1) Introduction (Updated: March 2024)
1.1) What Exactly Is "Progressive Christianity"?
There's a ton of confusion as to what "Progressive Christianity" is and what "Progressive Christians" believe. As with any new "movement", the criteria as to how it ought to be defined is not widely agreed upon. There will obviously be people who call themselves "Progressive Christians" with different beliefs across a spectrum - some more conservative and some more progressive and liberal, relatively speaking.
The sad thing is that for many critics of "Progressive Christianity", they don't seek to understand the spectrum of beliefs among those who call themselves "Progressive Christians. Many critics just choose what from their perspective are the worst representatives (people and beliefs) within the movement in order to criticize and tear down the movement. I think such a critic is at best ignorant of the way the term is being used differently by different people, or at worst dishonest and deceptive.
I used the term "Progressive Christianity" around 10+ years ago and since the Pandemic it's been getting more and more popular with many books (perhaps the most famous being Alisha Childers' "Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity") and YouTube videos basically demonizing "Progressive Christianity". Basically they've painted "Progressive Christianity" with a broad brush (equating it almost with Liberal Theology) in order to demonize anyone who would identify themselves as Progressive Christian.
1.2) Nuance Needed: PC = Non-"Liberal" (Dissatisfied with Conservative Evangelicalism) and "Liberal" Christians
Allow me to refer to noted theologian Roger E Olsen, who wrote a book (Against Liberal Theology: Putting the Brakes on Progressive Christianity) released in June 2022 and two recent articles on the term on his Patheos blog:
Here are some quotes from his blog posts (emphasis mine):
In the past decade, “progressive Christian” (here in the U.S.) seems to be a label preferred by real liberal Christians (whose Christianity seems dubious to me) but also by non-liberal Christians who are “open” to new ideas such as gay marriage, LGBTQ rights within society and the churches, passionate social justice activism, egalitarianism, etc.
When I hear someone labeled “progressive Christian” by themself or others I do not know what is meant—other than open to new ways of thinking and “doing” Christianity within a certain context. However, in my experience, the label is increasingly being “owned” by formerly conservative Christians who are moving toward liberal Christianity but hesitating to go all the way there.
The subtitle of my book is “Putting the Brakes on Progressive Christianity” because I have known and I now know many especially young Christians who also call themselves “progressive” but are not yet full-blown liberal Christians. I see many of them moving in the direction of full-blown liberal theology which concerns me greatly. I want to warn them against going over that “cliff” insofar as their “progressive path” leads in that direction.
Regarding the last quote which describes what his book is about, I share those same concerns. I, like him, do think that "Liberal Christianity" and "Liberal Theology" are dangerous (as Roger says, "whose Christianity seems dubious to me") - and I would hesitate to call it even "Christian".
But note what he's also saying in the above quotes. Something he actually acknowledges, which I think many critics of "Progressive Christianity" do NOT, is that while there are those who call themselves "Progressive Christians" who DO believe in "Liberal Theology", the fact is that there are many others who DO NOT! And so to paint everybody who identifies as a "Progressive Christian" with the same brush (as being a person who embraces "Liberal Theology") is completely inaccurate.
Roger talks about non-Liberal Christians who call themselves Progressive Christians because they "are 'open' to new ideas such as gay marriage, LGBTQ rights within society and the churches, passionate social justice activism, egalitarianism, etc." I think that's a good definition of this "non-Liberal" side of "Progressive Christianity". We could add other concerns related to whether non-Christians will spend eternity in hell, whether the dominant literal reading of the Bible is the only correct way and concerns related to science and evolution, etc. In fact, it seems like at least some of these issues by non-Liberal Progressive Christians were brought up in Roger Olson's earlier book, "How to be Evangelical without Being Conservative".
The point here is this. While I haven't read Roger's latest book, there's at least much more nuance there. He doesn't equate "Progressive Christians" with "Liberal Christians" - something many critics are doing these days. And I think that's not just being more honest and knowledgeable about the current situation, but it also encourages "Progressive Christians" to be more open to hear his message about what he thinks are the dangers of going completely "Liberal" in one's theology. Perhaps he shows more understanding and empathy in all this because he seems to be in many ways much closer to the non-Liberal Progressive Christian crowd in some of his concerns about Conservative Evangelicalism than he is to the Conservative Evangelical crowd.
