“Time for another Reformation” has been a rallying cry of many Protestants since, well, the original Protestant Reformation. And in the last 20 years you’ve heard this cry from a particular group that wants a new kind of Christianity more attuned to our times.
Alisa Childers wants another Reformation, too. But not one that leaves behind historic Christianity. As she writes in her new book, Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity (Tyndale Momentum) she’s not looking for a Reformation that looks down on early believers as less enlightened and more primitive in their understanding of God. Like many other Christians before her, she’s looking to rediscover the original definition of Christianity when sometimes even our churches bear little resemblance to the Bible.
Childers is a blogger, speaker, and former member of the CCM recording group ZOEgirl. She doesn’t hold back in her critique of progressive Christianity and its denial of orthodoxy. But I also appreciate how she recognizes the challenges of growing up in the church. For example, she writes:
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.
Childers joined me on Gospelbound to discuss popular progressive writers such as Richard Rohr, William Paul Young, Rachel Hollis, Jen Hatmaker, and Glennon Doyle; whether we can be more tolerant than God; and why Christians should demand more study and not invite less, among other questions.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: “Time for another reformation has been a rallying cry of many Protestants since, well, the original Protestant Reformation. And in the last 20 years, you’ve heard this cry from a particular group that wants a new kind of Christianity more attuned to our times. At least Childers, wants another reformation too, but not one that leaves behind historic Christianity. As she writes in her new book, Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, published by Tyndale Momentum, Childers is not looking for a reformation that looks down on early believers as less enlightened and more primitive in their understanding of God. Like many other Christians before her, she’s looking to rediscover the original definition of Christianity, when sometimes even our churches bear little resemblance to the Bible.
Collin Hansen: Childers is a blogger, speaker and former member of the CCM recording group ZOEgirl. She doesn’t hold back in her critique of progressive Christianity and its denial of orthodoxy. But I also appreciate how she recognizes the challenges of growing up in the church. For example, she writes this: “If more churches would welcome the honest questions of doubters and engage with the intellectual side of the faith, they would become safe places for those who experienced 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.”
Collin Hansen: Childers joins me on Gospelbound to discuss whether we can be more tolerant than God, and why Christians should demand more study and not invite less among other questions. Alisa, thank you for joining me.
Alisa Childers: Collin, thanks much for having me on today.
Collin Hansen: Let’s just start with the basics, Alisa. What is progressive Christianity?
Alisa Childers: A general definition of the movement of progressive Christianity is essentially, it’s a group of Christians that are springing up and out of the evangelical church. And they are questioning core essential doctrines of the faith, like the virgin birth, the atonement of Jesus, the physical resurrection of Jesus, his second coming, the reality of heaven and hell and this eternal destination that we will essentially go to after our final judgment. They’re questioning all these things.
Alisa Childers: Lots of questions are being asked about the reliability of the Bible, the transmission of the manuscripts. Do we have an accurate copy? And therefore, is this book really authoritative for our lives? Or in the progressive movement, they tend to look at the Bible more as an ancient spiritual travel journal. So, we can read what people wrote about God in the times and places that they lived in. But that’s not necessarily God’s words.
Alisa Childers: And so, in the progressive view, the Bible isn’t necessarily internally coherent. It’s not necessarily without error. It’s not necessarily all God’s Word. And so, therefore, the authority for what defines Christianity is shifted from a historic definition and the Bible to our own thoughts and feelings and preferences, essentially.
Collin Hansen: Alisa, is there any difference between progressive Christianity and mainline Protestantism of the variety that spread so widely between 1860 and 1960 in the United States? Because a lot of what you described there would be pretty similar to the early 20th-century debates between the fundamentalists and the modernists.
Alisa Childers: That’s correct. And so, when I first read John Gresham Machen’s book Christianity and Liberalism, I was absolutely blown away at how similar the claims were that were coming into the church at that time that he was having to address. And so, yes, it’s very similar. The only difference would be just it’s historical cultural moment. And so, I definitely would say that all of the same theological points that were being brought and the same questions that were being asked or being asked now, except it’s being asked among a new group of people. So, where we see mainline Protestant denominations in decline a little bit today, I was puzzled over that, when I saw that, because I thought, “Well, all of these same ideas I’m seeing in churches all around me.”
