By Michael J. Kruger
Published by Cruciform Press, 2019.
The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new under the sun. Yet Tony Benn, a left-wing British politician astutely observed that:
The word “new” is the oldest word in political discourse.
If you want to package up an old idea and make it attractive to a new generation, he suggested, you simply label it as “new.” In many ways he word “progressive” serves the same function.
Since Immanuel Kant, one of the leading thinkers of the eighteenth-century enlightenment, identified progress as the movement away from barbarism towards civilisation, progress has been regarded as both inevitable and good. It takes a brave person to stand in the way of progressive ideas, or even to subject them to scrutiny. Yet that is what Michael J. Kruger does in his brief, but timely, booklet entitled, The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity.
Kruger’s ten principles are drawn from a book of daily devotions by Philip Gulley, a quaker pastor from Indiana, entitled If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus. Gulley’s book is progressive theology packaged for daily life. Kruger argues that each of Gulley’s ten principles which Gulley contain a grain of truth sufficient to make them seductive and dangerous. For instance, commandment one is – Jesus is a Model for Living More than an Object for Worship. Is Gulley challenging us to consider where we place our emphasis when we think and speak about Jesus? No, Kruger responds, because he is inserting a wedge between two truths which belong together. The moral example of Jesus is binding only if he is the Lord whom we worship.
Underneath what Gulley presents as a refreshingly practical return to the true values of Jesus is an age-old heresy, the religion of moralism. Kruger argues, “By removing the person of Jesus from the equation as an object of worship, it essentially makes Christianity a religion of moralism. What matters most, we are told, is not doctrine or theology, but behaviour. Deeds over creeds. But this is absolutely contrary to historic Christianity, which is a religion of grace not a religion of merit.”
In similar fashion Kruger identifies the sliver of truth in a range of contemporary mantras which progressive Christianity twists and turns to eviscerate the gospel of its power. They include the therapeutic – Affirming potential is more Important than Reminding them of their Brokenness. The culturally appealing – Inviting Questions is more Valuable than Supplying Answers, and Encouraging Personal Search is More Important Than Group Uniformity. The practical – Meeting Actual Needs Is More Important than Maintaining Institutions. The compassionate – We Should Care More about Love and Less about Sex. The down to earth – Life in This World is More Important Than the Afterlife.
Yet not only are these popular mantras toxic in their implications, they are not new. They may be presented a contemporary and cool (“less Moses, more Oprah”), but they are every bit as old as Moses. In fact they are as old as the Serpent himself. As a New Testament Scholar, with a special interest in early Christianity and its battles with Gnosticism, Kruger is well-placed to identify the ancient errors which Gulley and many other progressives present in contemporary garb.
This little booklet is not a detailed treatment of contemporary progressive “Christianities” and their threat to historic Christianity. You will find fuller treatments of this topic in works by David Wells, Gene Veith and Carl Trueman (to name but a few examples). It is, however, a helpfully brief and pointed survey of the “smooth talk” (Romans 16:18) which bewilders, seduces and intimidates so many today, even in congregations where orthodox, historic Christianity is preached.
Andrew Stewart, Pastor Geelong RPC Australia