The Progressive Evangelical Package

Derek Rishmawy is the Director of College and Young Adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA, where he wrangles college kids for the gospel. He’s been graciously adopted by the Triune God. That God has also seen fit to bless him with lovely wife named McKenna. He got his B.A. in Philosophy at UCI and his M.A. in Theological Studies (Biblical Studies) at APU. His passions are theology, the church, some philosophy, cultural criticism, and theology. He has been published at the Gospel Coalition and Out of Ur blog. He writes regularly at his Reformedish blog, and is a staff writer at Christ and Pop Culture. You can also follow him on Twitter.

It’s no secret that Reformed Christians have built their own wing of the internet where they spend their time chatting among themselves. They police certain key boundaries and dissent from some of these can (rightly or wrongly) bring about serious criticism. While there is more diversity among the Reformed than critics usually want to recognize, there can also be a heavy pressure to conform to the ‘standard’. Given the more consciously confessional (and I do use the term somewhat broadly) ethos among the Reformed, it’s rather unsurprising that this should be the case.

The progressive Evangelicals now have their own wing, though, ostensibly with an emphasis on diversity and a marked aversion to foreclosing conversations or policing boundaries. The idea that there is a strict standard, a party line you have to toe in order to be a part of the club, is supposed to be foreign to the Progressive internet’s ethos. That’s for the heresy-hunting, conservative builders of Evangelical empire, after all, rather than the “radically inclusive” prophets of a more Christ-like faith. Unlike their conservative counterparts, Progressives follow a Jesus who came to tear down the walls that divide, not put new doctrinal ones back up.

Those are the stereotypes, at least. But it’s increasingly difficult to maintain this picture if we take a look at the actual situation on the ground.

There may not be a Progressive Gospel(s) Federation with explicit standards we can look to, but there are certain tenets that are increasingly defining what I’ve dubbed the “Progressive Evangelical Package.” The theological scene is beginning to mirror the political two-party system such that if you hold one or two of these positions, or want to have a voice in the Progressive conversation, it’s likely there is heavy pressure on you to begin affirming all or most of them.

These tenets do not mark out a monolith. There are undoubtedly figures who don’t fit the description, just like there are figures who spend lots of time in the Reformed world who don’t fit the characterization above, either. I maintain that they signal a trend, though.

Nor are these tenets necessarily inherently ‘progressive.’ Though one or two of them might be, many non-progressives hold some of them within a more classically Evangelical framework as well. Still, when they come in the broader bundle they take on a different flavor.

I offer, then, seven basic, hot-button theological markers, in no particular order.

Pacifism – Pacifism/non-violence is growing as the default stance of many progressive Christians. Historically, pacifism has not always been linked with progressivism, but there’s a definite presumption against the just-war tradition in progressive circles. This is less likely, though, among those who have a more radical, liberationist streak in them.

Egalitarianism – For most progressive Christians, a complementarian view of marriage or ministry at its best is just patriarchy-lite and contrary to the gospel of equality in Christ. Again, there are exegetical egalitarians who are generally theological conservative, but it’s very rare to find a non-egalitarian progressive, unless they’re Catholic.

Arminian/Open Theism/Revised Theisms – Well, I mean, Calvinists are the worst. But really, Reformed or more classic-style doctrines of providence and sovereignty are very much theologia non grata in progressive wings. They are at odds with the kenotic, self-emptying, freedom-gifting God most progressives know. If you cop to any form of it at all, there has to be a huge amount of bending over backwards to downplay, sideline, or distinguish yourself from those Calvinists. In fact, much theological reflection in the camp works by way of contradiction.

Anti-Inerrancy– The rejection of inerrancy is as much a boundary issue for many progressives as the affirmation is for many conservatives. On their view, we don’t need an inerrant Bible. In fact, for many it’s an idolatrous position that gives us a flat text, open to the many anti-science, anti-gay, anti-intellectual approaches to Christian faith we’re struggling against that have killed the faith of a new generation.

Interpretive Pluralism – Connected to the defeat of inerrancy is a heavy emphasis on interpretive pluralism when it comes to the text of Scripture. I’m not sure which is greeted with more sneers: the doctrine of inerrancy, or the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture (which is usually quite poorly defined.)

Anti-Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) – A non-violent, or peace-loving God would not ‘murder his Son’ or buy into the ‘myth of redemptive violence’ or engage in ‘divine child abuse.’ God is like Jesus (in the Sermon on the Mount, on a certain interpretation), so he doesn’t kill. Usually PSA is pitted against a Christus Victor model, though some sort of modified Girardianism seems to be the atonement theology du jour.

Marriage Revisionism – Finally, while most may not yet have accepted the revisionist take on same-sex relationships, struggling with the issue or defaulting to silence is the norm. The Progressive Gospel is radically inclusive, and generally so hyper-egalitarian to the point that an appeal to sexual difference as revealed in creation and clarified in Scripture is increasingly difficult and almost incoherent to make.

