Monday, January 21, 2013

The Problem With Progressivism

You won't find me quoting many United Methodists, at least not in a favorable light, but I saw this article yesterday and thought he hit the nail on the head. The article, Kentucky United Methodist Bishop Cites Obstacles to Evangelism, cites Lindsey Davis who is a UMC Bishop in Kentucky and what he said was fascinating to me (emphasis added)..

“I love our church,” Davis said. “But it greatly frustrates me at times because I so earnestly believe that our Wesleyan theology is exactly what our world needs to hear. Yet our structures and process seem so unable to chart a new course for our journey. Our future must be focused on evangelism. And there are parts of our church these days that won’t even talk about evangelism.”

United Methodism, while growing globally, has lost 3.5 million in the U.S. over 45 years. Davis pointed to the “inability of our church to adjust and change” to reach new people for Christ.

“A lot of what we’ve been doing is not working,” Davis regretted of United Methodism. “It’s not bearing the fruit God expects. Not reaching the lost. We don’t even call them lost any more. We don’t even see those people as lost.

Indeed. How can you reach the lost if you are afraid of calling them lost in the first place? Without the urgency of a visceral awareness of the lostness of man and the reality of hell how exactly does one evangelize? Or at least how does one evangelize using the Biblical Gospel?

So much of what I see that falls under the umbrella of "progressive" or liberal Christianity strikes me as a reaction against the real and perceived excesses of fundamentalist Christianity. I get that, even as someone who bears many of the marks of fundamentalism, but I also see a lot of baby being tossed out with the bathwater. From the reality of hell and the historicity of Adam to issues of gender and sexuality it seems to me that in the urge to cast off any association with conservatism or fundamentalism the church in the progressive wing has lost a lot of crucial truths to their detriment. In doing so they have lost their connection to the core of the Gospel, namely the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

I am certain that many on the "left" would take umbrage at my admittedly sweeping assertion. Please note that I absolutely recognize that in spite of what I would label overly political solutions to Kingdom questions I do appreciate that at least progressive Christians seem concerned with issues of poverty and justice to an extent largely unheard of among more "orthodox" or "conservative" Christians. My concern is that there is a cart before the horse problem, a matter of prioritization. Teaching people to care for the poor is laudable but is not in and of itself the Gospel, especially not when caring for the poor becomes synonymous with secular economic redistribution.

Anyway, what do you think? Is my critique and that of Mr. Davis fair?


Bean said...

Perhaps evangelization fails so many times because it is not done with love, it is done with an agenda. Take the evangelical apostolic man (he identified and labeled himself) who came into my daughters work to get his hair cut. During the hair cut he asked my daughter if she believed and where did she go to church. Then, because where she goes to church he doesnt' agree with, he went on to tell her why she is wrong and he is right.
WOW - how arrogant can he be - he sort of sees himself as a god who can judge and pronounce sentence on a person he doesn't even know.

According to this man the only way to be saved and go to heaven is to be an evangelical apostolic and attend his church and believe exactly as he does - otherwise you may just as well get in line to burn in hell!

If God is Love, a pure, perfect love, then surely only perfect goodness and love can flow from God and if it this is true, and I believe it is why are so many Christians SO devisive?? How many good people have been killed by other Christians simply because they didn't believe in exactly the same way. We condemn Muslims for the same thing, yet the Christians in this world do very much the same thing.
The Christian church in the western world will continue to dwindle because very little is done out of love. How many churches tally up the "souls saved", the money collected, the programs offered, the people in attendance - yet fail in the most important mission of all - to offer one another the love of Christ?

Until Christians can see beyond denominations, dogma, and tenets and instead focus on the LOVE OF CHRIST we are doomed.

Blessings to you,


Aussie John said...

Your words "they have lost their connection to the core of the Gospel, namely the substitutionary atonement of Christ" are right on target, but, in this country,at least, apply across the spectrum of what claims to be to be church, even those claiming to be historically evangelicals.

Tim said...

I agree with your critique. I think the problem is prioritization, and I wonder if that stems from a narrow view of the gospel, perhaps, that ends with Christ's death.

I think for me the good news is not just that Jesus died for me, atoning for my sins, but that He came to be with us, spent time physically with us to show us the Father, suffered and died for us, was resurrected for us, anointed as High Priest and King, showered us with His Holy Spirit, and now chooses to live in, through, and among us as He reigns over the church.

And then taking care of the poor and other marginalized groups becomes part of reaching the lost and healing the world.

Any economic redistribution then occurs because we have established a loving relationship - which will include active generosity.

Brenda Martin Rydberg said...

Yes, the cart is before the horse. When government provides for the poor, there is no Gospel presented. God gave His church (Believers) the responsibility to meet physical needs that in so doing, the doors could be open to presenting the Gospel. What is the true church thinking when many of them support impersonal government handouts because God says to help the poor. He says they will know us by our love. Only lazy Christians agree to government handout. That is the easy way but does not meet the real need, hunger of the heart to know God.