Theological Context of Political Progressivism

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” –Matt 5:13-15 (ESV)

I’m neither a theologian nor a political scientist. However, I am a Christian, I own a Bible, I pay attention to political issues, and I care about what happens in this country and around the world. I believe that Christians should be involved in this world (not “of this world” as it were). In every aspect of human life, we ought to be salt and light. In this blog, my interests clearly lie along political and economical lines.

To this end, I wish to undertake a series of commentaries on progressivism as a political movement and its logical (and theological) basis. I will not attempt at the outset to address progressive theological bents, such as “liberation theology”. Nor, in this post, to address what the Bible has to say about specific policy issues. Rather, I’d like to consider the underpinnings of progressivism and whether it is consistent with Biblical context.

At its root, progressivism “assumes that people, having a rational intellect, have the ability to recognize problems and solve them and thus can achieve systematic improvement in the human condition.” (I lifted that quote from an online encyclopedia – but it appears to be part of the progressive talking points. You can find the exact phrase “systematic improvement in the human condition” quite a few places in progressive literature.)

Now, this brings us to a rather subtle point. If the goal had been for an improvement in human living conditions, prosperity, health, security, peace, etc., then that would be one thing. I may still disagree that humans, through only “rational intellect” can in general achieve overall prosperity – but it’s a small disagreement. Rather, the movement clearly and intentionally desires an improvement to the human condition.

Let me cast this in a slightly different light. What is being said by this movement is that by implementing the correct (“just”?) policies and programs, we can improve the human condition. This is why you hear progressives harp on such things as “root causes” for various societal ills.

Now, theologically this is clearly nonsense to the Christian. The human condition is flawed, to say the least. We are broken. We are broken by sin, by rebellion against God, by pride. We have placed ourselves at the center of our little rebellious lives, and kicked God out. THAT is the human condition.

The only solution for this condition is Christ Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. Redemption, forgiveness, healing – these are all found in Him. Programs laid out by political movements will not, and cannot address our brokenness and cannot produce meaningful, lasting improvement to the human condition.

Now, that is not at all to indicate that programs and policies are bad. I’m not advocating a que sera sera political philosophy. I’m very interested in a government that promotes good policies, and we’ll certainly discuss those along the way.

Rather, my intent is just as I stated above – to show that progressivism as a political movement is based fundamentally on a philosophy that is not Biblically sound. Does this have implications for where Christians ought to fall politically or where Christians ought to apply their efforts in social movements? Possibly, but that’s far too broad a topic to undertake in a single post.

I will note though, that the next time you hear a progressive reference the Bible in regards to a policy issue (usually caring for the poor or the nature of the criminal justice system) bear in mind that there is a fundamental disconnect between this political movement and Biblical foundations.

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