Of course there are undoubtedly more, but these are the ones that have stuck out to me.

The Package Under the Package
It’s important to note that many people hold these positions all separately for different reasons. What’s more, I’m not looking to settle whether or not any of these positions are true or false. I haven’t offered anything close to an argument on any of these points. The interesting question to ask is why these positions seem to be on the rise? And what seems to be uniting them all into this party-line? Besides the biblical arguments many put forward, or the political dynamics at work in the clumping that pop up on the Right as well, what’s the root package under the package? What makes these positions more attractive now than they were before?

Beneath the marks themselves lie three separate themes which hold them together and form a distinctly ‘progressive’ ethos.

The first is generally what Alastair Roberts has dubbed an ethic of empathy: At the heart of this ethic is a concern for the feelings and sensitivities of persons and an acute attention to the internal character of people’s experience. The currency for this ethic is the personal narrative and the sharing of feelings. Truth emerges from the empathetic encounter, as people ‘bravely’ and ‘authentically’ articulate their stories, in a manner ‘true to themselves’. These stories and the feelings that they express should be honoured as sacred and we should be careful not to invalidate or judge either.

Please note that pointing this out isn’t to demean or deny the value of empathy in moral reasoning. I certainly think it has a place. Still, our elevation of it into its own, comprehensive ethic has shaped our current willingness to revise our positions on a number of issues including sexuality, authority, or Scripture.

People’s negative experiences with abuses of Scripture or traditional moral positions weighs heavily in our moral reflection on an issue. If a position has ever been even associated with the emotional or physical harm of an individual, or a group, it is immediately suspect. As one friend put it “my judgment about what is compassionate towards others is sacrosanct.” It’s easy to see where this goes on the sexuality question. Yet from another angle, such an atmosphere inherently privilege pacifistic theologies. When the harm principle is absolutized, force for the sake of justice borders on the oxymoronic. Divine justice that is not only restoration, but includes retribution falls under this as well. Justice that isn’t immediately identifiable as therapeutic or ‘compassionate’ is seen as the result of an unbending, arbitrary abstraction.

Connected to the triumph of empathy is a deep skepticism about authority structures and the idea of power in general. Suspicion can manifest itself in a hostility toward church authorities, or as an intellectual skepticism about the theological tradition that we inherit. Often skepticism is reinforced by the empathetic focus on the primacy of personal narratives: for many, it’s difficult to accept the Scriptures or the tradition as something that could come alongside and correct and reinterpret our narratives for us.

Beyond that, we can see it play itself out at the theological level in the issues of egalitarianism and divine sovereignty. Even the mildest form of complementarianism becomes unthinkable because any and all relationships that could possibly imply hierarchy, or sexually-ordered division of labor are inherently oppressive. Strong doctrines of providence, especially when held or propounded in the sort of unsophisticated, either-God-has-control-or-I-do fashion it often-times is, is simply tyranny by another name. As Fred Sanders put it, this type of God doesn’t seem to make people ‘FLIRSH‘ per the requirements of modern theology, so it must go.

Finally, the progressive ethos privileges the autonomous self. There is a greater focus on the experience, feelings, thoughts, and judgments of the individual. Of course, this will mean difficulty with constraints from tradition, traditional sexual morality which goes beyond (and includes) consent, or any kind of theological position that emphasizes the gap between Creator and creature in terms of our moral understanding or grasp of providence. It’s increasingly improbable that God would say, do, command, or be in a way that isn’t immediately recognizable from within the parameters of our own privileged experience.

What’s the Point?
I could simply reverse-engineer this analysis and write a dopple-ganger account for the conservative package. So what does the above prove? Well, in one sense, nothing much. Certainly nothing in terms of the correctness of the various positions or trends involved. Addressing the deficiencies or merits of its various components needs to be undertaken elsewhere according to Scripture, reason, and in ways that acknowledge progressives own arguments.

It is, instead, an exercise in clarification rather than one of refutation.

Many of us labor under the illusion that the progressive package, the party line, doesn’t exist. Some of those within the camp take its putative diversity and ideological inclusiveness as a point of pride. I suppose for them my aim is to pop their balloon. For others floating within progressivism’s orbit but not yet diving in head-first, I’m hoping to provide some smelling salts. Those looking in with interest would do well to consider the real intellectual and communal pressure there is to conform to the package and examine whether they find the underlying premises convincing and consistent with the gospel.

And that’s the point we must all consider. Theological development—like all intellectual development—happens within communities, traditions, and cultures whose shifting plausibility structures are often invisible to us as we participate in them. I’ve noticed how the reigning plausibility structures or the ethos of groups I’ve associated myself has affected my own theological trajectory. Often it is only in the criticisms and analysis of those outside my own camp that I begin to recognize them for what they with enough clarity to question them and test them against God’s revelation. I must say I’m not always comfortable with the results.

