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Navigating Progressive Theology Ft. Daren Overstreet

In this blog we delve into the rich conversations that have emerged around Daren's book, "Wildfire," exploring the nuances of progressive theology and its impact on contemporary church dynamics. Daren Overstreet, previously rooted in the Pacific Northwest and now serving in Tampa, Florida is a minister with decades of experience. His book "Wildfire" is a compilation of Daren's reflections on the evolving landscape of theology. Born out of a tumultuous period marked by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Daren observed a growing polarization within the Church. The entrenchment of contrasting ideas on issues such as sexual identity, race, deconstruction and politics compelled him to take a step back and reflect. Read our key takeaways below and watch the full conversation!

What is progressive theology?

This intricate ideology is aptly defined by Renew Network as a rewriting of essential elements of biblical Christianity to align with Western secular values. It's a subtle yet profound shift, where cultural norms critique the Bible, rather than the Bible critiquing culture. There is a hesitancy within church members to openly discuss progressive theology. The silent majority harbors genuine questions but often fears expressing them openly due to the perceived sensitivity of the topics. A cry for clarity echoes. Church members yearn for transparent discussions on core beliefs. Questions surrounding issues like gender, critical race theory, and deconstruction linger, met with vague responses that leave believers seeking a more explicit articulation of their faith. Daren argues that addressing progressive theology is essential for sustained and healthy church growth.

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2

In collaboration with Barna, the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University recently unveiled that only 6% of self-identified Christians in America hold a biblical worldview, while a striking 80% embrace a syncretism worldview. In this context, syncretism refers to the amalgamation of cultural and biblical beliefs, giving rise to a novel paradigm that dictates one's understanding of life. This shift positions culture as the primary influencer of belief systems, gradually sidelining the guidance of the Bible in life's decisions—a phenomenon lamented in Romans 12:2. The intentional intentional blending of cultural and orthodox elements aims to create an elusive theology, subtly altering the traditional language of the Bible to render it more pertinent to contemporary contexts. This blending of ideas serves as a lens through which individuals navigate their faith by the pattern of this world rather than the Biblical renewing of their mind.

“A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Richard Niebuhr depiction of the progressive theology creed
The Trojan horse

While progressive theology may seem like an on-ramp to attract more individuals to the church by broadening boundaries, it often manifests as an off-ramp, leading to a gradual exodus. This revelation challenges the notion that embracing progressive ideologies will inherently drive growth. Committing to a progressive path may inadvertently result in the loss of both progressive and conservative members, leaving behind a fragmented community. The reluctance to address progressive theology is contributing to the stagnation of church growth in America. Drawing attention to a "liminal moment" for the Church, Daren suggests that the trajectory the church chooses in the coming years will define its identity.

The impact on mental health

Mental health in America is in crisis, emphasizing the need for resilience rooted in biblical principles. In Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff's book, "The Coddling of the American Mind", the authors posit that progressive thought engenders cognitive distortions by promoting three great untruths. First, the notion that feelings are always right; second, the belief that one should avoid pain and discomfort; and third, the inclination to constantly seek faults in others rather than introspectively examining oneself. Your feelings are important, but it's a distortion to think that your church community has to submit to your feelings. The consequence of not challenging the foundational questions of progressive thought within the church can unintentionally build a church driven by emotions and desires, mirroring the societal trends of our day.

An identity crisis

In a book titled "Awake, Not Woke" by Noelle Mering, progressive thought is rooted in the difference between two foundational identity questions. The first question probes individual desires, a stark departure from the biblical imperative of seeking God's desires first: "In life, what do I desire?" Daren cautioned against this individualistic approach, advocating for a more profound question rooted in Christianity – "What does God desire of me?". In America's current identity crisis, there are potential mental health ramifications in steering individuals towards self-centered questions rather than grounding them in a Christian worldview. The second identity question posed by progressive thought pertains to community: "How have I been hurt?" Daren contrasted this with the biblical perspective, urging a shift from self-centered concerns to acknowledging one's impact on others and seeking reconciliation. Progressive thought encourages a focus on personal grievances within the community rather than acknowledging our accountability toward God and others.

Gospel resilience with conversation partners

Daren emphasizes the urgent need for leaders to recognize and challenge the infiltration of progressive thought into the fundamental questions of identity. He advocates for clear and loving preaching that resists the influence of these distorted ideologies. By applying scriptural truths to contemporary challenges, leaders can guide the church towards a path of resistance, ensuring that the timeless and unchanging nature of the Bible remains the anchor in a rapidly changing cultural landscape. He draws parallels to Paul's approach in Athens, where he addressed the prevalent idolatry by redirecting the focus toward the one true God. Darren encourages a similar strategy, where Christians leverage cultural conversation partners such as sexual identity, race, and politics to redirect individuals toward God's ultimate authority and lordship.

The Call for Courage

The plea for courage in leadership resonated throughout our discussion. It was an acknowledgment that embracing new ideas, perspectives, and voices within the church requires courage. Without it, the risk of stifling growth and discouraging the next generation from actively engaging in discussions about faith becomes apparent. The challenge is not only to navigate the complexities of progressive thought but also to foster an environment where every generation can actively contribute to the ongoing dialogue about faith. The richness of perspectives across generations can be an asset rather than a source of division. Daren urges approaching generational dynamics with humility and a commitment to fostering unity in the pursuit of upholding the authority of the word of God.

Further reading:

"The God of this Age" Climb Conference Lesson part 1, part 2

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