An Illuminating Conversation on Progressive Christianity

I just finished watching this video, and I think it’s one of the more helpful things I’ve seen on this topic. For either of these guys, it took a lot of courage to come on in the internet and discuss something so controversial with someone on the opposite side. Most of the time, these things get siloed into our own little groups, and it’s good to get everything on the table every once in a while.

However, I do think it vindicates Machen’s point in Christianity and Liberalism. Throughout the conversation, Perry (the progressive one) says a lot of things that, on the face of it, sound orthodox. You can almost see how the liberalization of the mainline happened in his answers. I can see how honest, Christian people, who trust their pastor to teach them well, would fall for this stuff.

Imagine sitting in a rural Presbyterian church through the second half of the twentieth century. In particular, I’m thinking of the period between 1970 and 1990. You don’t have the internet, so your primary source of information on the goings on in the broader Presbyterian world is probably your pastor. I don’t have statistics on this, but I’m willing to bet that the chances of your church leaving the mainline during this time are directly related to your pastor’s interest in doing the same. So if you have a pastor who’s dedicated to the mainline (I call them “company men”), he’s probably telling you everything’s fine and that you can trust the denomination. And his successors are probably telling you the same thing, but they’re also inching toward progressivism. And they sound like Perry! They’re using the language you’ve always heard, but they don’t mean the same thing! Of course, that’s simplistic, but I think you get the picture here.

That’s why I so appreciated Redeemed Zoomer’s pointed questions about meaning. Perry uses terms like Christian, salvation, hell, and sin, but he does not mean what you and I mean by those terms. He’s also completely committed to post-modern epistemology. This is particularly clear when he talks about his affirmation of the resurrection of Christ. He says that he believes that it’s true, but his version of truth is completely subjective. For Perry, when he says the resurrection of Christ is true, he means that it is “true for me” because of all the practical benefits of believing it. This is a category that most orthodox laypeople are incapable of understanding. To be clear, the reason they can’t understand it has nothing to do with their intellectual abilities and everything to do with the fact that it’s nonsense.

But it’s important to understand that whenever someone like this makes a truth claim, they are not making an objective truth claim. This is where it gets difficult because I believe Perry is completely sincere. This is what he believes is true, and he would probably tell you that every single time you asked him. However, that does not mean that he believes it is true for you, much less that it is absolutely true.

I could say a lot more, but I’ll end with this. Thank you, Redeemed Zoomer, for asking the right questions. And, you reader, follow his example. With a so-called “progressive Christian,”1 you must always press a little further. Always ask, “What do you mean by that?”

  1. We really need better terminology for “progressive Christians.” This is not intended as a slight, and only God knows the state of his soul, but I can’t bring myself to call Ben Perry a Christian. We have to draw boundaries, and I hope he would respect my need to draw a boundary that excludes him from my faith, just as he would draw lines that exlude others from his. ↩︎