It is hard to define so-called ‘Progressive Christianity,’ but try this:

Looking like an advert from the 1950s, the poster shows a young boy enjoying a bowl of soup. He says: ‘mmm… mmm… mysterious!’

Alongside the image was the following statement:

Why continue to swallow the stale taste of the historic faith when you can try something new ‘n’ different? Our theology soup is loaded with exciting extra-biblical ingredients and spices from the East to fortify your spiritual journey. Frankly, we don’t know what is in this stuff, but that’s what makes it so mysterious and yummy!

Though meant to be a humorous poke at an ever-growing movement within the Christian Church, there is a very serious side to what is said.

It seems like every week we hear of Christian pastors, worship leaders, authors, bloggers etc. now describing themselves as ‘progressive’; but what does that actually mean?

The Difficulty of Definition.

It is hard to define so-called ‘Progressive Christianity’, because it can mean different things to different people, though there are some commonalities across the spectrum, which we consider in due course.

For many though, ‘Progressive Christianity means a turning away from, and a rejection of, the evangelical faith of their upbringing. Many who walk away, return with an altogether different form of Christianity, one which has been ‘updated’, modernised and is more palatable to them. Some then decide to publicly share their journey on social media, often ending their story with hashtags like: #ex-vangelical or #de-conversion.

An increasing number of those who walk away from their evangelical roots don’t do so quietly. They don’t just wander off into some form of perceived ‘mystical’ bliss – no they seek to drag as many others as possible with them into no man’s land. They write books, they blog, they podcast and they post on social media often ending the hashtags: #ex-vangelical and #de-conversion.

Their onslaught is relentless and disturbing, as they seek to influence many away from the historic faith.


Throughout Church History, many have sought to move away from and/or change the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.1 But in order to understand the beginnings of Progressive Christianity, we needn’t go back very far, just to a movement prevalent in the 1990’s/2000s.

The Emergent Church was the forerunner of the modern day progressives. It’s proponents taught that as culture changes, a new kind of church needed to emerge. Some of the key names in this movement were Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and Rob Bell.

Bell, who was once seen as a fresh new voice amongst evangelicals, began to wander further away from orthodox, Biblical Christianity. This came to a head with the publication of his book: Love Wins (2011). Such was the furore over this book, that it lead Reformed Pastor, John Piper to Tweet: Farewell Rob Bell.

Reviewing Bell’s book, American Pastor Kevin de Young gave this brief synopsis:

Hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love. Hell is both a present reality for those who resist God and a future reality for those who die unready for God’s love. Hell is what we make of heaven when we cannot accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and mercy. But hell is not forever. God will have his way. How can his good purposes fail? Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. There will be no eternal conscious torment. God says no to injustice in the age to come, but he does not pour out wrath (we bring the temporary suffering upon ourselves), and he certainly does not punish for eternity. In the end, love wins.’2

In his book, Bell teaches a form of Universalism, where all, regardless of race, religion, or sexuality, would ultimately be saved, after all ‘Love Wins’. This teaching would be wholly supported and believed by many of those who now define themselves as ‘Progressive Christians’.

So, is ‘Progressive Christianity, just The Emergent Church in disguise?

The author and podcaster, Alisa Childers, gives an answer:

The difference between Emergent Christianity and Progressive Christianity is location. While the Emergents were on the fringes of Christian culture, the progressives now seem to be driving it. With progressive Christian leaders penning best-selling books, garnering millions of followers on social media platforms, and producing podcasts that are regularly found in the top 10 of iTunes religion and spirituality category, their influence is incalculable. 3

With the publication of Bell’s book, and his drifting further and further away from orthodoxy, the Emergent Church was driven underground, but sadly it refused to stay buried. As Childers explained, it has emerged as a most virulent force which now goes under a new guise, ‘Progressive Christianity’.

The Progressive Gene

This is about our belief that theology changes. The message of the gospel changes. It’s not just the method that changes.’  Tony Jones4

What Millennials really want from the church is not a change in style, but a change in substance.’ Rachel Held Evans5

According to Progressives, the church must change. It must continually seek to change in order to remain in step with the prevailing zeitgeist. By this they don’t just mean that churches should be more entertaining and/or serve Starbucks coffee, rather the church must change its doctrine, its core beliefs.

They believe that, in order for the church to survive and thrive, its theology must evolve. The old ways and old beliefs are no longer fit for purpose. In light of this, many Progressive Christians have adopted a particular world-view with some core tenets that inform how they understand the beliefs and practices of historic Christianity.

Common Threads

Here are three central principles that unite and guide many progressives.

  • Feelings are more important than truth.
  • Questions are more important than answers.
  • Deeds are more important than Creeds.

As many believe that absolute objective truth cannot be known (is that the absolute truth?), subjective feelings become more important. How a person ‘feels’ validates them. Therefore, you have your truth (feelings) and I have my truth (feelings) would be a popular mantra amongst progressives. But what of Jesus claim to be, the Way and the TRUTH and the Life (John 14:6)?

Of course, Progressives will claim to love Jesus, but they usually mean only the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, and then only the Jesus that says the things they can agree with from His Sermon on the Mount!

Also, certainty is to be frowned upon within these circles. Those with confidence, assurance and answers are viewed with suspicion. Enlightened and progressive people will not have answers, they will have questions.

There is, of course, no problem with having questions, but to say there are no answers is to say that God has not revealed anything to us in His Word. ‘The Bible is no more than a human book’ would be the view of many within the progressive movement. This leads progressives to conclude that the Bible has little or no value for twenty-first century believers.

As absolute, subjective truth cannot be known, their mantra becomes, deeds not creeds. This, ironically, appears to be their creed! They therefore hold in high regard orthopraxy (right practice) over orthodoxy (right belief).

Should we place works over belief? Surely they go together and cannot be separated. Right belief informs right action. If truth cannot be known, how do we know if our deeds are worthwhile or valuable? Without absolute truth, our actions could potentially be hurtful or even damaging, and if they are, without a framework of absolute truth, how can we challenge another’s actions?

As we might imagine, holding these three statement as core beliefs, progressives will greatly appeal to the post-modern context in which they find themselves. With no absolute truth, no assurance and no answers, everyone can be included – and we know how much inclusivity is valued in our society today. So broad is progressive Christianity, that anyone and everyone will feel at home within its walls.

Yet Jesus said:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Friends, there is so much more to say about the Progressive Christian movement, which I will be address in future blog posts and on the website, but for now, in light of all that has been said, let’s turn to Scripture.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

2 Timothy 4:3-4

Progressive Christianity shouldn’t unduly concern or shock us. As born- again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, those who take God at His Word, we know that this is one of many groups who finally prove Scripture true.


1 Jude 1:3

2 Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Response (

3 How We Got Here: A History of Progressive Christianity – Impact 360 Institute – By Alisa Childers

4 Tony Jones, “A New Theology for a New World,” 2004 Emergent Convention in San Diego

5 Why millennials are leaving the church – Dakotas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church (