“The TGC Definition of ‘Progressive Christianity’ is More Shallow than the Faith I Have.” A Brief Response to Ian Harber

First I would like to say I think that Ian’s story is beautiful. I genuinely believe that I need his story to mirror and bounce off of my own as we both make our ways into the Kingdom now and hopefully one day into New Jerusalem. I mean no harm hate or cancellation against Ian or TGC seeing as I frequent their site and occasionally find something rather helpful. With that being said I must admit this article, and the deductions within did in fact rub me the wrong way. Because of that in good spirit, for the sake of all of us involved both Evangelical and not, I find it necessary to respond in a way that is critical but hoping for unity. We are not as different as you think.

Let’s just start from the beginning I guess…

First off the association of the dispersion in John 6 with that of us progressive exvangelicals is incredibly disingenuous and misleading because Jesus was talking to a crowd of isolated wanderers and not Gentiles AND people who were familiar with Messianic Mythology

This crowd of disciples (the ones who grumble and leave) found something. They found the Messiah. One who would unite Israel both religiously and politically overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to her rightful place. He goes, geographically speaking, to the “other side of the Galilee” into Roman territory most likely in or outside of Tiberias. His disciples, assuming He would incite revolution, anticipated a sharp rebuke from Jesus. But instead Jesus not only feeds them, but promises that He is the only way to the Father and invites and includes the crowd (which includes unclean people) into the Family of God through the body and blood which would be broken and shed at Calvary.

Not only this but he uses a metaphor of uncleanliness to reveal to his Jewish audience what they must do to inherit eternal life; being the eating of the body and the drinking of the blood. It is THIS point that makes the disciples grumble, challenge and walk away. And yet in a moment of lucidity the twelve get it. They know that what Jesus says is true and they continue to follow Him. It is not the doubters and the progressives that flee away from Jesus but the conservative Tradition holding and pious Jews of the day. To act as if this is some kind of rebuke to people calling for social and theological reform is not the picture painted in John 6.

Your questions are and were valid. There is a litany of new theological study and research that shows not only that the questions about discrepancies in the Bible, the eternal destination of the soul, and the Canaanite genocide can not only be understood differently but from the beginning of the church it has been. Augustine discouraged people from reading the creation account literally. Gregory of Nyssa was more likely than not a Universalist and the schools of thought in Early Christianity were more aligned with either Patristic Universalism or conditionalism than eternal conscious torment. Origen called for the dismissal of the Joshua conquest in a literal fashion and suggested more of a spiritual metaphor to be applied. Not only have these questions been wrestled with for thousands of years but many major influencers of the church throughout history have come up with different answers and explanations. And that’s more than okay.

You’re absolutely right to say that the evangelical church does not have an adequate understanding or let alone an adequate theology of suffering. Quite frankly, the “Desiring God” and “Gospel Coalition” quotes about suffering and sovereignty have done almost anything but help those in need of a deeper understanding of theodicy. This is called spiritual bypass and I am sure you are familiar with that term but it is an apparent issue that people like yourself (and myself) have continuously enabled. The problem with the Reformed response to suffering is not the theological problem but the practical one. We treat reminding ourselves that “God is sovereign” as a magic line that not only removes our fear anxiety and trauma, but enables us to not have to deal with it. As two people who have endured loss, I’m sure you know this is not true.

I resonate very much so with the books you’ve read and the podcasts you have heard. But I must be painfully honest to say that the only reason you did not have the tools necessary to rebuild after deconstruction is because you did not go looking for them. “The Liturgists” is a wonderful podcast that is intended for the sake of sitting in solidarity with people who are disenfranchised and discouraged by the religious establishment. I only know this because I’ve listened to the podcast and they’ve said that. But there are many other resources out there, whom will be named later. Again, the only reason you could not reconstruct after deconstruction is because you did not go looking for the tools necessary to equip yourself to do so.

I will concede to you that “The Liturgists” has become an increasingly liberal podcast. However that is their prerogative and if you listen to them talk about their politics on any other platform or even their own, they make it abundantly clear that not only do they welcome disagreement but they don’t care. Do you see the beautiful thing about this community is that when done healthily There is no virtue signaling. While I hear your gripe with the Progressive Christian in that manner. To act as if that is all there is is again brutally dishonest and makes the movement more simple than it really is. Ask Richard Rohr, ask Walter Brueggeman, or Greg Boyd, remember Rachel Held Evans and you will see people who were and are incredibly disinterested in virtue signaling and much more, as you said, interested in deeper faithfulness to Jesus. Even if that does take their politics to another end of the spectrum.

Finally I would like to address your usage of the word orthodox. What does that mean to you?

Are you referring to the Greek Roman orthodox? Or the eastern orthodox? Are you referring to pre-reformation Catholic orthodoxy? Are you referring to post reformation Luther? Or Calvin? Or Arminius? Or Edwards? Or Moody? Or Graham? Or Piper? Or MacArthur? Whose orthodoxy are you referring to? Orthodoxy always has and always will evolve. Even just the fact that Piper can discredit Jesus’ descent into Hades (which is in the Apostles’ Creed), Yet the minute Rob Bell starts asking questions about hell (not in the creeds), He is somehow labeled a heretic, including by Piper who happily and publicly jumped on the bandwagon. If you were going to use the word orthodox either use it right or concede that we all draw the line at our own feet.

Lastly and briefly I would like to address your association of Christus Victor with Penal substitutionary atonement and how they need each other to paint a more beautiful gospel.

Quite frankly, Christus Victor is the gospel message. That through life, death and resurrection Jesus has come to set the captive free and employ them in His family business of making all things new. PSA is nothing more than a theory on how that works. The two can be associated but it is not necessary for saving faith let alone the full picture we as humans can understand.

Although I disagree with you I seek the same thing that you do, which is an ecumenical unity. However this cannot be done by disregarding a new movement in Christianity crying out for new waters and a return to traditions much more ancient than ours. I do not doubt that if our generation becomes the next generation of orthodoxy gate keepers then the church will die out. I do not want that and I know that you do not want that. So I ask you as my brother in Christ to welcome us in as we would gladly do the same for you. If you are ever in South Carolina I would love to break bread with you. It would be an honor.

To any of my friends or readers who are struggling with doubt or have deconstructed their faith’s here is a list of resources on different topics and to help equip you for reconstruction.

As always, Grace and Peace

Podcasts:

“Can I Say This At Church?”

“Heretic Happy Hour”

“You Have Permission”

“Pastor With No Answers”

“Almost Heretical”

“The Bible for Normal People”

“The Messy Spirituality Podcast”

“The Liturgists”

“The Deconstructionists”

Books:

“The Ragamuffin Gospel” Brennan Manning

“A More Christlike God” Brad Jersak

“Jesus Unbound” Keith Giles

“Jesus Undefeated” Keith Giles

“The Bible Tells Me So” Pete Enns

“The Universal Christ” Richard Rohr

“Falling Upwards” Richard Rohr

“Saying No To God” Matthew Korpman

“Apparent Faith” Karl Forehand

“Inspired Imperfection” Greg Boyd

“Free to Love” Jamal Jivanjee

“Heretic” Matt Distefano

“Water to Wine” Brian Zahnd

“The Divine Conspiracy” Dallas Willard

People of note (not included in list of authors)

Rachel Held Evans

Thomas Jay Oord

Michael Gungor

Science Mike Mchargue

Jonathan Martin

David Hayward

Alexander John Shaia

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