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.
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!
I invite your comments and observations below.
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