In my last post, I reviewed the book, Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. It struck a chord with some, and clanged like an out of tune banjo with others. Sure, there were some fence-sitters who just wanted everyone to get along, but for the most part, people either really really loved it, or they wanted to burn it to the ground. Here are two comments I received that represent the reactions:
When I read your post, a few silent tears ran down my face. It was full of grace. Full of truth.
You are a judgmental bit*h. (Yes that was the message in its entirety.)
One book review. Two radically different reactions. I noticed that a number of the divergent comments and messages were centered on my explanation of the gospel.
Some found it repulsive, while others found it life-giving. But that’s what the gospel does, doesn’t it? It divides. And it unites. In direct reference to how the gospel would actually divide people, Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He also prayed that His true followers would be united in Him.
So it got me thinking about the gospel, and the emerging Progressive Christian “gospel” that seems to be underlying some of the contrary comments. After all, Hollis wrote that after she studied the gospel, she “finally grasped the divine knowledge that I am loved and worthy and enough . . . as I am.” (p. 30)
I’ll define both the historic Christian gospel and the Progressive gospel in a moment, but first, a couple more quotes:
He breaks the pow’r of reigning sin, He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me. — Charles Wesley, 1739
That God needed to be appeased with blood is not beautiful. It's horrific. — Michael Gungor, 2017(source)
Why does Charles Wesley find the blood of Jesus to be soul-saving good news, and Michael Gungor find it to be gruesome and horrific? It all comes down to how one defines the word “gospel.”
Gospel is a word that literally means “good news.” It’s used a lot in the Bible, and Christians say it all the time. The Apostle Paul said he wasn’t ashamed of it and anyone who preaches a different one should be cursed. He called it “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.” Jesus called it “the gospel of the kingdom.”
What is the historic Christian gospel?
Greg Koukl describes it beautifully and simply in his book, The Story of Reality. He explains that every worldview must account for four things: Creation (How things began), Fall (How things got broken), Redemption (How things will get fixed), and Restoration (How things will look once they are fixed).
For two thousand years, Christianity has had specific answers to these questions.
How did things begin? God made the world and called it good. How did things get broken? Sin. How will things get fixed? Bear with me, this part is a bit more complicated. You see, God is just. This is very good news for anyone who has ever been abused, oppressed, or mistreated in any way. It means that injustice will be paid for. No sin will go unpunished. (In other words, ISIS won't get away with it.) That sounds great if you're talking about a terrorist or serial killer, but...aren't we all sinners? Yes. It goes for us too. All sin must be paid for.
This is where Jesus comes in. God took on human flesh, lived a sinless life, and died a horrifying death to take on the sins of the world. He was raised from the dead, and whoever puts their trust in Jesus as their Savior will be reconciled to God and find eternal life.
How will things look once they are fixed? Those who reject God’s free gift of forgiveness in this life will get their wish. God will quarantine them and all evil in a place of eternal punishment called hell. For those who have received His forgiveness, He’ll wipe away every tear in a place called heaven (or the New Heaven and New Earth, to be precise) where there will be no more crying, pain, or death. Of course, entire books have been written exploring all the deeper meanings and metaphors the Bible uses to describe what happened on the cross. But this is the Christian gospel in a nutshell.
What is the Progressive Christian gospel?
Enter Progressive Christianity. Everything I just explained is something Progressive author Brian McLaren calls "The six-line Greco Roman narrative." (He lays the points out a bit differently, but it's the same storyline.) Along with many others, he rejects this view of the gospel. He suggests that this six-line narrative is nothing more than a copycat philosophy swiped from Plato and Aristotle.
Aside from pointing out some vague similarities between the ideas of these ancient philosophers and Christianity, McLaren never defends his theory much beyond simply asserting it. Yet Progressives have fallen for it in droves. Kevin DeYoung noted, “McLaren’s six-line Greco-Roman story looks like something you come up with after one semester of Western Philosophy.”
McLaren claims the true gospel can be found by reading the Jesus story through a Jewish lens. By “Jewish lens,” he means that Jesus’ “gospel of the kingdom” is not about who’s “in or out,” or who goes to heaven or hell when they die. It’s about confronting systems of oppression in the here and now and ushering in God’s dream for creation. He explains that Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. Instead, this “liberator king” came to announce a new kingdom that is “much bigger than a new religion, and in fact it has room for many religious traditions within it.” (p. 139)
Is the Progressive gospel really good news?
I agree that we should understand the Jewish context in which Jesus lived and carried out His ministry. But McLaren’s “Jewish lens” and “new kingdom” focus reads more like a political manifesto championing causes like health care reform, green energy, climate change, and a “healthy, sustainable, and regenerative economy.” (p. 63)
McLaren’s main beef with the historical gospel seems to be that it’s a get your butt into heaven and ignore the world around you type of attitude. But this is not biblical Christianity. I can wholeheartedly agree with him that if this is someone’s view of the gospel, they’ve got it all wrong.
