RELIGIOUS PROGRESSIVISM: WHEN THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES (Part the First)
Dr. Riley B. Case
Originally posted in “Happenings in the Church” Newsletter
Used by Permission / Edited for Use
Disclaimer: The opinions and research is that of Dr. Riley B.Case and does not necessarily
represent those of the invertedchristian.com
In the home where I grew up the fundamentalists were the good guys. That was years ago, before the word fundamentalist corrected to the word evangelical. There were some clear differences between fundamentalists and evangelicals. Fundamentalists tended to be dispensationalists (dispensationalism is the theology that uses a literalistic view of Scripture and emphasizes the pre-millennial understanding of the Second Coming--the most aggressive fundamentalists of the early 1900s were dispensationalists). Evangelicals were, well, like Billy Graham. We had a parade of preachers and other influences (Sunday school material) in my Methodist church that challenged my parents' evangelical faith. I asked my mother once why she had not liked a certain preacher. Her answer was simple: "No cross." I understood even at a young age: no cross, no atonement; no atonement, no salvation. Of course, that assumed there was such a thing as "salvation." Some did not talk about salvation. Salvation implied pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by. Better to bring the kingdom here to earth. Those who believed that way known as modernists.
When, after a couple of world wars, the kingdom did not seem to be coming in earth, modernists decided it was more appropriate just to be called liberals. The word suggested openness to new ideas, such as, maybe the Bible was not that authoritative after all, and maybe we could discover truth just by reference to science and reason. Then when the word liberalism fell into disrepute those of that ilk started using the word progressive.
For most of my life I have related well to my modernist-liberal-progressive friends. There was usually enough gospel in them that people were blessed, and sometimes saved. The hymnal served as a doctrinal corrective and Methodism still carried over much of its revivalistic past. Most congregations, if given a theological test, would score moderately high on the evangelical scale despite the kind of liberal pastors that passed through them. Furthermore, at least until recently, despite their theology, liberals took rather traditional stands on personal moral issues: they upheld the family and ideas of sexual purity. They opposed (until recently) alcohol and gambling and tobacco. Plus, they challenged us all on social issues. And until recently, they did not consider evangelicalism a threat, mostly because they assumed evangelicalism was a dying ideology and they would not have to worry about it in a generation or two.
But things are changing rapidly these days. Evangelicalism never did die out and evangelicalism is now a challenge to the liberal ideology of the old mainline Protestant leaders. Indeed, even in the secular world Christianity itself is increasingly associated with evangelicalism. Christian growth globally is evangelical growth. Progressive religious thinking is associated more and more with secularism, socialism, liberal politics, and confidence in the autonomous self.
In Part the Second the Progressive Point of View will be offered as Dr. Case offers it as a contrast.