Progressivism as a political philosophy almost always entails some concept of utopia – a vision of a perfect world. This perfect world, as imagined by progressives, features the triumph of those values held most dear. In the United States, we see this in progressives arguing on behalf of equality, diversity, and individual choice as the characteristics of what America can be.
The triumph of these virtues, according to progressives, emerges by virtue of the removal of the harmful or evil-inducing elements of society. What constitutes evil differentiates many progressives from one another – some may claim its capitalism, others religion, and still others tradition itself – but all progressives are quick to identify their view of a culprit holding society back.
The process of purifying society, also known as the Idea of Progress, is considered by many progressives to be an ultimately inevitable outcome. Evolution, they believe, is steering humanity towards a place in which we shall all be free. In this view conservatives are standing in the way and needlessly slowing progress down.
Few conservative Christians may identify with such beliefs. But the question remains as to what extent does Jesus Christ fit this mold? Recognized as a radical and an outcast, it is no secret that Jesus was often opposed to the Pharisees and rulers of his time. Jesus’ frequent breaking of the Ten Commandments and other social and religious norms have led some to claim he was in fact a liberal in the progressive sense.
Let us consider such a statement. If Jesus was indeed a liberal, then what was his progressive vision of utopia?
In the Biblical book of Revelation we may find a clear depiction – a vision of the future in which Jesus returns to eliminate sin and suffering. Chapter 21 illustrates this outcome:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” –Revelation 21:1-5
In this passage we find an elegant description of Biblical utopia. The Bible presents the end of the world and the coming of a new one in which God dwells with his people in perfect relationship. And Jesus Christ is at the center, taking his place alongside God as the lamb slain for our sins.
Jesus Christ, then, could be considered a progressive’s progressive --- someone who not only believed in utopia and progress but also engineered it himself. In this view Jesus epitomizes progressivism’s hope for the future and fulfills its dream. His heaven -- our future -- is justification for the hope we have.
And yet, it is also Jesus Christ who also offers progressivism’s boldest critique. For in Revelation 22, the very next chapter in Revelation and the final chapter in the Bible, we see a further description of utopia:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as a crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.” – Revelations 22:1-5
With this description we understand that the Biblical utopia described is in fact a restoration project. It isn’t merely an invention. Clear references to the tree of life and removal of the curse are signals that Jesus is bringing redemption from humanity’s fall. Eden, the garden God created in Genesis for the first humans, returns anew.
Biblical utopia, therefore, isn’t merely the arrival of a new element only. It is just as much the correction and fulfillment of the old.
While on earth, Jesus himself told his disciples in the book of Matthew: “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.” Jesus knew his mission was to set in motion events that would bring harmonious perfection –perfection that would be both new and redemptive of the old.
The fulfillment of progress, therefore, is a task upon the shoulders of Christ. It is one that he will accomplish in such a way that conserves and restores the best of the past. Simultaneously his utopia will also fulfill the deepest longing and imagination of progressives.
It is simply our job as Christians, however we may identify politically, to follow him there.
It feels as though decades have passed since Donald Trump’s reputation rose from that of an eccentric game show host on entertainment television. In truth it wasn’t all that long ago that Trump was viewed by many as nothing more than a conspiracy theorist with too much time and money. More of a political punch line than a legitimate player, Trump seemed to be making a living off of extremist claims and wild theories that no serious person believed to be true. Even as he rose to challenge Democrats in the general election, the appearance of Trump’s growing and resilient support seemed to do little to nudge liberals out of their Clinton comfort zone.
Then 2016 happened. And now the man that Obama once smeared for his seeming irrelevance is heir to the most powerful political office in the world. And what makes Trump’s victory particularly ironic is that the American left has been trying to explain their defeat with the same type of fringe conspiracy theories they once associated with Trump himself.
Today, just a few days prior to the inauguration, Democrats and left leaning independents are still engaging in the same kind of biased, unfounded conspiracy claims that Trump pioneered years ago. Many of Clinton’s supporters have tried to console themselves, for example, with the notion that FBI Director Comey is to blame for their loss. The director’s “strategically-timed” memo reminded the public of Clinton’s inability to handle classified information, and that must have swayed last minute voters away. Russian hacking is another popular theory for the left, with resident Obama today levying ultimatums and sanctions against Russian intelligence officials and diplomats. And if either of those theories fail, progressives can always default to tired complaints against the Electoral College and the rules of American politics that preclude simple majority rule.
None of those theories hold any real potential to change the verdict of the election, however, nor do they do much to actually explain why Trump won. The reason for this is that the 2016 election wasn’t all that close, and such theories cannot begin to explain the sound defeat Clinton experienced in swing states like Pennyslvannia and Ohio. The fact that progressives are still clinging to them shows that they remain ignorant of the strong pulse of the American public that Trump tapped into during the campaign. Trump’s massive movement grew from his promise to take on the status quo and corrupt establishment in Washington, D.C. He promised to “make America great again,” and to return the country to a time when the United States had a bright economic future and a system that rewarded traditional values and hard work over elitism and political cronyism.
But as much as he talked about “the good ol’ days” and America’s radiant past, Trump’s campaign was far more about America’s future. It was this aspect of his campaign that truly captured the country’s imagination and its vote. Trump’s crowning achievement was that he and his supporters seized America’s political future from the pre-written narrative that progressives liked to believe was inevitable.
The very concept of progressivism as an ideology is built on an assumed notion that society is moving unswervingly towards the future – and not just any future but a very particular one. Progressives believe that the change they welcome into the world is of an egalitarian, humanistic variety that prizes secularism and abstract reason over the supposed simplicity of tradition, family values, and religion. Progressives assume their imagined future to be undeniably and obviously superior to the status quo as well as the past. They believe the triumph of such an agenda is ultimately a forgone conclusion merely requiring the process of time.
Donald Trump, for all his faults, threw a much-needed wrench into this false narrative. Trump reminded progressives that America’s political future has not yet been conclusively written, and he articulated the very real possibility that the America of tomorrow could look very much like the one from the past. His impassioned, unorthodox, and at times messy campaign served to breathe life into America’s stiff political process. His rise shocked the educated elite, sent college progressive students running to safe spaces, and dethroned the media’s narrative of a queen walking into the White House. Instead of the teleprompted narrative they expected to receive, progressives discovered a wide open election and an unanticipated victor. Trump reminded them what it feels like to lose, and he taught them that a progressive future is just one of many possibilities for our country.
What will Trump’s presidency be like? It’s certainly hard for anyone to predict. No doubt progressives are already predetermining his failure for not ascribing to the same values they hold. The ascension of an unscripted right wringer doesn’t fit neatly into their narrative, and so elites will soon seek to explain Trump away as a short detour on the otherwise steady path to victory. But many attentive progressives might actually be pleasantly surprised by a President Trump who personally seems to share more in common with them than the traditionalists and religious right who helped Trump rise. Those conservatives may eventually get the Supreme Court nominees they were promised, but much to their frustration they could discover an entirely different and even liberal Donald Trump if Democrats regain Congress. Even more so, the establishment should prepare themselves for a volatile love-hate relationship with a president as likely to enrich them as levy an export tax without warning. With so many groups, and so many different opinions of the soon-to-be President of the United States, only one thing can be known for certain.
We are in for one wild ride.