Progressive Theology - A personal reflection - Shirley Baskett
Those who try to marry the clear teaching of the Bible to the culture of the day will often adopt the idea that their new theologies are 'progressive'. "The idea of a progressive gospel seems to have fascinated many."This statement was made by Charles Spurgeon. In his day, there were those who pushed the same kind of ideas that we see today, such as the theology that rears its head regularly of universalism. He scathingly went on to say, regarding those who were putting forth these 'new' ideas that "Their gigantic intellects are to hatch out the meanings of the Infinite! We think we see them brooding over hidden truths to which they lend the aid of their superior genius to accomplish their development!” (Spurgeon, 1888)
Few of the theologians of this time are remembered or known, other than Spurgeon.
I grew up in a home where my mother could have been accused of being fundamentalist. My father however had been enarmoured with ‘progressive’ theology of the early 20thCentury. Theologians after WWII put forth much to dismantle belief in miracles, historic truth of biblical accounts and dug into meanings to change traditional understanding to fit cultural life.
I observed my father as he read more and more of what he called ‘progressive’ thinking, and saw that it led to an intellectual position that eventually meant that God was who you created him or her to be. My father did not start with this, but the more he dialogued with others, the soupier his beliefs became. He was content in his ‘rightness’ because he saw humankind’s greatest obligation was to help others, and in particular the poor and downtrodden.
This part of the new group he aligned himself to was admirable, but while he had his focus on humankind, he lost sight of a God who condescends to live amongst us, paying the price with his love, with the shed blood of his son. He lost sight of God who is holy, and God who is all powerful. I don’t judge my father for this, as he was trying to make sense of personal suffering, and of a life that had dealt him more pain and more blows than seemed fair.
Progressive theology was like a cloud that stole light from my father. This is why I see it so clearly when it reappears in new forms. Today, it seems more ‘progressive’ to reinterpret scripture so that God is said to accept what he clearly does not accept, regarding homosexual behaviour. In adopting these new theologies, we rob God of his holiness and of his power to transform.
Even though my own testimony of my coming back to Jesus and turning from my lesbian life seems a miracle, it poorly compares to the incredible change that my father made at age 84, returning to the clarity of his earlier faith.
He said he felt like he had been a prodigal son. "I forgot the main thing! The main thing is Jesus!” He would say during his next nine years, that it was as if he had been slowly poisoned, but now he knew that the key for life is to embrace the cross, to know that our hope is in the resurrection. (1 Cor 15:12 – 19). He was keenly aware that he would soon stand before God and got to work trying to help others to know that Jesus had a claim on their lives.
No serious theologian would take some of the twists that are being applied to scripture to accommodate immorality. Although the exegesis may seem plausible, a cursory study, in context with the whole word of God and not simply accepting ‘progressive’ interpretations, quickly lays to rest what can be very seductive questions, ‘did God really say?’.
2 Peter 2:19-21 "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”
We are prone to want to believe these things out of compassion or not wanting to alienate people because they are ‘nice’. Many people could endear themselves because they are ‘nice’ but none of us is purely, ‘nice’. This is why we need to submit all of our beings to Christ and let him do his work of sanctification in us.
In a discussion amongst pastors online, one pastor Randy Poole wrote about the passive and active obligation that we have as believers toward true progress, which is sanctification. This is the ongoing outworking of God’s call to us to holiness and this is clearly not optional, nor is it for a select few, but is a call to all who claim that they want to make Jesus Lord.
Pooletalked of the grace of God that leads us to a response to his work of sanctification. It is both passive and active. It is passive in that we yield and trust God’s working. Rom 6:13; 12:1 we are encouraged to present our bodies and the actions of our bodies to God, yielding our wills to him. If we are in agreement with God, we want him to have his way and it is his will that we be sanctified. (1 Thess 4:3)
It is active in that we may not have much choice about the inclinations of our feelings, but we do have choice about what we do with these. Our worship of God includes actively choosing to do what is right. "Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable” (1 Thess 4:4). This involves putting to death the "misdeeds of the body” (Rom 8:13), striving for holiness (Heb 12:14), fleeing immorality (1 Cor 6:18), cleansing ourselves from every defilement (2 Cor 7:1), and making every effort to supplement our faith (2 Pet 1:5-11).” (Poole, 2013)
I have observed that there are two roads we can choose. The narrow and often arduous road, where we may slip and fall and where we can become despondent almost unto death, a path less travelled, and yet a path leading ultimately to life. The other is the wider, easier road that is far more accommodating and more comfortable.
In the days ahead, pastors and leaders will come to crossroads where the narrow way may offer forks in the path, choices that give the option out of having to take the harder way. It will be far easier to take the more popular route of pro-gay theology. Many will applaud such ‘progressive’ direction.
When I gave in to my lesbian proclivities and relinquished my struggle with trying to stay on lonely, uphill walk toward God; I soon had people telling me that since the love I had for the woman I believed to be my life-long love, was so beautiful and so intense, that God, who is love, must surely be accepting. As I moved toward these voices, that I so dearly wanted to believe, I had peace at last! It was a relief and I could join the ‘tolerant’ and ‘loving’ part of society that welcomed me with open arms.
Sadly, they also left me to wallow when I found that this wider, ‘freer’ existence did not live up to the promises. It was only when I was neck high in quicksand, in a confused and foggy path that I had willingly wandered into, that I was finally ready to recognise that the ‘easy way’, can be a treacherous, blind alley. Thanks be to God that he reached out to me and stood me back on firm ground.
As my father felt with his liberal, progressive friends, I despair when I see the creep of the very kind of teaching that was so destructive to him and to me, being hailed as some kind of new ‘revelation’ as I care deeply that it is a false freedom that will hurt many along the way.
As pastors and leaders we need to remember that we have been given a solemn admonition. If we are to represent the will of God, we had better make sure that we are clear on what this is. Jas 3:1 "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James is warning that our teaching must come out of humility.
Pride will trip us and cause us to misrepresent God. Progressive theology already hints of this with the selected word, ‘progressive’. It assumes that everyone who does not see this new enlightened view of scripture is to be scorned. Ostracism is a powerful way to force new thought and to leave biblical truth that has been clearly stated for the past 2,000 years. Pressure from the many that fall so swiftly to these new theologies may well lead many of you to experience this.
Progressive theology is not new. It is just another trajectory of alternative thought that masquerades as academically superior and culturally more inclusive. Pro-gay theology can be easily seen for the flaws and ambiguities that are obvious to any clear thinking theologian, but it is shrewdly persuasive as it has a purpose that does not lead to life.
Spurgeon - Progressive Theology, CH Spurgeon from April 1888, Sword and Trowel http://www.spurgeon.org/s_and_t/dg10.htm
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