It's an interesting time to be an orthodox Christian.
1. The Obama era has emboldened the religious left as well as the secular left. Their theology (if you can call it that) is synchronized with the Zeitgeist. It's striking to see their ferocious enmity for traditional Christian theology. That was epitomized by Elizabeth Barnes (who teaches feminist philosophy at the University of Virginia), when she said:
I hereby declare a party on my wall for progressive Christians sick of seeing their faith tradition co-opted by people who seem unable or unwilling to understand their own cruelty.
That's unintentionally comical. Progressive Christianity is entirely parasitic on orthodox Christian theology. Progressive Christianity is defined in reaction to orthodox Christianity. Imagine a Muslim complain that he's sick of seeing Christians co-opt Islam. It isn't even possible for orthodox Christians to co-opt the faith tradition of progressive Christians. Rather, progressive Christians are laboring to co-opt Christian tradition, but sterilize it in the process. Orthodox Christian tradition is the frame of reference, not progressive Christianity.
In point of fact, progressive Christianity cannot be true. If you think traditional Christian theology is bad pious fiction, then, at best, progressive Christianity can only be rewritten pious fiction. Redacting offensive fiction doesn't turn it into nonfiction, but just a different brand of fiction. Indeed, derivative fiction. A fiction of a fiction. Progressive Christianity is a secondary, reactionary movement with no intrinsic identity.
The enmity of militant atheists towards Christianity at least has a semblance of logicality. Atheism doesn't pretend to be Christian. It labors, as best it can, to avoid theological starting-points. It labors, as best it can, to provide a systematic alternative to a Christian worldview. I don't think atheism is coherent. It has to deny too many essentials. But it's more consistent than progressive Christianity.
Not surprisingly, atheists have as much or more contempt for progressive Christians as orthodox Christian. They may find progressive Christians temporarily useful allies, but once atheists gain the upper hand, progressive Christians will follow orthodox Christians into the gulags.
It would make more sense if the critics of Richard Swinburne's SCP address were outright atheists like Daniel Dennett, Evan Fales, Theodore Drange, et al. Problem is, Swinburne's critics are progressive Christians. They aren't consistently Christian and they aren't consistently secular. They struggle to stake out a half-baked intellectual compromise. An opportunistic pastiche of ad hoc snippets gleaned from Christianity and secularism. They're in no position to attack orthodox Christianity. They have no independent standard of comparison.
It's like watching passengers saw off one wing of the airplane they're flying in. It isn't an airplane with two wings, like Christianity. It isn't a missile, like atheism. It isn't a different design. Rather, it's just a mutilated airplane. It will crash. Why do they even maintain the pretense of Christian profession? Why is that still important to them?
2. Yet we see strenuous efforts on various fronts to unilaterally redraw the lines. For instance, Stan Gundry, Senior Vice President and Publisher at Zondervan Academic and a past president of the ETS, recently said, "Yes, even the question of whether same-sex 'marriages' can be defended biblically," is up for debate at the ETS.
Likewise, and not coincidentally, Zondervan will be releasing a new book in the Counterpoint series. Here's the publisher's description: "Until recently most books fit neatly into two camps: non-affirming books were written by evangelicals and affirming books by non-evangelicals. Today, this divide no longer exists. Recent books written by evangelicals appeal to the authority and inspiration of Scripture as they argue for an affirming view. The question of what the Bible says about homosexuality is now an intra-evangelical discussion."
So by fiat, these are now "intra-evangelical" positions. Increasingly, we see both the secular left and the religious left laying down ultimatums.
3. Yet out of the other side of their mouth they purse their lips when Bible-believers say their views are unchristian. "How dare you presume to say who's Christian and who's not!" But in addition to the fact that progressive Christians are quick to draw exclusionary lines, there's nothing untoward about saying Christianity has boundaries. If it didn't have boundaries, it wouldn't be anything. To be Christian is not to be non-Christian. There must be something to differentiate Christianity. That's just pitifully obvious.
4. One of the ironies of the animus directed at Swinburne is that it's coming from the religious left, even though it would be very easy to attack him from the religious right. Swinburne is by no means an unreconstructed conservative. There are modernist elements to his own position. In normal times, his critics would either be evangelicals or atheists. He himself is a theological moderate. Even so, he's too center-right for today's progressive Christians.
Their indignant reaction to Swinburne's "offensive" view that homosexuality is an incurable condition is just bizarre. Isn't that precisely what homosexual activists have been hammering into the public psyche? Homosexuality is hardwired. Immutable. Homosexuals cannot change their orientation. Indeed, California recently passed an unconstitutional law banning reparative therapy. Why is it so unbearable for Swinburne to say exactly what homosexual activists have been screaming for years? Progressive Christians emote and react rather than think.
5. Then there's the cult of feeling offended. To begin with, if homosexuals are really that emotionally fragile, then that alone is why they can't be trusted with positions of power. They are too unstable and vindictive.
But in reality, LGBT activists are hardly victims. To the contrary, they are aggressors using victimology to camouflage their militancy. They aren't weak, helpless, and defenseless. Rather, the power elite has issued them a license to kill. They unwittingly demonstrate why it's dangerous to empower them. They shamelessly abuse their power.
6. This may account for the visceral reaction to Andy Stanley's notorious sermon attacking the foundational status of Scripture. At a time and place when Bible-believing Christians are increasingly threatened, his timing seems like a betrayal. Like signaling to the power elite, "Hey, don't blame me! Don't confuse me with those Bible-thumpers over there. I'm one of the good guys!"
Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen
Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen