This post is based on a YouTube series that I did exploring the question, Is MOPS drifting into Progressive Theology?
In part 1 of this series, I chronicled the first part of my journey down the rabbit hole of investigating the theology being promoted in MOPS materials. I wanted to probe the question, Is MOPS drifting into progressive Christianity? Or, is this all a big misunderstanding? As I dug deeper, I began to notice common themes. In this post, I want to summarize the theology that is being promoted through the MOPS materials. Then you can decide whether you think MOPS is, in fact, floating into progressivism.
After the release of the blog post and podcast by the Theology Gals, Mandy Arioto responded to some of their concerns in a blog post of her own: "MOPS International Statement of Faith." In it, she re-affirmed the organization's "statement of theology" and said that it still "guides all MOPS decision-making and materials. All board members and our CEO and our staff affirm agreement." She included their statement of faith in its entirety at the bottom of the post.
And, Mandy is 100% right. The statements on the MOPS web site still fall in line with historic Christianity. An additional agreement that is signed by MOPS leaders also affirms the essentials of the faith.
But that's not the concern that's being raised. The concern being raised by some of the MOPS leaders wasn't about the statement of faith. It was about whether the messaging being presented in the leaders' guides and small group discussions was in alignment with the statement of faith.
Again, I want to make it very clear that I completely share the MOPS vision to bring the Gospel to unchurched and de-churched women. According to Mandy, 10,000 women came to faith in Jesus last year through MOPS. That's great! But after reading through a number of their materials, some rather significant questions were lingering in my mind: what is the Gospel that MOPS actually presents to non-Christians? Is it the same "good news" that's presented in Scripture? What is the women's understanding of what they are being saved from or saved to? These are not tangential questions. How we answer these questions will lie delineate whether we are dealing with true Christians or some kind of mixture of truth and error.
What exactly is the Gospel message being taught through MOPS? The following is a summary of my research after reading through the MOPS leaders materials, Mandy's books, and group studies.
Who is God?
The Gospel begins with God. So, what is the picture of God presented by MOPS? Well, the information is fairly minimal. Here are a few trends that I noticed.
God is repeatedly described as someone who fully accepts everyone just as they are.
He is described as extending extravagant love to everyone.
God doesn’t seem to care much about our behavior. He just loves us. He just wants us to be in His kingdom, to feel welcomed and loved and accepted for who we are.
This presentation of God is somewhat accurate, but also lacking in some very critical details. For example, God is also holy, and righteous, and just. Also, while it is true that all humans are created in His image, and as such have value, dignity and worth; it is not true that everyone is a "child" of God. Non-Christians are identified in Scripture as being "in Adam" and called "children of wrath." Only those who know Jesus as their Savior have the right to be called "children of God." But we don’t hear those kinds of clear distinctions in the MOPS materials.
What is sin?
When we are considering the Gospel, the next critical question that must be answered is this: what is humanity's fundamental problem? Historic Christianity says that humanity's fundamental problem is "sin." We have been separated from a holy God. However, this concept has been re-imagined and described as being "broken" and making people "messy." Readers are continually told things to the effect that, "you’re broken and that’s ok." The enemy is shame. To feel shame about who you are is presented almost like a sin.
What is salvation?
The solution to humanity's predicament, according to historic Christianity, is that Jesus came and crushed the power of death and sin on our behalf. Through his death, burial and resurrection, we can be reunited to the Father for all eternity.
The problem is, none of the MOPS materials present a clear theology of the cross. Yes, they say that Jesus loved us so much that He died. But why did He die? It's hard to say. No real discussion of the substitutionary atonement is ever presented. Yet, the Father won’t accept us without the blood of Jesus.
Salvation in the MOPS paradigm seems to revolve around the acceptance of ourselves and others, including everyone's faults and struggles.. In fact, God gives you permission to not be perfect. He lets your off the hook for the struggles in your life. It’s ok that you’re “not good enough.” The goal is to accept yourself because God accepts you just the way you are.
MOPS authors also talk a lot about a God who wants you to be happy. And the way to becoming happy is by discovering who you are, your true identity. Somewhere beyond your messy life as a mother, and all the striving to meet others' expectations, is your authentic self. In fact, authenticity might be considered one of the highest virtues in this theological system.
Repeatedly Arioto says that she wants to lead women to Jesus. But why? Why should they meet Him? It seems like the best I could come up with is that Jesus shows us how to love. He gives us a moral example of love and forgiveness. If we could just love as much as Jesus, then we will be good disciples.
I can certainly see how this messaging is highly appealing to 21st century moms who are struggling with isolation, loneliness or a difficult marriage. The problem is, we have moved far, far away from the biblical definition of the Gospel.
So, what is the “good news” (Gospel)?
As best I can tell, the "good news" according to MOPS is to encourage everyone. Help them feel encouraged so they can get through the difficulties of life by being surrounded by a supportive community.
Oh, and love like Jesus.
That's about it...
There is no real bad news, other than not being your authentic self. There is no conviction of sin, or calls to turn away from sin (repentance) or an encouragement toward holiness. After all, God just accepts us the way we are and that's sort of the end of the story.
The Problem with Love
So much of the MOPS theology rests on one word: love. The problem is, according to Scripture "love" is LAW, not Gospel. Love is an ethos that is expressed through actions.
The Gospel is about God coming down to us in our helpless state and doing for us what we could not do for ourselves: crush the power of sin and death. The law is about our response to God's work on our behalf. The law teaches us HOW to love God and love our neighbor. But they are clearly things that we do. This is why law and Gospel should never be confused or conflated with one another.
Are the women of MOPS apprehending the true biblical Gospel? Or is it something else? It's really hard to say. I'm sure that there are leaders of local MOPS chapters who are continuing to teach the real good news of the Bible. However, if I go simply by the materials themselves, I would have to say that the Gospel being presented to non-Christians is vague, undefined and more consistent with progressive theology than the historic Christian faith. At minimum, I'd say that the MOPS materials would certainly be a good fit for progressive-leaning congregations. This is largely because readers never arrive at clarity on what the good news actually is, nor do we hear a call to repentance from sin, or an invitation to be reconciled to a holy God, or about the Christian's call to walk in holiness.