The Fork in the Road: The Progressive Agenda

I get emails —

You get emails.

You may have already done this, so just link me if so.

Succinctly stated, what is the Progressive agenda?  I don’t mean agenda in a negative way.  What do you hope to accomplish?

“The progressive agenda”? Well, there’s not one. Each eldership has its own agenda. Each writer has his own agenda. I can only speak for myself — not for a movement.

My agenda is pretty simple —

1. Teach the gospel

2. Teach a deeper, richer theology

3. Teach leadership principles for elders and other church leaders

That’s about it. Of course, my view of the gospel differs from the gospel as taught by conservatives in important ways. I’m persuaded that if they’ll understand the gospel as I teach it, unity will be easy. And the last 100 years have shown that the gospel as taught in the 20th Century Churches of Christ leads to division after division.

Therefore, one result of my agenda would be, I pray, to restore the Churches of Christ to their Restoration roots as a true unity movement — not just among the Churches of Christ, but among the churches of Christ.

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34 Responses

  1. If I have an agenda (a word which carries some negative connotations in this context), it is to have grace, love and forgiveness become the pervasive focus of Christians, in contrast with a focus on doctrinal debate.

  2. Agenda: exhibit the love, grace, and unity desired by Jesus Christ. So often we havent.

  3. Excellent goals! Every sectarian Church of Christ (most don’t capitalize the “Church”) should be a true church of CHRIST. He came to save and free and bless. Some of us have come to compress into a mold those who heard us–to divide rather than to unite. We have not done as well as we should have done to win the lost to JESUS. Our goal has been to win them to a factional sect which assumed it knew all the truth and that unity came when others accepted us as the authority. But JESUS is the authority.

  4. This is where all this labeling “progressive”, “conservative”, etc… breaks down.

    Christians – progressive, conservative, etc.. – ought to have the same goal…the pursuit and proclamation of the gospel. The difference between two or more people or groups is not the goal but the understanding of what that goal involves or means. I say that because the differences are obvious just from reading. However, I do not know one so called progressive or conservative who would say that their goal is anything other than the gospel.

    …Or at least no Christian’s goal ought to be anything other than the gospel – no matter how differently two of more Christians understand that goal.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  5. I am convinced that the more conservative leaders are the more fearful they are of education and knowledge. I have known a number of elders who were well satisfied with a few in the pew who knew basically the 3×5 card theology of the Church of Christ…plan of salvation on one side and the acts of worship on the other.
    The words of Jesus speaking of the Pharisees in the Gospel of Thomas describe them well; “…they are like a dog sleeping in a cattle manger; the dog does not eat, and does not let the cattle eat.”
    I am not saying every elder has to have a college education. But the old way of letting people lead without being required to learn and keep learning does not work. Workshops abound.

  6. If the Holy Spirit weren’t so cunning in striving to defeat my arrogance, by placing as many people of great Christian character among other groups, this whole labeling thing would be easier and more fun.

    Sadly, my arrogance wins out far more often than I’d like. God help us.

  7. Progress means for an entity or organization to measurably move in a positive and good direction. The sink or swim time has come to all congregations whether they like it or not. I know that many churches of Christ have done so and many more will. Each time I see one move toward grace my heart rejoices. Sadly numerically there is a fork in the road not a progressive one per se but thousands of churches face imminent closure or merger.

  8. I reckon everyone on here believes we are saved by grace.

    Progressives accuse conservatives (I’m neither) of being judgmental. But, by progressives own grace doctrine, would not that be covered, so, what’s the big deal? Why try to create a fourth strand? Why not stick to trying to help each other live out the teaching of Christ? I can’t see why that would not include careful obedience.

    If it is bad for conservatives to call out progressives on IM / division, why is it different for progressives to call out conservatives on being judgmental? Like the Civil War, God is being called down on both sides. He must, indeed, grow weary (HT to the movie ‘Gettysburg’).

    Why can’t we cease and desist on these attacks on each other and begin to help each other live out the Beatitudes? I could use some help there.

    I love you, my brothers.

  9. Rex,

    One of the huge problems is that we (Progressives) even disagree with Traditionalists about what the gospel is. There is the gospel and there is another gospel.

    There are the facts about Jesus death, burial, and resurrection, and performance standards, and a certain baptismal formula, and being in the right church, and believing the right things, and……Etc., Etc.

    Then there is the gospel as Jesus, Peter, and Paul defined it. Jesus has paid the price for your sins and offers eternal life to those who will take him at his word and follow him. Then go love people because you love God.

    Royce

  10. Royce,

    I understand your point and agree with much of it. I was just trying to be gracious and unifying in my comment.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  11. I think this about sums it up…

    (Micah 6:6 GNB) What shall I bring to the LORD, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him?

    (Micah 6:7 GNB) Will the LORD be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? Shall I offer him my first-born child to pay for my sins?

    (Micah 6:8 GNB) No, the LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.

  12. I would agree with Paul on “what sums it up” love is really the unifier. So I tend to disagreement that the differences in the conservatives and progressives is gospel. I believe there is something deeper. Much like a impending divorce its not about promises made in the beginning it is about the offenses in the end.

