Post-Progressive Christianity: Part 7, Salvation

I'll just come right out and say it, but progressive Christians seem to be very confused when it comes to salvation.

On the one hand, because of its inclusive, tolerant, liberal, and humanistic approach to the world, progressive Christianity has a difficult time envisioning the world as "lost." And if no one is lost, there's no need for salvation. By and large, progressive Christianity doesn't know what to do with texts like Col. 1.13: "For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son." Progressive Christians don't like to see the world as "the kingdom of darkness" ruled over by Satan (2 Cor. 4.4). The world is understood to already be loved and in a state of grace. And while I agree with that, when that notion isn't nuanced it leads to the conclusion that we're already saved and require no rescuing. And again, where no one is lost or in bondage no one needs saving.

A related problem here is how progressive Christians struggle with Jesus' death on the cross as a substitutionary, atoning sacrifice. To be clear, there are visions of the atonement that are highly problematic. For example, when atonement is viewed through a penal, forensic lens. I think progressive Christians are justified in raising serious objections to penal substitutionary atonement. That said, the biblical witness is clear that Jesus' death on the cross was both substitutionary and atoning. Because of Jesus' death our sins have been forgiven. Our guilt has been dealt with. We have been given the gift of grace. Because of his wounds we have been healed.

But on the other hand, it's not like progressive Christians ignore the cross. Progressive Christianity does have a vision of salvation.

Specifically, the progressive Christian view of Jesus' death is that Jesus is a moral exemplar. Jesus shows us how to love, and if we love the way he loved that will save us. Loving like Jesus brings the kingdom of God to earth just as it is in heaven.

The trouble with that idea, if left unqualified, is that salvation is wholly up to us. According to progressive Christianity, we have to save ourselves. We have to love like Jesus and restore justice on the earth. If we do that, we'll be saved. If we don't, we'll be damned. Beyond pointing us in the right direction, God is irrelevant to this vision of salvation. It's all on us.

All told, then, the progressive Christian vision of salvation is a confusing stew. On the one hand, progressives don't like to talk about sin, guilt, and shame. Sermons about God's judgment are pretty rare in progressive Christian circles. Progressive Christianity gets dinged all the time for never talking about sin. And if you're never talking about sin you're never talking about salvation. Relatedly, progressive Christians aren't all that evangelistic. They don't think their neighbors are lost, not in any way that would motivate them to share Jesus with them.

And yet, progressive Christianity does preach a vision of salvation. Salvation comes to us when we seek social justice.

But without grace and atonement the pursuit of social justice tips into darkness. Salvation becomes the Revolution, and the Revolution will always end in blood. Grace is the only thing that can save social justice. Knowing that we ourselves are forgiven sinners is the only thing that keeps our pursuit of justice human and humane.

And so, the contrast...

I AM A PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that I believe that salvation in inherently political, social, and economic, that salvation involves, in the words of Jesus, release of the captives and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4.18).

I AM A POST-PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that I believe that we are all sinners in dire need of grace. Every one of us is lost and trapped within "the kingdom of darkness." And not just politically, but emotionally, spiritually, and metaphysically. I believe that our sins have been forgiven and that grace comes to us in the substitutionary and atoning sacrifice of Jesus' death on the cross. And I believe that the grace and mercy we receive in Jesus is the only thing that can keep the pursuit of justice on earth free from darkness and blood.

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