It has been a few weeks since I wrote much of anything, and for that I apologize. I have been adjusting to a new job and frankly trying to evaluate the ethos of this website and vodcast (video podcast?). So far, I do not think I have been writing much other than my own personal thoughts on different subjects. While that is all fine and dandy, I do not want to merely share my own thoughts. I want to dive into different subjects related to the historic, orthodox faith. So today I’m going to be writing a book review of: Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers. This will be the first book review of many – including ancient Christian literature (though those are not properly termed books).
Childers’ new book details her experience with progressive Christianity and how it caused her to deconstruct her faith. Yet she explains how God was faithful to provide a lifeboat when she was sinking and was able to reconstruct her faith. In the midst of her story, Childers identifies certain traits about progressive Christianity and builds a case for her beliefs.
Born into a pentecostal/charismatic family, Childers’ parents not only talked about faith but put it into action. And they raised their daughter Alisa to do the same. As a young adult she joined the popular Christian band ZOEgirl and toured all around the country meeting all types of Christians. After ZOEgirl stopped touring, Childers and her husband settled down and joined a local church. It was at this church that she began her “crisis of faith”. But it was not any atheist or random stranger that made Childers’ question her faith, it was her pastor, someone she expected to guide her into a stronger faith, that nearly drowned her in doubt.
This pastor had invited several “peculiar people” to join a Bible study to discuss Christianity at a seminary level. However, it ended up being full of “disenchanted souls”. These were people who doubted central beliefs of Christianity such as the virgin birth, the inspiration of scripture, and the atonement. The pastor even identified himself as a “hopeful agnostic”. After four months of deconstruction, Childers left with crippling despair and doubt. Yet before long, God sent her a lifeboat in the form of apologetics. And from that point on she began to reconstruct her faith.
While reading this book, several different thoughts came to me. However in the interest of being brief, I will only share 6 critiques.
1. She’s responding to progressive Christianity.
Childers takes on a bold task that few have done before. She’s taking the time to identify progressive Christianity through its common attitudes and moods. We need more people to not only identify progressive Christianity, but also to wrestle with the questions being posed by those who do have doubts. We need to understand why people go through this process of deconstruction so we can explain why it has nothing to offer but more questions.
2. Childers takes firm theological stances.
Too often, I see apologists make general answers without diving into the specifics. If we are making arguments in support of our faith, we should not explain things to the lowest common denominator. We need to explain the faith with its complexities and stand firm on what we believe to be true. This is something Alisa Childers does not seem to fall into. She takes a firm stance on her beliefs about verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and hell.
3. Her personal experience helps communicate her message to a wide audience.
Childers personal experience going through a deconstruction of her faith will be appealing to many people. While I can read through dry informational textbooks and academic papers, most cannot. Childers’ ability to communicate the dangers and pitfalls of this false gospel are greatly aided by her experience of the emotions she felt and the questions she asked. This lends itself to a wider audience that is appropriate for all adult Christians and not just pastors and seminarians.
4. Childers misidentifies who the Word of God is.
This is an error many make when reading the Church Fathers and even the scriptures (though the idea is less prominent in scripture). The Greek term for “word” is logos. This particular term developed into a major Greek philosophical idea beginning around 500 BC. The adoption of Logos from Greek philosophy happened early on and is most prominent in the Gospel of John. So when Childers identifies the Bible as the Word of God, she is mistakenly replacing Jesus with the Bible in ancient Christian texts. This is not to tear down her opinion of the Bible. The Word of God has worked throughout all of scripture and speaks through all the prophets. However, we must not mistake the written word with the Word of God who is Jesus Christ.
5. Her view of Biblical inspiration is flawed.
While Childers’ view of Biblical inspiration is never explicitly given as verbal plenary, she writes: “it wasn’t the writers themselves who were inspired, but the words they wrote in the Bible.” Frankly, this is just bad logic based on the Biblical evidence alone. If the Apostles and their associates who wrote scripture were not themselves inspired how do we expect them to have shared the Gospel? Would we discount Peter’s sermon on Pentecost as uninspired if it was not written in the book of Acts? Do we think the miracles they performed were uninspired except that they were written down? Certainly not! The Apostles were illumined by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and inspired in all they did for the glory of God. For these events happened long before they were written down.
6. I do not think she followed the premise of her own book.
The premise for Another Gospel? is anchored in passages of the Bible which encourage Christians to remain steadfast in what they had been originally taught. Galatians 1:6-8 proves to be an excellent example of this. Childers goal is to show how progressive Christianity is a false gospel while at the same time reconstructing her own faith. However she primarily reaffirms the Gospel she has received instead of seeking the Gospel that was first shared with the Galatians or the Ephesians or the Romans.
While Childers should be commended for not abandoning what she has been taught, the reconstruction process is a time to search not for reaffirmation of what one once believed, but the Gospel that was delivered to the ancient Christians. If we are to seek what is true, we must not merely reaffirm what we believed. The primary reason I think she fails in her premise is her affirmation of penal substitutionary atonement, which is not attested to in tradition as early as the Christus Victor view, nor does it offer a satisfying response against the progressive charges of cosmic child abuse she is writing against.
Alisa Childers does an excellent job identifying the themes and attitudes of progressive Christianity, while also supplying sufficient answers to satisfy a basic intellectual position for something other than progressive Christianity. However, Childers fails to adequately support many of her own positions such as her view of the atonement and Biblical inspiration. I would encourage each of you to buy the book and read it for yourselves. Especially if you are not particularly trained in Biblical studies or theology. And for many lay level Protestants, this book is an essential in understanding many false views being peddled by people who would rather revel in doubt than find certainty in the truth.