Whatever “camp”, or tradition we happen to be drawn towards, we need to become self-conscious about our ethical and ideological instincts, trace them back to their sources, and learn to keep them open to critique. Only in this way will we be assuming a posture suited for pilgrims who travel on the way—in via as the old theologians used to say—knowing that our humble theologies must always be fall short of the glory of God in all of his majesty.

  • For the sake of the skimmers, I’d like to reiterate this line:

    “Nor are these tenets necessarily inherently ‘progressive.’ Though one or two of them might be, many non-progressives hold some of them within a more classically Evangelical framework as well. Still, when they come in the broader bundle they take on a different flavor.”

    If you hold some sort of Arminianism, classic pacifism, egalitarianism, etc. this is not inherently “progressive.” It’s the bundle.

    • ryan

      thanks derek

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  • Thursday1

    Have you read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, subtitled Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion? I would say it is absolutely essential for anyone doing pastoral work.

    Basically, Haidt’s work shows that liberals and secular people tend to emphasize just two foundations for morality: harm and fairness. Basically, it is utilitarianism crossed with a concern for justice. Conservatives and religious people, on the other hand, tend to also use three other foundations for their morality: holiness, respect for authority and loyalty.

    The morality of progressive religious folks is a lot like that of secular liberals. Which is why progressive religious communities tend to fall apart. Their kind of morality is much better suited to pure secularism with an exclusive focus on this world. It simply doesn’t make sense to combine that with Christianity.

    • Yes, I’ve seen some of that analysis by Dreher. I want to read the book, though.

    • RobD

      I agree that Haidt’s work has something important to say here. We’re becoming a more tribal society. But it’s not so much that our society doesn’t value holiness, respect for authority, and loyalty. Those values are simply reserved for intratribal interactions. Only harm and fairness play a role in intertribal interactions.

      This cultural shift to tribalism presents a problem for evangelicalism, which has always viewed itself as rising above demographic characteristics. That probably explains why evangelicalism has generally thrived during times of social transition, when tribal boundaries are undergoing change. As more defined boundaries begin to emerge, such trans-tribal movements will founder (or will simply become the province of one of the tribes).

      I think that’s where we are today. Evangelicalism is narrowing to take on the shape of its predominant social tribe. Social progressives and the cognitive elite (post-evangelicals) are no longer as welcome as they once were. And that’s bound to leave some with the chore of looking for a new spiritual home.

      • Caleb

        The “shift to tribalism” from what great unified past?

    • Caleb

      “Liberals” aren’t “religious people”??

  • Yes, this list looks right to me. Though, for the sake of “an exercise in clarification,” I would like to know from “progressive evangelicals” how their theology (or, ethos/sensibilities) is different from the mainstream of the mainline Protestant churches. As I have blogged recently, there is no difference, for those of us who have spent considerable time in the mainline.

    • AnAntillean

      I was about to ask the same thing. What’s evangelical about these progressives?

      • Thursday1

        Progressive Evangelicals grew up in the Evangelical subculture, which is often decidedly different than the mainline culture. They are often used to a more diffuse ecclesiastical structure. They tend to be younger than mainliners, so they use postmodernism rather than modernism as their philosophical reference point. Progressive Evangelicals have tended to be more marginalized within their group, while mainline liberals have tended to be part of the establishment.

        But you are right that this tends not to add up to much in the end. Certainly not theologically.

        • doulos

          Wow. I guess progressives look like mainliners if you are so deeply entrenched in the conservative-Reformed-evangelical ghetto that the whole rest of the Christian world can be summed up by a single category of not-us. N.T. Wright is not beloved by mainline liberals, nor was C.S. Lewis–but most of these points sound more like C.S. Lewis or N.T. Wright, or Pope Benedict, than they sound like mainline liberalism.

          • I think Lewis and Wright fit maybe 2 or 3 of these, which, again, by themselves isn’t really indicative of a mainline or progressive ethos. The other point being missed is the conscious self-definition on these points.

          • doulos

            Note that my (far too dismissive) response was to people who think that all these “positions” like the same thing as mainline liberalism. Derek certainly never made this claim.

        • AnAntillean

          I think the main thing in your list is “a more diffuse ecclesiastical structure”. To that I’d probably add something about forms of worship/liturgy, and maybe something about their attitudes to tradition. But you’re right that doesn’t add up to much theologically.

          I was asking the question in part to figure out what Derek was assuming “Progressive Evangelicals” have in common with other Evangelicals beyond their identification with that label. I asked also in part because I kind of think there may be no such thing as a “Progressive Evangelical”. There certainly isn’t if “progressive” is used there as a (near) synonym for “theologically liberal” and an “evangelical” is taken on something like Timothy Larsen’s definition ( http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/46981/excerpt/9780521846981_excerpt.htm ) as “1. an orthodox Protestant…3. who has a preeminent place for the Bible in her or his Christian life as the divinely inspired, final authority in matters of faith and practice…”.

