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.