Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity; A Book Review

I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a blog post about how different words mean different things to other people. That’s a centerpiece of the book we’ll look at today and the importance of asking, “what do you mean by that?” 

Here’s a question to keep in mind. Walks like a Christian, talk like a Christian, but do their beliefs fall in line with Christianity? This put the author in a crisis of faith, and we’ll explore that in…

Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity

A Movement Seeks to Redefine Christianity. Some Think that It Is a Much-Needed Progressive Reformation. Others Believe that It Is an Attack on Historic Christianity.

Alisa Childers never thought she would question her Christian faith. She was raised in a Christian home, where she had seen her mom and dad feed the hungry, clothe the homeless, and love the outcast. She had witnessed God at work and then had dedicated her own life to leading worship, as part of the popular Christian band ZOEgirl. All that was deeply challenged when she met a progressive pastor, who called himself a hopeful agnostic.

Another Gospel? describes the intellectual journey Alisa took over several years as she wrestled with a series of questions that struck at the core of the Christian faith. After everything she had ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Bible had been picked apart, she found herself at the brink of despair . . . until God rescued her, helping her to rebuild her faith, one solid brick at a time.

In a culture of endless questions, you need solid answers. If you or someone you love has encountered the ideas of progressive Christianity and aren’t sure how to respond, Alisa’s journey will show you how to determine–and rest in–what’s unmistakably true.”

Christianity is a creedal faith, with the first summary in 1 Corinthians 15. 

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel, you are saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last, of all, he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

1 Corinthians 15:1-7

Keep this in mind as we go through the book.

Progressive Christians tend to avoid absolutes and are typically not united around creeds or belief statements. In fact, progressive blogger John Pavlovitz wrote that in progressive Christianity, there are “no sacred cows.” [2] Because of this, it might be more helpful to look for certain signs, moods, and attitudes toward God and the Bible when trying to spot it. For example, progressive Christians view the Bible as primarily a human book and emphasize personal conscience and practices rather than certainty and beliefs. They are also very open to redefining, reinterpreting, or even rejecting essential doctrines of the faith like the Virgin Birth, the deity of Jesus, and his bodily resurrection.

The importance of the question, “What do you mean by that?”

It’s a fact that some people have been mistreated, enduring abuse or bullying at their conservative churches. Other people have experienced honest doubts and been shut down with statements like “We don’t ask those questions here.” For still others, the demands and tenets of historic Christianity have become too heavy to bear in a culture that vilifies anyone who challenges social norms or whose worldview doesn’t align with the wider society’s. And for some, it has everything to do with the Bible. They’ve become convinced that the book they were taught was God’s very Word reads more like a script for a horror movie than the “Good Book” they are supposed to revere and obey. Still others have encountered skeptical claims they never came across in the sheltered Christian bubble they grew up in, while some people struggle with believing God is good when life sometimes is not.

It’s essential to be a good theologian and Christian case-maker. We can have questions and doubts, but we also have to look for answers for them.

If more churches would welcome the honest questions of doubters and engage with the intellectual side of their faith, they would become safe places for those who experience doubt. If people don’t feel understood, they are likely to find sympathy from those in the progressive camp who thrive on reveling in doubt. In progressive Christianity, doubt has become a badge of honor to bask in, rather than an obstacle to face and overcome.”

Preach, sister, preach.

What I have a problem with is what I would describe as hyperfundamentalism. This type of fundamentalism goes beyond the essentials of the faith. It is known by another name as well: legalism. Many progressive Christians I meet grew up in impossibly strict sects of the faith that believed anyone outside their particular group was at best a nominal Christian and at worst a heretic. Because their faith communities had failed to teach them the difference between essential and nonessential beliefs, their entire foundation was rocked the first time they met a Christian who believed differently about the Rapture or the age of the earth.”

That’s what I like about FirstNLR. Pastor Rod lays out the essentials, traditions, and opinions grid. He preaches the essentials, we don’t dive into the earth’s age or if the flood was global or local. Those topics can be discussed, but not believing in six literal days of creation doesn’t doom you to hell.

So what is progressive Christianity?

