Malleus Progressivorum Introduction

Convert!!!
Convert!

First of all, please excuse my tongue in cheek title as I am having some fun with the outpouring of criticism I have received. Since I have been accused of heresy hunting and inquisitorial ideas, I figured I may as well roll with it and have some fun. After all, no one expects the Methodist Inquisition. This will evolve into a series of posts examining some of the ideas that I have encountered in Progressive “Christianity” and their new way of thinking. I am starting with how to find a Progressive “Christian” church as that seems to be the logical first step.

This is motivated by a couple of things. The first, believe it or not (I suspect that for most of you it will be not, but I have been surprised before) it is out of concern and love that I began this and continue on with it. While I would not presume it is my place to stand on a street corner and pronounce to everyone “you are doing it wrong”, I do presume that it is my business to address those men and women who call themselves Christian that are indeed following teachings that are out of line with the scriptures as expressed in the historic witness and tradition of the church.

Second this is motivated by my love for the church as it is expressed by the history and tradition of it. The church has indeed changed and new ideas have been examined and accepted or discredited as time has gone on, but her historic and faithful witness has remained and is best expressed I believe, in the Apostle’s Creed, reprinted here for your convenience.

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae,et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum,qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine,passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus,descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis,ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis,inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem,remissionem peccatorum,carnis resurrectionem,vitam aeternam. Amen

…or for those not fond of Latin:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy Catholic Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life everlasting.
Amen

(From The Book of Common Prayer; I accept that “Descended into hell is a point of contention.)

Finally this is motivated by both examining what some of the common ideas in the Progressive “Christian” movement are, and by doing so bring light to those who agree and disagree as well as those who self identify as Progressive “Christians” yet might not understand what is being taught and shown as truth. It is, after all, vitally important what we believe as right belief leads to right action and not the other way around. If the ends justified the means, then the inquisition would have been a good thing and not one of the darker periods of church history.  As a note, this is not about LGBTQ arguments and debates, so any mention of them will be only for reference not as a required belief of any group of Christians one way or another.

So, onto how to avoid, erm….find….a Progressive “Christian” church. This is a link on how to go about finding a Progressive “Christian” church. I have found myself very thankful for it as it also can be used as instruction on how to avoid a Progressive “Christian” church. I have issues with it as I think that it unfairly attaches certain movements (notably those which agree with full inclusion) with Progressive “Christianity” but that is for another time. Coming from a Progressive “Christian” pastor, I shall accept that he believes this to be an effective way to find a Progressive Christian church so I shall as well. The same said pastor uses the 8 points of Progressive Christianity and expounds upon them in his book in a longer format. (The 8 basic points may be found here) The first 6 points of the piece are sort of common sense and standard fare sort of advice and easy enough to follow. I do think that he unfairly ties churches that support full inclusion with Progressive “Christianity” as I do not find that the two are necessarily linked and that in doing so he hurts their cause. Point number 7 though is where I want to start my concentration…

“You may not be able to find a progressive church near you. If not, you’ve got some options. One is to help to try to transform the most liberal one you can find toward being a progressive congregation.”

This is how the point begins. So, he actively advocates a form of evangelism, that is to say spreading his version of the faith, to others, but with other works condemns those who do the same.  If I, for instance, were to go to a Progressive “Christian” congregation and attempt to transform it into one conforming to the Articles of religion and the Apostle’s Creed for example, not only would it be met with resistance, but I imagine outright hostility. Beyond that however, he is actively, in the case of the UMC should one follow his advice, calling for people to openly disagree with, and ignore the tenants of our faith, but also to encourage others to do the same. That is far beyond the live and let live attitude he claims to support, but is rather an open invitation to cause disruption and try to subvert the faith as expressed by the UMC, and depending on the denomination as he is speaking to all, perhaps their beliefs also.

