Title: ‘Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity’
Author: Alisa Childers
Release Date: October 6th, 2020.
Pages: 240 (excluding acknowledgements, notes, etc).
While ‘Another Gospel’ rouses its reader to consider the dangers of progressive teachings, it does not leave her totally prepared to face them.
I am an avid reader, and considered using my blog to write reviews of the books I read. The problem is that I often read through books so quickly that by the time I sit down to write a review, I’ve already moved on to the next book (or two). I decided to give Alisa Childers the honour of being the first author whose book I would review.
It should be known that I am coming from a very biased vantage point. I have been a fan of Alisa for over half of my life, as I enjoyed her music in ZOEgirl (and her lesser known solo music). Even as a teenager, I could tell that ZOEgirl was different from all the other Christian pop bands at the time. Their music wasn’t shallow or made to be played on Radio Disney for secular success. Scripture was incorporated, and the girls really lived out their faith offstage. I felt a particular connection with Alisa—I enjoyed reading her blogs on MySpace, and looked forward to each new project. Her faith was something real to her and not a propeller for her music career. It was clear that everything that she was doing was to further the kingdom rather than her own name. In fact, this blog is named after lyrics in a ZOEgirl song.
I don’t remember when I learned that Alisa was dabbling in apologetics, but the first time I ever saw the words ‘progressive Christianity’ was while I was on her website. Initially, I assumed that Alisa was railing against liberal political policies; this is how naïve I was regarding the fact that what I believed to be non-negotiable aspects of the Christian faith were up for debate in other circles.
Funnily enough, this is similar to Alisa’s own experience with the subject. After her stint with ZOEgirl was over, Alisa found herself part of a special class at church with a pastor who describe himself as a ‘hopeful agnostic.’ It was during these four months that she found herself undergoing the process of deconstructing her faith and wondering how she could possibly know if any of what she believed about God, the Bible, and the Gospel could be true.
Spanning twelve chapters, ‘Another Gospel’ covers her journey into rediscovering her faith and combatting some of the popular views among progressive Christians. Her prose is relaxed but captivating; her explanations succinct and clear, without wasting pages to reiterate the same point as some authors often do. Her chapters are of reasonable length, making the book easy to navigate through (although she doesn’t include an index). The book opens and closes with Alisa’s introduction to progressive theology and how she dealt with it. Sandwiched between are her commentaries on the early church’s views compared to ours, the reliability of the gospel accounts, the inerrancy of Scripture, penal substitutionary atonement, as well as eternal conscience torment.
It must be noted that this book is more about Alisa’s personal journey than it is a guidebook to progressive Christianity. The first forty odd pages are about her life and are peppered with stories from her days in ZOEgirl and early motherhood. Her introduction to each topic is based on conversations or experiences that she had in the class where her faith was taken apart. If you don’t know who Alisa is coming into this book, these parts might not be of any interest. I personally enjoyed these aspects, and smiled to myself when she quoted lyrics from her songs that only avid fans of her work would know.
I usually read books by theologians and pastors who exegete Scripture. This book doesn’t really do that. Alisa’s chapters usually starts with a quote or summary of what progressives believe, and then goes on to explain why they are wrong using proof texts from the Bible. While I agree with her points and find her to be salient and astute in addressing the objections to historical truths of the faith, it is hard to picture someone like the late Rachel Held Evans shirking back in embarrassment after being confronted by Alisa’s perspectives. In fact, I can already predict how progressive Christians will attack this book’s weak arguments.
For instance, Alisa compares the scribing process of New Testament manuscripts to her copying down a peach cobbler recipe her Nana gave her back in 1989. She might make spelling errors or change the order of the ingredients, but the overall message stays intact regardless of her mistakes while copying. Such simplistic explanations don’t really whet my appetite for answers—especially when, as a lifelong Christian myself, I hadn’t wondered about it before ‘Another Gospel.’
