Progressive Christianity ™ ? That’s not what we were talking about. At all.

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

This is another PCA inside baseball thing. That might be irrelevant for you.

Hmmm . . .

Bryan Chapell was the first person I heard asserting that there are “progressives” in the PCA. It was part of his taxonomy of differing affinity groups within the denominations-- not factions, not cliques, not clubs, not etc. Of course, the reason for Chapell’s discussion is that the different not-etc. disagreed a lot and even criticized each other a lot. I think Chapell’s classification, including progressive, was an attempt at flat labels. So, the first time I heard about progressives in the PCA, it was Bryan Chapell at General Assembly in a large room with a lot of people listening. Heady days, memory maybe fuzzy, but there is this more recently from Chapell with the same carefree recognition of progressives in the PCA.


So, I’m not so much relieved as profoundly confused reading “The Progressive Boogeyman”. Travis Scott has equated Chapell’s word with the much more recent permutation of evangelesque Christianly trajectory to crawl up out of The Ooze and other nodes of the last permutation. Very helpfully Scott specifies that Michael Kruger was NOT criticizing PCA ministers when he analyzed and panned Progressive Christianity. Again, I’m not so much relieved as confused. I’m confident that Kruger and anyone in the PCA knew that he wasn’t wading into PCA fisticuffs. I wonder if Chapell and Kruger sighed with relief reading Scott's piece-- horribly misunderstood by somebody, vindicated by Semper Ref.


People may lambast Semper Ref for a bad faith representation: “Hey, you know that’s not (o.k., really not quite) what we claim. We are talking like Bryan Chapell not like Michael Kruger.” I think that a large part of “o.k., really not quite” is that the critics aren’t generally crying heresy. They think the folks they criticize are as credibly Christian as all sorts of folks outside the PCA, but they think that they are diminishing the vows that constitute the PCA’s unity. Do the critics think there is a slippery slope? Of course they do, but foresight suggests there’s already enough weaving and bobbing to expect that people will shift ungainly if they ever start moving laterally-- and sprawl ugly if they encounter any incline. At the present the critics just think there is some very weird almost dancing up in here.


Ohhh . . .

Some props do need to be given to Semper Ref for taking on confusion without addressing the real issue. If the other guy confuses things, what should you do? I mean if he confuses an entire essay by poor choice of a single, repeated, quasi-technical term-- because the entire essay makes clear that he is using the term idiosyncratically, so soundbites from it would easily misrepresent his case. What do you do? You make sure people disagree with his purported idea (oh, not with him!) rather than trouble people about agreeing with you.


Harry Reeder and his echo buddies provided the opportunity for debunking “The Progressive Boogeyman”; but very strangely-- Reeder doesn’t attack the boogeyman. I’m pretty sure Rev. Reeder never spent time on The Ooze; nonetheless, I’m sure he knows there are actual evangelical-what’s-and-such who have evaporated inerrancy, incarnation and atonement and much more. Travis Scott carefully delineates that no PCA elders are presently dumping these fundamentals, so there are no progressives in the PCA. Fine, Travis, that’s not what the aggregate representation of the critics is saying.


I might suggest that Harry Reeder needs to get out more. Of course, he could scorn me for the cheek, and everyone else would too. He made a discourse error, a mistake of diction-- a chance for someone to play you. In the good, timeless and objective perspective of a theologian without an instagram, Reeder contrasts historic Christianity and progressive Christianity-- failing to see that the moniker “progressive Christianity” was already taken and applied to the whack-a-doodle evangeliberalism germinating from the long past Emergent Church movement. Reeder specifically states that progressive Christianity-- in his careful but slightly clueless use of the locution-- does not at present traffic in heterodoxy:


-- while Progressive Christianity is not promoting the Liberal Theology of the 20th Century, it is and will produce an equally destructive Progressive Theology in the 21st Century . . .

