One of the problems facing Christians today is that progressives have subtly deleted important doctrines from the gospel to supposedly make it more palatable to modern man. Those deleted doctrines are not enumerated by them, so Christians have to pay careful attention to their pastors in order to identify their errors. These modern progressives still assert that faith in Christ’s atonement is necessary for salvation. But that appears to be the beginning and the ending of their theological system.
First, progressives pervert the gospel because they do not believe in regeneration. That is why they can so easily accept someone like Greg Johnson who says he is a Christian, but that his identity is as one who is same-sex attracted—a struggle which has been unremitting for him since before he supposedly believed. Yet, Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). And Paul said, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In the third chapter of John, Jesus first proclaims regeneration before he mentions saving faith in that most famous verse, John 3:16. There can be no true faith until a person is born again. A friend spoke with Johnson at the PCA General Assembly in 2018. Johnson told him that he did not believe a same-sex attracted person could ever be any different. That is a denial of regeneration wherein God takes away the heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh; He takes away the evil, unbelieving heart and gives us a heart of faith. If regeneration is denied, the gospel is lost. So, progressives who show compassion to someone whose identity is still with their sins are really denying the power of God to change the hearts of His people. And that is a very bad trade.
Second, progressives pervert the gospel because they do not believe in progressive sanctification. Progressives limit sanctification to that initial cleansing of believers which is called ‘definitive sanctification’ as a result of our position in Christ. We who believe are positionally sanctified through our relationship in Christ by faith, but progressive sanctification is denied by progressives. If we talk to progressives about the need for walking with Christ and being holy, they accuse us of being legalists. I have heard several people this summer tell me about their terrible experiences with progressive pastors who denied the necessity of pursuing “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14b). A denial of progressive sanctification goes hand-in-hand with the denial of regeneration. The latter necessarily leads to the former.
Third, progressives pervert the gospel by cheapening grace to the point of meaninglessness. They speak much about grace, but it is a grace that is undefined and indefinable. It is a catch word that they can use to excuse anything and permit everything. Are you against homosexuality? Well, progressives will rebuke you for not understanding grace and not believing in the gospel. Scripture defines grace primarily as the grace of God in the gospel. Progressives believe that grace covers everything, except there is no grace for the one who denies their view of grace.
Fourth, progressives pervert the gospel by ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit. They are like the disciples Paul found in Ephesus whom he asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And our modern progressives respond, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2). Presbyterians, particularly, have a problem concerning the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it seems like we are still living before the day of Pentecost. Our Godhead, it seems, consists of the Father and the Son, but the Spirit is nowhere to be found in our system of theology. It is this denial of the work of the Holy Spirit which is at the bottom of all the errors of progressives. And this ignorance concerning the Holy Spirit points out to us those who are most at danger of becoming progressives someday in the future.
I read an article recently by a young reformed minister about sanctification. Not one time in the article did he mention the Holy Spirit. Yet, Paul wrote, “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live” (Romans 8:13). Progressive sanctification is a synergistic work of our efforts and the Spirit’s enabling. We cannot do it alone. The Spirit does not perform it without our diligent efforts. Anyone who thinks he has found the secret of sanctification apart from the inner working of the Spirit is sadly mistaken. I would like to whisper in their ears, “You haven’t found the secret just yet.”
Before my book, Historical Christianity and the Federal Vision, was published, I sought the endorsement of a well-known fellow minister who is respected for his theological acumen. I sent him the manuscript via email and within minutes he called me to let me know he would not endorse it because he disagreed with the definition of Pelagianism which I set forth in that book. I got my definition of that heresy from the great reformed and Pauline theologians all the way back to Augustine. The real error of Pelagius, as all good reformed scholars know, is the denial of the subjective grace of the Holy Spirit. Well, that is also the problem with progressives. They limit the gospel to the objective work of Christ for us and eschew the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Some modern-day reformed scholars mistakenly define Pelagianism as the denial of all grace. That is simply wrong, as B. B. Warfield states, “Pelagius consistently denied both the need and reality of divine grace in the sense of an inward help to man’s weakness.”
Even confessional Presbyterians can fall into this progressive error and heresy. Confessional Presbyterians start with the assertion that they believe in objective truth which is extremely important. But that position is not enough. We also need to hold to subjective truth and subjective grace. Barthians denied objective truths and modern-day progressives deny subjective grace (which is also a denial of subjective truth). That is why most of those who fell into the Federal Vision heresy had at one time been strong supporters of the objective truths of the Scripture and called themselves truly reformed pastors.
Progressivism is Pelagianism and Pelagius was the first member of the “grace boys” club. He talked much about grace, but could never quite define it just like those who are in the modern-day hyper-grace movement. Progressives deny the work of the Holy Spirit and so did Pelagius. Progressives deny regeneration and Pelagius denied “grace in the sense of an inward help to man’s weakness.” Progressives deny the necessity of progressive sanctification and Pelagius denied that we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Beware of the gospel according to progressives. It sounds good. It sounds so easy. It promises forgiveness without holiness. Beware. It is an enticing doctrine that brings together liberals and “grace boys” and even confessionals who do not yet see the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit. But the gospel according to progressives is not the gospel. It is another gospel that is accursed according to Paul (Galatians 1:8). The true gospel includes saving faith in the cross of Christ and regeneration and progressive sanctification and the inner working of the Holy Spirit.
Over the past few weeks, Vanguard Presbytery has received some new churches and ministers. The new ministers are Paul Golden, Dick Jones, and Thomas Joseph. The new churches are: Lake Crest Presbyterian Church in Hoover, AL, a suburb of Birmingham (Thomas Joseph, pastor); New Braunfels mission in New Braunfels, TX (Dick Jones, pastor); and, Chalcedon Presbyterian Church in Cumming, GA (vacant). There are several other churches in the process of formally deciding whether to affiliate with Vanguard and there are some mission churches that are being started. There will be many new opportunities for pastors who like Vanguard, but whose churches want to remain with their present denominations.
We have been working on a plan for church growth and reaching your communities with the gospel. I am going to forward such a plan to all those churches presently in Vanguard that has proved to be very effective. It will be used for the mission works also.
Al Baker and I continue to travel all over the place in our efforts to assist groups and churches that are coming into Vanguard. Next week, Al will be in St. Louis meeting with some people who want to start a church. If you have friends or family members there who would be interested in a new mission work in St. Louis, please email me their names and contact information and I will forward those emails to Al.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery