Updated: Jan 25, 2021
This might seem like a weird post for a blog about a Christian married to an Atheist, but if you understood how much these words are spoken in our discussions day in and day out, if you have these words as part of the constant chatter in your own marriage with someone who doesn't align with you on certain stances, in religion...in politics...then maybe this is a post for this blog. And right now, this has been rolling around in my mind, and heart, because I have had lengthy discussions with some of my dearest friends about it, and I feel led to do some deconstructing and rebuilding...just "flesh it all out" (forgive the pun...you'll see as you read).
So, here goes my conclusion from the beginning:
"Progressive" and "Evangelical" are essential qualities of the Christian walk that have been hijacked by politics.
Did you just tense up? Ugh, I did. But still...from my seat at the table of American culture, it's pretty obvious to say that many of us identify with one and despise the other.
Despise might be a soft term, really.
And that being said, there is no doubt that the polarity of these words have caused an ungodly rift in the Church. Like, manufactured enemy territory at its worst (uh...we know what the Bible says about enemies...real enemies...and yet...)
Christ-follower against Christ-follower. Redeemed against Redeemed. Beloved against Beloved.
Whenever I hear either of those terms, I kinda want to run away and hide in a corner and plug my ears. They make my heart constrict and my anger rise.
Both words do.
And they shouldn’t.
Neither word should cause us to stand divided as the Church...
Ah, but that is politics' main objective—to divide. Look at the definition of Politics:
Politics is defined as: the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power." (Oxford Languages, emphasis mine)
When the Church allows itself to marry to the political system, then it’s at the mercy of that system’s tactics. Creating conflict. Using good people to get their power.
Did Christ seek power or people?
Did He love an agenda or His Father?
Have we allowed politics to rename us? No longer are we the Church. We are the ”progressive” or the “evangelical”.
We are at war with each other.
So I've been grappling. And I wonder if we lean back into their purer, untouched meanings, we might be able to cut them away from our vocabulary as sources of division.
I need to redeem those words. I don’t know about you, but with this New Year, I really want something new (wish people would feel the same way about their social media posts...honestly).
I want to have some peace with those 8 syllables on my tongue. This is a priority climbing its way to the top of my list.
So, I'm going to do some deconstructing and rebuilding without the sword of politics to guide me (or divide me).
On the term, "Progressive":
Definition of Progressive: happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step. (Oxford Languages)
Of course, there are believers who use the term progressive to mix political persuasion with their doctrinal belief, tangling the two so that it’s difficult to identify Christ’s influence apart from a fleshly one.
But, perhaps, instead of thinking of this as a liberal label, think of the Israelites in the desert, being led step by step to the promise land. Think of Paul's instruction. First the milk then the meat.
We are all progressing.
The Church should be progressing toward a more authentic representation of Christ. We’ll never get to perfection on this side of Heaven. But we can try and slough off the things that hold us back—stubbornness, division, hatred, legalism—to share Agape with the World.
It's not okay that the world seems more like a light to the lost than the Church. How many times have I withheld my love and peacemaking in a conversation because I was internally crossing my arms and refusing to move forward? How many times did I refuse to reflect on my own perspective for fear of changing it? And how many times did God have to wrestle with me to let go of what I thought was precious?
"Progressive" IS the Christian Walk.
On the term, "Evangelical":
Definition of Evangelical: of or according to the teaching of the gospel or the Christian religion. (Oxford Languages)
Of course, there are denominations that have mixed political persuasion with their doctrinal belief, tangling the two so that it’s difficult to identify Christ’s influence apart from a fleshly one.
But, perhaps, instead of thinking of this as a conservative label, we should realize that the Church is led by humans. A label does not, will not, can never encompass the complete Truth of Who God is and What He believes about a situation in this particular culture, at this particular time, in a particular situation.
That is why we pray, and seek, and learn—to understand how to grow closer to God in each moment, according to His Gospel—because no moment is the same.
But God is the same—never changing, and He is always willing and ready to change us.
At it's purest form, Evangelical is sweet, lovely, grounded. It defines a people rooted in the rich soil of the Gospel, tasting and receiving its ever-replenishing fruit, and offering it to a hungry world.
"Evangelical" IS the Christian Walk.
God loves us beyond the labels, doesn't He? And if we can redeem the labels, maybe we wouldn't be so willing to weaponize them and more willing to celebrate what God is doing.
And what God has always seemed to want for the Church, throughout our history, is pretty remarkable:
The Lord wants to progress us toward a more accurate evangelical offering beyond ourselves.
Because that's how the light shines for a world desperately in need of it.