So often, we find our peers, our churches, and sometimes even ourselves twisting the holy words of the Bible to fit our wants, needs, and agendas. But the Bible and its teachings were created for a specific time and context, never for us to use for selfish gain or to place our interests above the Lord’s. In this article, we will be delving into what progressive Christianity is and how to distinguish it from truth. Towards the end, I will give some practical tips to avoid falling into the traps of progressive Christianity and explain what I do to check humanity’s hollow words against God’s everlasting Word.
First, we need to establish what progressive Christianity looks like and address how it shows up in our society. According to Dr. Michael Kruger, a theologian with Reformed Theological Seminary, progressive Christianity “sells itself as a valid option for Christians that on the surface looks a lot like the Christian worldview and may seem in the eyes of many people to be more acceptable, more likable, a really more palatable version of the faith.”
Ultimately, progressive Christianity distorts God’s truth to fit human desires–– something that the Bible was never intended for. God’s Word has been crafted with extreme delicacy and intentionality, but progressive Christianity chooses to ignore the value of the words and instead twists them to fit into today’s world. Instead of being counter culture, progressive Christianity conforms directly to culture to make its members feel “comfortable.”
Now that we know what progressive Christianity looks like, here are some of the ways it presents itself within the Christian community:
1. Preaching that we can somehow become equal to Christ.
Oftentimes, progressive Christianity teaches that we can learn to be “good”, righting our sins through our own actions. But the Gospel states again and again that Jesus is the only good human to ever have walked the earth. If we believe we can become good, we suddenly lose the entire need for the Gospel, and the role of Jesus in our lives becomes diminished.
The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life. – Proverbs 22:4
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:22-26
2. Downplaying the reality of sin.
Similar to the first point, progressive Christianity often ignores talking about sin and instead only highlights the feel-good parts of the Bible; however, when people begin to ignore sin, they also ignore mercy. If you cheapen the price of your sin, you cheapen the glory of His grace. If you turn a blind eye to your fallenness, you are also turning a blind eye to His goodness.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10
3. The belief or practice of manifestation.
I have seen some churches support the idea of manifestation. Manifestation is the “theory that through regular meditation and positive, constructive thought, you can make your dreams and desires a reality” (from spiritualhowto.com). Meditation and positive thinking seem like they would be constructive to the Christian faith, but manifestation completely takes out the element of God. Instead of praying to God to rely on His strength and His power and His plans, manifestation asserts that we can simply rely on our own strength to make things happen. Once again, this directly opposes the word of the Gospel and undermines the power of our God.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5
4. Altering or twisting the Word to fit popular beliefs or opinions
Progressive Christianity prides itself on being relatable, comfortable, and agreeable. Yet most of the time, the actual Word of God is none of these things. Many times, people who believe in progressive Christianity will only take snippets of verses or take them completely out of context. Sometimes, people will even change the Word itself to make readers more comfortable. This is a MAJOR red flag. One of the most recent examples of this is the new Passion Translation. This translation is advertised to be one for “the new generation” and melds “emotion with life-changing truth” (from thepassiontranslation.com). But the Bible is meant for EVERY generation, and God’s goodness has never been dependent on our emotions.
Here is an example of just how much The Passion Translation alters the Word of God:
“Our Father dwelling in heavenly realms,
May the glory of Your Name
Be the center of on which our lives turn.
Manifest Your Kingdom-realm,
And cause Your every purpose to be fulfilled on earth,
Just as it is fulfilled in heaven.
We acknowledge You as our Provider
Of all we need each day,
Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we ourselves release forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
Rescue us every time we face tribulations
And set us free from evil.
For you are the King who rules
With power and glory forever.”
– Matthew 6:9-14 (TPT)
I don’t know about you, but that certainly isn’t the version of the Lord’s Prayer that I was taught…
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever. – Isaiah 40:8
5. Teaching that we need to become more worldly.
People who fall into progressive Christianity often emphasize the importance of worldly things–– popularity, wealth, status, etc. A common sign of progressive Christianity within churches is the constant desire to please their audiences. They might do this through huge events where people and not God are the center focus. They might flash their wealth or their status as a sign of their own glory and not God’s. But most dangerously, they often cater their messages to what their audiences want to hear and not the Biblical truth that they need to hear. For example, they might preach only of God’s love and never regard His wrath when the two must go in tandem. Or because they downplay the reality of sin, as we discussed earlier, they might imply that repentance is not an important factor of faith and undermine the covenantal relationship between God and His people.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2
After discussing the different ways progressive Christianity may present itself, I hope you can see the dangers of this belief system. One of the reasons it is so dangerous is because it looks so good to our human hearts. Plus, it’s hiding under the name of God which makes us feel secure in thinking it cannot be bad. Yet the Bible is so clear about defining the Gospel and we need to open our eyes and hearts to see its truth and combat the deceptions of our world. Here are a couple of my tips to help combat this rising epidemic of progressive Christianity –– I hope they inspire you to stand up for God’s truth in the midst of falsehood.
Tip #1: Use the Bible as your source for everything.
As Christians, one of the best things we can do is be rooted within the Word. Let Truth be where your opinions, feelings, and actions stem. When we become well versed in His verses, we can more easily see progressive Christianity and falsehoods. If you’re not sure about something you hear from a peer or friend or church, check it against the Bible. It is crucial to develop Biblical discernment in a world so filled with deceptions to make us stray. And the best way to develop this discernment is by simply starting to read!
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” – Luke 11:28
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. – Psalm 119:105
Tip #2: Be vigilant & diligent in determining who you listen to.
We are constantly being influenced by people whether it’s online, at church, at school, in the grocery store, etc. And we have a choice to follow whoever we find worth listening to. But words can be tricky. They can be deceiving and lead you astray. For example, I was following an account on Instagram that talked about Jesus and I loved it, but after digging a little deeper into the words I was reading and paying a little more attention to who I was following, I found out I wasn’t following a Christian account at all, it was a platform for Mormons! It’s a little embarrassing for me to admit that, but it serves as a great example to show how crucial it is to pay attention to who you are following.
Are their words and actions Biblically based? Does their life reflect their teachings? Are they seeking God’s glory above all else?
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. – Matthew 7:15
Tip #3: Do not be afraid to speak out for the Truth
Combatting progressive Christianity and the spread of a false gospel narrative requires people to stand firm in God’s Word and not be afraid to speak for His Truth. Jesus left His people the authority to speak out for truth, and we must not forget to put that authority into action. Do not let this world discourage you, for God has equipped you with everything you need to glorify Him.
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:12
I hope my words and research on this topic were able to give you some clarity or understanding about what progressive Christianity is, how to spot it, and how to combat it. I also hope you understand my words come without judgment, but rather the kind of honesty that precedes genuine love. As a Christian community, we cannot forsake truth for the worldly idea of love. We cannot sugarcoat God’s truth just to make ourselves or our neighbors feel comfortable. So I encourage you all to love people in the most genuine way possible–– by telling them the truth about Jesus Christ.