The word progressive seems to be attaching it to everything imaginable these days. You can’t just be a Democrat anymore; you have to be a Progressive Democrat. You cannot be content to simply be a Dispensationalist; you must consider being a Progressive Dispensationalist. And if you just can’t fathom being a Progressive Dispensationalist, you might have to figure out a way to prevent yourself from becoming a Covenant Theologian by calling yourself a Progressive Covenantalist.
There’s an online magazine called The Progressive and I suppose only real Progressives would want to read it. You might want to check out Progressive Insurance before committing to insurance needs and Progressive International will share all kinds of kitchen gadgets with you. We must not overlook Progressive Bank as an option for your current banking needs and Progressive Farmer magazine surely can tell you a better way to farm.
Or can it really? Is progressive really better?
I’ve been pondering this conundrum for quite awhile now because I see the word blanketing our culture with its omnipresent nature. It’s a wise question to ask. Is progressive really better?
To answer this question I’ve had to come to the conclusion that people, in general, are restless and malcontent. This conclusion has been reached from years of astute observance of the nature of people in general. I’ve noticed that many humans like to redesign perfectly adequate words into less meaningful, white-washed progressive ones in an attempt to mask their own dissatisfaction of an already established use of a word. I guess that might not be such a bad thing if the new words actually accomplished something new, but I haven’t seen this to be true across the board, either in the theological realm, the earthly realm, or in political zone either.
If in fact being progressive meant that improvement or reform would actually in fact, not in theory, be both revolutionary and beneficial, then I might embrace it upon occasion. I remain skeptical. Perhaps in my youth I was a much easier catch for this particular spider web. Perhaps I was a much easier target in those early years; age and experience, however, have proven to be superb teachers.
In the case of age, my many years have taught me to be more cautious about new ideologies, choosing to submit them to thorough testing before stepping into the mire they often leave behind. The wisdom that comes through experience has taught me that more than likely, the word progressive or change rarely progresses or changes anything at all. In the case of the word progressive, I have discerned that those who employ its preferential use are usually referring to another definition of the word which means: “employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, such as a progressive community.”
Now, just what makes an enlightened or liberal idea better than an already tested, historical one? What about our humanness causes us to think that we are somehow more civilized or sophisticated than previous generations? What causes us to consider that our contemporary ways are any more advantageous than the ways of the ancients or that we are in some way more wise than they? It’s not hard for the student of history to see the absolute blasphemy of progressive movements and ideologies in general, and to recognize them for what they often are: puffed-up, prideful platforms for the promotion of self, personal self-interests or special interest groups.
In contemporary culture, history is often relegated to a position of irrelevance, supposed to be antiquated and disposable, not applicable or culturally-relevant for our enlightened times. Yet, history is an extremely valuable teacher. Many suppose that history has nothing to teach us but it has everything to teach us. It teaches us about where we have been so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. It instructs us in ways which have proven, over the test of time, to be wise and prudent. It warns us to be cautious when a new “leader” appears on the scene who flaunts magnetic appeal to the masses yet has ulterior motives, often selfish ones. There really aren’t any new ideas — just recycled ones. History has shown time and time again that the quest for power is rarely selfless.
We suppose that our ancient fellow human beings were not as intellectual as we are. That would be a wrong assumption. Look at the magnificently engineered buildings of the past — the brilliant scientists and philosophers of ancient days, and more. If you take the time to read a novel written 200 years or more ago, you will see a more intelligent use of sentence structure and vocabulary, gratifying the reader with the gift of careful thought and preponderance. The dumbed-down novellas of contemporary culture require no thought, providing easy gratification and little else.
We are not smarter. We are not wiser. We are not special because we live in modern, progressive times. I quite imagine that Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan both thought they were rather progressive at the time, yet neither made the world an improved, gentler and kinder place.
My observation shows that the constant renaming and redefining of ideologies is just another way to disguise one’s personal distaste with an already established definition and an obvious preference to re-craft it under the heading of legitimacy to meet a desired definition. Creating a variance of a solidly defined word appears to me to be a way to try to call attention to one’s own brilliance, which is flawed in its very foundation. Why do I say that? Because I can come to no other conclusion. I haven’t found that the already established definitions are lacking in any way (especially in reference to both theology and politics). Let me briefly comment on both of those topics (theology and politics).
Progressive Democrats have a whole website dedicated to their enlightened state. Perusing their site I was unable to find anything extraordinary that would set their contemporary ideology apart from past, flawed generations. I’ve found that their words are perhaps more militant, self-centered and derogatory, but my guess is that even FDR would be confident that he was more progressive than they think they are. Still, these Progressives are very organized and in the end, they will affect change in this country. It doesn’t matter that narcissism and tyranny are heavy threads woven into its ideology. That, however, doesn’t mean their view of change will make our nation any more exceptional or improved. When self-serving motives are so clearly exposed in their own words, it is not hard to see that these words are full of hot air.
A wise person would suppose that the average person/citizen would take a step back and re-think whether the particular change offered by Progressives is good or might be detrimental. My disheartened observation is that there is very little thinking going on at all in a progressive society. A thinker would recognize that change that is too fast is almost always detrimental to society as a whole. Because it appears that the art of true thinking is fast becoming absent, I would have to say that the ancients have one up over modern culture.
In the world of theology, sadly, I haven’t seen that many progressive theological ideas have helped the body of Christ at large. As an attempt to educate, progressive ideas which try to tweak or improve on historically defined doctrinal stances have only served to confuse an ever-growing, ignorant Christian populace. By throwing one more definition into the mix (when historical ones are not understood in the first place), it ends up creating an apathetic disgust for all things theology in the hearts of those normal souls who currently live both in evangelicalism and agnosticism. For instance, I remember one blog post I previously read (regarding Dispensationalism) where the writer admitted that the reason chosen to create a new word (Progressive Covenantalism) was simply because he didn’t like the word Dispensationalism very much. Progressive worship has not benefited the Christian populace, as well. Rather, it has diminished the glory of God and elevated the glory of man.
I have decided over the course of these many years that I prefer to be retrospective instead of progressive. It hasn’t necessarily been an easy conclusion at which to arrive, but it is the obviously sensible one. Maybe in that aspect I have become a radical progressive in my own right: call me a Progressive Retrospective. There, I did it. I coined my own term (just so I could be like everybody else.) Will my rebellion matter? Absolutely not. But hopefully, it will honor the wisdom of the past instead of condemning such great treasures of historical knowledge to be relegated to the trash heap. Yep, that’s me: a Progressive Retrospective.
A great scripture reading for this post would be Proverbs 26.