“Another option is to start a home church or meet up group for progressive Christians. Progressivechristianity.org provides this listing of progressive Christians to help you locate kindred spirits near you! Finally, a last resort might be to find fellowship and a “para church” community in one of the many progressive Christian Facebook pages.”

I am all for home groups and think that they can be an important and vital part of faith. I wish here he would have at least said in addition to attending a church. The danger here is that without proper direction and guidance, there is a greater potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding the scriptures. Yes a small group is important, but not in isolation from the church but in addition to the church. The progressive Christian Facebook pages are virtual echo chambers where no thought of historic and traditional Christianity can be found, heard, or tolerated. This again is far from the everything is open to questioning attitude that is claimed to be possessed as well as far away from the “big tent” idea that the UMC was founded upon and that is claimed to be supported.Before closing, a word on the “big tent”. Yes, the UMC was meant to be and still should be a big tent denomination allowing for a variety of thoughts and ideas as we move forward for truth. It is not however an infinite tent. There must be some sort of baseline belief that is required or you simply have no identity. This applies for the Church Triumphant, the Denominations, and even individual Christians.  As I have many times before, I submit that the best and least restrictive “minimum requirement” if you will is to be found in the Apostles Creed. There is a very big tent that is allowed there and plenty of room in it, but it is not infinite. There simply are beliefs that are out of bounds. How to avoid a Progressive “Christian” church is a good start in avoiding those ideas.

 

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30 Replies to “Malleus Progressivorum Introduction”

  1. I’ll make it easy for you. Here is perhaps the most progressive church I know of. It’s tent is as wide as possible. It includes both Christians and atheists. And Buddhists. And Wiccans. So I know you would not call it a Christian church. But would you call the people that consider themselves Christians that go to this church, Christians, or “Christians”. Or none.

    http://summituuf.org/who-we-are/unitarian-universalists-principles/

    As a note, my neighbor goes to this church. I’ve been there. I find it a rather good group of people. Now, just one simple set of questions for you, and then I will let it go.

    Do you have a problem with these people attending their church? (I assume the answer is no).

    You wouldn’t say to a member of this church that calls himself a Christian, that he is not a Christian (at least to his face)? (I assume the answer is no).

    You wouldn’t say to this person that he is going to hell because he does not support the Creeds? (I assume the answer is no).

    If all answers to the questions are “no”, then I would say you are a good Methodist. If you answered “yes” to any question, I would still call you a Methodist. But I would call you a bad Methodist.

    So if all your answers are “no”, then I would say you’re main point of all these posts is that you do not want to see the current UMC to transition to, or drift toward, a UU Church. If that is the case, I actually agree with you. My main point, is that I do not mind a Christian going to a UU Church, or a progressive Christian going to a UMC Church.

    I think I would like to NOT consider you a Fundamentalist. A Fundamentalist, in my definition, would stand up in front of a UU Congregation, and tell them that they are all going to hell. THAT, in my opinion, would make that individual no longer a Methodist.

    Please correct me if I am wrong, in your opinion.

    1. “Do you have a problem with these people attending their church?” I don’t have any issue with any person attending anything that they are legally allowed to, religious or rock concert so you are correct here.

      “You wouldn’t say to a member of this church that calls himself a Christian, that he is not a Christian (at least to his face)?” I would inquire using Wesley’s questions in a more modern language. So how is it with your soul, have you avoided evil, have you availed yourself of the means of grace, etc. If it became clear through those questions that they were not Christian or I had concerns that their faith was not in agreement with what the historic baseline of Christianity has been, then yes, I would question their faith to their face explaining what Christianity has meant through the centuries in a basic way. I use the Apostle’s creed as a baseline as I find it simple to understand and believe it to cover the basics. If, though discussion, we had a different understanding of a scripture or idea that is not an essential to the faith, if they were to claim to be Christian and then say they supported full inclusion on LGBT issues for example, I would say that we disagree on an interpretation of scripture, but yes indeed we worship the same God through the same Christ and be happy to meet a brother or sister I had not previously met.
      “You wouldn’t say to this person that he is going to hell because he does not support the Creeds?”
      I would not say to anyone that they are going to hell as that is above my pay grade. I would say to anyone that I was concerned for that I thought the path they were on was dangerous and could lead away from Christianity and God if that were my belief that this was true. I hope that someone would (and people have) for me as well.

      I don’t mind anyone attending a UMC church regardless of their beliefs. Yes, I do think that some beliefs are dangerous and potentially lead to an unpleasant end and would say so to anyone that I knew with conversation and explanation as to why I thought this. My problems are when those personal beliefs are taught as truth in the UMC (I care if it is done in other denominations as well, but I do not belong to them). We have standards as the UMC and our teaching should be within those standards. The 8 points of Progressive “Christianity” that I continue to reference do not conform to those standards, and are taught by some, in churches, on college campuses, and from the pulpit. There is not room in our big tent for that. I maintain that following the 8 points is incompatible with historic Christian teaching and can not coexist within a church that has any semblance of an orthodox tradition, which the UMC has.

      I am not a Fundamentalist as it would refer to the 5 points of Fundamentalism as a religious movement. Do I think it necessary to have adherence to a base line set of beliefs about Christianity? Yes, I do. If that would make me a fundamentalist in your estimation, I do not know.

  2. Nope. Not fundamentalist in my opinion. Except for the creeds thing, I mostly agree with you. But our baseline of beliefs are not the same. As I remember, there is no oath to support any creeds to become a Methodist.

    1. No not officially. I did, but that has more to do with the church I went through confirmation in.”According to The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church,
      members make covenant to do the following:
      1. To renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil
      powers of the world, and repent of their sin;
      2. To accept the freedom and power God gives them to resist
      evil, injustice, and oppression;
      3. To confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put their whole trust in his
      grace, and promise to serve him as their Lord;
      4. To remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve
      as Christ’s representatives in the world;
      5. To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church
      and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries;
      6. To faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers,
      their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness;
      7. To receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the
      Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments”
      8 point progressive thought does not often allow for #3 as many, perhaps most, profess belief in some form of Adoptionism. My contention is that the basics are held in the Apostle’s creed is all, and if not then what is the basics?

      1. There is historical fear of Adoptionism by the church father’s, to the point that they change texts. So the creeds are not so pure in form, as to take them at face value. As I said, Jesus didn’t teach Creeds 101 either.
        From a Bart Ehrman book:
        Luke and changes to the text:

        Luke 22:43-44 And there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.

        Wiki:
        Bruce M. Metzger (2005): “These verses are absent from some of the oldest and best witnesses, including the majority of the Alexandrian manuscripts. It is striking to note that the earliest witnesses attesting the verses are three Church fathers – Justin, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus – each of whom uses the verses in order to counter Christological views that maintained that Jesus was not a full human who experienced the full range of human sufferings. It may well be that the verses were added to the text for just this reason, in opposition to those who held to a docetic Christology”.

        According to Bart D. Ehrman (1993) these two verses disrupt the literary structure of the scene (the chiasmus), they are not found in the early and valuable manuscripts, and they are the only place in Luke where Jesus is seen to be in agony. Ehrman concludes that they were inserted in order to counter doceticism, the belief that Jesus, as divine, only seemed to suffer. While probably not original to the text, these verses reflect first-century tradition.

        Luke 3:22
        It appears, then, that originally in Luke’s account of Jesus’s bap­tism, the voice came from heaven to declare “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Luke probably did not mean that to be inter­preted adoptionistically, since, after all, he had already narrated an ac­count of Jesus’s virgin birth (in chapters 1­2). But later Christians reading Luke 3:22 may have been taken aback by its potential impli­cations, as it seems open to an adoptionistic interpretation. To prevent anyone from taking the text that way, some proto­orthodox scribes changed the text to make it stand in complete conformity with the text of Mark 1:11. Now, rather than being said to have been begotten by God, Jesus is simply affirmed: “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” This is, in other words, another antiadoptionistic change of the text.