Alisa Childers: And so, I think the difference would be that progressive Christianity is a united movement. They have their figureheads, their thought leaders. But it’s largely springing up and out of the evangelical church, and seeking, I think, to change the evangelical church and our beliefs on these gospel issues.
Collin Hansen: When I was writing, Alisa, about 15 years ago about the emerging church, it seemed at the time many of those leaders were men, but it seems like many of the more prominent figures now in progressive Christianity are women. Have you noticed that same trend? And if so, do you make anything of that?
Alisa Childers: That’s a very interesting observation that hadn’t stood out to me until you just said it. But I think you’re right, because if you look at the emergent church that was emerging in the late nineties, early two thousands, you had guys like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones forming the Emergent Village online. And they were writing books like A New Kind of Christian and A New Kind of Christianity. And I think that they were piggybacking on some of those mainline Protestant ideas and bringing that into the church.
Alisa Childers: But a lot of people think that the emergent church just died out or went away. But Brian McLaren wrote in a blog post in 2012 that they really just reassembled online. And then emerged not using the E word, the emergent word so much, but using the phrase progressive Christianity or a new kind of Christianity. But since then, even since 2012, I’ve definitely noticed a surge of these women leaders within the progressive church. People like Glennon Doyle and Jen Hatmaker, and Rachel Held Evans, and others who seem to be leading the charge these days.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. I don’t know. I haven’t really gone to assess what factors might be contributing, except that perhaps with social media, the rise of the woman influencer has simply taken off. And through publishing that’s where more of the books are published as well. So, if you combine Instagram with books, you have just massive influence of those women within the church. Alisa, how did you encounter progressive Christianity yourself? It sounds like you thought it had all been made up by your pastor.
Alisa Childers: I did. I was so naive. Collin, I grew up in a Christian home, loved Jesus as far back as I can remember. I loved the Bible. As a young child, I recognized the Word of God. I knew that this was a book that I could live my life by. I knew that it was authoritative for my life. I knew that it was God’s Word. But I wouldn’t have been able to articulate to you why I thought that, other than just a feeling that I had. And I never really went through any kind of a significant period of doubt in my life until I was an adult.
Alisa Childers: And so, I had spent the better part of a decade touring all around the country with the CCM recording group ZOEgirl, got to play all kinds of great venues. It was a wonderful experience. And I was just so on fire for God. I would have used all those phrases. But it wasn’t until we had come off the road and I was married with a new baby that we started attending this local church. And I was invited by the pastor to be a part of an inner-circle type study and discussion group that he really compared with seminary. He said, if you go through this four-year class, you’ll come out on the other side with the same type of level of education you’d get in seminary. And that really sounded exciting to me, because I had never really investigated the intellectual side of my faith before. I had never studied systematic theology. I never studied church history, critical thinking, any of that. I studied the Bible, and I loved Jesus, but that was about it.
Alisa Childers: And so, in the context of this class, he revealed that he was actually agnostic. He called himself a hopeful agnostic. And this threw me, but I was like, “Come on, don’t be so judgmental.” I didn’t want to judge him, “Maybe he’s just being really honest.” But essentially through the class, which I lasted about four months, everything I’d ever believed about God and Jesus, and especially the Bible was deconstructed. It was picked apart and explained away. And it really shook my faith. It didn’t shake my faith so much while I was in the class, but it was after we left the church that I found myself isolated without a church community. In that strange phase of life, when you’ve got a newborn or my baby, I guess she was a toddler by then. And I was pregnant with my second child, but it’s just an isolated time for women, I think.
