is up to us. We have to … impart our own definition of moralism — human moralism — in the world so that we can have a sort of heaven here on earth.”
“But that’s a dangerous worldview to share.”
Confronting Progressive Christianity
What does progressive Christianity look like in practice?
As the movement continues to grow, the likelihood that each one of us will be forced to confront it grows as well.
Therefore, it’s worth examining exactly how this ideology distorts Scripture.
Lack of Biblical Literacy
Although some progressive Christians openly deny that the Bible is the inspired word of God, many simply assert that orthodox teachings on gender and sexuality are born out of misrepresentations of the text.
The arguments used by these Christians betray a lack of the most basic biblical literacy.
For example, many Christians conflate the ceremonial and moral laws of the Old Testament. Since Christians are not required to adhere to the many ceremonial laws of the Old Testament — the animal sacrifices, dietary restrictions and so on — some argue that Old Testament laws should be rejected altogether.
In other words, progressive Christians believe that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ renders all laws of the Old Testament equally moot — including those forbidding homosexuality.
This idea was forwarded by late-night talk show host and practicing Roman Catholic Stephen Colbert when he claimed that Jesus “never said anything about” homosexuality. Implicit in this suggestion is that Jesus would have had no issue with homosexual relationships.
It is true that the sacrificial system and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament became obsolete at the cross of Jesus Christ. However, Scripture makes a very clear distinction between ceremonial laws and moral laws, which remain in effect for Christians.
“Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God,” the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6.
Another example of progressive Christians’ biblical illiteracy can be found in “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” a 2012 book by Rachel Held Evans, a popular Christian columnist, blogger and author.
Evans, who has since died, argued that “despite what some may claim, the Bible’s not the best place to look for traditional family values as we understand them today.” She went on to assert that, according to the Bible, “if you were a slave or concubine, you were expected to be sexually available to your master.”
Evans broke a very important rule of biblical interpretation.
There are three broad literary genres found in the Bible: poetry, narrative and discourse.
Narrative passages, especially when taken out of context, aren’t meant to be taken as a moral guide.
Kathy Keller explained as much in an article responding to Evans’ book. “The Bible is not simply a collection of ethical principles by which to live. It is a record of human sin and of God’s intervention in history to save his people,” Keller wrote for The Gospel Coalition.
“Much of it should be read as news, just as we read the newspaper. Horrible acts are recorded in my copy of The New York Times every morning, but I don’t commit the hermeneutical error of supposing the editors of the Times are approving or endorsing such behavior.”
One thing is very clear: Progressive Christians either don’t know how to read Scripture correctly or are purposefully distorting it.
Proper biblical exegesis is key.
Throughout history, rulers, societies and even churches have used the public’s lack of hermeneutical understanding to their advantage.
This is why Paul warned Timothy of false teachers, explaining that “to suit their own desires,” people will “gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
Every one of us has our own framework shaped by personal experiences and cultural milieus. The desire to interpret the Bible using these preconceptions is natural. However, this impulse must be stymied if a proper reading of Scripture is to be achieved.
On the “beliefs” page of its website, Open Cathedral — the Texas church which hosted its own drag queen story hour — provides a perfect example of improperly applying external frameworks to Scripture.
The very first paragraph of the page reads, “We believe in community, not conformity. We cherish our differences and celebrate our unity. We are straight, queer, black, brown, cis, trans, young and elders. We are able bodied and we are disabled. We are loved for who we are.”
“At our core, we care about people, we care about individuals, we care about you, not rules, big institutions or money. Just the same way Jesus cares about you,” the next paragraph says.
Open Cathedral decries “conformity” when the only true interpretation of Scripture demands a “conformity” to the word of God.
Nowhere on the page is Scripture described as the authoritative, inspired word of God. Therefore, Open Cathedral is taking its own external framework — a belief in “community” — as the authoritative view.
Rather than imposing our own frameworks, or worldviews, on the biblical texts, the word of God itself must be treated as the ultimate authority.
But how do we do this?
First, one must have a proper understanding of the context of each passage. This includes literary, historical and biblical contexts.
How do the subsequent and previous passages inform the one being read? What audience was the passage written for and what were their historical circumstances? What citations, allusions and/or historical connections does each passage make to others in the Bible?
Furthermore, one must understand the author’s aim for his audience, the way the author structured each passage and how that passage connects to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A Human Problem
Imposing cultural beliefs on the Bible isn’t a partisan issue. Anyone — left, right or center — can engage in proof-texting.
Just as liberals are often guilty of forwarding a perverted form of Christianity, some conservatives groups have done so as well in the form of “Christian nationalism.” As is the case with “progressive Christianity,” this term has been abused and misused, with liberals often using it to describe any Christian who exhibits national pride.
That being said, among nonpartisan circles, “Christian nationalism” is often seen as the fusing of national pride with theological aspects, including Biblical prophecies and divine authority. Many such ideas have driven the QAnon movement.
While Harrison believes that the term “Christian nationalism” has no “standard” or “objective” definition, he also believes that the above ideas are “dangerous.”
“So, let me just say this: I’m a conservative. I tend to vote Republican. But one of the most uncomfortable things that I see on social media is imagery of President Trump with an image of Jesus behind, standing behind him in the Oval Office with Jesus’ hands on Trump’s shoulders,” Harrison said.
“That’s dangerous, that’s dangerous imagery right there.”
“To co-mingle our being Americans with biblical Orthodox Christian theology, so as to synergize the two, I think we’re traveling on dangerous ground at that point.”
The Bible is inspired and inerrant.
Oftentimes, Christians mistakenly interpret Scripture as if God wrote it to us as a book of life advice.
The Bible wasn’t written to us, but it was written for us. Scripture isn’t God giving us advice, it’s him revealing his divine nature.
Unless Americans can learn how to properly read these sacred texts, the church will continue to depart from its God-given purpose.
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