Jesus isn’t the only way to salvation, insists TikTok pastor Brandan Robertson, who’s progressive preaching on the Chinese-owned and video-focused social networking service has reached millions.
Aided by animated head movement and a fast-paced tone captured by webcam, Robertson’s concise video messages clock in at under a minute. More than 187,000 accounts follow him on the TikTok platform; his individual videos total more than 4.4 million likes. Last June he was featured in Rolling Stone’s annual Hot List for his LGBT advocacy.
It’s a lot for a message that intentionally contains little.
“If God is infinite, eternal and indescribable and uncontainable, no religion can contain God. Indeed no words can contain God,” Robertsons declares as “someone who’s always on a journey” in a March 24 video.
A graduate of Moody Bible Institute and onetime parishioner of the Anglican Church in North America’s Chicago-based Greenhouse church planting movement, Robertson illustrates a well-worn trajectory for “evangelicals” who squish on sexual ethics, ultimately jettisoning from their beliefs an orthodoxy that first became optional and now is proscribed.
Much of Robertson’s content originates from progressive Christian theologians active across the past century. Those messages were largely relegated to declining Mainline Protestant seminaries, their once-stately campuses sapped of evangelistic vigor by universalism and their missionary fervor diverted to a preoccupation with social activism. Writings of Progressive Christian theologians like Walter Brueggeman, Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong have lost much of their following in recent decades, but Robertson, an ordained pastor with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a graduate of the liberal United Methodist affiliated Iliff School of Theology saw an opening to repackage their scriptural interpretations into short, rapidly paced clips that lend themselves to browsing and sharing.
Robertson’s tutelage as a self-styled “public theologian” seems light years from evangelical Christianity: Jesus isn’t the only way to salvation. Hell doesn’t exist. He doesn’t know “what happened after the crucifixion”. Robertson offers a reductionist message effectively whittled down to the golden rule: Christ’s command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” supersedes God’s call to personal holiness and Jesus’ repeated warnings about the reality of hell and the devil.
“I don’t believe in hell, yet I choose to follow Jesus because I know it blesses my life and the world around me,” Robertson shared March 15 in a TikTok video.
In some cases, however, Robertson’s message could only proceed out of an American evangelicalism centered upon individual relationship with God, one that ejects centuries of Christian life rooted in corporate worship and anchored to the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian creeds. Asked by a viewer if he needs to go to church, believe a creed, or partake in a sacrament to be saved, Robertson replied in a March 17 video that “the answer is very deep, the answer is no.”
Robertson also has his detractors, with which he invites disagreement and further online engagement.
“I don’t know Brandan well at all. But years ago, he was insistent of his evangelical bona fides alongside his support for gay marriage. It always leads to what’s below,” tweeted Andrew T. Walker of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a fellow at the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “You cannot sever ethics and remain theologically orthodox. We think we can, but they’re packaged together.”
I don’t know Brandan well at all. But years ago, he was insistent of his evangelical bona fides alongside his support for gay marriage. It always leads to what’s below. You cannot sever ethics and remain theologically orthodox. We think we can, but they’re packaged together. https://t.co/6Kle1LQhgD
— Andrew T. Walker (@andrewtwalk) March 28, 2022
My IRD colleague Chelsen Vicari followed Robertson’s evolution beginning in 2014. In 2015, she watched Robertson tout the “Evangelical” title as he advocated for same-sex marriage. Later, he defined himself as “Christianish,” and by 2018 was calling himself a gay “Renegade Reverend” rethinking sin “as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Today Robertson claims the title “Christian agnostic,” and publicly affirms practices that significantly deviate from what the church has historically understood to be appropriate.
“Your relationships are holy,” Robertson told “those who are in an open or polyamorous relationship” at his then-congregation of Missiongathering Christian Church, affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in San Diego, California in 2018. “They are beautiful and they are welcomed and celebrated in this space.”
“For most people, sex before marriage is a healthy expression of the gift of sexuality and is not “sinful” or morally wrong,” Robertson later told Huffington Post the same year.
Much of that may seem passé by now, Robertson tracing his path from, but no longer rooted in, historic Christianity. “I don’t know the absolute truth about the nature of reality or our universe,” Robertson shared on a recent video. “God is bigger than our boxes or ideas.”
Originally published at Juicy Ecumenism.