Alisa Childers: And all of those doubts, he planted began to take root and grow. And I had a pretty serious crisis of faith where I didn’t know what was happening to me. I never heard the word “deconstruction,” but that’s what was happening to me. I didn’t want it to happen to me. But it got to the point where I not only questioned if what I’d been taught all my life about Jesus and about Christianity, the resurrection. I wasn’t just questioning if those things were true, I was questioning if God existed at all, if this is just something I have created in my mind to make myself feel better, to think this kind of God exists.
Alisa Childers: And so, I just cried out to God, “If you’re there, please send me a lifeboat, send somebody who can talk to me about these things.” And so, God really used apologetics to help rebuild my faith. And I’m so thankful. And it’s just a beautiful journey he took me on from that point to answer all my questions. And I had no idea at the time that he would use me in the same capacity to help other people. But I’m just so thankful and grateful that he has.
Collin Hansen: Alisa, were you upset at your parents or your church from growing up when you realized you weren’t familiar with arguments that were promoted by progressive Christians?
Alisa Childers: That’s an interesting question. No, I really wasn’t. I don’t think they could have foreseen the internet. I don’t think they could have foreseen the fact that by the time I was 28 years old, I would have virtually any type of information at my fingertips on my computer. In fact, my mom asked me once, she said, “I’m so sorry that we didn’t prepare you better for these questions.” And I just said, “Mom, how could you have known? How could you have known that a pastor would say that? It doesn’t matter if Jesus was born by a virgin. How could you have known that?” And so, no, I don’t think they could have foreseen this cultural moment. But I do think we can learn from it and try to do better in the future.
Collin Hansen: One of the selling points, I think of progressive Christianity, as I mentioned in the introduction, is that it’s necessary to be able to keep Christianity relevant for the times. But do you have any evidence that progressive Christianity actually brings non-Christians into the fold?
Alisa Childers: In all of my research, in all of my relationships with progressive Christianity I have never come across one person who was actually converted to progressive Christianity from another worldview. And I’ve said this in lots of interviews and I’ve said it online. And I keep waiting for the email from somebody to say, “No, I actually know a lot of people who have converted.” And I actually did get an email from one guy who said he was an atheist and then he became progressive. So, I’ll put that caveat in there. There’s one.
Collin Hansen: Okay. You found one. Okay.
Alisa Childers: But yeah, so it really seems to be a movement that is largely informed as a reaction against evangelicalism. And in my book, I talk about there were a lot of progressive Christians that I know, people in that small group I was in at that church who had grown up in severely legalistic environments, others who had encountered spiritual abuse, others who had witnessed hypocrisy in their churches. And so, I think that there can be a big element of progressive Christians who are walking away from something. I think it was G. K. Chesterton who said, “When you find somebody running toward a madhouse, there’s a good chance they’ve just made a splendid escape from another madhouse.” And I think that’s really applicable to progressive Christianity, because it seems to be a very reactionary movement against something they found in evangelicalism that just either didn’t work out for them or they disagreed with, or they thought was wrong.
Alisa Childers: And so, there’s this community of people saying, “Hey, you can still call yourself a Christian, but we’re concerned about those things too.” And I had concerns, honestly, back in those late ‘90s, early 2000s, things I had seen in the church, but I had no idea that they were going to throw the gospel out, with the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
Collin Hansen: This question is going to be a bit of a softball, but I want you to think about it from a more curious perspective. Okay? So, why can’t we pick and choose which parts of the Bible we want to believe and obey. Now, if you’re catechized and raised within a conservative evangelical church, that’s just obvious, the Bible is God’s Word. We take all of it. We believe every bit of it. And if you don’t understand part of it, the problem is with you, not with the Bible. Okay. But I don’t think that’s obvious to most people, because I don’t think that’s how we typically approach literature. And it’s not the way that we’re trained now to be able to read. We’re trained to say, you find some things you like, you find some things you don’t like, you don’t worry about that. So, why can’t we do that with the Bible?
