Alisa Childers is a Christian who found herself attending a progressive Christian church. This caused her to enter a period of “deconstruction” of her faith. She began to question everything. Eventually, she discovered Christian Apologetics and built her faith back up to what she believes is a correct view. I applaud her for that. However, this has set her on a warpath against progressive Christianity. In a recent video, she warns against the danger signs of progressive Christianity. Let’s run through them and see where I agree and disagree with her.
1. A lowered view of the Bible.
I understand what Alisa means here. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “all scripture” is given by inspiration of God. However, it doesn’t say what qualifies as scripture. Moreover, 2 Timothy 3:15 implies that the scripture being referenced was taught to Timothy as a child. Hence, it couldn’t be the New Testament. Therefore I believe that Paul (assuming he is indeed the author) was referencing the Old Testament. This leads is to a conundrum. If Paul was indeed saying that the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament are inspired by God, and one places the New Testament on that same level, which person is lowering the word of Hashem? I would argue that Alisa is, not the progressive Christian.
Deuteronomy 18:22 contains Moses’ instruction to the Jews on how to view future prophetic word. Since God would speak to one individual as opposed to the nation as a whole, how would the nation know which person had actually received their message from God? Their words had to be “true” and their predictions had to “come to pass”. Since the Torah was the only known word of God at that time, it had to be the standard for judging all other words attributed to Hashem. Thus, anyone saying that something is true because Paul wrote it is (in my opinion) lowering the word of God. It is true if Torah says it. If it contradicts Torah, it is false.
Since Torah is in the Bible, and it does instruct us to reject any teachings that contradict the known word of God, we have therefore been instructed to judge future writings based on known writings. Hence, if you hear a person say “I disagree with the Apostle Paul on that issue” as Alisa asserts, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have a lower view of the Bible than she does. Rather, it might mean that they have found a contradiction, and they are siding with the known teaching that predates the writings of Paul. This would be a higher view of the word of God than Alisa has, not a lower one, because it insists that the word cannot be changed nor broken.
2. Feelings are emphasized over facts.
In Progressive churches, personal conscience, experiences, preferences, and opinions tend to be valued above objective truth.Alisa Childers
I don’t disagree with her here. Rather, I submit that this is indeed a teaching of the Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 8, he teaches that there is nothing objectively wrong with eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. However, he says that a person shouldn’t do it anyway if their personal conscience contradicts this objective truth. Moreover, he warns against eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols in front of people who believe differently than you, because your participation in this harmless, non-sinful act might cause them to violate their conscience and thereby lead them to side with objective truth over personal conviction.
This is a big problem for Alisa Childers. Here, the Apostle Paul teaches something she clearly disagrees with. Is Paul wrong? If so, she would agree with progressive Christians on her first point that his teaching should be viewed as wrong. However, if she holds to her view that since it’s taught in the Bible, therefore it must be right, she is siding with progressives on this, her second point. Personal conscience trumps objective truth in the matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols.
Her view is further complicated by the fact that Acts 15:29 emphatically instructs Christians to abstain from food sacrificed to idols. She says that progressive Christians cease to view the Bible as God’s definitive word. However, if the teachings of Acts 15 can be completely contradicted by the teachings of 1 Corinthians 8, how can she claim that she views the word of God as authoritative? Since 1 Corinthians was written before Acts, wouldn’t a view of the word of God as authoritative require her to reject Acts as the word of God since it contradicts the earlier writing?
3. Essential Christian doctrines are open for reinterpretation.
On this point I agree with Alisa Childers entirely. However, I’m not sure why she finds it to be problematic. In fact, here is where her conflict with progressive Christianity raises an eyebrow. After all, her faith is built on what Christianity itself calls “progressive revelation”. The Trinity, the substitutionary atonement of the messiah, and other core Christian doctrines are taught nowhere in the Old Testament. If these original doctrines had not been open for reinterpretation, she couldn’t believe what she believes today. Thus, she’s not really opposed to progressivism. Rather, she is opposed to progressivism beyond where she personally draws the line. Thus she’s not condemning the process, but rather condemning others who follow the process to a different conclusion than she has drawn.