I almost wish Alisa had cut out some of the personal anecdotes to make room for more substantial arguments in defense of historic Christian doctrine. Her chapter on the necessity of belief in the eternal conscious torment view of hell ends with short quips about heaven not being enjoyable for those who relish in their sins. This isn’t a very convincing argument considering that most who object to ECT do so on the grounds that it paints God as unloving.
Then again, when did Alisa claim that ‘Another Gospel’ was meant to dismantle progressive theology? Harsh criticisms of the book may arise from expecting it to do what Alisa never intended. This book serves as a wake-up call for conservative Christians oblivious to the rising tides of progressivism in the church. Alisa references many popular progressive thinkers such as Rob Bell, Brian Zahnd, and Pete Enns. At times, I was quite floored to see what their perspectives were on topics such as inerrancy or hell, especially because I have seen tweets from Brian Zahnd and enjoyed them. The jarring feeling I was left with perhaps speaks to the necessity of a book like this. The most poignant point Alisa made is in the final chapter where she concludes that if she ever left orthodox Christianity, atheism would be more reasonable than progressive Christianity:
“If I became convinced that Christianity was not true, I would not become a progressive Christian. If I became persuaded that the resurrection of Jesus never happened, or that He was simply a good teacher or wise man to imitate, I would not adopt the progressive Christian view of the gospel, the Cross, or the Bible. I would simply walk away from the faith. Because progressive Christianity offers me nothing of value. It gives no hope for the afterlife and no joy in this one. It offers a hundred denials with nothing concrete to affirm.”—Alisa Childers, in ‘Another Gospel’, page 238
While ‘Another Gospel’ rouses its reader to consider the dangers of progressive teachings, it does not leave her totally prepared to face them. Alisa doesn’t really address the diversity within progressive Christian circles. She seems to jump from quoting one progressive thinker to the next without explaining there are gradations of opinion. Someone like Frank Viola (who is not mentioned in the book) may be considered ‘progressive lite,’ but a Nadia Bolz Weber is extremely off kitler as she openly supports abortion, the use of pornography, and affirms the LGBTQ community. What are the warning signs that a preacher you see on social media is progressive, for instance? What are the first few orthodox views that tend to go when someone begins to deconstruct? If this book is to help conservative Christians like myself protect themselves against the tides of theological liberalism, the spectrum must be mentioned.
However, the main misgiving I have with ‘Another Gospel’ is the fact that Alisa is not an expert in any of the areas she writes about. She doesn’t have a seminary degree (although I heard she is currently in school), so none of her research was scholarly. It makes one wonder why she should be trusted to tell us this information in the first place. This goes back to the fact that Alisa’s intention in writing this book was not to convince anyone to not follow progressive Christianity, but to document her experience in grappling for the truth.
Furthermore, many of the topics in the book have already been discussed on Alisa’s blog and blog at length. Is it worth a pretty penny when you can already access free resources from the author and find out her stance anyway? No, and this is where I feel the book is truly lacking. There is nothing earth shattering here that you couldn’t already access for free. As someone who usually buys used books that are used or on on clearance, I am disappointed that one of the rare times I pre-ordered a book, it was not worth the price.
After reading ‘Another Gospel,’ I find myself craving more knowledge on the topics Alisa covered, perhaps because she only glossed over them. As someone who hasn’t been through a deconstruction process or struggled with doubts regarding the historicity of the faith, these are questions I hadn’t really considered. It was reassuring to hear from someone who has wrestled with these issues that there are answers, and she even provides a list of recommended reading material at the end.
While ‘Another Gospel’ is a solid read, it is not a stand alone resource or substantive enough to be used to defend the faith against expert critiques. Alisa’s target seems to be the lay Christian who is not well versed in apologetics; it is not an academic text with deep philosophical insight. Rather, for the young Christian inundated with progressive Christian content on social media such as myself, it’s a tool that can be used to reassure her that she isn’t alone in her convictions. I would recommend this book to anyone wondering what the main arguments of progressive Christianity, but not if you are an avid follower of Alisa’s blog or listener of her podcast. You probably already know what she has to say.
Categories: Book Reviews
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