Seminary president, professor, and theologian Michael Kruger doesn’t mince words when it comes to explaining the belief system of what traditional or conservative Christians call progressive Christianity. In the short work The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity, Kruger outlines what he sees as how faith can come to terms with a secular culture, essentially by compromising the very heart of what faith is about.
The fact is, he can’t mince words, because the stakes are so high. Protestantism and Catholicism are in freefall in the United States. Protestant mainline denominations have been embracing what they see as a more humane, loving, and giving understanding of Christianity for more than a century now, and their numbers continue to drop with no end on sight. The same is true for the Church of England and the Anglican Church of Canada. Even more conservative Protestant denominations, like the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptists, have been affected to a lesser degree. Evangelical churches seem to be holding their own.
Kruger identifies 10 characteristics of progressive Christianity – Jesus as role model rather than God to be worshipped; a de-emphasis on people’s brokenness and sin; an emphasis on reconciliation; gracious behavior being more important than right belief; questions being more important than answers; encouraging personal search over group uniformity; needs always being more important than institutions; a desire for peacemaking; caring more about love and less about sex; and the importance of life in this world rather than hope for the afterlife.
He sees a half-truth in each of the ten, but it is that half-truth that tends to become the whole truth as taught and practiced. He stakes a strong claim early in the introduction. Quoting theologian and scholar J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) in his classic Christianity and Liberalism, Kruger says “simply put, liberal Christianity is not Christianity.” He goes on to say that Christians “must be able to distinguish the true faith from those things that masquerade as the true faith.”
As noted above, he doesn’t mince words. And while he’s focused here on progressive Christianity, there’s equal danger coming from the other side – like the proponents of the prosperity gospel.
Kruger is the President and the Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, N.C. and ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America. He has written or co-written numerous works, including The Early Text of the New Testament, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate, A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized, Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity, and Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. He blogs at Canon Fodder.
The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity is a short but vital work and a good summary of some of the issues tearing the church apart.