You may ask, "So what's wrong with the critics who define Progressive Christianity as Liberal Christianity? Maybe they are just using a different definition". My response would be that in the first place it's about intellectual honesty and nuance. I think that's the least you can ask of a good writer.
But I think more importantly, not acknowledging that there is a non-Liberal section to Progressive Christianity is a simple way to completely ignore that there are legitimate concerns (as mentioned above) about Conservative Evangelical beliefs that this section of Progressive Christianity has. It's indeed more difficult to confront these concerns. Is it not easier to just lump these non-Liberal Progressive Christians together with those "bad" Liberal Christians and just demonize them and the whole movement?
1.3) Sidenote (The Institutional and Logistical Need for Boundaries in Defining "Christian Orthodoxy")
Do note that when I say I don't think it's even "Christian", I don't mean to say people who hold to such beliefs are not saved or whatever. That is not for me to say and to be honest I believe God's grace is wider than we think and I am also after all a "hopeful dogmatic" believer in "Christian Universalism". So I don't say what I say to be nasty or to kick a person out of a particular religion or movement or whatever. I'm just trying to use a term such that it still has historic significance to it - while also believing 100% that one's relationship with God and Jesus Christ doesn't depend on whether one subscribes to "Christian" beliefs or not in the way most Christians have defined it.
I am personally not on the "Liberal" end of "Progressive Christianity" because I still want to be within "Christian Orthodoxy" (however you define it - and admittedly it's something I'm still exploring). My heart is to see more Christians within Conservative Evangelicalism who would disagree with certain issues (e.g. LGBTQ, eternal hellfire for unbelievers, etc.) be able to confidently step out of Conservative Evangelicalism without deconstructing to such an extent that they either a) deconvert or b) adopt positions so far "left" (so to speak) towards "Liberal Theology" that it perhaps can't be considered "Christian" in any significant way.
Of course, there probably still is a debate as to what is considered "Christian Orthodoxy" and within "historic Christianity." - and even what is "Liberal Theology" and what beliefs are outside of "Christian Orthodoxy", etc. This is something I'm slowly exploring.
My point for now is that I think there needs to be certain boundaries as to what beliefs are considered Christian and what is Christian Orthodoxy, etc. If not, then the term "Christian" loses its meaning altogether. And from what I know, a lot of the beliefs of "Liberal Theology" are a bit too far off to be considered "Christian" in any Orthodox fashion.
I think this is in a sense a organizational and logistics issue. Nobody should think that if Christians consider you outside of "Christian Orthodoxy" your relationship with God is doomed or whatever. That is 100% between you and God.
So to me, I think it's just about accepting that sometimes boundaries are necessary (for organizational and logistics purposes) and to be honest that there have been some boundaries as to how historic Christian Orthodoxy has been defined.
1.4) Final Remarks & About The Articles Below
As you can probably already tell, I am one of those non-Liberal "Progressive Christians". I do not embrace Liberal Theology. But I call myself a Progressive Christian because I am uncomfortable with Conservative Evangelicalism - whether it be their politics or their theology. I also do agree, like Roger Olsen, that many "Progressive Christians" may be on the slippery slope towards Liberal Christianity.
But what is the solution to this? Intellectual honesty and nuance not intellectual sloppiness and demonization. The more we show understanding towards the many concerns of Progressive Christians (those who have not gone full "Liberal Theology" yet), the more likely it is that such Progressive Christians will not embrace "Liberal Theology" out of reaction.
Anyway, below are articles that probably reflect a lot of the concerns of many Progressive Christians or Ex/Post Evangelicals or Post Conservative Evangelicals or people who are Deconstructing and Reconstructing, etc. I don't think there's a hint of "Liberal Theology" in what I've written at all - at least not that I recall as I wrote most of the below articles a long time ago. But at least I can say that as of this writing now (2023), I still haven't embraced "Liberal Theology" and I am still within Early Church Theological Orthodoxy as far as I know. So there's no need to demonize people like me - but perhaps Evangelicalism ought to start addressing many of our valid concerns.
