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Actually Pete, Evangelicals Do Get Progressive Christianity (Part One)

by | Sep 1, 2020 | Blog, The Church, Theology | 0 comments

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This blog post unlike the ones published before, is theological and apologetic in nature.

Although this post is not written from an authoritative source (viz., from a minister’s point), the points in this post come from an analytical layman’s perspective. After all, the topic of discussion that Pete Enns writes about is a progressive analysis from another layman’s point of view. Just as it was mentioned on his podcast, this is not an automatic response to Mr. Enns take on the subject—this was covered was well over two years ago.

Because the response will be done in parts and in some cases a bit lengthy, taking the appropriate time to give a proper introduction to the subject is wise. For those wishing to skip this introduction will not do a grand favor before getting into the gist of the counter arguments for this post. At this point, there will be a few concessions and caveats to make before getting into the gist of the argument presented—for there is legitimacy to the ones described in the podcast.

For example:

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“There is a mass of disaffected evangelicals and fundamentalists out there. This is happening in the academic community, too. Why is it so common that evangelical churches and institutions send their best and brightest to do doctoral work at major, prestigious research institutions and while they’re there they change, because they learn ways of looking at the Bible—like how it was composed and when–that make more sense than how they had been taught to think of it previously.

The problem here is not with those who are going out and learning different things and changing their minds on some issues. Rather, seeing real intellectual problems with the “evangelical paradigm” and are finding better answers elsewhere.”

Even though disaffected Evangelicals are—by and large—on the rise, ‘finding better answers elsewhere,’ as Mr. Enns asserts, would be better found if individuals were willing to engage with the serious theological works. One should not be surprised to discover that while Evangelicals like Rachel Held Evan’s (RHE) rightly point out the problems behind rag-tag fundamentalism, these individuals should not be regarded as serious theological leaders. After all, even merely thinking of Calvinism has prompted her to cry over again.

One could imagine her crying again for hardly mentioning the work of a sixteenth century cis-gendered male! In those days where genitalia was not considered a cosmetic construct, there were learned men who had the chutzpah to write works at length and engage with the audiences on an intellectual level.

Before moving on, an additional note does have to be taken into consideration regarding this subject—a question which the reader is most likely to encounter which would be this: on what grounds of legitimate authority do you possess to make a critique of someone who has professional and educational credentials?

To which I reply, ‘none,’ but Alisa Childers is not an expert either, which is a particularly curious thought. For if Mr. Enns wishes to analyze the post of a laymen, he should also be subject to similar scrutiny by other laymen.

Even though Alisa Childers was a CCM songwriter, she is not a leading prominent Evangelical scholar who could intellectually engage progressive topics and its adherents. Her book is not an exhaustive one which deals with the minute details of the problems, but merely a reflection of her personal experiences as a Christian dealing with the questions of the faith. The fact of Mr. Enns devoting an entire hour to dismantle and dismiss her post because she is a layman by default is telling—if someone with a more keen understanding of the theological debate (e.g. Dr. Kenneth Gentry, Dr. Kenneth Talbot, Brian Schwertly, or James White) this type of intellectual debating would not take place.

Such instances would put Mr. Enns to task, which would make him look worse than he wishes to present himself.

So here I am, entering the debate. Although most of the credentials possessed here belong to earning a degree from my alma mater, I would like to address that most of convictions (especially—gasp!—biblical inerrancy) does come from the honest academic training received while pursuing the field of English Language and Literature. A field such as this one is not about theology per se, but the pursuit of understanding the methodology of interpreting any form of literary writing and understanding the linguistic structure of particular texts does lend a hand to this debate. This is why I could take any progressive to task because this is where its strengths stop and its weaknesses start at this point.

So much for C.S. Lewis.

