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In our book, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life, the Epilogue, “Fear of Flying,”  was included to help the readers understand how those in cults and high-demand authoritarian groups can feel trapped. They have been given a view of God as a malevolent being that is on the lookout for them to step out of line — whereupon He will happily crush them. Many of these people give up or “deconstruct” their abusive faith and opt for atheism or agnosticism. “Joshua Harris — Kissing WHAT Faith Goodbye?” was one who followed that path.

Still, others adopt a faith system that gives them what they believe is greater personal control over their lives — and so they cast off their harsh view of what they thought was the Biblical God and embrace Wicca or some other New Age belief. Many cultists and some former Evangelicals fall into this camp.

We have helped many that have left such groups unwind their false beliefs and embrace grace. It takes time, patience, and availability. There will be many questions the person has to sort through, and it may be some time to begin to trust the word of God again to discern what is true from what is false. Jinger Duggar Vuolo’s book, Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear tells, her story of growing up under the authoritarianism of Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles.1The Institute in Basic Life Principles had originally been the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts but later changed its name, a few years after their first sex scandal. Jinger’s transition did not cause her to abandon the Christian faith and the Bible. She instead learned to recognize false teaching, legalism, and authoritarianism and gain a spiritually healthy understanding of the biblical faith.

Many people who leave authoritarian groups or churches are rejecting the very dark view of God they were taught and shifting toward progressivism. Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, and others made that trek — and have taken many with them — over a relatively short period of time.  Richard Rohr has been the pied piper for many of them. Progressives give a nod to the Bible but adopt what they view as a kinder, more inclusive idea of Jesus —while ignoring or outright rejecting His exclusive claims. As sociologist and professor of sociology at Baylor University, George Yancey points out:

It’s not surprising that the image of Jesus for progressive Christians differs from the image of Jesus for conservative Christians. For progressive Christians, Jesus is the model of inclusion and tolerance. For example, one progressive Christian drew a cartoon of Jesus saying, “The difference between me and you is you use Scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what Scripture means.” Progressive Christians focus on the actions and teachings of Jesus that reinforce their values of tolerance and inclusion, which they see as examples of love.

For conservative Christians, Jesus is interpreted through a traditional historical framework. They have less of a problem interpreting Jesus as teaching an “intolerant” faith that excludes from salvation those who don’t follow him. Both progressive and conservative Christians affirm the majesty of Christ, but they greatly differ on what values they see emerging from his life and ministry.2George Yancey, “Who’s More Political: Progressive or Conservative Christians?”; April 29, 2021

For Progressives, determining the meaning of Scripture has little to do with what God has said in the historical-grammatical context. They judge and understand scripture by the individual’s personal “social values.” One consequence is that Biblical justice is abandoned and replaced with Marxism’s Social Justice.

For one example, Martin Luther King’s maxim of judging someone by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin is rejected by Progressives today, replaced by completely judging people by their skin color and according to their loyalty to all progressive issues.

For a very long time now, Evangelical conservatives have been painted by Hollywood and popular media as uber-judgmental unloving legalists. It got to the point that we could usually figure out ahead of time who was going to be the “bad guy” in a movie or book just by fingering the hypocritical unloving pastor or another “religious person” in the story. Our guesses almost always hit the target.

As a result of this decades-long assault, many progressives and others assume that all Evangelicals hold to the type of heavy-handed unloving legalism espoused by Bill Gothard and uber-top-down authoritarians like him. Interestingly, when assessed by his teachings, Bill Gothard is not and never was an Evangelical. We would call him a Judaizer, such as the book of Galatians was written to expose.

Progressives are often quite unfamiliar with the God that has revealed Himself in Scripture. The apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians to teach people about the freedom they had in Christ:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Freedom, however, is not anarchy. Freedom must consider what harm may be done to ourselves and others as a result of our choices. Anarchy selfishly disregards the needs and the emotional health of others and seeks to satisfy one’s own desires of the moment, even at the expense of others – and often even at the expense of our own best interests. Freedom is constrained by the law of love.

Let’s look at the Ten Commandments in that context:

  1. If you love the LORD, you will have no other gods before Him.
  2. If you love the LORD, you will create no idols to worship but will worship Him only.
  3. If you love the LORD, you will not disrespect His name.
  4. If you love the LORD, you will respect what is important to Him.
  5. If you love your mother and father, you will honor them.
  6. If you love others, you will not murder them.
  7. If you love others, you will not commit adultery.
  8. If you love others, you will not steal their goods.
  9. If you love others as yourself, you will not lie against others.
  10. If you love others, you will not covet what they have.

Jesus made this exact point when He was asked what the greatest commandment was. (Matthew 22:36 NIV) He named two commandments as the most important:

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)

As the reader probably has noticed, there is now a great divide between Evangelicals and Progressives. Can that divide be bridged? It is impossible to know, though it doesn’t appear likely at this time. Our understanding of God and His word are very different. In Progressive theology, God is apparently “selectively inclusive” regarding sexual immorality. God is, like Progressives themselves, morally outraged by the sexual sins of well-known Evangelical pastors, for example, but completely affirming of same-gender sexual practices. In this milieu, pretty much “anything goes” sexually, in theory, though we are not saying that all Progressives live their own lives in sexual anarchy. Many live quite conservatively. And we sure aren’t saying that all Evangelical conservatives live biblically moral lives. But most Evangelicals do not favor extra-marital sexual exploits by well-known — or not so well-known leaders or anyone else — because they understand that Jesus Himself upheld the Mosaic law on sexual immorality.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

As an orthodox First Century Rabbi, all sexual activity outside of marriage between a biological male and biological female was sin.

We are not saying that individuals who have or are moving toward Progressivism are not Christians. We cannot really judge someone’s heart or relationship with God. However, we would suggest that they may have left one false view of Christianity, that of strong top-down and arbitrary authoritarianism only to embrace another false view of Christianity, that of elevating the desires of the self above God and other people.

Perhaps J. Gresham Machen thoughts on the Liberalism of his day have application here as well:

As a matter of fact, however, it may appear that the figure which has just been used is altogether misleading; it may appear that what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category. It may appear further that the fears of the modern man as to Christianity were entirely ungrounded, and that in abandoning the embattled walls of the city of God he has fled in needless panic into the open plains of a vague natural religion only to fall an easy victim to the enemy who ever lies in ambush there.3Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity & Liberalism (Kindle Locations 86-89). Kindle EditionΩ

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