Alisa Childers: What a great question. And this was something that I gave quite a bit of thought to, because when I was in that church, that by the way went on to identify itself as a progressive Christian community, not surprisingly, a lot of thought and discussion was spent on the Bible. And that I see, I grew up in the evangelical church. I grew up with Bible-believing, God-fearing parents who taught me all of those things about the Bible. So, it was so shocking when I would hear other people in the class say something like, “Well, that Bible verse that doesn’t really resonate with me. So, I’m going to go with this one over here.” Or I would hear a classmate say, “Well, I don’t really agree with Paul on issues of sexuality or his view of women. I don’t really agree with him. I think that this is a better view.”
Alisa Childers: And in the progressive church, there’s this theme that we have come to a higher and wiser view of God now. And so, I think that’s what’s informing that. But the reason that we can’t pick and choose what to believe in the Bible and what not to believe is because essentially we are then left with ourselves as the authority to decide which parts we can believe and which parts we shouldn’t believe. Everybody has to have an authoritative standard for truth.
Alisa Childers: And so, when I read a different work of literature, like even if it’s Christian written by a Christian author, I’m going to filter that through God’s Word, “Does that agree with God’s Word?” And that’s where I can take portions of that and agree and not agree, knowing that I can base my life on the Bible, knowing that this is God’s Word. And essentially, it’s just, for me, it came down to a really simple logical construct, God cannot err, the Bible is his Word. I believe both those things are true. So, it logically must follow that the Bible is God’s Word. And so, if part of that is not God’s Word, well, then that makes God part liar or part tricking us or something along those lines. And so, we can’t pick and choose, because then essentially we’re just moving the authority from the Bible to ourselves.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. Only one person gets to be God in the equation, either God or you. Let me get a little bit more personal here with some specific cases. Some people will say, okay, the Bible is wrong when it comes to homosexuality, but we understand that the Bible is wrong on the same kind of conservative, biblical, contextual hermeneutics. So, you can still be an evangelical, but believe that the Bible is wrong on homosexuality. And that’s not what I’m saying, but you’ll hear that argument, a conservative evangelical case for affirming homosexuality.
Collin Hansen: However, Alisa, have you ever seen somebody who stops there? In other words, I don’t know that I’ve… Let’s grant that the Bible is not quite as clear on homosexuality. I’m just granting that for the sake of argument, in part, because Jesus, didn’t talk about it.
Collin Hansen: Let’s give an example of something Jesus did talk about a lot, very clearly: divorce. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen somebody who has said, “I’m affirming on homosexuality, but I still also believe that the Bible teaches that I should not get divorced.” I mean, have you seen that? Because it doesn’t appear acceptable to isolate here, because it seems to actually usher in an entire watershed in your view toward the Scriptures.
Alisa Childers: I have seen some progressive thought leaders say things along the lines of… And if it’s okay here, let’s use a test case here of Jen Hatmaker. So, when Jen Hatmaker came out in favor of same-sex relationships in marriage in 2016, she was asked how that standard would apply across the board. And she said, “Nothing else changes. I have the same standard for all of my children.” And the assumption there was that marriage would still be viewed as sacred, that she would hold her children to the standard, biblical standards regarding marriage and things along those lines.
Alisa Childers: But just since 2016, we’ve seen such a slide in her theology in so many areas where she’s promoting teachers who affirm universalism and deny the atonement. And she’s promoting Glennon Doyle’s book, where the entire book is an apologetic for her leaving her husband and engaging in a same-sex marriage. And the book celebrates that. And Jen Hatmaker is celebrating that. And I think that is a perfect test case for what we see across the board. That even if they say this is the only thing I’m changing, I’ve never seen that to be the case.
Alisa Childers: And you’re right, it will bleed into other areas that have to do with biblical sexuality and fidelity, like divorce. It bleeds over into the way that progressive Christians approach sex in general. You’re not going to find a lot of progressive churches thinking it’s that big of a deal if you’re having casual sex or premarital sex or extramarital sex, as long as you think that that’s good for you and everybody’s okay with it, and everybody’s consensual, and they’re all on board for it. And so yeah, I think your point is well made in the question you asked is that it always seems to be a slippery slope, and I haven’t come across the opposite.
Collin Hansen: I want to be clear also while we’re recording this podcast, Jen Hatmaker herself is going through a divorce. We don’t know what the circumstances of that divorce are. And I’m not trying to communicate to that. I don’t know that I’ve also seen Jen ever defend divorce on biblical grounds. So, I don’t want people to get confused and think that I’m saying something that I’m not saying about her life. For all we know what she’s going through personally could be happening on the biblical grounds for divorce. So, I want to make sure that caveat is clear.
Collin Hansen: And on that note, let me switch over to the other side. Do you ever see any examples of orthodox Christians who did the same things with the Bible just different verses they choose to ignore or not obey?
Alisa Childers: Oh my goodness. Orthodox Christians that just choose to disobey certain verses? Well, gosh, I don’t know. I’m trying to think. I mean, I’m sure there are. Do you have an example in your mind?
Collin Hansen: Well, I think one thing that’s interesting historically speaking, and I want to take this out of the realm of the contemporary, because sometimes it’s more difficult, but it seems that we assign categories to orthodoxy based on sexuality, which I think makes a lot of sense because of the slippery slope connections that you made there. And the Bible is not ambiguous about sexuality. And it’s not ambiguous about the significance of that for the whole moral system. And yet we do also look up to a number of orthodox theologians who did go clearly against what the Scripture teaches on, say race or ethnicity or slavery.
Collin Hansen: For example, I’m not trying to be relativized here, but when you look back historically, it’s interesting that we wouldn’t really grant the label of orthodoxy to somebody who changed their views on sexuality. And yet we still revere some, I’ll just say, especially antebellum era Presbyterian or Southern Baptist theologians who were far from biblical on their views of race and slavery.
Collin Hansen: So, mainly I just wanted to point out and give you a chance to talk about that, if you wanted to, that while I definitely see the problems for progressive Christianity, I think the challenge is universal, that it’s a human inclination to want to accept some verses of the Bible and obey them. And no orthodox Christian would ever say, “Don’t obey those verses.” It just seems like they ignore them.
Alisa Childers: Yeah. Well, and while you’re talking, it even reminds me of the prosperity gospel, which I don’t think anybody would consider that to be orthodox, but you see that there’s a spectrum a little bit with prosperity gospel. And so, I didn’t encounter the prosperity gospel until I was in my early 20s. And I just remember being so astonished when I would hear these preachers using Bible verses that had been precious to me my whole life, that it never occurred to me once to think were about money. And making these things about money and financial prosperity and things like that. And so, I think I’ve thought about it too.
Alisa Childers: I think sometimes depending on the stream of Christianity that you grew up in, it can sometimes just be ignorance. And that’s probably, we’re going to see that be true with the progressive world where kids are growing up in that. And they don’t even know that these good hermeneutics exist and things like this. And so, yeah, I mean, I think there definitely have been or orthodox preachers and theologians who have gotten some major things wrong. And I think depending on what the subject is, we have to look at what kind of a tier issue is this. And so, I think, yeah, for sure, we see… But then, if they’re actually heretical in a doctrine, they’re really not orthodox anymore, or are they?
Collin Hansen: Right. Well, that’s what I was getting at with it. I mean, I think a lot of it depends on whether or not you’re doing this deliberately. And if you’re telling people that the solution is more Bible, that’s I guess what one of my themes, the solution is more Bible. The problem is never to get away from the Bible. The problem that progressive Christianity is more Bible. The problem of racist Christianity is more Bible as well. It’s never to go out there and find your own solutions and piece this together.
Collin Hansen: Well, let’s talk about deconstruction a little bit more. And I’m wondering, is there any kind of deconstruction that’s actually beneficial for believers who grew up in Christian homes that were steeped in that subculture?
Alisa Childers: Well, I want to make one little caveat about the word “deconstruction.” Because the word has a technical, philosophical meaning that has to do with changing, even we’re talking about the level of what words mean. Deconstructing, for example, I’m sitting in a chair right now, and I can deconstruct the meaning of words to the point where I can say, I’m not sitting in a chair. This is not a chair. This is something else because I’ve so changed what all the words mean. But when people are talking about deconstructing in their faith, that element is there. But I think what they’re more talking about is picking apart their beliefs and discarding those they no longer believe are true. And sometimes that more philosophical idea of changing what we’re talking about on the level of what words mean, and if language has any meaning, can play a part.
Alisa Childers: But I think deconstruction is something that can be healthy if we are seeking for truth. And so, deconstruction is sometimes the result of somebody going through a time of doubt. And I talk about doubt a little bit in my book, because I think it’s such an important topic for Christians to think through. I never thought I would doubt. I grew up thinking that if I doubted my faith, I wasn’t a real Christian, or I wasn’t a really strong Christian, or there was something wrong with me. I didn’t have good faith, or it didn’t have enough faith. But I learned as I walked through doubt myself, that I just couldn’t help, that it was happening to me. Is that you can read all these books about doubt, and there’s always different reasons given why people doubt, moral doubt, intellectual doubt, XYZ.
Alisa Childers: But I think there’s just two kinds of doubt. There’s doubt where you are seeking truth. And so, if you’re going through deconstruction with that type of doubt, I think it can be healthy because you’re going to take a look at everything you’ve ever been taught that maybe you never questioned. Maybe you grew up in a stream of Christianity that you never questioned their positions on certain things. And I think that can be a really healthy thing to do. I think it can be healthy to go through our theology and go through our reasons for believing Christianity is true. And check those and say, “Well, is this true? Is this a reasonable thing to believe?” And so, I think if that’s the approach. If the motivation is to seek truth, to land on truth, no matter where that leads, I think that can be a really healthy, spiritual thing and a really necessary thing for people.
Alisa Childers: However, so much of the deconstruction that we’re seeing today is motivated from what I would call the other type of doubt, which is a doubt that’s seeking justification for unbelief. So, if somebody is already wanting it to not be true, and they’re looking for reasons to find the exit door, then that type of deconstruction, I think, is what we’re seeing so often. And also, when you throw this post-modern, cultural relativism into the mix, there’s also this pressure, I think, on people to not land on a conclusion, because that makes you small-minded. If you land on a conclusion and settle on a position, you’re in the progressive realm, and I think even in the postmodern mindset in larger culture, you’re viewed old-fashioned because that’s just not how people think anymore. You’re always open to changing. You’re always open. And so, I think that kind of deconstruction can actually be very unhealthy. So, I think that checking our motive is probably the most important thing when we’re approaching something like doubt and deconstruction,
Collin Hansen: Maybe it would be helpful to introduce the concept of disenculturation—disenculturation being the way that we begin to separate our identity and our beliefs from what we’ve inherited. And that’s more or less inevitable for everybody now. And so, I think one thing that’s hard for people who grew up steeped in a Christian subculture is the inability to differentiate between what the Bible teaches and ultimately who God is and what he teaches from what our church and family present him to be. And even in great families, that’s not usually going to be a 100 percent correlation. Everybody has to go through that process.
Collin Hansen: So, I wonder if we encouraged people to understand that the process of dis-inculturation is an important and necessary part of spiritual maturation, that perhaps we could protect them from the kind of deconstruction that you talked about, which is starting from, “My parents sold me a bill of goods.” To, “My church was hypocritical.” To, “I don’t really want to live with these restrictions anymore. Therefore, I’m going to go in search of rational, seemingly rational arguments that justify this move that I’m making.” And there is a helpful distinction there, Alisa.
Collin Hansen: Okay. So, we’ve got a couple more questions. Talking with Alisa Childers, author of Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity. If I could summarize reading about progressive Christianity from your book, it seems to boil down to a projection of a God who is just as tolerant as we imagine ourselves to be.
Collin Hansen: But you’re not buying it. You write, “Progressive Christians assume they are painting God in a more tolerant light by denying the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. But in reality, they are simply constructing a codependent and impotent God who is powerless to stop evil.” So Alisa, what makes the orthodox understanding of sin and wrath and judgment and hell more compelling than what progressive Christians are saying?
