Progressive Christianity?

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One of the links from Al Mohler’s The Briefing is titled, What Christianity Would Look Like Without Hell.

The author is John Shore author of a book titled Unfair: Christians and the LGBT Question.

The essence of Shore’s argument is that God is love and nothing but love. Shore concludes that hell is inconsistent with his interpretation of what God is and what God is not. Shore equates the doctrine of hell “with the toxic lie that the Bible condemns homosexuality.”

Shore insists that Bible believing Christians who believe such things are naïve.

Shore then argues for a Christianity without the doctrine of hell and what it would look like. Here are some examples of Shore’s conclusions:

” A Christianity without hell would have nothing to recommend it but the constant and unending love of God. It would allow Christians to point upward to God’s love—but never downward to His/Her wrath.”

My comment: This statement sets the tone for all of his other statements. It is based on Shore’s presupposition that God is love and nothing but love and Shore gets to define what that love looks like by assuming that God is a God without wrath. It could mean to Shore that there is no such thing as sin and therefore no need for Christ to die on the Cross, taking the wrath of God upon himself in the atonement.  On the other hand judging by this statement and Shore’s other statements Shore is actually a universalist meaning that all people are saved regardless of what they believe. Whatever the case Shore is well on his way to inventing his own religion.

Shore goes on: “A Christianity without hell would be largely unevangelical, since there would be nothing to save anyone from.”

My comment: I wonder what Shore means by “largely evangelical” unless he means converting people to his point of view. I’m guessing that is what he means since he concludes with this statement: “I want that Christianity. I insist upon that Christianity.”

My Comment: Shore is insisting even demanding a Christianity void of absolutes and void of all doctrine except for the doctrines he finds acceptable and redefines to make them acceptable. Shore’s source of authority is Shore. Shore’s concluding statement above smacks of the intolerance of the LGBT movement that demands conformity to their beliefs.

Shore continues: “A Christianity without hell would trust that God’s loving benevolence towards all people (emphasis on all) extends beyond this life and into the next.”

My comment: I can only surmise that Shore has no use for the Jesus of Scripture since Jesus speaks more of hell than he does of God’s love.

Shore: “Bringing peace about the afterlife, a Christianity without hell would free Christians to fully embrace this life, to heed Christ’s commandment to in this life love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

My comment: This statement is interesting since Shore is making an attempt to quote the Bible. He paraphrases the second great commandment (Matt. 22:37-39). The commandment is in the context of the Pharisee’s testing Jesus in regards to the law (Ten Commandments).  Shore paraphrases the second summation of the commandments while ignoring the first; the command to love your God with your whole heart, mind and soul. Shore is cherry picking a verse out of its context and then defining for us what he thinks Christ meant by loving our neighbors. Presumably, loving our neighbors would not mean telling them about hell. Shore clearly does not believe there is a hell while Jesus certainly did. My question to Shore would be that if Jesus is right and Shore is wrong and there is such a place as hell would it be loving to not tell people about it? Again, what we see here is Shore setting himself up as his own authority, his own interpreter of Scripture as it suits him. Shore practices the age old error of getting the Bible to say what you want it say to say rather than what it actually says.

Then there is this from Shore:

“In short, a Christianity without hell would be a fearless, trusting, loving, divinely inspired source of good in the world. And this Christianity would be more biblical—would be truer to not just the words but the very spirit of Christianity—than any Christianity that posits the reality of hell.”

My comment: The arrogance contained in these statements is breath-taking. Shore’s entire argument is based on Shore being his own authority and driven by his agenda for a Christianity that has no need for a Savior. Yet, he has the audacity to say that his version of Christianity is more biblical and more in keeping with the spirit of Christianity. Wow!

The piece originally appeared on the Patheos website under the label “Progressive Christianity.” Patheos is a mish-mash of eclectic religious thought including atheism. Shore’s article was reproduced by the online version of Time Magazine under “opinion.”

Personally, I wonder why Shore and those that agree with him bother with the label of “Christian” at all.  Shore’s gospel is the gospel of anything goes and that is no gospel at all.

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I was recently at a training conference for my niche ministry as a pastor. I met a Canadian pastor from rural Ontario and we sat next to each other for the duration of the conference and in the process chatted about a great many things including his country’s politics and ours. It was his perception that his country was ever further down the road than we are in losing a Christian influence in the market place of ideas. He then wondered out loud why, if 45% of Americans claim to be “evangelicals” do we have so little influence in our country. My answer was it’s because 45% of the country is not truly evangelical. He nodded as it to say, I guess that’s obvious.

Apparently, there is great confusion regarding terminology but it’s not limited to the term “evangelical.”

