The Hope of Theologically Progressive Evangelicalism: Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Progressive Christian Blogs issued an invitation for bloggers to write posts on the hope of progressive Christianity. I chose to write on the hope of theologically progressive evangelicalism. In preparation, I posted articles on 19th century evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and current evangelicalism.

Today I complete the series with this post.

Jesus - hope for today and tomorrow

Some Personal History

As a young fundamentalist in the 1960s, I was most heavily influenced by John R. Rice and his Sword of the Lord newspaper. In addition to Rice’s many books, I also read books by Jack Hyles.

On the radio, I listened regularly to Carl McIntire. My father was a Freewill Baptist pastor and particularly liked Oliver Greene, so I also listened to him and read his books; once I even attended a revival by Greene. All this was part of my fundamentalism.

When I was 17, I began attending an evangelical church and, later, an evangelical college. While there I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Harold Ockenga speak. After college, I worked 21 years in the evangelical Christian bookstore industry, spending most of that time with the nation’s leading Christian bookstore chain, Family Christian Stores. I was even a judge for a several years for the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

The Greek word ‘evangel’ (Ευαγγέλιον) means good news. My description of an evangelical is: One who is enthusiastic about the good news of Jesus and wishes to share it with others.

This is true of both 19 century evangelicalism and today’s evangelicalism. However, the good news among current evangelicals is burdened with doctrinal and behavioral baggage to the point that the good news is often obscured.

Good News for Today

By the mid-1990s, I left the evangelical bookstore industry because it was restrictive and ignored more theologically progressive books. I had become a theologically progressive evangelical.

My favorite passage from the Bible is in Matthew chapter 11, where Jesus says:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus did not come to add burdens but to relieve them. His good news for today involves relief of heavy burdens, including these specific burdens…

The burden of alienation from God. We often feel alienated from God, sometimes because we think we don’t measure up and sometimes because we think he is angry and vindictive. But this alienation is only on our side. Jesus tells us the Father loves each of us dearly and seeks a relationship with us.

This relieves us of the burdens of fear and isolation from God.

The burden of broken inter-personal relationships. Many of us feel conflict with those around us and do what we can to maintain an advantage against them, but Jesus says we should love others as we love ourselves. And the remarkable thing is–once we begin to understand and accept the Father’s love for us, we can love ourselves more appropriately and therefore love others better.

This relieves us of internal burdens of hostility and isolation from others, as well as self-destructiveness.

The burden of observing rules. Many Christians think the essence of Christianity is following laws of God, but there is only one principle to understand—to love others. If we genuinely love others as ourselves, we don’t need rules.

This relieves us of the burdens of legalism and judging others. All this good news provides a better life for us today.

Bright Hope for Tomorrow

The good news of Jesus has a future element as well. In John chapter 14, Jesus says:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Jesus does not stop with the good news of hope for this lifetime; he also offers us eternal life. We have very little idea of what eternal life entails, but we look forward to the provision Jesus makes for us to be where he is.

Expressions of Theologically Progressive Evangelicals

Not all theologically progressive evangelicals emphasize the same things, but there are common trends among us:

  • An understanding of God’s love that precludes eternal punishment
  • Behavior based on love and relationships instead of legalism and judging others
  • Full acceptance of gays and women as equals before God
  • A contextual reading of the Bible
  • A recognition that the Genesis creation accounts are not historical

If you are attracted to theologically progressive evangelicalism, some who embrace this perspective include: Rob Bell, Peter Enns, Rachel Held Evans, Justin Lee, and Clark Pinnock. All have books, but Pinnock has no blog; and, of course, there is my blog—Jesus without Baggage.

I wish for you all the hope of theologically progressive evangelicalism: strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow!

Photo Credit: freestone via Compfight cc
I invite your comments and observations below.
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30 Responses to The Hope of Theologically Progressive Evangelicalism: Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

  1. michaeleeast says:

    The five points you indicated are consistent with my experience of all Progressives.
    There is little difference between our views.
    At last there is a version of Christianity that makes sense and does not conflict with our scientific education.
    I see in this a great hope for the future.


