Why I Was Depressed As A “Progressive” Christian

One of the most acclaimed episodes of the classic series The Twilight Zone is “It’s A Good Life.”  The plot focuses on a six-year old boy named Anthony who has godlike powers.  His actions are terrifying but exactly what you would expect from an immature child who, like all kids, live in the now and are almost wholly self-focused.  The meaning of the brilliant Rod Serling script (from a short story by Jerome Bixby) is clear–human beings make lousy gods.

I graduated from college in 1998 and immediately began attending Bible college classes before shipping off for seminary. I attended a New Testament Greek class with a professor who directed me to a progressive theological movement led by young pastors such as Mark Driscoll, Doug Pagitt and Brad Cecil.  I was given tapes (Google it) of a conference in Mt. Hermon, California hosted by the Young Leaders Network that would become Emergent.

I was a fairly new Christian with a chip on my shoulder about the traditional evangelical church and the lectures I listened to seemed to blame that church for its disconnect from Gen-X (people born between 1960 and 1980) of which I was a member.  I was sold.

I followed the “emergent church movement” from a distance.  As a seminary student and later as a starving pastor attending law school, I could only afford to attend the occasional conference but I tried to keep up online with the burgeoning group of leaders that grew to include Rob Bell, Dan Kimball, Tony Jones and, the elder statesman of the crew, Brian McLaren.

I came to reject orthodox doctrines such as Biblical inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, the exclusivity of salvation through Christ, the foreknowledge of God and many others.  I publicly ridiculed “the old guard” as out-of-touch and fully embraced post-modernism.

I had been an atheist for ten years who had grown depressed at the lack of meaning in my non-belief (see here).  I was initially excited by my conversion and the sudden injection of meaning into my life.  My excitement continued into my emergent for a few years but began to diminish halfway through seminary.  I decide to go to law school partly on my loss of passion for the church.

My decreasing lack of zeal for the mission of the church was a result of my increasing rejection of orthodox Christianity.  I had come to accept the postmodern dictum that because we all interpret, there is no real fixed meaning to any text.  There may be better and worse interpretations but there was no final interpretation.

The “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3) didn’t really interest me.  I felt, in the words of Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, that evangelical theology was “stale.”  I didn’t want to be constrained by the clear meaning of the text.  I wanted to play.  I wanted to explore. In short, I wanted to be little Anthony from the Twilight Zone–a godlike being without a godlike position from which to view eternity and a godlike wisdom to adjudicate eternal matters.

I grew depressed because I had anchored the hope for my entire existence in the shifting sands of my own whims.  I knew somewhere in my heart of hearts that my own “new interpretation” of the text was as much of a Freudian wish-fulfillment as my former atheism had been. I knew too somewhere in my heart-of-hearts that J. Gresham Machen was right–an unorthodox faith is not even truly the Christian faith but a whole other religion.

Moreover, I knew myself and what a lousy judge of ultimate meaning I had always been.  I have always been one of the “smart kids” with a high IQ who liked to read.  Yet, I also somehow thought back in the late 1980’s that long hair, wrestling shoes with sweat pants and a Guns N’ Roses t-shirt was a good idea! I was convinced Hollywood was a place of enlightened artists.  I could go on and on but the point is that my track record of poor judgment should have convicted me that I was in no position adjudicate matters of ultimate significance.

The late, great evangelical theologian Carl F.H. Henry wrote,  “If we humans say anything authentic about God, we can do so only on the basis of divine self-revelation…”  To paraphrase Henry, he went on to argue that if we say anything about God apart from His self-revelation, it is potentially nothing more than gobbity gook.

When I became a Christian at 25, I needed to sit at the feet of men like Henry, John Stott, J.I. Packer, Billy Graham, Francis Shaffer, Harold Ockenga, etc.  I needed to stop trying to play God and submit to the divine revelation of God.  I needed the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, not a playground of texts subject to the whims of a Next-Gen pastor with a book deal, a soul patch and highlights!

I finally submitted myself to the orthodox teaching of godly men and women after joining the evangelical camp thanks largely to the work of Lee Strobel.  I still had issues to work out such as my anger at the church’s lack of passion for its stated mission (Matt. 28:16-20) but I was finally on the right road.

We are all created beings under the ultimate authority of God.  We are designed to act as such and fall into despair when we do not.  When we deviate from orthodox Christianity we might as well begin our theological statements with, “Did God really say?”