4. Historic terms are redefined.
As I’ve already pointed out, Alisa believes in progressive revelation. Thus, she too believes in redefining historic terms. For example, over and over in Tanakh or the Old Testament God is defined as “one”. There is no ambiguity or complication in this definition. I could quote from practically anywhere, but consider these quotes from Isaiah 45.
- I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. 5
- God is with you alone, and there is no other; there is no god besides him. 14
- I am the Lord, and there is no other. 18
- There is no other God besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is no one besides me. 21
All of these references to God being one were historically perceived as simply that. There is only one God. No complex unity, no trinity. None of the complex notions that Christianity apply to God today. In fact, in John 17:3 Jesus himself refers to the Father as “the only true God”. This was clearly the historical view of the unity of God from the time of Abraham all the way through the time of Jesus himself. Yet starting with the Apostle John for sure, and arguably with Mark, the unity of God becomes redefined to what would eventually become the view of the Trinity approximately 150 years after the death of Jesus.
So again, I don’t argue that progressive Christians don’t do this as well. I’m simply pointing out that Alisa Childers is perfectly comfortable with this practice when it suits her purposes. If I attended her church I would be subjected to this redefinition of the unity of God. I would just be less likely to pick up on it since I wasn’t alive at the time that progressives began redefining the term.
5. The Gospel shifts from sin and redemption to social justice.
In Matthew 25:31-46 we have the teachings of Jesus himself. If you click the link, you will see that the English Standard Version (as well as most others) describe this as “the final judgement”. Here, Jesus teaches about the separation of the sheep and the goats. The sheep will receive eternal life, and the goats will receive punishment. The punishment is described as “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. I think that Alisa would agree with me that this is clearly talking about heaven and hell. And what separates the sheep from the goats? Nothing more and nothing less than social justice. Here’s a list. The sheep did the following things to their reward, and the goats did not to their condemnation.
- Feeding the hungry.
- Giving water to the thirsty.
- Taking in strangers.
- Clothing the naked.
- Caring for the sick.
- Visiting the imprisoned.
It’s important to notice here that neither the sheep nor the goats realize that Jesus was a part of any of these things that they did or didn’t do. The sheep say “when did we see you sick”, and the goats say “we never knew you were in prison”. Therefore, we can deduce that it wasn’t some personal relationship with Jesus himself that was being discussed here. Moreover, there’s no word of sin nor substitutionary atonement. This message of social justice, and social justice alone is punctuated with the following dramatic exclamation point in verses 45 and 46.
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”Matthew 25; 45b-46
I would submit to you that the message of Jesus was always one of social justice. Moreover, that message was entirely consistent with the teachings of Tanakh, which Jesus himself called the Holy Scriptures. However, these teachings were changed by “progressive revelation” of his disciples, who later taught that salvation came from substitutionary atonement. Thus, to some extent I share Alisa Childers’ frustration with progressive Christianity. My frustration however isn’t with progressives who are trying to take it back to the teachings of Jesus himself. Rather, my frustration is with Christians who want to “progress” past those teachings to the teachings of Paul and others. Teachings which came after the death of Jesus, and changed what he taught.
If Alisa is willing to abandon this progressivism for the pure teachings of Jesus and Tanakh, I would welcome her into the fold with open arms. If she wishes to embrace a God who says he forgives sin when people humble themselves and pray and turn away from sin without any mention of substitutionary atonement, I will be in emphatic agreement with her. If she can reject progressive revelation for a God whose only requirements of us is that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him then we will be on the same page. If her view that progressive Christianity is completing the circle back to this God of Tanakh, then I welcome what this “progression” has to offer for the future of Christianity. However, I would argue that it is in fact regressive. Regressing back to the original teachings of Moses, Isaiah, and others.