Shared Belief: Fundamentalists, Progressives, and Atheists

Alisa Childers, a self-styled apologist and frequent contributor at The Gospel Coalition, has written an article on links between progressive Christian theology and atheism. In particular, she highlights three beliefs that “some” progressive Christians “may” hold in common with secular humanists. While Childers attempts to add shades of nuance with her modifiers of choice, the tone of her essay is clear: progressive Christianity leads to heresy and, in time, out-right atheism.

Childers sites to famous former Christians: Bart Campolo (son of the pastor/scholar Tony Campolo), Bart Ehrman (biblical scholar at the University of North Carolina), and Michael Gungor (former Christian rock star). These non-believers left Evangelical Christianity (patent pending) for more progressive parts of the Church before rejecting the faith entirely.

Citing the younger Campolo’s claims, Childers warns that progressive Christianity will see a mass exodus towards “full-blown” atheism in the coming years. She then lists the three shared beliefs that map the route from progressive theology to atheism:

  1. Rejection of biblical truth
  2. Resistance to sovereignty as a sufficient answer to the problem of evil and suffering
  3. Rejection of Christian ethics and affirmation of LGBT inclusion in the Church [Edit: The more I write in response, the more I realize how simplistic Childers’ claim is here; she reduces all of Christian ethics to a handful of sexual topics, and thus makes her argument about “morality” difficult to address.]

In setting forth these “shared” beliefs, Childers makes some pretty staggering leaps in her thinking and fails to adequately represent the nuance and variety of progressive theology. She attempts to add subtlety with the claim that only “some” progressive Christians “may” share these beliefs, but this is the extent of her nuance. At no point in her essay does Childers ever consider those who “may not” share these beliefs, nor does she anticipate any sort of counter-argument.

Instead, Childers makes a logical fallacy: guilt by association. Any overlap or commonality, from Childers’ perspective, is proof that progressives are virtually the same as atheists.

We should expect nothing less from The Gospel Coalition, where arrogance and misrepresentation are common place, and nuance is rare.

Nevertheless, Childers has made some harsh claims against pastors like me, and these lies cannot go unanswered.

At the same time, Childers ignores many of commonalities between fundamentalists and secular humanists; these, too, are worth exploring:

  1. An insistence on a literal interpretation of Christian Scripture
  2. Belief that the Christian faith is incompatible with science
  3. Affirmation of “subtraction stories” to account for the rise of secular humanism
  4. Willingness to bear false witness against the Church

Over a series of posts, we’ll examine each of Childers’ claims and the similarities between fundamentalist theology and secular humanist critiques of Christianity.

7 thoughts on “Shared Belief: Fundamentalists, Progressives, and Atheists

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