While there are a vast array of subjects Mr. Enns passes through in his discussion of the post written by Alisa Childers, there are real problems behind today’s Evangelicalism Mr. Enns raises without getting into the details, starting with its lack of intellectual rigor. It is here where Mr. Enns does put The Gospel Coalition to task on the subject because most writers do not show a strong sense of keenness to the academic and intellectual problems many Christians face routinely.

As Mr. Enns puts it:

“This does not account for the massive intellectual challenges that confront evangelicalism that many people are talking about—namely them former evangelicals. 

What really strikes me here is a tone deafness to the degree of intellectual isolation within the evangelical movement—in fact, the degree of intellectual isolation needed to make the evangelical system work.

Of course you can have arguments for remaining as one was—or perhaps returning to a reinvigorated fundamentalism as Alisa has. But the arguments for doing so only really make sense within that insulated world.”

Which anyone can wholeheartedly agree.

But this would be due to the anti-intellectual scaremongering which Mr. Enns jabs at later in the podcast. Much of Evangelicalism consists of individuals who have not done much reading into the serious works of theologians both in a contemporaneous and historic settings. As mentioned previously, the lack of intellectual depth is of no surprise—a small search into the archives of Sermon Audio would demonstrate just that, with a few surprise ministers that willing to go further into doctrine with their expository sermons.

My alma mater—Bob Jones University—is not ashamed of its connections with evangelists like Mike Manor, who qualifies more for a children’s camp preacher than an actual one. Even though both the man and my alma mater have good intentions, many Christians such as myself would find his preaching completely irritating not because of his personalities or the messages themselves but because these are to be directed at an audience below the age of eleven. A message like this for adults is not only patronizing but downright insulting. My first encounter with him was enough to consider skipping church attendance whenever he would be featured as a speaker.

Shouldn’t we be preaching intellectually?

Also spending time on anti-intellectualism would be well worth another three pages, the subject of this post is about discussing Mr. Enns, not giving him more ample reasoning to reiterate what he has already said. As previously stated, the absence of intellectual robustness remains problematic, especially to a group that remains tone-deaf and refuses to do serious thinking—not a surprise.

But Progressive Christians do no better.

RHE, Jen Hatmaker, & Rob Bell are not gargantuous readers, let alone scholastic in their approaches to doctrinal discussion. One would be caught dead if one dared challenge the late RHE to read—at least once—a copy of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion without her resorting to sobbing, crying, and tearing up at every word ever written by this Reformed meanie.

Beth More—another proponent—would never dream of reading books thicker and more intellectually complicated than her own because such works are just too wordy and not womanly enough.

As for Rob Bell, he would prefer to spend an afternoon looking for a pair of bubblegum stilettos for his wife than pick up and read someone else’s magnum opus.

Which leaves us with Mr. Enns, one of the remaining critics of typical evangelical doctrine.

Even though this initial post spent most of its time complimenting his critique, this is the point where Mr. Enns theology remains at its weakest. The problem behind much of his writings and his podcasts particularly do not have the intellectual depth as it posits—in fact, one could earnestly listen to his assessments and point out omitted facts and details with relative ease. Just as he insists The Gospel Coalition does not understand Progressive Christianity, I would argue Mr. Enns does not understand the issues behind the abandonment of evangelical doctrine.

And much of this has to do with history.

One of the best progressive slogans geared toward Christians who do not adhere to their ideology—the wrong side of history—has often been well played to advance their goals. However, if one were to hold progressives to their own slogans, that same person will discover their own claims do not hold one ounce. In many ways, this would be like watching Kamala Harris claim to believe the accusers of Joe Biden and Brett Kavanaugh only to learn months later that she can still sport a smile when accepting the VP slot of at least one of them.

This goes without mentioning that—as the latest word on the street has it—she is a direct descendant of a slave owner.

Talk about hypocrisy!

To Be Continued…

Main Point: Unlike today’s converts to the progressive movement have something intellectually invigorating, most of these folks remain as unconsciously aware of progressivism as today’s Christians are, especially with respects to its history.

Read the rest of the series at the following links:

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