        1. As I will address briefly in my next post, which was planned to be on adoptionism, and is in draft form now, Adoptionism has a long and old history. As to Bart Ehrman, he is solidly in the minority of scholars, and has many critics. This does not make him automatically wrong of course, but it does mean that he should be viewed with extra skepticism. If you are interested, here is an interesting response to the book you are quoting if you are interested. https://bible.org/article/gospel-according-bart
          He has authored several well selling books, but those books are not peer reviewed in the least and while his criticism is widely thought of as good, and often great, his conclusions are questioned by most in the field.
          Labeling the response of the church to adoptionism as fear is unfair as there is little to support that. The response of the church was that this is improper teaching. Just because one says a thought, idea, world view etc. is wrong does not mean that they fear it.

          1. “As to Bart Ehrman, he is solidly in the minority of scholars”…
            I don’t think so.
            “Not peer reviewed”.
            They are popular books. But you just gave a response to it. For popular books, that’s the kind of review there is. Ehrman’s academic writings are peer reviewed. Although, since they are academic, neither you or I would probable be able to understand them.
            Another case were we will have to disagree.

          2. BTW, thanks for the reference. It is long, so I will have to take time to read it. Although, my immediate alarm bells go on, when I see where the author came from, Dallas Theological Seminary. Perhaps you don’t know that it is the primary source of Premilliannial dispensationalism. Last time I checked, they required all facility to sign an agreement that they will support all the DTS doctrine, including dispensationalism. I am sorry, but any document out of there is immediately suspect, since dispensationalism is just plain crazy. But I will read it. I won’t comment on it, since I think we have road this horse as far as it will go.

          3. Pardon my not being clear enough, I meant that he is solidly in the minority on this particular subject and did not make that clear enough. As for his peer reviewed pieces, they do not go to the same places that his pop culture books do according to his peers. I am also aware that DTS is where dispensation theology was popularized, While I would not turn to someone educated there on matters of eschatology, this is not a matter of eschatology. If we are going to discount theologians based on their denominations/education, then I would only ever read evangelicals and that is just as bad as only reading progressives.

          4. I have to add a note on your reference, from the guy at DTS. Actually, he is pretty good. Although regarding the Trinity (way too much info to cover on other stuff, but quite interesting), he says regarding the 1 John verses:

            “Finally, regarding 1 John 5.7–8, virtually no modern translation of the Bible includes the “Trinitarian formula,” since scholars for centuries have recognized it as added later. Only a few very late manuscripts have the verses. One wonders why this passage is even discussed in Ehrman’s book. The only reason seems to be to fuel doubts. The passage made its way into our Bibles through political pressure, appearing for the first time in 1522, even though scholars then and now knew that it was not authentic. The early church did not know of this text, yet the Council of Constantinople in AD 381 explicitly affirmed the Trinity! How could they do this without the benefit of a text that didn’t get into the Greek NT for another millennium? Constantinople’s statement was not written in a vacuum: the early church put into a theological formulation what they got out of the NT.”

            This is a rather interesting conundrum. A book by Ehrman about misquotes in the bible, but he wonders why Ehrman included it! Yet he himself says it was added later (1522). So he places all of his trust in AD 381, with no supporting data given, and concludes no impact on doctrine. Ok. Two people view the same data, and come up with different conclusions. Same applies to his inerrancy argument. I throw my hat into Ehrman’s ring. Although, I can see why more conservative types might be swayed by this guy. I am actually impressed with some things he says, considering he comes from DTS. DTS must have loosened up some of their restrictions. Although, also, I noticed there were no comments in this blog article. Makes me think it reviews and censures comments that they don’t like, which is too bad. (I don’t know this as fact, but seems odd there would be no comments from 2006).

