In the past I’ve insisted that the church is an inherently conservative community because by its very nature it tries to conserve and hand on the tradition it received from its founder.
But it can also be said that the church is an inherently progressive community because it hopes for the future coming of the Lord, the fulfillment of all history, and actively works to bring this about.
In fact, it can be argued that the Progressive vision is a sort of secularization of the Christian vision of history moving towards a goal. Progressive thought has roots not only in the Enlightenment confidence that science would eventually solve all problems, but also in the philosophy of Hegel which interpreted history as the inexorable working out of the laws of the spirit, which for Hegel was an attempt to reconcile Enlightenment thought with a Christian concept of history (though Progressives mostly get their Hegel through the materialist Marx.)
But while for the Progressive the fulfillment of history is achieved by tinkering with the mechanisms of government or using civil power to push the culture in one way or another, for the Christian it is achieved by sanctity of life; faith, prayer, works of charity, preaching the Gospel, and suffering are how men cooperate with God to bring about the fullness of history.
The works of charity are where the Progressive Christian sees an overlap between the ideology of the age and his faith. If an order of nuns founding a hospital and caring for the sick builds the Kingdom of God, then isn’t a government run hospital system doing the same thing, but on an even grander scale?
The answer of course is no, because (according to the Gospel) God looks at the spirit with which the act is done, not the results. That isn’t to say the government run hospital system is a bad thing, it might be a quite good thing, but it is not for that reason a work of God.
The Progressive Christian has a hard time not trotting in God to endorse his pet political projects and people instinctively recoil from it, though to be fair other Christians do it too. Arguing that God wants me to support government run hospitals in a nation (the U.S.) where the government can’t do anything without deceit, graft and gross incompetence sounds (to me) like blasphemy.
God’s bringing about the fullness of history, also, for the Christian, implies heartache, persecution, and defeat. When Jesus spoke of the end times it is hard to distinguish references to the siege of Jerusalem from his own distant return. (Maybe the events were somehow conflated in his own mind?) But if the church is called to somehow imitate its founder who died in defeat and humiliation, then it would be natural for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God to come about mysteriously through the defeat and humiliation of the church.
Defeat and humiliation does not play a role in the progressive vision, except perhaps as a dramatic speed-bump on the way to power. It isn’t popular to talk about “Christian pessimism” but it should be a Christian attribute to take a long view of history and be sober about its ups and downs.