It must be noted that throughout history, Christians have confronted oppression, impacted their societies for good, and had a strong emphasis on helping the poor, orphans, and widows. We haven’t always done it perfectly, but the historic understanding of the gospel sees these good works as a sign that our faith is living and not dead. (James 2:26) It doesn’t throw sin, atonement, and heaven and hell out the window in exchange for building a better home here on earth.
So there you have it. Two very different ideas of what “gospel” means. Two ideas that contradict each other at every turn. Two ideas that elicit very different reactions.
But this is to be expected.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he explained that God was using him and others “to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.” He went on to say that not everyone found that smell to be so sweet.
Some thought it smelled like a rotting corpse.
This is because the real gospel confronts our personal sin—the sin we cling to and inherently love. Sin that deserves death. Even if we work together to build a better society, we will still be rotten to the core without repentance and the transformation of the Holy Spirit. Only when we grasp how treacherous our sin is can we recognize how beautiful the gift of God’s grace is. This is why a bloodless gospel is not good news at all.
To some that message is the fragrance of life, and to others it’s the stench of death. There's no middle ground. As the Apostle Paul said, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
In my next post, I’ll zoom in for a closer look at how Progressives specifically answer the four worldview questions surrounding Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.
Links to the rest of the series:
Part 2: Creation and Fall
Part 3: Redemption and Restoration
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9/12/2018 11:44:40 am
Once again, you hit the nail squarely on its head. Thank God for voices like yours who don't cower to those wanting either a false gospel or a silent one.
10/14/2020 05:04:04 pm
I am a progressive Christian AND I hold traditional and Biblical views of the gospel, and the religio-social issues of sexual ethic, gender identity, and marriage. I am not “pro-life” I am full life which means I value all life, from conception to death. Therefore, I oppose abortion and I oppose the death penalty. Because I treasure God’s Word and see the value He places on His image bearers, I also support healthcare for all, a green energy bill, smart immigration reform, an economy that benefits more than 1-10% of citizens, and protecting the planet from climate change.
10/14/2020 05:36:08 pm
Your ideology, though lofty, does not acknowledge that God created each of us unique, with unique plans for each of our lives. The socialist agenda ignores that. And contrary to what your beliefs would infer, happiness is circumstantial and available to many that don't have the same healthcare, same beauty, the same intelligence level and even the same ambition or aspirations!! WE are not all alike, as God has ordained. Do we help those less fortunate? Yes...we teach them how to fish, not give them the handicap of giving them the fish. Death penalty...God hates the shedding of INNOCENT blood (Proverbs 6). The advantage for those on death row? They have opportunity to make their peace with God, unlike perhaps the one they murdered. CLimate issues?? Really? God proves Himself over and over that He's in control. Weather cycles...pure and simple. God gave us dominion over all the earth. It is here for our benefit, of which we are to be good stewards. To fulfill the Great Commission is the commandment of love....not to keep people on an earthly plane with do goodies. Proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ...that he loves and provides true peace and joy. He is merciful and full of grace and as we turn from sin in repentance and confession, THAT is where one's happiness can be found. Over emphasis on society issues are a distraction of this truth.THAT is why your path is in question, IMHO. Praying for you.
9/12/2018 12:14:26 pm
I'm so thankful to have found your words yet again. Thank you for sharing the truth with boldness.
9/12/2018 02:50:08 pm
Now that I have experienced the death of my beloved father, the death of my brother’s young child to cancer and the decemation of a lifelong marriage, I care not for putting theology under a microscope. It is all semantics and whether one person calls grace marvelous and another horrific is inconsequential. How are they acting out the gospel?
10/16/2018 08:18:02 am
But what does that "love" look like? I believe that too many today view it as a warm and fuzzy feeling when in truth, we love enough to PROCLAIM truth, in love, even at the risk of being hated. Love isn't about "me" and how I feel. It is proclaiming the gospel even when it "offends". I hear a false gospel of "tolerance" being proclaimed by folks saying that is who Jesus was/is. I can't find that anywhere in the gospels...."Go..sin no more" isn't "tolerance". He hated sin so much that He died to cover it. I pray God will strengthen you as you heal from these difficult times. My desire is that all will come to repentance and saving faith and unless we are bold with truth, we have failed to do what we have been commanded by Christ.
4/22/2019 12:15:48 pm
A quote from Timothy J. Keller: “Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God's saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God's mercy and grace.”
9/12/2018 03:45:49 pm
Agreed, much of Progressive gospel hearkens back to the liberal Christianity which went silent on salvation from sin and its damnation to emphasize Christ's condemnation of selfishness and his heart for the meek and afflicted. But today's evangelicals have so abandoned the humanity of Jesus, sanctified greed, refused any mercy to the needy, and other inhumanities, that a reaction which emphasizes the uplifted humanity of Jesus as the only real test of faith is right and proper in this atmosphere of right-wing Christendom.