  2. Chuck Gatlin says:

    Using your definition of “evangelical” I believe we’ll have to categorize Pope Francis as an evangelical– and he’s pretty close to being a progressive evangelical in his statements about the misplaced emphasis on legalism.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marc says:

    The “good news” of the Gospel has always been that God loves us enough to become one of us and show us the way to truth and life eternal. No baggage, only Jesus Christ; the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


  4. sheila0405 says:

    I’m still mulling over the idea of an eternity without God. I understand that we have free will, and we can choose not to be with God. Some believe that such a choice will cause our annihilation, and others believe in a hell of burning flames of torment. But I think God creates us on purpose. I just can’t see that he would bring a human into the world in a state of already headed toward destruction. I know how much I love my own children. There is nothing they could ever do to me that would make me cut them out of my life. Nor do I believe that a harsh response on my part towards them if they did hurt me would be beneficial. I would always reach out to them and seek reconciliation. My son was estranged from the family for a few years after he got out of high school, and anytime I had any contact with him, I assured him that my love was unconditional and that I wanted a relationship with him. Eventually, love won out and we now get along beautifully. I know you did a series on hell, and you mentioned annihilation, but do you believe that God would create life only to then turn around and destroy it? That’s what has been on my mind this Advent. Our sole responsibility in life is to love others as ourselves. Isn’t that God’s purpose, too, to love us in perfection?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sheila, I am optimistic that everyone will accept the Father’s gift of eternal life, but I can’t know that for sure because of the issue of freedom of the will. However, one thing I am quite certain of is that there is no punishment, eternal or otherwise, for rejecting eternal life. I believe God does love us.


  5. lotharson says:

    Hello Tim.

    “The Greek word ‘evangel’ (Ευαγγέλιον) means good news. My description of an evangelical is: One who is enthusiastic about the good news of Jesus and wishes to share it with others.”

    Etymologically speaking, yes. But the word (in the English tongue) Evangelical means someone believing that the Bible alone is the infallible revelation of God.

    What you described is a natural consequence of the definition of a Christian I gave several months ago and I do not view myself as an Evangelical by any means.

    So I think that the label “progressive Protestant” or simply “progressive Christian” is far better for both of us .

    Peter Enns and Randal Rauser are progressive Evangelicals, but we aren’t.

    Lovely greetings in Christ.


    • sheila0405 says:

      I know this isn’t my comment thread, but I thought I would add my two cents as a former Fundamentalist. To me, an evangelist was someone who preached the Good News of Jesus Christ, mostly with the purpose of “winning souls.” It was never a static description, but one of action–spending his life to go out and reach the lost for Christ. Asked for an example, I would always point to Billy Graham.


    • Hi Lothar, your description is satisfactory to me, and I understand your reasoning. You are welcome to consider me a progressive Christian (or Protestant) if you want, but it’s not the only was to view the situation.

      Historically, the essence of evangelicalism was not ‘believing that the Bible alone is the infallible revelation of God.’ The word ‘evangel’ was used extensively by early evangelicals in the sense of proclaiming the good news. The emphasis on inerrancy came later in reaction to theological forces of the time.

      My roots are in evangelicalism; my associations are evangelical; many of my favorite authors are from among the growing number of theologically progressive evangelicals. In addition, I do not fit comfortably with current understandings of progressive Christianity.

      I understand that my identification as a progressive evangelical is problematic to both progressives and evangelicals. People of both camps deny that I am a progressive evangelical–progressives because I am too evangelical, and evangelicals because I am too progressive.

      Different people see me either as a wannabe progressive or a wannabe evangelical, when in fact labels don’t matter much to me, but readers frequently ask for my label. I think theologically progressive evangelical is the best I can come up with.

      People will never agree on precise definitions of these labels, and the labels continue to change. For example, the oldest use of Evangelical in America was to describe Lutherans, and it is still seen today in the name of the largest Lutheran Church–The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but that denomination is perhaps the farthest from the meaning of evangelical we are discussing here.

      Thanks for the comment Lothar; I always enjoy your contributions!


      • michaeleeast says:

        The only difference I can see is that theologically progressive Evangelicals have a slightly more magical attitude towards Jesus. Jesus is the only path to eternal life.
        Whereas Progressive Christians tend to believe that Jesus is one of many paths.
        In the spectrum of views that makes up Progressive Christianity this is a minor problem.


    • Thank you Lothar for alerting me to Randal Rauser’s work. I appreciate it.


      • lotharson says:

        Yeah he is really the best author in the Evangelical camp. He defends the faith against atheism but he also rejects the idea that God could have ordered a genocide.


  6. lotharson says:

    Hello Tim, I’m looking forward to seeing your next Christmas post 🙂

    Otherwise I just wrote a post concerning a former fundamentalist who became an atheist
    and I am sure you could bring up a new interesting perspective on her sad story.

    Lovely greetings from Lorraine, the land founded by king Lothar the great (and my homeland for that matter).


    • sheila0405 says:

      I left a comment on your blog. It was indeed very disheartening to see another person’s faith destroyed by the legalism and constraints in Calvinism. Calvinism robs us of our human dignity by denying conscience and free will.


    • Hi Lothar’s son, I am not posting during this period because of holiday activities and houseguests, but I will return in January!

      Thanks for your post; Rachael’s story brought back memories. I used to be apologetics boy in high school. At my Christian college, I hung out with other apologetics guys, both students and professors. I enjoyed reading the apologist church fathers, and I loved to defend my views and defeat opposing views!

