Richard Beck’s continuing series on his journey to becoming “post-progressive” includes a critique of progressive Christianity’s priority of political activism and social justice.
Beck knows that there is a great deal of support in the biblical story for this emphasis, and thinks it appropriate that this is an emphasis for Chrsitian faith and practice. “Building upon these biblical foundations, liberation theology is a dominant impulse within progressive Christianity,” he writes.
Nevertheless, he critiques the political activism of the progressive Christian movement in much the same way we here at Internet Monk have spoken against the Christian Right and “Culture War Christianity.” Here is his argument, in bullet points:
- “…because of this focus on social justice, progressive Christianity is tempted to reduce to and equate itself with progressive political activism.”
- “…when equated with political action–control of the state–progressive Christianity is reduced to the science of power.”
- “…when reduced to progressive political activism progressive Christianity loses its prophetic capacity to criticize the political left when it falls short of the kingdom of God.”
- “…when reduced to political action progressive Christianity turns toward the state rather than the church as the hope of the world.”
In brief, “social justice” Christians on the left can make the same fundamental theological mistake as “culture war” Christians on the right: to presume that the cause of Christ wins by winning, and that winning means taking power over the world.
This is what I call “the great methodological heresy” — that Christians win by winning.
In order to guarantee a win, we trust in “horses and chariots” rather than in the name of our God.
We adopt methods by which the “rulers of the Gentiles” lord it over their subjects, and forget to become servants of all.
This is all very complicated in a country like the United States, with our ideal of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Our own political system encourages us to actively participate in the process and to advocate and work for the causes we believe in. But no matter how ideal our system may be, it inevitably becomes corrupted toward power grabbing, war mongering, and lording it over others. Violence, and not self-giving love, is its modus operandi. In the end, it is not Jesus-shaped.
The faith community becomes inextricably intertwined with odd bedfellows, and the schisms that result in the Body of Christ divide brothers and sisters and pit them against each other.
And so, Richard Beck affirms:
I AM A PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that Christians must prioritize social justice, seeking to reform and resist policies and economies that oppress, harm, and exclude. Lives are at stake.
I AM A POST-PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN in that I believe that the kingdom of God cannot be reduced to grasping and wielding the power of the nation state. Lives are at stake, but Babylon will not save us. I believe the kingdom of God speaks prophetic words of rebuke to the political right and left. I believe that the church, rather than the outcome of a presidential election, is the hope of the world, and the investments of my energy, time, emotions, and resources reflect that conviction.
As a post-evangelical, I concur.