Posted by: gmscan | May 13, 2011

More on the Progressive Church

So what does it mean to be a progressive church? One example comes from the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, TN, where John Shuck is the pastor. Mr. Shuck has a blog aptly called “Shuck and Jive.” He is very hip, believing in every left wing cause you can think of, including the idea that the military and CIA collaborated to destroy the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

That’s fine. In these days of “social media” anyone can write any foolish thing that comes into his head and publish it for the world to marvel at. The bigger problem is that he has poisoned the well for his entire congregation.

The church’s May newsletter, The White Spire, devotes one page out of ten to the gospel, and provides quite a twist even on that. For instance, there is a quick item on “When Will The Kingdom Come?” which confirms what Dr. Barnhouse was afraid of in my last blog post. It says –

The historical Jesus redefined the empire of God as something that is present, within and among, and in opposition to the empire of “this world” or the empire of violence and domination. The empire of God is the focus of Jesus’ ministry and his teachings. He was asked when this transformation would happen. When would this empire of God arrive and how will we know? Jesus’ answer is “it is right there in your presence.” Ghandi told his followers to “be the change you want to see in the world.” There is no need to wait for a savior or a messiah. The empire of God is within and among you. You are the change. Be it.

Let’s repeat: “There is no need to wait for a savior or messiah…. You are the change. Be it.”

The rest of the newsletter is devoted to this utopian vision of man creating God’s Kingdom on the Earth. Including:

  • The church received an award for environmental goodness.
  • The church is scheduling the collection of hazardous household waste.
  • The church is starting a support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth.
  • The church is encouraging members to avoid planting “invasive species” in their gardens.
  • It is sponsoring a “composting field trip.”
  • It is sponsoring a “March on Blair Mountain,” on the 90th anniversary of “when 10,000 coal miners rose against the rule of the coal operators….”

And, perhaps most revealing, on May 1st it celebrated Plurality Sunday by worshipping the Celtic Sun God Beltane. The item in the bulletin reads:

This year, Easter falls one week ahead of the midpoint of spring on May 1st.! In the old traditions, a festival on this date, celebrating the new growth and fertility of the land and all of its inhabitants, was called Beltane – “bright fire” or “fire of Bel.” Bel was the Celtic sun god who was in his glory during the light half of the year.

The Peacemaking Committee will be celebrating Beltane in the traditional manner, with song, dance, and feasting. We will meet at 6:00 on Sunday, May 1st, at the church, and will hold the rite outside if weather permits. Bring a dish for the Beltane feast, which will be held in the church dining room and kitchen. Beltane foods traditionally include dairy products or the season’s first produce.

Gotta love it! At least if you have never read the Bible and its repeated warnings about idolatry and worshipping other gods.

But it isn’t just one obscure pastor in eastern Tennessee. This kind of thinking is rife within the good ol’ PCUSA.  The Vice-Moderator of the PCUSA, Rev. Landon Whitsitt, was quoted in the October, 2010 issue of “The Layman” as saying:

“What I’m trying to do is place the Scripture as a specific point in the process of trying to discern what the Word of God would have us do. Scripture is only a reference point to the Word of God, it’s not the Word of God, you know, with a capital W. It’s only a reference point.”

So, if Scripture is not the Word of God, what is? Well, it is whatever Mr. Whitsitt thinks it ought to be, apparently. The Scripture may be one “reference point,” and so might the “Celtic Sun God Beltane” that Mr. Shuck is so fond of.  What the heck? Why bother with any of this “jive?” Just do whatever feels good!

This tendency within the reformed churches is not something new. In Eric Metaxas’ new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he describes Bonhoeffer’s year-long fellowship at the Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1930 as an eye-opening experience. Bonhoeffer had been rigorously trained in theology in Germany. He wrote:

There is no theology here… They talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation… The students … are completely clueless… They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level.

He had entered an environment where John D. Rockefeller and Henry Luce were backing a liberal pastor, Harry Emerson Fosdick, to the point of building the Riverside Church just for him. Metaxas writes that in 1922 Fosdick had —

… preached an infamous sermon titled, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” In it he laid out a kind of Apostate’s Creed in which he expressed his serious doubts about most of the historic assertions of the Christian faith, including the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, the atonement, miracles, and the Bible as the Word of God.

You have to wonder why such a man would bother styling himself as a Christian at all. Why not just start a new religion – “The Church of Good Feelings?”

Indeed, a poster on Viola Larson’s “Naming His Grace” blog related a conversation between famed atheist Christopher Hitchens and a Unitarian minister in Portland Oregon.   The original article is here.

The minister said:

“I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?”

And Hitchens replied:

“I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

Praise the Lord! It takes a committed atheist to tell these self-styled Christians what Christianity is all about!



  1. You are so right to point out that at least the atheists are obvious about what really constitutes Christianity! Thanks for seeing the Emperor’s new clothes for what they really are–nothing.

  2. “And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these (disciples) should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. ” Lk 19:40

  3. So typical of Fundamentalists to create paper tigers to justify your siege mentality. John Shuck is not a typical Progressive, nor does he represent Progressives. He is just a guy deconstructing his Faith.

    At least he has a faith to deconstruct. He puts his soul in the hands of the living God for real. But folks like you don’t get it.

    If you followed Jesus Christ, walked in His footsteps, and faced your face in the same direction, perhaps you would. But you face in the opposite direction. You oppose Jesus Christ in the name of Jesus Christ.

    It always amazes me…

    • Jodie,
      Other than being insulting, I have no idea what you are talking about. You are quite right that I don’t get it. It sounds like random words strung together to no particular purpose. I, too, am amazed.
      Greg Scandlen

      • So typical of Jodie to call moderate evangelicals “Fundamentalists.” I believe Jodie is saying that we moderate evangelicals (“Fundamentalists”), and he’s including you in the number, are self-deceived in thinking that we are being opposed by progressives, and therefore have a siege mentality. Therefore you are constructing a paper tiger when you write about progressives and use John Shuck as an example. Moreover, according to Jodie, we have no clue about what Jesus Christ is really like, so though we say we are acting in his name, according to Jodie, we’re really walking in the opposite direction from what Jesus would truly want.

        Jodie lurks on the Internet and attacks moderate evangelicals (whom he calls “Fundamentalists”, having no understanding about the very large distinctions between the two groups) wherever he finds them, or so it seems.

  4. John Shuck may not be a typical progressive, but he does not put his soul in the hands of the living God. He does not believe there is a living God. He says ” “No deity exists. Not Jesus Christ, not Yahweh, not Baal, not Marduk, not Allah, not Zeus, not the Flying Spaghetti Monster, not the Wizard of Oz. None of them exist. All figments of imagination. They are fun. But none are worth the spiritual violence they cause.” That comment from him is on his blog John Shuck therefore has no faith. So be careful of accusing people of having or not having a faith, Jodie.

  5. Michael Novak is credited with saying, “Capitalism succeeds because it is an economic theory designed for sinners, of whom there are many; just as socialism fails because it is a theory designed for Saints, of whom there few.” Our natural inclination is to deny the sin within ourselves, thinking we are basically “good”, and this has had devastating social, political, and economic consequence. I just discovered your blogsite. May God continue to bless you and your work.

  6. […] atheists understand more about Christianity than professed Christians. Some time ago I wrote about a dialogue between famed atheist Christopher Hitchens and a (Unitarian) minister.  She told him in her most ingratiating manner […]

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