2) Progressive Christianity (Theology)
Being Dogmatic: the “When” and the “How”: In the light of countless disagreements among Christians over interpretations of Scripture, I propose here my view on when we Christians should be allowed to be dogmatic and how we should be dogmatic. (2006)
A Stages of Christian Faith Theory: Some thoughts on a theory of the stages of Christian faith and how it relates to my own Christian journey. (2006)
Biblical Dialectics: Thoughts on how the Bible seems to promote seemingly contradictory truths, or truth in dialectical form. (2006)
The Subconscious Bias at Work in Conservative and Liberal Interpretations of Scripture: I argue in here that both the theologically Conservatives and Liberals need to recognize the subconscious bias at work in their interpretations of Scripture. (2006)
God’s Judgement and Justice: I describe my thoughts on social justice in political philosophy and how this relates to God’s judgement. How would God judge people who, through no fault of their own, were born into circumstances that made them less likely to believe in Christ or were born with homosexual inclinations? (2006)
Emergent and Emerging Christianity: Describes the “tradition” of Christianity that I would most identify with at this stage of my life. (2006)
Christianity and Idealism: I’ve always been an idealist. Here, I relate idealism to Christianity in two particular ways (though more so the first than the second): 1) the Christian call to reach the lost in a non-secretive way without fearing persecution and 2) the Christian call to sacrifice one’s standard of living to help the poor. (2005)
Kierkegaard and a Prophet: Postmodernism’s Pros and Cons: A meeting with a prophet, resulting in some reflections on Søren Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling” and how this relates to Postmodernism. (2004)
Theological Pilgrimage – the 5th Stage: Writing in mid-2004, I describe the 5 theological phases I’ve been through during my Christian life. (2004)
Predestination, Universalism and Justification?: Some of my thoughts on some Reformed beliefs I no longer hold to! (2004)
On Being a Worldly Christian: This article describes how the Christian ought to live his life as one in this world but not of it. This is the earliest of my writings that can be found on this site. It’s something I wrote many years ago and thus represents my view at that time – which was about 3 or 4 years into my Christian life and at a time when I was very into Reformed Theology. My views have changed much since then and if I were to write on this topic today, I would say things differently and exclude some things I’ve written here. Also, I would add the important scriptural principle of using one’s liberty wisely. (1998)
3) Progressive Christianity (Poverty)
Helping Others and the Meaning of Grace and Love: (2010)
Christians, Money and Investing for the Future: (2008)
Why Does America Have Orphans If It Has Christian Churches?: (2007)
Goforth National Missions Conference 2005: I describe a Missions Conference I attended in Singapore which surprisingly featured slightly progressive ideals – concern for the poor through holistic missions. I also touch a bit on Church Planting Movements (CPM). (2005)
My Choice of Pope: Jorge Mario Bergoglio: I wish Bergoglio became the Pope! Though theologically conservative, he has a real heart for the poor – a true servant leader! What a statement it would have been had he become the Pope. (2005)
Encountering Peter Singer: My thoughts on Peter Singer’s view of poverty in comparison to the Bible’s view. (2003)
World’s Suffering, Christians’ Apathy but “God is in Control!”: I reflect upon how the conservative Evangelical section of the Church lacks social radicalism in their messages and sermons. We tend to hear and care more about uplifting assurances that “God is control despite the suffering in the world” rather than the radical call to Christians to help these people. (2002)
Above All…: Some personal reflections while listening to and thinking about the popular Christian worship song, “Above all”. If the One above all could suffer and think of us above all, shouldn’t we Christians imitate after our Savior and sacrifice our lives for the many suffering in this world? (2002)
Isaiah 58: Beyond the Individual to the Social: Reflections upon Isaiah 58 and how “true fasting” to God goes beyond the personal and individual into the social. (2002).
The Gospel, Healing and Social Action: An abridged version of an email sent to a friend touching on my views on healing and social action. Although progressive in theological thinking, I’ve not let go of my Charismatic roots. I thus believe very much in miracles and supernaturalism, unlike liberal Christians (2002). For more on my views of healing and the faith (prosperity gospel) movement, go here: On Joseph Prince & New Creation Church - Grace, Faith, Health and Wealth.
