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The Illusion of Progressive Christianity

You know the scene: You’re taking a university religion course, and one of your assignments is to read sections of the Hebrew Scriptures. As you read through the first several Old Testament books, you notice how violent God appears to be: he sends plagues. He orders the death penalty for blasphemy. Sometimes he actually commands the killing of men, women, children, and even animals. There is no way, you think, that this material can be the literal word of God. Could it be that the Bible is much more human than divine?

Scene Two: Lately, you’ve been noticing some differences in your pastor. He appears to be avoiding scriptural subjects such as the atonement, gender and sexual issues, the lordship of Jesus, and personal holiness. He studiously avoids using the term “gospel,” and you’re beginning to sense that he harbors skepticism about the Bible, often explaining away Scriptures that seem out of step with contemporary values. At the same time, he is increasingly preaching on social issues and public policy—sounding more like a social activist than the pastor you thought you knew. He seems unwilling to address personal sin, and all signs indicate he might even be a universalist. Few others in your church appear concerned. Should you be?

Scene Three: You have several gay and lesbian friends. They are good people, good friends, and good citizens. You’re close to them and cannot imagine why God could possibly care whom they love, as long as they’re kind people and faithful in their relationships. The church where you grew up seems angry and full of hate toward the LGBTQ community. You’re pretty sure that in the Gospels, Jesus never said anything about same-sex activity. Indeed, only a handful of biblical texts mention it, and these are mostly in Paul’s writings. Couldn’t it just be that Paul was unable to see sex and gender beyond the cultural prejudices of his day? Doesn’t Jesus command us to include everybody? And doesn’t this imply that it’s finally time to move beyond the hurtful prejudices of yesterday’s evangelical churches and embrace all people?

All three of these scenes involve one of the most pressing issues of our day—should we accept the biblical forms of Christianity handed down to us through the centuries? Or is it time for us to adopt a progressive view of the Christian faith: one that’s compatible with 21st-century sensibilities, consistent with recent gender theories, and more concerned with poverty than with overcoming lust?

The following is an excerpt from A Grand Illusion: How Progressive Christianity Undermines Biblical Faith by David Young. Purchase this book here.

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