A recent study called “The American Worldview Inventory” has revealed that about a third of Americans who claim to be evangelicals do not believe that Jesus Christ is God. The study, conducted by Arizona Christian University, confirmed what has already become obvious over the last decade. Traditional Christian beliefs and values are on the decline – not just in society as a whole, but even with the Christian church itself.
The new ‘progressive’ version of Christianity that is beginning to gain traction is one of open-minded acceptance of many beliefs and practices that contradict the Bible. Progressive Christianity does not accept the Bible as God’s inerrant, authoritative Word. In particular, it tends to regard the accounts of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, miracles and resurrection as myths. This new ‘enlightened’ version of Christianity also embraces the LGBTQI movement and regards the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexuality and pre-marital sex as out-dated.
Of course, this type of liberal Christianity has existed for many years, particularly since the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. But it has gained significant momentum in recent decades. Today, gay pride flags adorn church buildings that were once bastions of orthodox beliefs. Christian publishing houses that once exclusively published orthodox evangelical works now promote a wide diversity of ‘progressive’ books that openly dispute the Bible’s authority and call for a re-imagining of what it means to be a Christian.
John Stonestreet, in his article, “Why Progressive Christianity is Another Gospel”, (in The Christian Post, Oct 19) says:
“Today, there is an effort to update Christianity, to adapt and re-form it according to the spirit of the age.”
I recently heard a podcast interview with Alisa Childers, a member of the Christian pop group, “Zoe Girl”. Alisa spoke about her shock when she learned that her church Pastor was a sceptic. At one point, he apparently confronted her with arguments against the Bible’s reliability and authority, as well as admitting that he doesn’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead or that his death on the cross purchased forgiveness for sins. Even more shocking to Alisa, was her Pastor’s admission that he wasn’t even sure that God existed and, if he did exist, his assertion that God certainly isn’t at all concerned with our sexual choices and behaviour.
This is typical of the new open-minded Progressive Christianity – a form of religion which is much more concerned with social justice and personal autonomy than with what is perceived as narrowly-defined, out-dated, restrictive dogma.
My response to Progressive Christianity is, at one level, complete puzzlement. Why do the adherents of this movement wish to retain the name ‘Christian’? Indeed, to persist in using this term when they have discarded almost every defining particularity of Christianity is completely nonsensical. Because, you see, ‘Christianity’ has a very particular definition. It has a set of defining beliefs that set it apart from all other religions. Central to those beliefs are two key doctrines; one concerning the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and the other concerning the divinity, atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These two areas of doctrine are Christianity’s definitive core, from which flow all other doctrines and moral values, including the Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage.
Obviously, people are free to believe what they want. I cannot force my Christian beliefs on others. A person may choose to reject the authority of the Bible, discard Christian morality and disbelieve in the divinity of Jesus Christ. But if that is their decision, they can’t still claim to be “Christian’. This kind of build-it-yourself, buffet-style, pick-and-choose religious belief system may work for some worldviews such as New Age spiritualism, but it contradicts the very essence of what it means to be Christian.
Christianity is a revealed worldview which has an objective definition, ultimately revealed and ratified by the incarnated, resurrected Son of God. To discard both its central message and its divine Messenger is to completely step outside the defined boundaries of Christianity itself.
As Shane Morris writes, in his article “Build-a-Bear, Buffet-Style Christianity Is No Christianity At All” (Breakpoint, Sep 14):
“One might doubt that there is a God who has revealed Himself or that God has revealed Himself in these ways, and therefore reject Christianity. But because Christianity is a worldview that comes already carefully defined, it’s not open to mass-scale revisions.”
Similarly, John Stonestreet writes:
“A ‘Progressive Christianity’ that denies the divinity of Christ, treats His incarnation and resurrection from the dead as myths, and reimagines human nature away from God’s created design and according to sexual libertinism isn’t just another take on the faith. It’s another gospel entirely.” (“Why Progressive Christianity is Another Gospel”, in The Christian Post, Oct 19)
There is an important issue at stake here. Christianity has already been defined. It is not open to debate. You may choose to accept it or reject it, but you can’t discard its central, defining tenets and still call yourself a Christian. By rejecting the inspiration of the Bible, the incarnation and divinity of Christ, his atoning sacrifice and his resurrection from the dead, you have ceased to be Christian – you are something else entirely.
If I walk into McDonalds and order a Big Mac and then say, “but I don’t want the beef patty, the lettuce, the cheese, the pickles or the special sauce”, it is no longer a Big Mac that I am ordering. It is something else entirely. It is just a bun.
In Jude 1:3, we are urged to “earnestly contend for the faith entrusted once and for all to the saints.” This is a key verse for this discussion. The Christian faith is not open to redefinition. It is a revealed worldview, that has been “entrusted” to us (the Greek word literally means “handed down from on high with great solemnity”). Furthermore, it is entrusted to us “once for all”. In other words, it is not open to revision, contemporising or tweaking. It’s a done deal. It’s a ‘take it or leave it’ thing.
How a person responds to the claims and teachings of Jesus Christ is their decision. But rejecting his claims (particularly his claims of divinity, atonement and resurrection) as well as his central teachings and then calling yourself a “Christian’ – literally, “a follower of Christ” – is completely nonsensical.
In the end, each person must decide for themselves. But I worry for the next generation; for young people who are growing up in a world where ‘Christianity’ is presented to them in a range of ‘flavours’ from which they may choose. Today’s church appears to offer them the option of accepting or rejecting the Bible’s authority, of accepting or rejecting the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, and of picking and choosing their own morality, while still apparently calling themselves ‘Christian’. In this buffet-style religious environment, it is no wonder that young people are increasingly confused about what they believe and much less likely to adhere to an absolute set of doctrinal truth.
In such a pluralistic environment, Bible-believing Christians are called, more than ever before, to lovingly and respectfully stand up for the truth. The Apostle Paul says it well:
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3)
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, apologist and social commentator. He spent 31 years in Christian ministry as a church pastor and a Christian educator. He is the author of Finding God When He Seems to be Hiding; No More Monkey Business: Evolution in Crisis; and Making Sense of the Bible. He has also written a best-selling series of science fiction books.