Near the end of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). And after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Christianity had barely gotten off the ground before false teachings began to infiltrate the church.
In fact, much of the New Testament is dedicated to alerting Christians to the dangers of various deceptions and instilling a sense of urgency to stand strong against them. Paul opposed Peter to his face when Peter became intimidated by the “circumcision party” in Galatians 2:11-13. Early versions of Gnosticism were making inroads by the time John penned his first epistle. From Marcion to Arius to modern prosperity preachers, there has been no end of false prophets who walk like sheep and talk like sheep, but inwardly they only want to feast on sheep. One current false gospel is a movement called “progressive Christianity.”
Finding its roots in the emergent church movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, progressive Christianity has grown into a movement that has infiltrated the evangelical church. It is marked by a willingness to redefine, reexamine and ultimately reject core historic doctrines of the Christian faith. In addition to a nearly universal denial of original sin, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus and the existence of hell, progressive Christianity also aligns with current cultural norms regarding same-sex marriage and abortion. And it is defined by a strong push to embrace a gospel that centers around universal salvation and social justice rather than personal salvation, sin and redemption.
Individual Christians, parachurch organizations and churches that tend to drift into progressive Christianity do so in slow, subtle, almost indiscernible shifts. But progressive Christianity can only grow if it remains unchallenged. Progressive Christianity imitates culture, but Christians should imitate Jesus by recognizing and making a strong stand against the false teachings of this growing movement. Here are five ways to do just that:
- Uphold Biblical Authority
One of the hallmarks of progressive Christianity is a lowered view of the Bible. Progressives view Scripture not as perfectly and divinely inspired but as a primarily human book that contains contradictions, errors and inconsistent theology. Because of this, Biblical authority takes a back seat to one’s personal conscience as the highest authority for truth.
As followers of Jesus, we must align our view with what He taught about the Bible.
Jesus referred to the Old Testament Scriptures as the Word of God (Mark 7:13). He taught that the Scriptures were inspired by God, saying in Matthew 22:41-45 that David was speaking “by the Spirit” in Psalm 110:1. And when the devil tempted Him in the wilderness, He appealed to the authority of the Scriptures by declaring, “It is written” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). Jesus continually referred to Old Testament events as real history. He said, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and He proclaimed that it would be “easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (Luke 16:17). He plainly told the Sadducees that they were in error “because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
To stand strong against progressive Christianity, let’s unapologetically hold to Jesus’ teaching about what the Bible is—the accurate, authoritative and inspired (literally “God-breathed”) Word of God.
- Stand for Biblical Sexuality and the Sanctity of Human Life
Much of the world’s confusion surrounding issues of sexuality and the sanctity of human life have to do with a cultural mandate for sexual freedom. In progressive Christianity, there is a strong push for same-sex marriage, but it doesn’t stop there. In many progressive circles, the entire Christian ethic of sex being enjoyed only within the bounds of marriage between one man and one woman is considered outdated and even harmful. Advocacy for abortion rights is becoming more normalized.
As followers of Jesus, we must align our view with what Jesus taught about sexuality and the sanctity of life.
When asked a question about divorce in Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus affirmed God’s definition for marriage found in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” In Matthew 15:19-20, Jesus categorizes sexual immorality as something that defiles a person. And according to the Scriptures that Jesus affirmed, sexual immorality meant any sexual activity outside of the confines of marriage. In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus reiterates and strengthens the Biblical command, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Because of this, early Christians stood against abortion and infanticide in their day.
To stand strong against progressive Christianity, let’s unapologetically obey Jesus’ teaching that sex was designed to be enjoyed within the confines of Biblical marriage and that human life is sacred.
- Get a Backbone
When I was growing up as a Christian kid in the ’80s and ’90s, the world might have looked at me as someone who was a bit old-fashioned, or a “goodie two-shoes,” for my views about morality and the Gospel. Today, young people are facing similar criticisms from progressive Christians, but with the added weight of being called a “bigot” or “hateful” or “intolerant.” Some even go so far as to claim that anyone who holds to a historic Biblical sexual ethic is an unsafe and harmful person. The pressure to capitulate is unbelievably strong.
As followers of Jesus, we must align our view with what Jesus taught about holding unpopular beliefs.
In John 15:18, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” Jesus also instructed His followers to expect tribulation in this life but tells us to take heart because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). In Matthew 5:10, Jesus encourages: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
To stand strong against progressive Christianity, let’s unapologetically hold to Jesus’ teaching that even though it may be countercultural and may bring persecution, obeying Him is worth the cost.
- Live the Truth
Progressive Christianity is marked by a “what’s true for you is true for you” attitude. The idea is that even if objective truth exists, it can’t really be known. Mantras like “live your truth” and “find your authentic self” saturate everything from the media we consume to the products we buy.
But we don’t have the option to live our truth because “our truth” doesn’t actually exist. That’s not how truth works. A true statement or belief is one that corresponds with reality, and truth is true whether someone believes it or not.
As followers of Jesus, we must align our view with what Jesus taught about truth.
In John 14:6, Jesus claimed to actually be the truth. After His arrest, He told Pilate: “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). And rather than “find yourself,” Jesus said you must “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me” (Cf. Matthew 16:24). Jesus prayed that His disciples would be sanctified in the truth and then He identified God’s Word as “truth” (John 17:17).
To stand strong against progressive Christianity, let’s unapologetically hold to Jesus’ teaching that truth exists, it can be known, and it actually brings about our sanctification.
- Proclaim the Gospel
In our culture, it’s considered arrogant to claim to know truth—especially when it comes to religion and morality. Progressive Christianity is no different. Priding itself on being “inclusive,” and coupled with its rejection of absolute truth, the message of theological progressives will ebb and flow with cultural norms. This means avoiding any uncomfortable parts of the Gospel, like final judgment and a place of punishment called hell.
As followers of Jesus, we must align our view with what Jesus taught about the Gospel.
When Jesus began His ministry, He declared, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). What is this Gospel Jesus spoke of? In John 3:16, Jesus famously said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus went on to say in verse 18, “But whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” In one of His parables, He described the Day of Judgment, when He will divide people into two groups, one on His right and the other on His left. He will welcome the group on His right into eternal life, and to those on His left He will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
To stand strong against progressive Christianity, let’s unapologetically hold to Jesus’ teaching that the Gospel is the Good News of eternal life for those who believe, but for those who reject God’s free gift, there is judgment.
In 2 Corinthians 2:14, the Apostle Paul describes spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. He compares it to a sweet perfume but said that to those who are perishing, it smells like death. Our job is to spread the fragrance and leave the outcome to the Lord. We have a Biblical obligation to stand against any message that runs contrary to the Gospel.
We must stand strong against the false gospel of progressive Christianity because Jesus is worth following, and the beauty of the Christian worldview, anchored in Holy Scripture, is worth protecting.
Reporting from Pontotoc Progress.