How we approach the Bible is of eternal importance. And in today’s world, most people have a traditional vs progressive Christianity mindset.
You’re either a progressive Christian who views the Bible through a lens that changes with the culture, or you’re a traditional Christian, who holds fast to the Bible as it is — maybe even to a fault.
I’ll be straight here: I side far more with a traditionalist theology towards the Word than progressive, precisely because there are failings of a more liberal theology that I simply will not endorse.
Truthfully, both sides have their fair share of issues. The pharisees were hardliners that extolled formal religion above anything else, and Jesus called them on it. Other groups of progressives throughout time have taken the term “faith” more loosely, which isn’t really up for debate.
Instead of arguing for a traditional vs. progressive Christianity mindset though, why can’t we have a little bit of both?
What is Traditional Christianity?
As the name implies, traditional Christianity is based off of traditions. Some of these are absolutely necessary, such as those found in the Bible, while others come from hundreds of years of practice.
The second type of traditions are exactly what Jesus Christ railed against in the Scripture. In Matthew 15:2-3, Jesus answered the charge of His disciples breaking traditions by claiming that the Jews elevated their own traditions above God’s laws.
“‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?’”Matthew 15:2-3
Traditions that come from us are fine (to a point). They may serve a need of the moment, protect against a certain temptation, or ensure we follow a commandment more closely.
But when we begin to impose our traditions that are not found in Scripture on others, that’s when it becomes an issue.
However, most of the things that we would label as “traditions” come from God Himself. In fact, Paul praises the church in Corinth for “holding firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2).
That’s where the real disagreement comes from on this subject. Are the traditions from man, or are they found in Scripture? If I’m just imposing my own will on others, that’s a problem, but holding fast to what God told us to do is precisely what we should be doing.
What is Progressive Christianity?
Progressive Christianity, on the other hand, tries to see the Bible in a modern-day context. They don’t view the New Testament as an inerrant source of authority, but rather as a living document that changes and guides our life.
Opponents argue that progressive Christiainty demeans God’s authority and elevates self, just like what happened at the Tower of Babel. Man — and his opinions — form the central focus of Scripture, instead of what God explicitly says.
Fans of progressive Christianity argue that the Bible must be interpreted differently due to the issues of the day. Modern-day cultural issues, environmental concerns, and social justice reform all need to be addressed by Christians, after all, and a looser interpretation of the Bible gives them that ability. For them, the social gospel is king.
The problem with blanketing all of progressive Christianity as sinful is that there are certain socio-cultural issues that were addressed in Scripture.
Slavery is one of the most obvious, for example. Paul argues throughout the book of Philemon for Onesimus to be “treated as a brother” — a radical departure from how most slave-owners viewed their slaves.
Furthermore, 2 Timothy 2:15 even tells us that a good worker who is “not ashamed” will be able to “accurately handle the Word of Truth.” In other words, you’ll know how to apply passages of Scripture in your life.
The biggest issue that conservative Christians have with progressivism is the insistence that the Bible can — and in certain cases, must — be changed to adapt to modern times. That’s a foolish stance at best, and a condemnatory one at worst (Revelation 22:18-19).
Traditional Vs. Progressive Christianity
Is there any hope of reconciliation between these two schools of thought?
There are several who want to force a binary thinking on us. You’re either a staunch traditionalist, with your eyes closed to what’s happening around you, or a traitorous progressive with no respect for God.
Both of those are pretty unappealing options, if you ask me.
Instead, what the Bible teaches is an unswerving hold to God’s Word with the wisdom to apply it appropriately in the world around us.
Matthew 22:36-40 is a perfect example of this. Jesus tell us that the “whole Law and Prophets” depends on two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor.
Progressives would take the first part and run with it. “See, all you need is love. Nothing but love. Love, love, love.”
A staunch traditionalist would dive into the Greek and argue what “heart, soul, mind, and strength” really mean. Then, turn around and force that precise interpretation on you.
What’s the point? As a foundational verse in Judaism, Jesus’ audience knew exactly what Jesus meant when He said this. Obedience to God does not just occupy your hands, but your heart, your mind, and the very essence of your soul.
It consumes you, in other words. It’s not simply something that you “do.”
A person living by Matthew 22:36-40 won’t just check items off their spiritual to-do list and claim their ticket to Heaven. They’ll do that…and then some. They’ll constantly look for ways to glorify God and serve their brother.
It’s a life that is borne out of obedience to God’s commands, but one that is generated from the heart as much as the mind.
Traditional Vs. Progressive Christianity: Situation by Situation
We see this type of fusion in other spots as well. Below are three of the most obvious, but you can find this type of heart/head devotion elsewhere.
Progressive and Traditional Discipline
Traditional discipline in the church consists of disfellowshipping one who is sin. To have “nothing to do with them,” as 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 states.
But how does that manifest itself during occasions like Thanksgiving, where Grandma Susie invites disfellowshipped Cousin Billy for dinner? Do you walk out the door?
Some would say yes, while others would argue that you didn’t know, and are therefore exempt. Still others say you should scold Grandma Susie while she’s passing the cranberries for being such a heathen.
To make a real-time decision like this, think back to the purpose of disfellowshipping in the first place. Paul expounded on this in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 by saying that the point of disfellowshipping someone was ultimately to bring them to repentance.
So, while we are absolutely instructed to avoid them, we also have to ask other questions, such as…
- What kind of conversations can I have with them that will lead them back to Jesus?
- Is my avoidance out of personal spite, or to show them the effects of their sin?
- Will walking out at Thanksgiving cause more problems, or will I have an opportunity here to help the situation?
Those are the types of questions we should be asking as it gets more to the spirit of the law.
Progressive and Traditionally Submissive
Historically, women’s groups have not taken too favorably to the Bible. They claim it’s a “patriarchal institution” set up by a “patriarchal system” that reinforces “patriarchal dominance.”
The Bible explicitly describes a woman as industrious, smart, and economically-minded (Proverbs 31:16-21). All of those are radical concepts no matter which period of history you’re operating in.
To be fair, the submission passages of Ephesians 5:22-24 are very clear. The man is the authority, and the woman is to be in submission.
But that’s not where Paul ends. He continues the conversation in Ephesians 5:25-33, telling the man that he is also to be submissive. The husband’s sacrificial attitude towards his wife mirrors that of Christ and the church.
Both sides are to be submissive in their own way. That’s both a traditional understanding of marriage, and a very progressive definition of gender roles. How that looks it 2022 AD may be very different than it did it 55 AD.
Or it may not. Maybe only the clothes are different.
Progressive and Traditional Morality
As Paul explains in 1 Peter 4, the world is “surprised” when we don’t participate in the activities of the world. They look at us out of the corner of their eye, wondering what our “real” motivation is.
When we tell them it’s because we’re following the Bible, they accuse us of being legalistic and “too traditional.” Even more, some so-called Christians claim that you should accompany your friends to places and activities you know you shouldn’t partake in so that you can “be a light.”
The Gospel is very clear: There are certain things that we are not to be a part of. Period. Full stop.
As much as it is a prohibition for us though, it’s also a blessing. We seek a higher standard of morality because we’re seeking a higher happiness. Isn’t that what “progressive Christianity” is all about, anyways — seeking a higher form of ourselves?
Ironically, true spiritual “nirvana” only finds itself in a strict adherence to the laws of God. But the way that we appear to the world is very progressive indeed: liberated, redeemed, free.
This is exactly what Paul talked about in Galatians 5:13-15:
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”Galatians 5:13-15
Paul reiterates what Jesus said in Matthew 22:36-40 — that the “whole law” is summed up in the command to love God and love each other. As we’ve seen though, those two commandments can be both very strict in the way that they need to be followed, but liberating in what they do for your mind, body, and soul.
In other words, both traditional and progressive.
Traditional Vs. Progressive Christianity
This is by no means the final word on this subject. In fact, you could spend time reading thousands of articles by other people on this very subject and find yourself extremely discouraged at the state of Christianity.
In that way, it’s not unlike watching the news. If you only watch Fox News, you’ll have one opinion of the world. If you only watch CNN, you’ll have another. It’s usually better to watch both to have a better overall picture of what’s going on.
Allow me to make one final point that is worth repeating over and over and over again. Adherence to the Bible is the only way salvation is obtained. We can’t do it by using our own “interpretation” as to what’s being taught. It’s God’s heaven and it’s God’s rules — we either follow it, or we’re lost.
But just as we can become too lost in the weeds by having an overly pharisaical mindset towards the Bible, we can also lose our soul by having our head up in the clouds.
When it comes to traditional vs. progressive Christianity, God’s Word is final. Everything else is a distant second.Last modified: November 14, 2022