  • Great article. I’d add to the progressive package a tendency to see human nature as good. Our answer to this question seems to be foundational. Trusting “myself” or “my personal story” has never come easy to me because I don’t trust my nature. If Jesus calls me to come and die, there must be something in me that needs to die.

    I also think you are very right about “a certain interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.” I read in Matthew 6 that people are driven to use even their “good” actions for the purpose of looking righteous before others. In effect, you can dutifully follow all of the Sermon, but if you do not love others out of humility, you fulfill none of it. Love isn’t love if its just another badge we wear to impress others.

  • Good thoughts. I do sort of wish you had dug more into the communal practices or institutional formation of “the package” because the “privilege [of] the autonomous self” seems to play out in a number of interesting ways, from folks who are openly not affiliated with regular churchgoing to those who have started churches. There are constant calls for “authentic” and “transparent” community, but I do wonder how they tend to play out (e.g. Rob Bell’s announcement about how Mars Hill Bible Church had hurt people), Sojourners emails that scan like Mad Libs versions of Focus on the Family letters I used to get, etc. etc.

    • I’d love to see that kind of analysis. I mean, a number of the progressives that I know have admirable church involvement and convicted communal commitment. So, that would be interesting for someone (probably not me) to explore.

  • Speaking as a anti-Capitalist Leftist and OWS member, a Fundamentalist Christian who very generally holds to the Reformed Traditions, and a blogger, I thought I would offer a few comments here.

    Regarding pacifism, it certainly isn’t smiled on much in American Reformed circles–not sure about the rest of the world. Part of that is due to Reformed Christianity’s emphasis on authority and a major part of it is due to the fact that Americans have not had their homeland devastated by war. We need to realize that an ever advancing and adulterous technology is gradually changing the rules of the game. The new rules were introduced by the Russell-Einstein Manifesto that said, because of nuclear weapons, we either choose war or existence (http://www.umich.edu/~pugwash/Manifesto.html).

    Though written in the context of the Cold War, the reality of this choice must be generalized to more hot spots across the globe as the proliferation of WMDs progresses. Such is the reality side of pacifism. So what that there have always been wars, to continue as WMDs become more accessible is to threaten everybody’s future.

    The other argument for Pacifism is empathetic in origin. This argument is well articulated by Howard Zinn but has its origins with at least Erasmus (http://co.quaker.org/Writings/JustAndUnjustWar.htm). The argument says that war is just too devastating and causes too much suffering to contemplate.

    As former war correspondent Chris Hedges says, war leaves no one unscathed especially those participants who survive (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2SaM8RJ30c). Some of these points can’t be understood by many Americans because, again, their homeland has not been devastated by war–yet that is.

    I write this because pacifism is not just some warm-fuzzy “kumbaya” hippy song fest. Rather, pacifism deals with reality and the future as well as who are as people as we react to others who suffer so much in war.

    It is difficult to respond to the charge of egalitarianism because the question becomes, egalitarianism in relation to what? As one reads through the paragraph, it is obvious that it is regarding male-female relationships. And before we turn a deaf ear to the concerns, we should note the following. Patriarchy is just a kind of authority structure, a structure that can easily carry the authoritarian virus. And so as Patriarchy adds to the authority structures in our lives, can we Conservative Christians learn to turn off the authoritarian switch that has lodged itself in our hearts and minds.

    Regarding Open Theism, what other choices do some have as Conservative Christians have marched almost lockstep with Conservative politics and sometimes treat nonpolitical conservatives as heretics or with mocking?

    Regarding anti-inerrancy, we need to recognize an overlooked truth about inerrancy. That truth is that the position of inerrancy is not a monolith. Some see inerrancy as a result of dictation. Others see inerrancy as God’s providence at work regardless of the way the Spirit transmitted God’s Words to the Biblical authors. The former group tends to be literalists while Reformed Christians from the latter group tend to extend the Regulative Principle to all of life. In the end, the results are too similar to distinguish. The common result is this, it makes one incapable of recognizing Biblical concepts as they are communicated by nonChristians.

    Marriage Revisionism, is really not the issue. Why? It is because the real issue is how Christians will relate to Society. Marriage Revisionism is merely an instance of this. And in determining how Christians will relate to Society, our Reformed choices are deciding on how controlling it will try to become in society. For when Christians decided to try to control things depends on where they draw the line in the sand. But undergirding this is the idea that we will let nonChristians in society do what they want until they have gone too far thus justifying our decision to intervene for the good of society or something else. Such is Christian Paternalism. That position says that we have the right to control nonChristians for their own good.