9/12/2018 03:49:04 pm
Thank you so much for your concise, direct-and-loving approach to the Truth. I am so glad I happened upon your writings. It's so interesting that this is exactly what my husband taught last Sunday, what a woman at work wished to discuss last night, and the subject of an out-of-the-blue phone call received from someone from whom we hadn't heard in 12-15 years who is steeped in heresy. I see such a parallel between the political progressive movement in our nation (which seeks to negate our Constitution as no longer relevant) and the push toward progressive "Christianity." Surely the war in the heavenlies over this untruth is being manifested in our nation, making this even more relevant.
9/12/2018 09:04:45 pm
Girl, this is good. These are hard truths that I think people are afraid to hear and, even more, afraid to say. There is a huge mass of people abandoning truth for the sake of a worldly idea of "love" and it's just not what God intended. Thanks for reminding us of the sovereignty of God and the Word of God over the appeal of being "accepting".
9/13/2018 09:32:54 am
The progressive gospel is dangerous, and spreading. I see a schism developing. Christians must know their theology, and must be able to articulate it. If we ever lose the sense that our relationship with God is based on our sin and his redemption, we fall for whatever secular paradigm sounds good to us, and we will be blown by the secular winds of the day. Thank God for your faithfulness to Jesus’ Gospel, Alisa. Please keep up the good work.
9/13/2018 12:11:16 pm
The Progressive Gospel is described in the Bible, but not favorably.
9/17/2018 12:47:43 pm
In the context, Paul is speaking against a group of people who are saying that adherence to the law (namely circumcision) is necessary for salvation.
9/26/2018 01:19:57 pm
That's right, Delkin - and it's why the passage is so applicable to Hollis' piece. There is the Gospel and there is everything else. Everything else says that adherence to some law (doing something) is necessary for salvation. The Progressive Gospel is as works-based just as much as the Judaizer's gospel in Galatia was works-based. The Gospel is that Jesus did everything necessary for salvation; every other false-gospel is "you still need to do something".
9/13/2018 03:05:30 pm
Your words feel like finally coming home after experiencing anguishing homesickness. Your writings are so incredibly comforting because I know they are the truth. Thank you so much for not backing down and continuing to speak God’s word accurately in such love.
9/13/2018 11:54:53 pm
Thank you for glorifying God by being a voice of truth. It is refreshing.
ERIC D NELSON
9/14/2018 05:43:36 am
Atonement theories are not the Gospel.
9/17/2018 07:13:28 pm
Agreed - this is basically rehashing atonement theory apologetics.
9/26/2018 01:40:45 pm
so... if the atonement isn't the Gospel- what is?
10/15/2018 07:23:07 pm
Progressive = Postmodernism Read postmodernism by Stephen Hicks. You will see a strong correlation
You’re not wrong.
11/12/2018 06:43:30 am
Well said Alisa, couldn't agree with you more.
1/27/2019 08:19:06 am
Thank you for truth and common sense. Christianity is under attack from many angles, atheists, progressives, the media etc. I use the information in your blogs for my debates with the atheist community. Quite helpful.
3/7/2019 12:10:49 pm
I encourage you to read my book, _I Pledge Allegiance: A Believer’s Guide to Kingdom Citizenship in 21st Century America (Eerdmans, 2018). I think will find it useful. Thanks for your defense of the gospel. The only thing I would add is that the points your critique are not so much “progressive” talking points as they are old fashion theological liberalism.
1/15/2020 09:46:02 am
I just discovered you. I loved your article on Progressive Christianity. I can’t find part 2. Could you give me a link to it? I’d really like to read the second part. Thank you!
1/15/2020 10:06:04 am
Hi Dona, I just added links to the bottom of the article. See above!
1/16/2020 03:00:16 am
Alisa: I also just discovered your blog. Thanks for informing us about "Progressive Christianity." I hadn't heard much about the "Emergent Church" lately but it seems like it has a new moniker. Thank you for your emphasis on the Cross. As a Lutheran, I am constantly driven back to the Cross, what He did there for all of us and my need as Luther said, "to repent daily." I'm not offended by his blood shed on the cross. "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins." (Hebrews 9:22). A blood less gospel is not good news at all! Couldn't agree more! Thanks.
3/6/2021 11:03:20 am
Hello my question is does progressive believe paul is apostle or not and what about his writings
3/9/2021 07:04:15 pm
3/18/2021 10:37:58 am
Is there some reason for you to be reading her blogs other than for you to do what you criticized her for: accusing? Clearly you have not have read none of the epistles that tell us to examine what is being said by church leaders. Nor have you read in the OT that we are to be watchmen on the wall.
12/2/2021 09:05:43 pm
7/25/2022 07:56:05 pm
Non-liberal Christianity's gospel isn't good news either. It's really a two-point sermon:
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