Alisa Childers: Well, Colin, I think it’s only going to be compelling to someone if they realize that they’re a sinner. And I think it really all comes down to that. For me, when I was in the progressive class and they were throwing atonement out the window, or referring to it as cosmic child abuse, it felt to me like somebody was taking the most important thing in my life and just throwing it out the window, because I knew that I needed a solution for my sin. I knew that. I knew that I was a sinner. I knew that I couldn’t save myself.
Alisa Childers: And so, I think that for someone who really gets that they’re a sinner, the wrath of God even becomes something so beautiful. And I think we all know this instinctively anyway, if we’re really honest that we want a wrathful God. We want a God that is wrathful at sin. We are wrathful at sin. When there’s injustice done to our neighbors or to someone we love or to ourselves, we want justice to be done.
Alisa Childers: But for some reason, we don’t want God to have a wrath towards sin. But I think that that gets to the bottom of us thinking that we’re pretty much good people. I’m pretty good. And that is the message that you see in the progressive church so much. You’re perfect just as you are somehow, you just need to uncover that somehow, or you just need to realize it or get to the bottom of it. But with all of these messages that tell us to just love ourselves more and just dream bigger, and just give ourselves more love and more self care. What they’re not accounting for is that when you chip away and you get to the bottom of it, what you’re going to find at the bottom of yourself is a sinner, and you still have to deal with that.
Alisa Childers: And so to me, that’s what makes the doctrine of the atonement and wrapping all of that up in God’s wrath. God’s wrath allows him to keep his promise, to wipe away every tear from our eye. That his wrath is what keeps us quarantined away from evil, for eternity with him after this life, because he will deal with sin ultimately. And for those of us who know that we’re sinners, this is a beautiful, beautiful doctrine. But I can see if you don’t really think you’re all that bad, that would seem kind of horrific, or that would seem counterintuitive.
Alisa Childers: But I think that one thing I try to tell people when I’m talking about progressive Christianity is really look inside yourself. This was a discussion we had in that class and the progressive church is, are we basically pretty good or are we not?
Alisa Childers: And I was just astonished by how many people really thought were just basically pretty good. And I remember the pastor even saying there was a popular Christian song at the time about God saving me, a “wretch like me”-type lyrics. And he said, “I wish this singer would understand how beautiful they are rather than see themselves that way.” I’ve seen progressive churches actually take the word “wretch” out of “Amazing Grace.” And so yeah, if that’s how you see yourself, you’re not going to think those things are beautiful.
Collin Hansen: Makes you wonder who all those sinners are out there who are making our world miserable. I mean, if it’s not me, I mean, but then I guess you see the result. So, progressive Christianity gone to seed results in an us versus them antithesis.
Just a couple more questions, Alisa. Is there any progressive Christian leader or teacher who stood out as especially influential in your research?
Alisa Childers: Yes, on different levels. So, just like in evangelical culture, you have the people who are more intellectual. You have the scholars who are informing the work of the popular-level writers. And then you have the big platforms, the social media platforms and the bloggers and the speakers on those levels. So, in the progressive church, they have all of that as well. And so, I think just like in evangelicalism, you have the most influential people are going to be the ones who have the most people following them. And those really are, like you mentioned earlier in the podcast, some of the women. So, you have people like Jen Hatmaker, who has, I think last time I checked, she had close to 800,000 followers on Facebook, selling millions of books. You have Glennon Doyle, who has over a million followers on Instagram. And she has along with Hatmaker, but even more so with Glennon Doyle, she has such a broad reach into secular culture too.
Alisa Childers: In fact, when I wrote my review of her book for The Gospel Coalition, when I started writing it, her book had been number one across all platforms for weeks, New York Times bestseller, Amazon. And not just in the Christian genre, I just mean in general, celebrities touting these books. And these are people who started as Christian mommy bloggers, and then they grew their platforms. And so, I would say, there are a lot of, just in all kinds of different areas, the scholars that are informing the views would be someone like a Pete Enns. And of course the influence of someone like Richard Rohr is incalculable, especially among millennials. And all of these people are in community together. They’re doing conferences together.