William Wilberforce was a British politician and a evangelical Christian. After many years Great Britain abolished the slave trade largely due to Wliberforce's influence.

William Wilberforce was a British politician and a evangelical Christian. After many years Great Britain abolished the slave trade largely due to Wliberforce’s influence.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

I’m going to state the obvious but bear with me. We live in a culture that is largely self-defining when it comes to a great many things but especially identity. Identity politics are the rage, gay, straight, white, black, brown, liberal, conservative, Tea Party, Democrat, Republican and so forth. And when it comes to religion one only has to list the number of denominations that identify themselves as Christian.

What people mean by “Christian” varies a great deal.

For example, there was a time in my life when the term Christian simply meant I was baptized into a certain denomination, educated in that denomination (grade school) and attended its services although that declined when I could make the decision for myself.

I also had a vague sense of right and wrong because of the denomination’s teaching. I believe that some of that served me rather well although it was a law orientation based on the Ten Commandments. But, having said all that, I was what you might call a cultural Christian and  a nominal one at that! In fact, at one time I would have defined myself first as an agnostic and second a Christian. Try to figure that out!

These days the term “Christian” can mean anyone who does not claim atheism as their creed or Islam (or another world religion).

The term “evangelical” is also sufficiently vague to mean different things to different people. At one level it simply means one that claims a “born again” experience. As a result the term cuts across a dizzying array of denominations, non-denominationals and even what orthodox Christians would call cults. To sort through them all and list distinctives would probably require a large number of books!

Evangel simply  means “good news” while the term “evangelist” means one who delivers the message of the good news.” The good news is the gospel. The apostle (a messenger of the good news) put the good news succinctly:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, [Peter] then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV)

Therefore, to be “evangelical” in the historical sense would mean one who believes the good news and is a disciple of Christ who is the good news as well as the gospel’s chief messenger.

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One of the many difficulties associated with self-defining Christians is disagreement over the content of the good news. It’s one  thing to affirm intellectually 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 but quite another to unpack the content and ramifications of what Paul is talking about. The biggest divide is between those who believe that salvation is through grace alone, by faith alone in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9) and those that would mix works into the process of salvation.

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Another great divide would be what it is called the “social gospel” and it’s in that area that politics gets involved. The politics are derived from how one reads the Bible and how one interprets it if indeed one chooses to read and study it!

President Obama for example, for good reason, has been accused of buying into what’s called ” black liberation theology” through the now infamous Jeremiah Wright who Obama threw under the bus when things got hot. The President sat under Wright’s Liberation Theology for over 20 years. To say Wright’s teaching has not influenced or even directed a good part of the President’s politics is to ignore the obvious. Liberation Theology has a great deal in common with Marxism and not a great deal in common with sound biblical interpretation.

An apt graphic for Liberation Theology, except that the cross is meaningless in a historic gospel sense.

An apt graphic for Liberation Theology, except that the cross is meaningless in a historic gospel sense.

The Bible does inform a self-defined Christian’s politics but as we’ve seen how one reads and interprets the Bible varies a great deal for a great many reasons.

A great tool for a conservative, Protestant evangelical would be Wayne Grudem’s Politics-According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. 

I’d recommend this book to my liberal Protestant and Catholic friends as well if they are interested in how a conservative Protestant evangelical perceives how the Scripture speaks to politics.

Grudem has also written a systematic theology that is well thought of by conservative Protestant evangelicals titled Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine.

One of the strengths of this work is that Grudem gives as the end of each chapter links to other works that disagree or are different his own systematics.

A third helpful resource would be Greg Allison’s Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine.

This is an important work because it explains how doctrine developed historically and what that could mean to different Christian groups.

And finally there is this, The Changing Face of Christian Politics from Atlantic Magazine. The author is Michael Ware. Michael led faith outreach for President Obama’s 2012 campaign. I doubt there is much I would agree with him on but his observations are interesting.

Pope Francis has spoken into political issues. The picture is from the Atlantic article referenced below.

Pope Francis has spoken into political issues. The picture is from the Atlantic article referenced above.

I want to conclude this brief survey be referring to William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a British politician and a conservative, evangelical Protestant. He was involved in what could have been called in his day the “social gospel.” For years and years Wilberforce spoke out against the evils of slavery. It was not a message that was received graciously in a nation nominally Christian. Yet, Wilberforce persevered and slowly his message gained momentum and Great Britain abolished slavery well before the US had to fight the Civil War to get rid of it. The political tide is well against a conservative, evangelical Protestant’s views on a wide range of social issues (not to mention economics) and like Wilberforce our message is rarely popular. Yet, we should speak out understanding that our sovereign God is fully capable of changing the king’s heart.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;  he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

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