    For some the offenses simply created a deep anger that cannot be resolved by logic.

  13. Rex, I think you did sum it up in a gracious and unifying manner.

    One of the problems with a label like “Progressive” is that it will outlive its usefulness. In 300 years there will be churches still calling themselves “Progressive” and clinging to their Max Lucado books.

  14. In some ways it may already have outlived it usefulness. The conservative argument taught a gospel that sounded more of leagalistic patternism than grace. The progressive argument brought a needed correction, reminding us that salvation is a gift of grace which equips us to live the redeemed life (cf. Tit 2.11ff) in Christ by the power of the Spirit. But now in my ministry experience, I run into more and more Christians who believe they are free to live as they wish (i.e., base their conduct of holy living up according to what they like and dislike rather than upon scripture) rather than understand that by the grace of God they have been set free from slavery to sin in order to be slaves to righteousness (Rom 6).

    So in some sense, as it pertains to the relationship of grace and salvation, I think we are past the conservative/progressive dichotomy. With that being said, I freely admit that many of my views would be considered very progressive by CoC standards but I have not lost any sleep because of that…I too have read scripture and with humility, I am confident before the Lord.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  15. “But now in my ministry experience, I run into more and more Christians who believe they are free to live as they wish (i.e., base their conduct of holy living up according to what they like and dislike rather than upon scripture)”

    Rex, that is precisely my concern the way the progressive understanding of grace is taught with its (I believe unintended) minimization of obedience. I believe progressives think obedience is just as important as I do, but I fear that the perception of many people is, that they do not. Your experience is a good example of this.

    Progressives should emphasize obedience and grace together. To me, they do not seem to do that.

  16. John,

    I must say that there are two types of progressives I have met. First there is the progressive who is a serious student of God’s word (e.g., Jay Guin) who understands the proper place of “obedience of faith” (Rom 1.5) within the Christian life. Second, is the progressive who has erroneously heard something of grace but not the entire picture of biblical grace and its intention. The later, in my experience, have been a hoge-poge of Christians. One person I am thinking of seemed more interested in trying to justify their promiscuous relationship. Another person seemed to know, understand, and be shaped by the political arguments of secular news than listening to scripture.

    Thus there are a variety of reasons why grace has become a license for whatever to some claiming to be progressive. But that is neither progressive nor conservative, it is just an unbiblical view. Nevertheless, I want to be clear and not blanket all progressives as being unconcerned with obedience to God.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  17. Rex,

    Galatians 5:13 aye?

  18. So for the sake of unity why do those who see nothing wrong with instrumental music forgo it for the sake of Christ? In light of I Cor 8 could you not substitute meat sacrificed for idols with IM as a matter of principle?

  19. Jay, didn’t you do a series on being held to the scruples of the most conservative churches for the sake of “unity.”

  20. Mario,

    Yes…a biblical understanding of grace will lead us to love one another – even when loving the other is difficult.

  21. Rex, that’s so very true.

    In the ICOC fallout of 2003, many people started to say “we need to preach grace” – it struck us that this was not sufficient; we need to proclaim Christ. The confusion in treating those two as equivalent is a big issue, and it was an issue in an evangelical church I was in as well.

    Most certainly God’s grace is revealed in Christ, but so is his kingly reign and so is his judgment and so is his righteousness and so is his concern for those in the margins…

    Some of the most unfortunate reductionism comes about when we make “grace” the centre, rather than “Christ”.

  22. Jay,
    You’ve made some ‘to the point’ points there. Understanding the Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace, has made a world of difference to us in our little congregation. It is easier now, to study things in scriptures that once were points of contention, but now, are points to dicuss in light of Grace, Love and the Holy Spirit as revealed in the scriptures.
    It is a real blessing to meet a brother who meets with a congregation that uses instruments, and say, “Hey brother….” My earlier years in preaching, being a product of preaching schools, I am sorry to say, I didn’t feel so comfortable. Thank God for His grace and patience giving us time to grow.
    Keep up the work Jay. Praying always for unity.

  23. The progressive movement indeed seems to have both a positive and negative conotation. As was mentioned above, in one of the comments. Some tend to go too far, and search for excuses to do anything that comes to mind, irregardless of what scriptures teach.
    Some are simply interested in having the freedom of searching scriptures and following truth where it leads. I guess if that is being progressive, then I’m that. But I never thought of myself as progressive. Just a Christian.
    Unfortunately, people (myself included) have the inner need to put labels on people so they don’t have to worry about them. (I am trying to break that habit). I am interested in simply studying scriptures, with the understanding that I have bias, and consciously challenge it to see if what I have been taught is in fact truth. Nothing wrong with that. The results? Growth… Truth has nothing to fear, and the lover of truth has nothing to fear. Hardened legalistic tradition on the other hand (in my opinion) does have somewhat to fear, in the sence that any questioning, is equal to challenge, and change is forbidden.
    To me “progressive” is a label. I think I’ll stick with Christian.
    Teach the gospel
    Make it plain
    Strive for unity in the churches of Christ.