    Regarding empathy we should note that it is different from sympathy. With sympathy, we have feelings of pain when we see the sufferings of others and are thus moved to action. But as Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Kneef has noted the only way to understand someone else’s experiences is to share experiences that are close enough. I worry about Reformed Christians who almost seem to take pride in being like the Tin Man before he visits the Wizard of Ozz–that is that they have no heart. If Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, shouldn’t we at least be bothered when our neighbor is in trouble.

    Our challenge as Conservative Christians is to listen to Modernism and Post Modernism and see what we can incorporate with our Biblical faith without compromising the essentials. And note that if we put the Bible on a high enough pedestal, we will be able to criticize the glory days of the reformation with the same ease as we would the Reformed traditions.

  • It’s ok to be a pacifist when it comes to yourself and your safety. But Christians are called to “hate evil” and to “love one another”.

    I thank the Living Lord that millions of Christians fought evil (and many still do fight) and gave their lives and took other’s lives with the goal of protecting the innocent.

    • Caleb

      Could we have some evidence/explanation that pacifism is the “default stance of many progressive Christians”? What do we mean by pacifism (how far does it extend) and how many are explicitly claiming that label?

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    • doulos

      AWESOME! Really, this is a great response (way better than mine) and I’d like to see Eric respond. I finally stepped away from “conservative evangelicalism” because of all the binaries–pretending that the 99% of biblical scholars who don’t toe the line on inerrancy-and-univocality-of-Scripture are saying more or less the same thing about inspiration (they aren’t), pretending that the 80% of Christians who aren’t PSA Calvinist are saying more or less the same thing about atonement (they aren’t), pretending that the 50% of Christians who are even willing to rethink egalitarianism and gay marriage are all saying the same thing for the same reasons (they aren’t).

      • While I do plan on commenting on Eric’s post, I did want to clarify that the “univocality of Scripture” isn’t the pair of “interpretive pluralism.” One can admit multiple layers of meaning to the text without endorsing a harder, relativizing interpretive pluralism. Vanhoozer’s account in Drama of Doctrine is quite nuanced on this point.

        Also, in my post, I did quite clearly note that many, if not all, of these positions are held for various reasons. So, it’s not simply a matter of pretending they’re all the same.

        • doulos

          Thanks, Derek. I’d have to discuss more exactly how you are distinguishing “multiple layers of meaning” from “interpretive pluralism.” I’d argue that it is a rejection of pretty flat inerrancy that is really characterizing these progressives–not any single take on the various alternatives to flat inerrancy.

          I see your stipulation that these positions are held for various reasons–but I’m bothered by the fact that you call them “positions” at all. A willingness to question PSA, or traditional hierarchical views of gender/ marriage, or traditional endorsement of nation-state violence, does not lead to “a position.” It leads to a variety of possible positions. Or so it seems to me.

          • Doulos,
            Ya, I don’t think I have space to do the first. Vanhoozer is great, or a much shorter book by Billings called “The Word of God for the People of God.” That is a very sensitive, careful (and clear!) book that I think you might appreciate.

            On the “position” nature of the PSA thing, it’s that for many it functions as a kind of boundary-marker. The rejection of a position can function as a badge of righteousness. That sounds odd, but the important thing is often not the underlying position, but what they’re not. That’s actually one of the funny things about progressivism. Often what unites is not agreement for something, but agreement against something.

          • doulos

            Thanks for responding. You may well be right, but I hope not. I hope that what unites progressive evangelicals is freedom from a particular party-line enforced conservative-evangelical orthodoxy. And “freedom from” is different from “agreement against.”
            Let me use an example here. Let’s say someone wants to see what kind of “new identity” is formed by Hasidic Jews who leave Hasidism. You’ll probably find that over time, they are pretty likely NOT to wear earlocks, NOT to wear tassels, etc. A Hasidic Jew might lump all these “nots” into a “new dress code” or an “agreement against” But someone from the outside of Hasidism is more likely to say, “No, they’re actually exploring a normal range of options that are open to those who don’t have a dress code.”
            I think it’s pretty normal–across a broad range, from Jews to Catholics–for modern thoughtful people to agree that interpretations of any text will vary widely, that Jesus wasn’t a big fan of killing people, that marriage hierarchies smack of sexism, or that enough LGBT people have committed suicide for us to shut up and listen to what they think they need. And so on.
            (The only field I really am well-studied in is biblical studies, and trust me, there are huge differences, and hundreds of parties, and friendly and unfriendly disagrements, among those trying to figure out the best way to understand Scripture. But almost everyone agrees that the very word “inerrancy” tends to shut down the conversation. Inerrancy is not simply one more position, but a sort of gauntlet: believe-it’s-inerrant-and-abandon-all-other-options-or-you-aren’t-faithful. Others are not so much against inerrancy as they are open to some of the many, many other options–options that cannot even be explored until the inerrancy gauntlet has been politely nudged to one side.)