“The movement of progressive Christianity began with a legitimate desire for reform. But in seeking reform, its adherents found a false gospel. Although they aren’t united around an official creed, progressive Christians are definitely united around a common set of (sometimes unspoken) beliefs. Like historic Christians, their beliefs are built around their responses to questions like “Why did Jesus die?” “What is the Bible?” and “What is the gospel?” While progressive Christians may bristle at concepts like certainty and the idea of landing concretely on answers, as we’ll see in the next chapter, progressive Christians are quite dogmatic about their answers to these questions.”

“Progressive Christianity has evolved since the early 2000s. There are concrete tenets I’ve discovered by reading and listening to the books, blogs, and podcasts of its leaders. Today there is general unity surrounding three topics: the Bible, the Cross, and the gospel. The progressive views on everything from sexuality to politics to Christian life and practice are built on this foundation. As I’ve learned, progressive Christianity is not simply a shift in the Christian view of social issues. It’s not simply permission to embrace messiness and authenticity in Christian life. It’s not simply a response to doubt, legalism, abuse, or hypocrisy. It’s an entirely different religion—with another Jesus—and another gospel.”

Alisa went to the Bible and the church fathers-the students of the apostles and discovered this.

As I dug into their writings, I was delighted to discover something so ancient yet so familiar—a deep love of Scripture and an almost indignant defense of the gospel. Yes, we’ve had doctrinal disputes, debates over interpretations, and arguments about application and practice. But the one thing that can be traced back through history to the genesis of Christianity is that the Bible—every word—is the Word of God. Things went off the rails from time to time, but from the beginning, Christians have been in agreement that the Bible is cohesive, coherent, inspired by God, and authoritative for our lives. In fact, one of the main issues Martin Luther had with the Catholic church was its progression beyond believing that the Bible alone is the authority for Christian life and practice. (Thus, the Reformation.) Luther’s view matched that of ancient Christians. Clement was a first-century believer who became the leader of the church in Rome. Tertullian, one of our church fathers, wrote that Clement knew the apostles personally.[5] Clement believed that Christians should obey the Scriptures because they are the words of God: “Let us act according to that which is written (for the Holy Spirit saith, ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom’). . . . Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit.”

Then she spends time going through different ancient heresies that refuse to go away. They’re forgotten and return “new.” Here’s what she says on spotting heresy.

As I’ve heard my current pastor repeat on many occasions, the easiest way to spot heresy is to remember this: Jesus + anything = a false gospel.

Then she goes through progressive Christian leaders’ problems with the Bible like the Old Testament, Hell, the Crucifixion. 

I like this quote atheist Christopher Hitchens said to a progressive Christian that interviewed him. Even atheists get it. 

“Famous atheist Christopher Hitchens was once interviewed for Portland Monthly about his opposition to religion, and more specifically, Christianity. The minister questioning him noted that the Christianity he opposed in one of his bestselling books was of the “fundamentalist” variety, while she identified herself as a “liberal Christian.” After explaining that she didn’t take the stories in Scripture literally and rejected the atonement, she asked Hitchens if he saw a difference between fundamentalist faith and more liberal (perhaps we could say “progressive”) religion. His answer was surprising: “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

This is how she closes the book. 

“I’ve spilled much ink in this book discussing what’s wrong with progressive Christianity and how it differs from historic Christianity, but at the end of the day, progressive Christians are the ones who have everything to lose. I was so disturbed of heart because I stood to lose God. The consuming fire who spoke creation into existence and yet identifies himself as Father. I stood to lose Jesus, the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament prophets and trumpeted after four hundred years of divine silence as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). I stood to lose my Savior. The assurance that my sins had been paid for—that I had been bought with a price. That he died in my place. I stood to lose the beauty of the gospel. I stood to lose the confidence that everything wrong in this wretched world will one day be made right. I stood to lose the hope of no more tears, no more crying, no more pain. I stood to lose the mysterious stability of God’s written Word. The lamp to my feet. The light to my path. We don’t get to completely redefine who God is and how he works in the world…”

I highly recommend this book. The next one will be about How Not To Read the Bible, which can help those with questions about problematic passages or verses. 

Five stars.

One thought on “Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity; A Book Review

  1. Pingback: What is Progressive Christianity? – Reasoned Cases For Christ

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s