  24. First of all, labels will always be used in discussing differences. In scripture, in ancient writings, and in the writings of our favorite writers and teachers we see the use of labels. The key is trying to be fair and just as well as straight forward and honest when we use them.
    Secondly, it is healthy to discuss what it is that makes a person a conservative or progressive. Many within the Church of Christ call anyone who is different a progressive. I recall hearing members, even preachers, in the 70s and 80s calling those of the Crosswords movement ‘liberals”. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Also, a group is not progressive just because it changed its mind regarding a few issues, like instrumental music or the works of the Holy Spirit. When a church accepts the instrument, or claims to believe in the miraculous workings of the spirit, or changes its mind as to when exactly a person is considered saved it often just moves over; it does not necessarily mean it progressed. A progressive often holds to traditional practices, but in an entirely different way of thinking; like, “This is what I see…but God is more, the kingdom greater, than anything I will ever see.”

  25. Jack;

    I appreciate your appeal for unity.

    Let’s just for the sake of discussion assume that Jay Guin is right. (for me, that takes a bit of imagination, but we’ll try)

    Jay says that his “view of the gospel differs from the gospel as taught by conservatives in important ways.” How can there be unity if either Jay, or I, or both are teaching a false gospel?

    –GATidwell

  26. Jack –

    Once with humility we accept that we all teach a false gospel, then with grace and forgiveness we can approach each other with love.

    Said another way, none of us has it all right. All of us has it somewhat wrong. Unity must exists BECAUSE of that, not in the elimination of all errors (an impossibility in this world).

    Again, differently, unity exists in the plane above the differences. We must go beyond the differences (not eliminate them) in order to achieve unity – this is the model in the NT and one of the recurring themes of the epistles.

  27. Jay says that his “view of the gospel differs from the gospel as taught by conservatives in important ways.” How can there be unity if either Jay, or I, or both are teaching a false gospel?

    Repentance, faith in Christ alone, and thankful and loving obedience rather than fearful.

  28. GA Tidwell–

    I too an anxious to see Jay’s response to your question. I read that line and assumed he wanted to say “doctrine.” All I can figure is that grace is being included into gospel, which is where there are significant differences.

    But as far as gospel goes, I don’t see hardly any differences at all between Christians in general, much less between conservative COC and progressive COC.

  29. Adam,

    I strongly disagree. We don’t have to be wrong on the gospel. Evidently when you think of “gospel” you are including some things that aren’t “gospel”.

    What gives us unity is our common faith in Christ, no how much alike we are otherwise.

    Well said Nick!

  30. I think Jay fairly expressed his views on the Gospel in his short series on, “What is Gospel”. I would refer everyone to take a look at these.
    I am confussed on how Christians can differ on “the Gospel”. Obviously, from Galatians 1:6-9 it is wrong to be guilty of preaching “another Gospel”. Everyone must agree and teach the simple good news of Jesus. Yet as everyone knows, we don’t agree on all the different issues that come and go with the passing of generations, and if you made a list of all the different things that have bothered the church over the years, and asked a group of say, 35-50 preachers, “what do you think”, I doubt we would all agree. However, why should these things be pushed to the point of destroying unity, and splintering the church of Christ to the point that it is powerless in a sin sick world to do anything.
    Maybe we should focus, as far as unity is made possible, when we hold to the core principles.
    I at this time simply do not believe that we have the right to draw lines of fellowship where God has not expressly done so.
    Once I heard dad speaking to a group of Christians about grace… he said, “‘Ok, class’, ‘repeat after me’, “I DON’T AGREE WITH YOU ON THAT.” Of course the class repeated after him. Then he said, “We have lost the ability, to disagree in love.” There are some things we cannot disagree on and maintain fellowship, the gospel, Lord’s Supper, Baptism for remission of sins… These are important. They put us into Christ. But whether one believes in Christmas, or eatting meats, or women wearing hats, or one cup, or kitchens in a church building… these, while they may be important to some who wish to push a “hobby”, loose their ‘bigness’ when viewed from the cross, the empty tomb, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…
    Point is, so long as we allow any and everything to divide us, we will not have unity.
    Anyway, I thank you for your responses… I enjoy the process of growing through these discussions.
    Keep growing in His grace,
    Jack

  31. I agree with Jay. The three things he wants to see people do are not progressive in the sense of liberal theology that rejects basic ideas such as the inspiration of scriptures etc. The true Gospel transforms and keeps transforming. So if there is no transformation or little later then we may be teaching the wrong one.

  32. Joe Baggett–

    I’ve been catching up on threads since the beginning, and you have written some fantastic responses…so I’m really glad to see you are posting here again. I saw you in the old posts, and thought you’d disappeared. Can you plz email me…I’d like to ask you about a research paper you mentioned a while back that you’d written:

    j
    o
    n
    m
    f
    i
    f
    e
    @
    gmail
    dot com

    Thanks!

  33. […] so, to go all the way back to part 1. I wrote, In a recent post regarding the “progressive agenda,” I […]

  34. […] so, to go all the way back to part 1. I wrote, In a recent post regarding the “progressive agenda,” I […]

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