Throughout history, religions have had a cyclical (or at least nonlinear) view of time. Religious ritual was an exercise in honoring and appeasing the cycles of nature established by the gods. Life was an endless succession of cycles.
One of the most striking features of the Jewish tradition is the notion of linear time. There was a beginning. Time is moving on a course from that beginning toward some destination. For the Israelites, the end of the story was when a messiah would bring shalom to the nation of Israel and lift the nation up to its place as God’s exalted people. Life was about remaining faithful to a covenant laid out by God. Jews looked forward a promise and backward to a code as they processed through time in anticipation of future world.
Christ took this linear view of time and redirected it. Jesus gave a vision of the future and called on his followers to orient their lives based on this future reality. They were to give evidence of the future reality in the present and transform the world in the present. Rather than looking to the past and processing through time, Christians are called to progress through time in active anticipation of a future reality.
The idea of progress is so ubiquitous in our day that it is hard to imagine how astonishingly novel this is in human history. Without the idea of progress there would be little of the drive that has been behind so much scientific research and technological development. Capital markets and the long term orientation required to make them work, would not have emerged without people who were disciplined to think in terms of realizing a different future. Indeed, this is still one of the challenges that confronts economic development in some regions of the world. Even in the U.S., one the common traits exhibited by the chronic poor is the inability to think in terms of the future and pursue change.
It is not uncommon today to hear variety of Christian thinkers speak disparagingly of progress and insofar as this relates to the excesses and hubris of modernist ideologies it is right on target. But the idea of "progress" itself is often cast as a product of the Enlightenment and modernism. Clearly secular visions of progress have been a central theme in everything from evolution to capitalism to Marxism. But these modernist secular versions are merely wayward extensions Judeo-Christian thought and almost certainly would not have emerged without it. The idea of progress is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethos.