Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Is This New Theology Killing Churches?

Dear Friends,

“He is Risen!” is acclaimed on Easter morning and the traditional response is “He is Risen indeed!” But if you told nearly one quarter of our Nation’s Christians, that “He is Risen!” their response would be,No Way! A Catholic Jesuit priest wrote last week that “Progressive liberal Christianity is turning Christians in mainline churches into atheists.” Before you react to that, let’s learn from a self-described progressive Christian minister and find out what this offshoot of historic Christianity really believes. This is an ordained United Methodist minister who heads a campus ministry in Colorado and who published a paper on the theology of Progressive Liberal Christianity: “Jesus isn’t God. Jesus didn’t die for our sins. There isn’t a hell other than ones that we create here on this earth. God didn’t write the Bible. We believe that Jesus was divine in the way that you and I are, and he is not literally God. The trinity is a beloved Christian poem of who God is to us, but like all art and theology, poems don’t literally define things. Progressive Christianity is the post-modern influenced evolution of historic mainline liberal Protestant Christianity and it is an heir to the Social Gospel movement. It took its name in 2000 and draws from process theology, liberation theology, feminist, womanist and eco-theologies.” 

Progressive liberal theology draws from process theology which denies the biblical view of an immutable God and believes that God is always changing to conform to our human understanding of Him. In process theology, God does not control the future, we do. In progressive liberal theology, humanistic philosophy and a post-modern worldview become the foundation for the “Christian” religion. The Bible has been reduced to a collection of fictional stories which can be rewritten or paraphrased so that scripture conforms to modern liberal beliefs.

In the 1980's, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong became the voice of Protestant liberalism after he wrote books that elevated science and rational thinking while denying the supernatural. He wrote about the doctrine of the liberal church: Jesus was not God, was not born of a virgin, did not physically rise from the dead and didn’t go to heaven. There was no afterlife – you just ceased to exist – and hell was not biblical but an invention of the church. Spong taught today’s prevailing progressive theology that “the sole purpose for Christians on earth is to fight for social justice.” These were not new ideas invented by Sprong but during that time, he was (and still is) the main influencer of the liberal protestant church movement. A poll in the 1960's found that more than half of mainline Protestant clergy disbelieved the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Jesus and other classic and historic church doctrine, but for fear that they would be defrocked and lose their jobs, they kept this non-Orthodox theology to themselves. 

The dean of the Wesley Theological Seminary, J. Philip Wogaman urged that Methodist, Episcopalian and Lutheran ministers be candid with their congregations and teach the liberal theology they personally believed but most of them instead preached vague messages with unclear meanings that only hinted at their liberal theology. What happened was that their congregations became confused about what they were hearing or became convicted that they were hearing heresy and left the church completely or drifted away into the more Evangelical churches. 

Many of you know that I was a cradle Episcopalian. Baptized, Confirmed, an acolyte for seven years and on a vocational path to be an Episcopal priest. It was the late 1960s and under the growing influence of Father John Shelby Spong, the denomination began a strong push for the social gospel. One Sunday, I’m vested as an acolyte to assist the priest and I’m sitting beside the altar during the sermon. I suddenly realize that for many months the only sermon topic has been about migrant farm workers and the impassioned call from the pulpit was not to follow Jesus but to boycott lettuce. Jesus had in fact been kicked to the curb in our church and United Farm Worker activist César Chávez was who we worshiped – I mean that literally. The Gospel for the day was read but there was no longer any mention of the Gospel from the pulpit. I couldn’t remember when the last time was that God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit had been mentioned in a sermon. I loved my Episcopal church but I loved God even more. That was when I left.

Bishop Spong led the Episcopal church and other mainline churches into rejecting nearly all historic Christian doctrine. Today’s belief that the progressive church must conform to prevailing liberal thought resulted in the recent rejection of scripture and 2,000 years of historic Christian teachings about homosexuality, marriage, gender and the human body. Today’s progressive Christians embrace the Western leftist identity politics which has lately been attacking the Evangelical church because it believes in the Bible. What is disturbing to me personally is that I see the truth in what the Jesuit priest wrote. “Progressive liberal Christianity is turning Christians in mainline churches into atheists.” I’m saddened when I read that both the ELCA Lutheran and Episcopal churches have acknowledged that they will most likely cease to exit in the next 20-25 years but I’m happy that conservative Evangelical churches who believe and teach historic Christian doctrine are thriving and growing. 

I have progressive liberal friends – one who is a pastor – who believe and preach what I do not. I love them like the good friends they are. I can wholeheartedly disagree with them and love them like Jesus. I laugh when they question how is it that I can consider myself to be a “Christian” since I’m not a liberal. And I know they love me like Jesus...

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Has Progressive Liberal Theology helped or hurt those churches who have adopted all or part of this new theology? One denomination lost over one million members in seven years after changing their doctrine on human sexuality. Read it HERE

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