Scott’s assault on the boogeyman could in fact be bolstered by citing Reeder. They agree there ain’t none of that bad stuff in the PCA. Really-- Reeder thinks that such heresy is not on the ground; however, he thinks that judicious observation should register surprise that such is not yet the case. Further, the thoughtful examiner would have thankful surprise displaced by simple incredulity, if someone insisted that the future will continue to match the present. Compare the above quote from Reeder with Scott’s statement:


Actual Progressive Christianity is far more serious and represents a deviation which cuts to the core of Christian belief itself. In Conservative Christian circles the terminology of Progressive Christianity is generally used to denote radical theological departures from historical, biblical, orthodox Christianity. In this sense there are no Progressive ministers in the PCA. Nor should there be.

Reeder agrees with this entirely. There aren’t such Progressive ministers in the PCA, but progressive Christianity (Harry, get out more, the dictionary and clear thought aren’t sufficient) is presently promoting and will produce something destructive in the future. Scott thinks everything is fine and will stay fine. Reeder thinks the punch has been spiked but it's early in the evening, no one has imbibed, no one is drunk. Oh, wait, I mean no one is tripping balls-- yet. That’s a very different accusation than “you are just old fashioned theological liberals, that talk like Oprah and that’s progressive. We can’t have that here!”


Come on, Man!

So first, let’s be thankful (surprise is optional) that there are no Progressive Christian ™ ministers in the PCA. Second, let’s recognize that Travis Scott did trounce the Boogeyman, and let’s stop talking about where in the PCA you can find some of that Ooze. Third, let’s engage the real issue: what’s the correct terminological determination that can get us somewhere?


Here is my suggestion, for which I can argue more fully on some other occasion. It may seem even cheekier to Rev. Reeder and company. Theology and confessionalism and accountability are serious business, but so is polity. All PCA elders have taken vows in God’s presence-- he remembers-- vows that give primary attention to theology and confession and our corporate responsibility to act as recipients of God’s Word together with his people. There are different confessions, different theologies, different orders. Anglicans take vows. Methodists take vows. Independents take vows. We are presbyters, we are all in submission to our brothers as they constitute our presbytery. Our several powers receive their public legitimacy in the church only from the joint power of a presbytery. We have a singular stewardship together for all our ministry, not just when operating by Robert’s Rules.


Our problem is that instead of presbyters, some aspire to be good old-fashioned bishops and operate as religious demagogues.


They do not acknowledge an authority which rightly shapes and determines much that does or can occur in their congregation-- even contrary to their opinion and desire. They think that the Reformation replaced the hierarchy of Bishops with the office of Senior pastor rather than with the authority of presbyteries. They aren’t against monarchical bishops, they just insist on being one rather than submitting to one. Of course, first among equals with his session: Mark Driscoll was fired for being horrible, not for being Robert Schuller.


Secondly, they think that sola scriptura gives them the authority (so long as the session will be unified) to define what the Christian Faith really is and how it must be understood in the present rather than 50 years ago and 500 years ago-- the ancient faith now fresh according to Rev. Hired. So, of course, they can ignore, neglect or outflank elements of our binding BCO (it’s not even the Confession). All that is necessary to sponsor the diagonal moves of a Bishop is enough butts in enough seats with enough money. Talk your version with it’s explicit and implicit “better than previous or current Christian church failure” and get a large enough crowd agreeing with you and officers that represent that crowd and then do what you think is best. You say it’s very Bible-ly, and very good; and they like it, and you don’t even have to wear a bishop hat unless you really want to.


These aren’t celebrity pastors. Celebrity occurs in the wild egalitarian world of glitz and glamour. In that world there are no actual standards to violate, just brands that can’t be mismanaged. PCA teaching elders are tethered by vows. They are presbyters sharing in the stewardship, not bishops without archbishops over them. It’s the Bishops and Demagogues, who don’t want presbyteries to own the ministry of the Teaching Elders, who deprive the PCA of the wholesome polity that can resist the sway and hurray of the zeitgeist, who drain the ponder and richness from floor deliberations-- as if the votes matter more than how the votes happened. We don’t only need at the moment to fight for being sufficiently orthodox and sufficiently missional. We need to fight to be actually presbyterian. Historically, that’s something Presbyterians do.


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Benjamin T. Inman serves as a Teaching Elder at

Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA), in Fuquay-Varina, NC.