Alisa Childers: William Paul Young would be another one who wrote the book, The Shack, selling millions and millions of copies to evangelical Christians. And then later following it up with a theological treatise called Lies We Believe About God, in which he fleshed out the theology of The Shack which, of course, he affirms universal reconciliation. He denies that sin separates us from God. And so, all of these ideas get promoted in different areas. But I would say those are probably some of the major players right now.
Collin Hansen: I was taken aback a number of years ago by the influence of Richard Rohr. This wasn’t somebody that I was particularly paying attention to. I think maybe because as far as I know, he doesn’t come up through the evangelical subculture, which is different for Hatmaker and Pete Enns. And again, you mentioned Young having sold all those books. Do you put a Rachel Hollis in this category as well?
Alisa Childers: Yeah. Oh yes. Rachel Hollis would be in this category, except that in the past, I did not read her most recent book, but from my understanding, she’s heading more in a purely secular direction, even with her publishing and all of that. And Glennon Doyle may be heading more away from identifying herself as a Christian, although she did identify herself as a Christian in her latest book, Untamed.
Alisa Childers: And so yeah, Rachel Hollis, again, another one with just a huge influence especially among women. And I think that one thing that some of these social media moguls, you could say, are doing that’s pulling so many people in, like when I wrote my review of Rachel Hollis, she was doing a Facebook Live every single day on Facebook. So, these women who might feel lonely in their lives, they might feel isolated, they get to go have community. Only they’re getting this false gospel, which is what makes it so dangerous.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. Rachel Hollis’s books have dominated the Christian bestseller list. So, regardless of how you might assess the content, the Christian publishing market assesses it as a Christian title and has been, simply her books have been dominant in that category.
Alisa Childers: And certain churches are doing study groups based on her book. I remember a friend of mine saying that at a local church here in Nashville, even their women’s group was going through Girl Wash Your Face. And you can find a five-day devotional on the YouVersion app. So yeah, it’s definitely categorized that way. So for sure, she would be.
Collin Hansen: The town that I grew up near of 250 people has a little United Methodist Church that my family had come from. And most of the people in that church now are pretty elderly. And lo and behold, they were doing a Bible study from one of these progressive Christian authors. So, the reach is pretty, pretty astounding and discouraging.
Collin Hansen: So, in light of that, Let’s end on a positive note. We want people to check out your book Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity. But I also want to ask you Alisa before we go, what is the last great book you have read?
Alisa Childers: Well, I read Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds.
Collin Hansen: I’m in reading that one right now too. Tell us about it.
Alisa Childers: Yeah. Well, just fascinating that he’s an atheist. So, I always like when there’s agreement with people that we would typically not agree with, because that gets my attention. But he’s speaking to some of the cultural moments that we’re encountering right now, that have to do with trans activism and LGBTQ activism, some of the racial issues that we’re dealing with. And he has just a really interesting perspective, especially from someone who’s not a Christian about just logically speaking, how we got here. So, it’s a really vital read, I think.
Collin Hansen: Very good. Well, I can tell your reading and writing lists Alisa, you tend to want people to, you want to introduce them to truth, even if it’s bracing. I mean, you want them to know and to follow God through that truth, even if it’s not necessarily the most encouraging thing. Because counter-intuitively because it’s true, it is encouraging even if it’s not what we feel in the moment.
Alisa Childers: It’s so funny when people say that because, or they’ll say you’re being brave and I don’t think I’m being brave. It’s so funny because I’m just such a truth person. For me, I want to get to the truth of it. And that’s what I know. Well, Jesus said the truth will set you free. And even if it’s an uncomfortable truth, even if it’s something I didn’t want it to be true and it takes me longer to get there, there’s always just more of a peace once I get there, even if it’s something that is difficult to accept.
Collin Hansen: Well, very good. Check out Alisa’s book, Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, published by Tyndale Momentum. Alisa, thank you for joining me on Gospelbound.
Alisa Childers: Thanks, Collin.
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