This article is a response to a review of my book Progressive Christians Love Jesus Too from a critic, a young Reformed scholar named Colton Hinson. I appreciate Hinson reading the book and sharing his thoughts though I do not think he establishes his central claim that “Rauser’s lines are too far left and that his standard for ‘mere Christianity’ can be just as dangerous, if not more, than Childers’.”
Unfortunately, Hinson seems to view everything through the highly politicized lens of an American conservative evangelical in which people map onto a political spectrum of left/right and that skews his analysis as reflected in the assumption that I must be “left” and this, in turn, must be “bad”. (As we will see below, Hinson appears to link conservatism with guns. For much of the world, that will be a bizarre equation.)
Given that Hinson appears to interpret theology through a highly politicized lens, it is not surprising that he ends up misrepresenting my central argument: “Rauser’s complaint can be simplified in that he thinks Childers’ lines are too close to the evangelical right….” This is wrong, and emphatically so. The problem with Childers’ argument is not that she is “too close to the evangelical right.” The problem is that her central thesis that progressive Christianity is another religion and the adherents of it are wolves with the malevolent intent to consume sheep is false. It’s false because many progressive Christians are indeed Christians of good will.
Unfortunately, Hinson also misrepresents my response to Childers by assuming I am committed to the claim that every progressive Christian is a genuine truth-seeking Christian: “Christians who are wrestling with theology and trying to appropriate the ancient faith into their time and context. These are not wolves, but sincere truth seekers.” But I don’t claim that every self-described progressive Christian is a “sincere truth seeker” just as I don’t claim every evangelical is a “sincere truth seeker”. My point, rather, is that one cannot declare a priori that progressives all have malevolent and deceptive intent without independent evidence that this is true of specific individuals.
However, Hinson then uses this strawman as the basis to launch a spurious charge: “Rauser, when contrasting wolves with sincere questioners, has created another binary, considering the two categories are not mutually exclusive.” Once again, I never claimed that all progressive Christians are of pure intent. Again, the point, rather, is that Childers’ claim that all are of malevolent and deceptive intent is false and harmful.
Hinson then builds on this strawman foundation: “Unfortunately wolves never believe they are wolves. It’s human nature to believe you are the good guy.” That much is true. In fact, I have no doubt that Childers herself thinks she’s doing the Lord’s work when she maligns and slanders fellow Christians. That’s why I don’t attribute malevolent intention to her, even though that is preisely what she does to progressive Christians.
There is a lot more I could say here, but I’m going to conclude with three random bullet-points of disagreement before wrapping up.
- At one point, Hinson states that when it comes to interpreting creation, “Ken Ham was simply being consistent.” Sorry, but if Ken Ham were consistent he would believe there is a hard dome (the raqia) in the sky (Genesis 1:6-8). As it stands, his literalist hermeneutic is inconsistent, ad hoc, and fails to adapt to diverse genres and the very different socio-historical contexts in which they were written.
- Hinson claims that I view the ecumenical creeds not “as merely ‘a starting point’ but the last word. If it isn’t in the creed, then it isn’t required for Christianity.” Hinson justifies this claim by citing a tweet where I point out that a prolife stance on abortion isn’t listed in the Apostles’ Creed. This is one of several points- in the review where Hinson opts to engage with my tweets rather than the book. Here, too, he misunderstands the point. The tweet isn’t asserting that a Christian can endorse any ethical position not explicitly referenced in the Apostles’ Creed. Indeed, that would be an absurd interpretation: for example, the Apostles’ Creed doesn’t condemn genocide, but it hardly follows that a Christian can consistently affirm genocide. The citation of the Apostles’ Creed is intended to be broadly representative of the mainstream Christian orthodox traditions including (but not limited to) specific creeds and to warn against adding obligations not present within that tradition.
- Hinson warns the reader that I view “quite a few conservative positions as ‘Anti Christian.’ These include Christians who vote for Trump as well as gun enthusiasts.” This brings us back to Hinson’s own uncritical politicization of Christianity in the narrow terms of his brand of conservative American evangelicalism. With that in mind, I’d like to address both Trump and guns more specifically:
- First, the context: Hinson is citing a tweet from May 28 of this year in which I respond to Trump speaking at the NRA convention in the wake of the Uvalde massacre.
- Next, as for support for Trump: If a Christian voted Trump in 2016 and has since come to recognize the error of their ways, I have no problem with them. But if, as Hinson’s comment suggests, a Christian is still supporting Trump as of May 2022, I have enormous problems with that. The man is a habitual liar and narcissist who has repeatedly engaged in flagrantly immoral and illegal behavior from ripping off students in Trump University (and losing in court), to scamming people with the Trump Foundation (for which he was fined $2 million) to appealing to racist and incendiary rhetoric against migrants, Muslims, Asians, refugees, Mexicans, to sexually assaulting multiple women, to having sex with a porn star and buying her silence during the election, to attempting to blackmail Zelensky, to attempting to overturn a democratic election in a soft coup while placing his own VP at risk of being murdered, the list goes on and on. There is no excuse for supporting this vile man now. That is not a matter or right and left: it is a matter of right and wrong. And genuine conservatives from Bill Kristol to Charlie Sykes to Steven Schmidt and many others have been among the leading genuinely conservative voices denouncing this crook.
- As for guns, it is true that America has a large gun cult, people who fetishize weapons of war designed to pulpify the human body in two seconds or less: just look at the number of Republican campaign ads that feature politicians firing weapons. This fetishization is weird and disturbing, all the more so when it proliferates among avowed disciples of the Prince of Peace.
Hinson’s review concludes by suggesting that a progressive Christian is another religion if they have different ethical views from folks like Hinson:
“If the progressive God is fine with abortion, transgender mutilation, euthanasia, and demands pacifism, how does that not constitute a fundamentally different God than the one worshipped by evangelicals whose moral character is very different? What honest progressive will look me in the eye and tell me his or her religion is the same as mine when we disagree on everything outside of a creed addressing first century Trinitarian and Christological issues?”
Unfortunately, Hinson provides no argument here to support the claim that changing your stance on an ethical question (e.g. moving from prolife to prochoice) thereby constitutes a change in your religion. And that strikes me as a bizarre supposition, one that steamrolls the centrality of the creeds, not just the Apostles and Nicene Creeds but also New Testament creeds (e.g. Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Cor. 15:3-8).
But let me conclude by tossing the ball back into Hinson’s court. I assume Hinson is against slavery. Yet some of the leading Reformed theologians like Jonathan Edwards and Robert Dabney defended slavery. Indeed, Dabney could fairly be called a rabid apologist for the antebellum enslavement of Afro-Americans. Slavery is not a lesser ethical question than abortion or physician-assisted suicide. Thus, if disagreement over the ethics of abortion is sufficient to distinguish two individuals as belong to different religions, the same is true of disagreement over the ethics of enslaving human beings. So then it follows either that Edwards and Dabney and much of the Reformed tradition were not Christians because they accepted slavery or Hinson is not a Christian because he does not.
So which is it?