          5. One other thing I find funny on the DTS article:

            “76 It should be noted that Misquoting Jesus is dedicated to Bruce Metzger, whom Ehrman describes as “the world’s leading expert in the field [of NT textual criticism]” (Misquoting, 7). Yet Metzger would fundamentally disagree with Ehrman’s thesis in this book.”

            I find it funny that he KNOWS what Bruce Metzger would think, with no evidence given, and considering Metzger is dead! Talk about drawing conclusions with no evidence!

  3. The idea of the “I’m-so-progressive-I’m-Unitarian” being entrepreneurial enough to plant a church makes me chuckle. This type of heresy is parasitic (literally, it feeds off of something healthy), not productive.

    1. “The idea of the “I’m-so-progressive-I’m-Unitarian”” is your comment. Who exactly are you quoting? I made no such statement. Are you making fun of Unitarians? Or Methodists that are too progressive for you to accept? If that is the case, I would say I would not sit next to you in any church pew, let alone a Methodist pew. Sounds like your heresy is too big an ego.

      1. Gary, I’m not exaggerating. I have literally had conversations in the last week with Methodist clergy who fought me on the divinity of Jesus. That is heresy. You can find that mean and judgmental all you want, but since John 1 has been written, Christians have understood Jesus to be divine. I don’t care if someone is progressive politically, honestly. But if their version of “progressive” means compromising basic Christian teaching (which is very much what the “progressive Christians” Scott is going after mean), than I have no desire to sit in a pew next to them and watch them piss on the Apostle’s Creed. They have gatherings from Unitarians – they’d love to have you. But don’t do that and try to teach and lead the people called United Methodists.

        1. “I have literally had conversations in the last week with Methodist clergy who fought me on the divinity of Jesus”…
          Just curious. I find it hard to believe a clergy member would place himself in a situation like that. Usually it is more “it’s a mystery”, or “who knows?” I find dictation of doctrine as if there is definitive proof, as egotistical, whether conservative or liberal. So, what area of the country was your clergy located at, if you are comfortable to reveal it? Certainly it is in private conversations. I would doubt that it would be in a church setting, sermon or Sunday School.

  4. Yikes. If I was a clergy in the UMC in North Carolina, I would play a low profile on comments about doctrine, especially if it is an outlier for UMC. Doctrine and politics. A clergy supporting a political parties position is similar. Guaranteed you are going to tick at least a good percentage of people off.

  5. Again, there is nothing wrong with the critical examination of scripture that Ehrman employs, the troubles begin when he tries to interpret what those examinations and conclusions mean. He is incredibly respected in the field of textual criticism, but the conclusions he draws from those criticisms are what is widely disagreed with. Not, the criticism of text, the conclusions he himself draws. I had also forgot to mention that Ehrman is not actually a believer, so anything he has to say about the meaning of scripture is fairly useless to me. One does not ask a Taoist about Hinduism or a Hindu about Zoroastrianism, etc.
    Finally as for the assertion that Metzger would not have agreed with him…well chances are very good that he wouldn’t have. He was a conservative with a high view of scripture.

  6. what I already provided:

    Bruce M. Metzger (2005): “These verses are absent from some of the oldest and best witnesses, including the majority of the Alexandrian manuscripts. It is striking to note that the earliest witnesses attesting the verses are three Church fathers – Justin, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus – each of whom uses the verses in order to counter Christological views that maintained that Jesus was not a full human who experienced the full range of human sufferings. It may well be that the verses were added to the text for just this reason, in opposition to those who held to a docetic Christology”.

    You cannot assume a person would support your position just because he is viewed as a conservative. Especially if he is dead, and cannot speak for himself. Metzger was the editor on my Oxford RSV bible. Some conservatives would consider him a heresy for being the head honcho on the RSV.

  7. And finally, “I had also forgot to mention that Ehrman is not actually a believer, so anything he has to say about the meaning of scripture is fairly useless to me.”
    Heck, you should have said that to begin with, and I would have saved a lot of time looking up scriptures. Makes our arguments rather pointless.