            If I’m right (which I doubt), then it’s not really fair to say that those taking such positions have a “new profile” even if the “details vary”–or that they are “defined by” what they are “against.” It’s fairer to say: these are the (diverse) sort of mental clothes that people in our culture tend to wear unless they are being constricted by a dress code. The very fact that some are being called “progressives” means that they no longer follow the dress coded–so it’s something of a tautology if we simply point out that they are united by, well, no longer following the dress code.

          • Doulos,

            I think there’s just going to be some fundamental disagreements here. I mean, for one I see the inerrancy thing, but I just don’t think it necessarily has to be that way. Again, I’ll hold up Vanhoozer as a model, especially in the latest 5 Views book. It’s a generous, nuanced account. (And, FWIW, I got MATS in Biblical studies. It’s not a Ph.D., but it’s something.)

            In general, I think there’s something to pointing out the inevitably fall into conforming to the norms of non-comformity in any protest movement. I also do think there’s a lot of fighting along the faultlines and wrestling within progressivism about a lot of these things precisely as people are recognizing that their shared reaction-against hasn’t always led them to the same place.

            Best,
            D

          • doulos

            Thanks again for the responses. Maybe I’m just not a good progressive. :)
            I deal directly with inerrancy because that’s my field (which doesn’t mean I know more than you about it–simply that I pay more attention there than, for example, atonement theory). Once inerrancy is discussed in generous, nuanced terms, I’ll give it a hearing. I’ll try Vanhoozer since you like him so much. (I’ll also try Bilings.) But warning–I’ve read very good books by brilliant faithful scholars who come out in lots of different places, to it’s no insult to these men if they don’t persuade me.
            And maybe that’s my point–“progressive” to me simply means “open to brilliant, faithful voices who might persuade me of different positions.” In general, schools that I think of as conservative-evangelical simply refused to hire me on those terms. If there’s a creeping sense in “progressive evangelicalism” (whatever that is) that we can’t accept the possibility of being persuaded by brilliant, faithful voices who support PSA or Just War or Inerrancy or whatever–well, then I simply want to opt out!.
            Peace of Christ.

          • Peace of Christ to you as well.

          • Seydou Caleb

            i agree, and a big well done to 50 shades of pilgrims progress, very clever guy and yes why was he not at the conference haha LOL. hopefully andy will respond to this post.
            “in essence that hebrew verse should be interpreted as follows – ‘he was tempted in everyway that we are but without sin’, meaning…. the opportunity to sin was presented to him in every way that it was presented to us but he did not sin where as we did, and so because the opportunity to sin has been presented to him he can sympathise with us, he cannot sympathise with us because he sinned, just because he faced the same opportunities to sin aka temptations, as we did. i thought this would be the obvious conclusion, but i find it fascinating that a church pastor would be ok with concluding that to desire to sin is ok because JESUS DID IT… wow. i love you andy if youre reading this but you have to have absolute principles and one of them must be that sinning is a sin and so is desiring yourself to sin, then add to this that jesus is perfect and cannot be tempted with evil because he was god, but can have temptation presented to him and can thus be tempted in that form of the word, but you cannot say that for jesus to desire himself to sin is ok, this is a classic example of how christians will make exceptions for god doing things that if any other person does are immoral – ie satan desires himself to sin and we throw all the stones we can find, but you literally just made an exception for jesus, PLEASE next time just conclude that you dont know the answer to how it is resolved, but dont conclude that jesus desiring himself to sin is not sinful – you can hear the obvious contradiction there, but i know you meant well, even though you did not do well. we have to stop making exceptions to our rules like this because this is why the secular world laughs there heads off about us, and that includes me, and it includes god, as we are his ambassadors and craftmanship here on earth. peace and wisdom to you andy for future writings, and thanks for all the work, they are usually a joy to read, but admittedly not this one. anyway, god bless and i wish you well.

          • 50 shades of pilgrims progress

            I tried responding on that post but andy has blocked me from his website… this was my comment anyway..