      In time, I abandoned almost all the positions I defended so ably, so I can identify with Rachael’s transition. Both our problems were the same: we valued truth and asked questions. The apologist’s task is to determine how to defend a truth they already ‘know’.

      But we are also different. In Rachael’s crisis, she discarded Christianity completely. In my crisis, in which I mourned the loss of God for more than a year, I came to see that the person of Jesus, as described from the memories of his first followers, was compelling to me. I began with that fact alone and was able to discover what I now think is the essence of the good news.

      I describe that crisis here:

      However, I am not stymied by the critical question to which Rachel could not find an answer: “If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?”

      In my opinion, this is a question only if one considers the Bible to be the authoritative, consistent word of God; I do not think it is, so there is no crisis here for me.


      • lotharson says:

        Thanks for your answer!

        I can conceive of the writers of the OT as being inspired in a similar way that C.S. Lewis was inspired.

        As for apologetics, there is a legitimate version (passionately defending what you believe to be true) and an illegitimate one (distorting facts in order to fit reality to your cherished beliefs).

        This last pitfall is by no means a Christian problem, many militant atheists are also concerned.


  7. Kevin says:

    Hey Tim, I agree with most of what you have to say, not least with the burdens and baggages that come with a believer today. A minor question – does one’s belief in the creation story as a historical account necessary precludes him from being progressive?


    • Hi Kevin. Good question!

      I have found that the term ‘progressive Christian’ is very broad and that progressives have quite varied views. So I don’t think believing in the historicity of the Genesis creation accounts means a person is not progressive. In fact, you can even make dissenting comments if you wish, and I will respond to them respectfully.

      Regular readers of this blog have many different views and we all get along. In fact, I don’t know of any reader who agrees with everything I say. What seem to bring us together are two things: an interest in Jesus and a desire to discard the baggage, and the baggage is probably seen differently by each person.

      Besides, progressive Christianity is just a convenient label. I really don’t put much emphasis on labels, but I wrote this post in part because people ask me for one.


  8. Bill Norton says:

    What, exactly, does progressive evangelical mean? What does progressive Christian mean? Are the two actually one and the same? Does progressive evangelicalism have a starting point? A central thinker?


    • Bill, I am sure people have different ideas on how to define ‘Progressive Christian’. Perhaps the most obvious contrast in America is with fundamentalism. Progressive Christians are not fundamentalist in their approach.

      In addition, the majority of evangelicals are not progressive Christians because they believe in inerrancy and certain doctrines based upon their understanding of inerrancy. However, there is a growing minority of evangelicals who do not believe in inerrancy and have discarded some of the doctrines they held earlier.

      I recently began describing myself as a theologically progressive evangelical, but there is no organized movement that uses this label. I chose that self-identity because I hold a few views that some progressive Christians do not–most importantly the uniqueness of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and eternal life beyond death. I am also enthusiastic about the good news and wish to share it with others.

      There is no central voice for progressive evangelicals, but I refer you to the five writers at the end of the article (above) for some representative voices.


      • Bill Norton says:

        Thanks. I’ll have a look.


      • Annemarie says:

        Whoa! This is exactly the theology I identify with, and I have been driven crazy because, like you said, there is no organized movement (yet) that embraces this viewpoint. I have been researching progressive Christianity for some time, and agree with much of it, but I was bummed that some progressives don’t believe Jesus was unique or resurrected. I cannot identify myself as a fundamentalist because I can’t swallow the idea that the Bible is inerrant due to the barbaric stories in the OT. But I still believe in Jesus and that he was resurrected, and in in the greatest commandment without all the weird harsh rules. So there is a place for my beliefs after all! The question is, what church denominaion has a theology close to this? I find that many of them are either one extreme or another. Maybe that’s one reason why there’s so much fighting amongst Christians.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Annemarie, I wish I could point you to a theologically progressive evangelical denomination–but I cannot. However, there are many congregations within both evangelical and mainline denominations that are a pretty good fit. The problem is we have to look for them, and sometimes that is long and difficult.

          In fact, I am looking now. In the meantime I read progressive evangelical blogger; that forms a sort of fellowship until I can find a local one. I hope you are able to connect to such a congregation soon.

          I wrote a simple (not deep or researched) article on possible steps in finding a good church fit, if you are interested.


  9. Pingback: What Does Evangelical Mean Today? | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. luckyotter says:

    Christianity needs to be re-associated with the qualities Jesus showed us – compassion, love, kindness, tolerance, forgiveness. Not the ugly values American “Christianity” has become associated with, which are mostly about greed, hatred, and punishing society’s most vulnerable.

    Liked by 1 person

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