Three Marks of Progressive-Lite Evangelicals

Three Marks of Progressive-Lite Evangelicals

For all their talk of evenhandedness, winsomeness, and giving others the benefit of the doubt, these ideals are tossed out the window the minute the discussion turns to matters that conservatives deeply care about and are willing to advocate for at the political level. As Christians, we should call out this double standard for what it is: hypocrisy. The term “white evangelical” has become purely pejorative in both secular and professedly-Christian news outlets.

We live in contentious times. With virtually every major event or story comes a flood of news reports from both major news outlets and a seemingly endless array of bloggers and podcasters, and these reports demonstrate the sharp ideological differences between various segments of our Western population. It can be difficult for Christians to find trustworthy voices that both report the facts and give sound, biblical insight into current events.

In the midst of this clamor, one group of evangelical cultural commentators has branded itself as the most “nuanced” and “balanced” segment of the Church when it comes to hot-button issues. They continually decry partisanship, calling for both sides of the political aisle to work together and for Christians to be a winsome presence to their surrounding culture. On the surface, this sounds quite laudable. Over time, however, it has become apparent that their version of “balanced” and “nuanced” reporting is consistently slanted in one direction—that is, to the political and cultural Left.

What makes this group difficult to identify is that they often don’t explicitly affirm many of the standard “progressive” or “liberal” dogmas. Because of this, they don’t completely fit within the parameters of what is traditionally labeled “progressive evangelicalism.” Some of them even have a reputation for being “moderate conservatives.” However, I contend that the label of “progressive-lite” is appropriate for this group. Rather than openly subscribing to a full-blown progressive ideology, their public output is characterized by a pattern or disposition that consistently marches to the drumbeat of the Left to the detriment of Christians on the Right.

This leftward slant is evidenced in at least three ways:

1. Presenting “Niceness” as the Solution to Society’s Problems

Individuals in this group downplay any kind of conflict between Christians and those who hold to opposing worldviews. The term “culture war” is always either discouraged or radically redefined. For example, in an article with the tagline “Our ideological opponents are not the enemy,” Russell Moore argues that Christians should never consider themselves engaged in spiritual warfare against other human beings, no matter how hostile they are to the gospel. He writes “there are indeed malevolent spiritual beings in the universe, usually imperceptible to us. These beings mean us harm. They are not our fellow image bearers.” This then “frees us to rage against the old reptile of Eden but constrains us to be gentle toward his prey (2 Tim. 2:23–26).”

Moore and others continually give the impression that what is really causing all of our cultural and political woes is not an irreconcilable clash of truth claims but rather an inability to talk things out and work through our differences in a civilized manner. Their takeaways can frequently be boiled down to, “We should just be nicer to each other.”[1]

While Christians should certainly strive to be kind and gracious towards others as much as possible (Col. 4:5–6; 1 Peter 3:13–17), the idea that our societal problems can be solved with sweet words, listening ears, and thoughtful conversations is problematic for at least two reasons. This solution is, at best, a hollow shell of the actual content of the gospel. The Christian message to society is not “let’s be nice” but rather “repent and believe.” If our solution to a society plagued with open rebellion against our Maker is nothing more substantial than what can be heard on a secular children’s show, then we need to stop and reevaluate just how “Christian” our message really is.

Beyond this, there will inevitably be some form of conflict in a society between those who strive to live according to God’s truth and those who openly and actively set themselves in opposition to such truth. This does not mean that Christians will rise up in arms to do physical battle against their opponents (2 Cor. 10:3–6), but it does at times call for something other than “niceness.” We see this repeatedly in Scripture: Old Testament prophets, New Testament apostles, and even Jesus himself would engage in sharp invectives against those who would either oppress or lead astray God’s people (e.g., Ps. 137; Obadiah; Matt. 23; Gal. 5:12; Rev. 18). In fact, Jesus’s command to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; cf. Phil. 3:18–19) presupposes that we will, in fact, have human enemies, and we fail to love both our enemies and our fellow Christians by pretending otherwise. As Rosaria Butterfield puts it, “We love our enemies, defining both love and enemy as the Bible teaches.”[2]

Doing so, however, requires us to distinguish between the tax collectors and prostitutes who are genuinely seeking Christ on the one hand, and the Pharisaical elites who are actively opposing him on the other. When it comes to cultural influencers and political activists on the Left, progressive-lite evangelicals erroneously tend to treat them like good-faith seekers instead of dangerous wolves.

2. Applying a Double Standard between the Left and the Right

Progressive-lite evangelicals pride themselves on striving for balance and nuance in political and cultural discussions. They regularly exhort Christians not to outright reject those who disagree with them on the Left but instead to see those on that side as ultimately sharing the same end-goals, even if they differ in the methods to achieve them.[3] Instead of actively opposing them, we should give them grace and strive to come to a mutual understanding, or so they say.

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