            i agree, and a big well done to 50 shades of pilgrims progress, very clever guy and yes why was he not at the conference haha LOL. hopefully andy will respond to this post.
            “in essence that hebrew verse should be interpreted as follows – ‘he was tempted in everyway that we are but without sin’, meaning…. the opportunity to sin was presented to him in every way that it was presented to us but he did not sin where as we did, and so because the opportunity to sin has been presented to him he can sympathise with us, he cannot sympathise with us because he sinned, just because he faced the same opportunities to sin aka temptations, as we did. i thought this would be the obvious conclusion, but i find it fascinating that a church pastor would be ok with concluding that to desire to sin is ok because JESUS DID IT… wow. i love you andy if youre reading this but you have to have absolute principles and one of them must be that sinning is a sin and so is desiring yourself to sin, then add to this that jesus is perfect and cannot be tempted with evil because he was god, but can have temptation presented to him and can thus be tempted in that form of the word, but you cannot say that for jesus to desire himself to sin is ok, this is a classic example of how christians will make exceptions for god doing things that if any other person does are immoral – ie satan desires himself to sin and we throw all the stones we can find, but you literally just made an exception for jesus, PLEASE next time just conclude that you dont know the answer to how it is resolved, but dont conclude that jesus desiring himself to sin is not sinful – you can hear the obvious contradiction there, but i know you meant well, even though you did not do well. we have to stop making exceptions to our rules like this because this is why the secular world laughs there heads off about us, and that includes me, and it includes god, as we are his ambassadors and craftmanship here on earth. peace and wisdom to you andy for future writings, and thanks for all the work, they are usually a joy to read, but admittedly not this one. anyway, god bless and i wish you well.
            perhaps you could copy and paste it under my comment so that he stops defaming jesus saying that he was tempted to do evil and so that he can learn something..

      • RobD

        I would agree with you. In my experience, the brand of Calvinism that’s become predominant in the PCA and SBC do operate with a kind of binary. Everyone is categorized into two groups: people who agree with me 99% or more; and heretics.

        I would view myself as a fairly conservative Calvinist. Even so, I’m not going to tow the party line just for the sake of doing so.

        For example, inerrancy has emerged as a litmus test of orthodoxy within conservative Reformed circles. But that affirmation means little because those affirming it almost always qualify it by saying that Scripture is “inerrant in all that the author intended to affirm.” In my view, that’s an exception so big that it swallows the rule.

        As another example, affirming certain notions of “biblical masculinity” and “biblical femininity” have also emerged as litmus tests in those same circles. I can accept that God makes us male and female (excepting those with certain genetic disorders affecting the sex chromosome). But masculinity and femininity are socially constructed concepts that entail a host of factors in addition to one’s sex. Moreover, Christian views of masculinity and femininity have varied widely across the centuries and vary widely across cultures. For example, Christian conservative men in east Asia believe that wearing a Speedo is modest (because it prevents you from hiding an erection); Christian conservative men in the US associate Speedos with flamboyance. What gives? Further, it strikes me as awfully coincidental that the proffered notions of “biblical masculinity” and “biblical femininity” happen to look a lot like those set forth by conservative Freudian theorists in the early 20th Century. Yes, evangelical feminism has its theological flaws. But let’s address those flaws, and stop burdening people with restrictive gender roles that do far more harm than good.

        I generally object to the tack that the new Calvinists have taken on most of the issues Derek has identified. But does that make me a progressive evangelical? Hardly. It simply means that I don’t subscribe to a particular pietistic, foundationalist, low-church, uniquely American brand of Calvinism.

        Paul Owen’s article “What Is Wrong with the Young, Restless and Reformed Movement?” offers a perceptive critique of the strand of Calvinism that has become predominant in recent years.

  • RobD

    As I reflect about my 10-15 years within evangelicalism, I was struck by the tendency for people to divide over issues that are rather secondary, if not tertiary.

    I left the mainline church (PCUSA) in the mid-1990s because I was tired of worshiping in a church body where basic Nicene orthodoxy was up for debate. I joined an evangelical church (PCA) with the anticipation of aligning myself with Christians who firmly believed and celebrated Christian orthodoxy. That’s not what I found, though, Yes, I found people who believed in the basic Nicene orthodoxy. But they didn’t celebrate it. Instead, I found people who were largely content to permit differences over secondary issues to overshadow their unity on primary issues. Derek’s list provides a good summary of the kinds of trivial issues that divided people.

    Sure, I have my opinions about which position is better. For example, I tend to believe that the arguments for just war are stronger than those for pacifism. I tend to believe that the Reformed position is a bit more persuasive than the Arminian position. I find inerrancy to be unpersuasive relative to interpretive pluralism, and find patriarchalism unpersuasive relative to egalitarianism. I believe that some measure of same-sex coupling may be acceptable in certain circumstances, although such arrangements are not generally ideal. And I believe that substitutionary atonement provides a partial description of Christ’s work, but not a complete picture. Having said that, I see most of these issues as relatively minor compared to the issues that have traditionally comprised Christian orthodoxy. I certainly believe that these issues are worth discussing, but they should hardly serve as a basis for separating ourselves from other Christians. They’re the kinds of things that we should discuss in just over beers. But that’s not what evangelicals do.

    Instead, the so-called progressives (e.g., Roger Olson) spend their days and nights railing against those who disagree with them. Meanwhile, the so-called conservatives do the same. We need to find our identity in Christ, not in being a Calvinist or an Arminian, a patriarchalist or an egalitarian, an inerrantist or an infallibilist.