    1. Yeah it would have lol. I went back over them to refresh my memory and realized I had forgotten to add that small (well large) thing.

    1. How can it possibly be irrelevant? How does it make any sense for someone who is not a Christian to try and teach and Christian theology?

      1. So, how can it be that a non-Christian (agnostic, which is what Ehrman is) can translate Hebrew and Greek correctly? An agnostic can possibly be correct in studying religions? He is not teaching Christianity, or theology. He is studying religions historically. He is studying theology, not teaching it. Can a historian study the civil war without being a Yankee or a Rebel? I think so. But that is why our discussion is pointless. You and I exist on different planets. Nothing wrong with that. Just that we are speaking different languages.

  8. I have not said he can not translate correctly, in fact I have said the opposite, his peers praise his work in textual criticism. The issue is when he begins to interpret meaning as it relates to Christianity as opposed to translating and commenting historically. For example, when he calls into question the authorship of 2 Peter, that makes sense as it is well within his field of expertise. When he speculates on theology and matters of Christian faith, he is speculating on a faith the he has left. Those are the parts of his critique that are of little value. So, when he speaks of adoptionism as a plausible Christology, he is well out of his depth simply because he does not believe in Christ so faith is left out and Christianity does require faith. While he can, and did, write a pretty good book looking at the reality of the historic Jesus, once he starts commenting on His divinity or lack thereof, he is out of his depth and has little to add to the conversation of Christian belief.

  9. I’m the author of the blog piece under scutiny in this blog. I would like to clarify a few things. I do not Identify as an “8 Points Progressive Christian.” You can say that I do, but I don’t. You even wrongly stated that I advocate TCPC’s 8 points and “expound upon them.” I didn’t and don’t. TCPC (now progressivechristanity.org) has had several versions of their 8 Points over the years and while I did resonate with some earlier versions, I’m less thrilled with the more recent ones.

    That said, I did include their 8 Points as an appendix in my book Kissing Fish – along with several other descriptions of progressive Christianity, including the Phoenix Affirmations. I included them as I wanted to show that the working definition of progressive Christianity that I posited (much earlier in the book) isn’t the only one to help remind people of the diversity and range within this umbrella. You seem to be unfairly positing that TCPC’s 8 Points are “The” creed and normative rule for progressive Christianity. They aren’t. I suppose this is understandable for you to do this as you are clearly creedal by nature and likely assume/project that onto others.

    You will also notice that I didn’t include the Unitarian Universalist denomination in my “7 Ways to Find a Progressive Church.” I didn’t include any New Thought churches either (Unity, etc.) as I don’t consider either of them (generally speaking) to be within the Christian ballpark. Peace.

    1. Pray tell us, Roger — way do you allow people to repost the 8 points (which you have yet to actually deny) under your name?

      You seem to want to play word games. That is fine. I would expect nothing less.

    2. Thank you for noticing that I am clearly creedal in nature. I appreciate the compliment as in that statement you have recognized my ties through belief in the risen Christ to the church throughout history. I appreciate that.
      Please take the time to discuss which of the 8 points that you take issue with and provide a brief descriptor as to what said issue is. That might go a long way in clearing up whatever misunderstandings that I have. Also feel free to articulate what Progressive “Christianity” actually is as I have asked this question over and over but receive no answer that includes any sort of cohesive system of belief. You also mentioned that there were places you did not recommend for finding a progressive church as you felt they were outside of the tent of Christianity, so what are the boundaries of the tent if I might ask. You have stated that Christianity is not an exclusive faith, and that there is no need for atonement, denied the trinity, and that the physical resurrection of Christ is not necessary. What is not allowed then?

  10. The progressives claim to love the church… much like they claimed to love the Presby church… before they destroyed it. And they claimed to love the Episcopal Church… before they destroyed it… ect… ect… ect…

    They are parasites. They cannot build. But they see these living vital organizations and wish to use them for their own progressive causes.

    The end result is always the same.

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