Articles in the Poverty section.
4) Progressive Christianity (Missions)
Marketplace, Missional and Missions: I argue here that the recent emphasis on missional Christian living and seeing our homeland and secular workplace as a mission field is causing Christians to lose the sense of urgency in what we traditionally call overseas mission work. (2006)
God Calling More Christians to the Third World?: If we just realize how many people do not know Christ in this world and that these people are mostly from the developing world, dare we disagree that God is calling more Christians to do missions in the Third World? (2006)
Christianity and Idealism
5) Progressive Christianity (Politics)
On Christianity And Politics: (2008)
Bush and Evangelicalism: An unpublished letter sent to The Straits Times on the 6th of November, 2004 in which I state many Evangelicals do not support George Bush and that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. (2004)
Church Camp vs. Political Conference: Reflections one month into my University life when I had the option to either spend the Easter weekend at a Church camp or a political conference. No prizes for guessing which one I chose :) (2002)
Easter Morning Protest: Reflections on the Easter morning protest rally I participated in. I touch on the Christian’s role and involvement in politics. (2002)
Christians Changing the World through Politics?: Reflections about whether it is legitimate for Christians to be working for political and social change on this earth. (2002)
Seeing the Far Near: Thoughts about the immediate and tangible impact that stems from involvement in full-time Christian ministry versus the much slower and more intangible impact one will make through involvement in political and social change. The temptation is to follow the orthodox route to serving God in full-time Christian ministry due to the more immediate transformation in other people’s lives that such a vocation produces. (2002).
Christianity as the Opiate of the Masses?: Some reflections on the lack of social and political involvement in the present world by Christians. (2001)
6) Progressive Christianity (LGBT)
5 Things about the AWARE Saga: one Christian's Perspective: (2009)
Speak Softly, Love Loudly: How Christians Can Love Gays: (2009)
Leaving Free Community Church: Some of my thoughts on why I left Free Community Church – and also a bit on my present view of homosexuality. (2005)
More on Free Community Church – too Liberal for my Liking?: On my concerns about the liberal-leaning beliefs of Free Community Church. (2004)
Settling into a New Church – Free Community Church: How I started to attend Singapore’s most liberal-leaning and only gay-affirming Church. (2004)
Thoughts on Christianity and Homosexuality: Some preliminary thoughts of a progressive Christian on the issue of homosexuality. (2002)
7) Progressive Christianity (Others)
Ted Haggard and How and Who God Blesses: How do we reconcile the fact that God still blessed Ted Haggard’s ministry even though he was in sin?: “Ultimately, the only way we can reconcile all this is to believe that God still blesses the imperfect and the disobedient. In fact, if He were to only bless Christians and churches which have got everything (doctrine, practices, etc.) right, no Christian or church would be blessed by Him. Indeed, to say that God only blesses the obedient and those who preach a theologically perfect message is to underestimate how sinful and theologically inept we all are.” (2006)
Ted Haggard and the Progressive Christian Response: About how a Progressive Christian should respond to the Ted Haggard saga – i.e. in grace. (2006)
My Faith in Australia: About my faith in Australia – my encounters with fundamentalist Christian groups, Christian responses to social action…etc. (2003)
Does Living Your Christianity in This World Entail a Clash of Ideologies?: Reflections on Christianity as being counter-cultural. (2002)
Struggles with Organizational Christianity: Part of my email to a non-Christian friend about the struggles and disappointments I’ve had with organizational Christianity. I do believe in sharing my struggles even with a non-Christian. Organizational Christianity is imperfect (as everyone knows that) and acknowledging that and being honest about it can do more to help a questioning and thinking unbeliever see the attractiveness of my faith. There’s no need to put on a front and speak as though being a Christian and being part of the Christian community will free one from all problems. A progressive faith will acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and that we’re still on a journey – it is a struggling and even sometimes doubting faith. (2002)
The Attraction of the Radical Nature of Cults: I write here of my belief that one attractive characteristic of cult groups is the radical way in which they live out their beliefs. Orthodox Christians can learn much from this and progressive Christianity seeks to take seriously issues that traditional Christianity has mostly given lip service to. (2002)