The Gospel v Progressivism

I’ve grown increasingly concerned by the inroads the Progressive Left has made into the Evangelical church, especially among young adults. The purpose of this essay is to challenge the idea of the Progressive Christian. You can either be a Christian or a Progressive but not both without pouring new meaning into what you mean by either.

What follows is not intended to persuade those who’ve already accepted the tenets of Progressivism. It is for the large number of Evangelicals who more recently have become aware of the leftward shift taking place in many churches and schools. We begin with a brief review Critical Theory, a core component of Progressivism. We then turn to consider how The Gospel’s doctrine of Justification by Faith is utterly incompatible with Critical Theory. We end with a look at the futility of Progressivism and how only The Gospel provides the solution to human need.

For a fuller treatment of Progressivism and its connection to Theological Liberalism, see my article Regressive Christianity.

A Question of Justice
Progressivism and Christianity have very different concepts of justice. We’ll consider Progressivism’s concept of justice, then Christianity’s.

Progressivism’s justice is derived from a philosophy called Critical Theory (CT). The Marxist roots of CT are revealed by its belief all history is the result of class-struggle between the Haves and Have-Nots, between the dominant and the oppressed.

In Critical Theory, the value of the individual is derived from their inclusion in a group. That value is not a matter of inherent worth as a human being so much as what justice is owed the oppressed group the individual is part of in terms of justice. The more oppressed a group has been, the more of a claim to retributive or social justice they possess. The group holding dominance in shaping culture is attributed less value with a corresponding diminished claim to justice. On the contrary, having received the privileges of dominance, social justice requires they lose privileges. Progressivism is a zero-sum game where, for a group to rise, another must fall. The more oppressed groups an individual is a part of, the greater their claim on social justice. This is called Intersectionality.

For our purpose, what’s important to note is where the value of human life lies in Critical Theory and the view of justice it imparts to Progressivism. It isn’t due to any intrinsic individual worth. It’s not derived from the nature of our origin, potential, or destiny. The individual only has value though of their inclusion in an oppressed group. It’s the group’s claim to social justice that gives it’s members worth.

In Christianity, justice is a matter of being right with a holy and righteous God. The Gospel and it’s promise of salvation is fundamentally a question of justice. How can sinners be right with a holy and just God? How can the guilty be forgiven their moral and spiritual debt?

The doctrine of Justification by Faith lies at the center of the Christian Faith. It’s the belief that individuals are declared just by God through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They do not attain justification by anything intrinsic to themselves. God does not set aside the guilt of personal sin because of special skill or talent, nor because they’ve compensated for wrong-doing by acts of penance or merit. Any good work they may do is already required, so it can hardly compensate for failure. It is precisely because no one can save themselves that Christ came. If salvation were possible by human effort, Christ need not and would not have come. That He did is sufficient proof there is no other way to be right with God and the demands of His justice to be met.

The faith that results in justification is exercised by individuals, not groups. Once an individual puts their faith in Christ and is declared righteous by God, they become a part of God’s family. To use a Biblical idiom, they become a son or daughter of God. But inclusion in this spiritual family is the result of individual faith.

In other words, salvation is individual, not collective. The appeal of the Gospel is for all people, but is appropriate only by individuals.

The Gospel says our value is determined, not by anything inherent within ourselves. It is external, not internal. It is derived from the fact that we are loved and valued by God. The individual does not obtain value by inclusion in a group or some special talent or skill they possess. Their utility to society does not enhance their worth. Their value lies in the fact of their bearing the image of God and the related potential of being in an eternally intimate relationship with Him. Martin Luther said, “Sinners are attractive because they are loved, not loved because they are attractive.”

How Many Groups?
The problem with Progressivism is that its view of justice is too low. It regards no justice but that of the interaction of social groups. Yet these groups experience egregious acts of injustice between their own members. The social justice of CT is derelict in that it ignores genuine justice, which is always and only centered on the treatment of individuals. Putting any adjective in front of “justice” is to make it unjust. Justice does right by the individual-person or it is no justice at all.

This is where The Gospel’s offer of justification by faith can heal our polarized world. It reverses the way in which we evaluate others. If a person’s value lies in a quality or feature they possess, or what group they’re a part of, it makes distinctions between people. Some are more valuable, others less so; and we’re back to the bigotry and racism that’s plagued every age. If, however, our value resides in God’s valuing us, we can’t make such distinctions. Each and every person has value and the dignity such value produces. Therefore, everyone deserves the justice of equal treatment, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, or social utility.

Progressivism is destined to fail because its justice is conceived of only in human interactions. A concern for righteousness is nowhere to be found. Social justice is futile because there is no point at which it can be achieved. Once a dominant group is toppled from its place as chief cultural influence and systems are changed to ensure oppressed groups achieve social parity, it inevitably follows that another group will emerge as dominant and the cycle starts all over again. That is precisely the objective of Marxism’s class-struggle worldview that produced Critical Theory. Progressivism leads only to endless in-justice and revolution.

A great danger of Critical Theory isn’t that it demonizes those it regards as comprising the dominant culture so much as sanctifying the oppressed, any group not part of shaping the dominant culture. Critical Theory encourages the culturally-oppressed to regard themselves as victims whose experience of racism and prejudice secures for them a place of judicial privilege. Critical Theory’s form of justice becomes a matter of the treatment of groups rather than individuals. It matters not if an individual has ever experienced injustice, simply by their inclusion in a group, they are regarded as a victim of injustice at the hands of a hostile system, while those assigned to the group deemed dominant are guilty of injustice apart from anything they’ve done.

The Gospel provides no ground for the concepts of Critical Theory because it reduces humanity to only two groups, the lost and the saved. It says Jesus died to save sinners, a group from which all begin. People are saved by individual faith in Christ, not because they are members of an oppressed minority.