    If evangelicalism fades away–and it is fading away–it will be because we were so busy bickering over secondary issues that we lose sight of Christ.

    • shevrae

      “They’re the kinds of things that we should discuss in just over beers. But that’s not what evangelicals do.”

      Sometimes they do. I have a group of college friends who have become quite divergent theologically and politically and I find that we can sit and discuss these issues – some with beers and sodas for those who abstain. :) But we know each other in real life and that makes a huge difference. Though I will say that in my experience our virtual exchanges are more difficult since we are missing all of the non-verbals.

      • RobD

        I agree. I do have this sort of relationship with a few friends.

        I was specifically referring to the toxic environment that has developed in the PCA, where pastors are routinely indicted, prosecuted, and convicted of heresy by a bunch of self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy who conduct their trials entirely on the internet. These folks tend to hail from the Todd Akin wing of the PCA, so that gives you a sense of what their version of “orthodoxy” looks like. If I were a betting man, I’d guess that, within 10 years, most of the Keller movement within the PCA will be in the EPC, ECO, or RCA.

        I’m in the EPC now. I guess that still makes me an evangelical, but not according to the Gospel Coalition definition.

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  • Glad I stumbled upon this. I’ve been in the reformed “camp” for most of my Christian life, but after a pretty bad faith crisis last year, I nearly threw it all away. And in the aftermath of it all, disillusioned with much of the culture of my own tradition, I’ve been one of those people you describe as “floating within progressivism’s orbit but not yet diving in head-first.”

    I have found it hard to discern exactly what it is that makes one progressive; I just know that I have found myself drawn to blogs and articles by self-proclaimed progressives and have been reevaluating many things. I think this post does a good job of explaining for me the reasons why.

    At this point, I think most progressives would peg me as a conservative, while many conservatives might very well consider me a progressive. I think I’m still mostly theologically conservative, but my social, emotional, and intellectual sympathies often lie with the progressives, if that makes sense. Not sure where I’ll land in the end.

    • That actually makes a lot of sense. Well, I pray you find your way. One book that might help in seeing a more generous conservatism in various respects is J. Todd Billings’ “Union with Christ.” It’s a lovely little read, rich with depth.

      • Thanks for the recommendation. A “more generous conservatism” might be just what I need. I’ll have to check it out.

        • David Morris

          May I also recommend Richard Mouw? His book, Calvinism in the Las Vegas airport is extremely helpful! Let me add that I think a generous conservatism is possible (and desirable).

  • Caleb

    I think that it would be useful for Derek to demonstrate his ideological self-consciousness by telling us all what he thinks the “conservative package” consists of.
    A little historical thinking about the apparent formation of these two sides might help, too.

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  • catholic composing

    Stimulating writing as always. Thought the discussion missed the real value of the final two paragraphs. My (as yet, rather dead) blog lines up with some of these thoughts so I’ve used them as a bit of springboard for 4 other thoughts.

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  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Based on your analysis of the underlying package upholding the visible package; namely the primacy of empathic emotional feeling, authority-rejecting egalitarianism, and man-centered autonomy, the clarity of your exercise confirms the decision to joyfully reject the tenets of progressive or liberal evangelicalism, mainline Protestantism, and the emergers.
    Thank you, Derek.

    • MrHunter

      I think you missed the point of Derek’s post, which can be found in the last paragraph. It sounds like you’ve not critically examined your own assumptions and presuppositions. There is a lot of good to be found in the “package under the package” for progressives, just as there is much to critique in the “package under the package” for conservatives. I think the biggest problem is that the conservative “party” has been the defacto position of evangelicals for so long in the US that anything that runs counter to it is immediately suspect. It seems to me that Jesus represents the radical middle way, in which the authority of God and human empathy work hand-in-hand. Isn’t that what the greatest commandment teaches us? We love and obey God and love and serve one another?

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  • Kyle

    I just came around to reading this article (it’s been sitting in Pocket for awhile). I’m thankful that I did. Your analysis is helpful. Thanks for writing it.

  • “If a position has ever been even associated with the emotional or physical harm of an individual, or a group, it is immediately suspect.”

    Speak bitterness meetings abound among Progressive Evangelicals, especially online. One has to learn the language of empathy or else. I call it jackbooted egalitarianism instead of one that should show a real concern for mutual respect. There is no respect or even benefit of the doubt given to the leaders or members of a group that has been targeted for special attention because of their alleged spiritual abuse – which can mean pretty much what someone wants it to mean. For heaven’s sake, even God who sent His Son the be the Savior of the world is being accused of divine child abuse.

    • James Brown

      Absolutely agree

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  • Digger

    my goodness, this is a GREAT article. Having escaped from a Baptist denomination that is subtly funneling its followers into Progressive “Christianity”, it is refreshing to read an accurate description of the very points of doctrine that drove me out.

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