Shared Belief: The Need for Nuance

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


As we’ve seen throughout this series, Alisa Childers’ presentation of progressive Christianity falls short in numerous ways.

In each of these claims, Childers cherry-picks her evidence, bases her position on one narrow understanding of Calvinism, and ignores the wider Christian tradition. But her arguments are flawed at a deeper level. In each of her three theses, Childers hedges her language to paint all progressives with a broad brush and to find them guilty by association.

Hedging (or as snarky Wikipedia editors call it, using “weasel words”) is a way to soften a statement while also using it to mislead. Continue reading “Shared Belief: The Need for Nuance”

Shared Belief: Ethics and Sexuality

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


In the previous post, we examined Alisa Childers’ claim that progressive Christians ignore Scripture and instead focus on their own preferences to create an ethical framework. We examined the role of Scripture, reason, experience, and Church Tradition in shaping a distinctly Christian ethic. We further considered the distinction between a holistic approach to Christian behavior — that is, a concern for the impoverished, the oppressed, and the marginalized — over and against a narrow focus on what my colleague termed “pelvic issues,” or matters pertaining to human sexuality.

Let us turn now to the elephant in the room. Continue reading “Shared Belief: Ethics and Sexuality”

Shared Belief: Tradition and Ethics

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


#3. “They May Affirm a Culture-Adapting Morality”

About three and a half years ago, Pope Francis promulgated the encyclical Laudato Si, calling for Christians to care for our common home (i.e., the earth). What followed was an uproar from politically conservative corners of the Church. Jeb Bush announced that he doesn’t take policy advice from the Pope, and Rick Santorum stated that the Church should stick to “what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”

It just so happened that, I was heading for a two-night backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail with some older pastors during this same time. On our drive through the mountains of Georgia and Tennessee, we discussed the reaction to the Roman Pontiff’s document. How could it be, I wondered out loud, that care for the environment — with all that it means for the poor, for future generations, for our role as stewards — is not considered a point of “morality”? Continue reading “Shared Belief: Tradition and Ethics”

Shared Belief: The Problem of Pain

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


#2: “They May Have an Unresolved Answer to the Problem of Evil”

To put it simply, the problem of pain is as follows:

God is:
A) Ominpotent (All-Powerful)
B) Omniscient (All-Knowing)
C) Omnibenevolent (All-Good or All-Loving)
But pain, evil, and suffering exist.
Therefore, at least one of the attributes to God must be false because:
A) An all-powerful God would have the ability to prevent pain.
B) An all-knowing God would know that pain exists and how to prevent it.
C) An all-good God would desire only what is good and pleasant for the world.

For many, as Childers points out, this problem is a major impediment to theistic belief. Alt-rock band Modest Mouse voices this doubt with agonizing beauty in their song “Bukowski” making the bold claim “If God takes life, he’s an indian giver,” before continuing:

If God controls the land and disease,
Keeps a watchful eye on me,
If he’s really so damn mighty,
My problem is I can’t see,
Well who would want to be?
Who would want to be such a control freak?
Well who would want to be?
Who would want to be such a control freak?

In theology, attempts to defend God from the apparent contradictions in the problem of pain are called theodicies. Continue reading “Shared Belief: The Problem of Pain”

Shared Belief: Scripture, Fact, Truth, and Authority

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


#1: “They May Adopt a Belief That the Bible is Unreliable”

Here we come already to the first instance demanding nuance. What does Childers mean by “unreliable”?

She cites to authors like Rob Bell (former megachurch pastor) and Rachel Held Evans (Episcopalian lay person and author) and their writings addressing discrepancies between the historical record and Scripture. In these instances, “unreliable” means “not always 100% historically factual.” (I’ve addressed this topic before — see here.) Rob Bell, at least in his early days, compared biblical historicity to springs and bricks. He writes: Continue reading “Shared Belief: Scripture, Fact, Truth, and Authority”

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: Continue reading “Shared Belief: Fundamentalists, Progressives, and Atheists”