Understanding Progressive Christianity—An Impostor Capturing Our Kids

Understanding Progressive Christianity—An Impostor Capturing Our Kids

This is the 9th, and final episode in our summer series, Meeting the Worldview Challenges in a Broken Culture, in which we repeat past episodes that are vital for men leading their families in 2023. This is from the Series, Protecting Our Families from Enticing but False Worldviews, from season 3, episodes 38-47. Kids raised in Christian homes are falling away from their Christian faith in unprecedented numbers in 2023. This episode explains how one of those forces, Progressive Christianity, is enticing our loved ones away from true biblical Christianity, and provides proven practical steps for preventing this from happening in our children and grandchildren.

Today’s episode has a lot to do with why I started this weekly podcast/blog. God assigns Christian fathers the responsibility of protecting their children—and one of the greatest dangers to them in this cultural moment is the false religion called progressive Christianity. But the everyday Christian father and grandfather is way too busy just doing life to keep up with the destructive worldviews taking captive the kids raised in Christian homes. And frankly so are today’s pastors and elders. They have so many other responsibilities in shepherding the flock of God under their care, how can they possibly keep up with all the destructive worldviews being promoted today by the social media? And even if pastors could keep up, the average teen girl spends over 50 hours per week on her cell phone drinking in the values promoted in the social media. That compares to ½ hour hearing a sermon and maybe another ½ hour being taught in her youth group. That’s 50 times more influence from the social media than her church. If fathers don’t step in to guide their kids into a biblical analysis and wise refutation of such views, I don’t see how our sons and daughters have a chance. That is why we are in this series—to equip dads and granddads to lead their homes and protect their children. This episode exposes a new movement that many in the rising generation are becoming convinced is superior to the old-fashioned, closed-minded, bigoted Christian faith they grew up believing. It is called progressive “Christianity.”

In the book, Mama Bear Apologetics, Alisha Childers shares the story of her encounter with the progressive “Christianity” that had crept into her own church. She writes:

"When progressive “Christianity” first came into full bloom in the late 2000s, I was married with a new baby in tow. The influx of all these new teachings flew past my radar because my days were spent nursing, changing diapers, and making baby food…When our pastor invited me to be a part of a new small and exclusive ministry training study class at the nondenominational church our family attended, it sounded like the perfect escape from my everyday routines—a chance to engage my intellectual side, which, lets be honest, was seriously starving. The pastor explained that the class would be an opportunity for us to work through our questions and re-examine the theological paradigms that had defined what we believed about Christianity. Then, in an effort to squash any notion that we might have that he had everything figured out, he announced, 'I like to call myself a hopeful agnostic.'  A class that brought ancient Christian beliefs and doctrine into question led by an agnostic pastor—what could possibly go wrong?"

"Little did I know at that time that there were groups, classes, meetings, online forums, and conversations happening all over the country flooded with people questioning historic Christian beliefs such as the atonement, the exclusivity of Christianity, the authority of the Bible, the literal resurrection of Jesus, the nature of sin, the definition of heaven and the reality of hell. With the explosion of social media and a few brave souls willing to take these new ideas public, these (folks) found each other, 'deconstructed' together and united….As far as I know, I am the only soul in that class who came out with his or her faith intact. The rest went on to identify, along with the church itself, as a progressive Christian community. (Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies, Ed by Hillary Ferrer).


Progressive “Christianity” is a current theological movement that is rooted in mainline protestant liberal theology, which rejects the fundamentals of the Christian faith, denies the exclusivity of Christianity, and emphasizes social justice and tolerance—using the modern-day woke vocabulary. The Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) was founded in 1996 by, retired Episcopal priest, James Rowe Adams in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Progressive Christians, David Felton and Jeff Procter-Murphy, in their comprehensive survey of progressive Christianity, explain: “Traditional understandings of Christology, Atonement, and the Incarnation are all in flux. In fact, many people find these concepts to be irrelevant to contemporary spirituality” (Ibid). The current article posted on progressivechristianity.org/ is, Inconsistent Scripture: Why the Bible’s Errors Are Actually Good News for Christians. Yesterday’s article was entitled, “How to combat anti-LGBTQ forces.” Here is a list of progressive “Christianity’s” beliefs identified by Alisa Childers.

A. Rejection of the Bible’s infallibility, and therefore its authority. Progressive leader Brian McLaren suggests that we should change the way we read the Bible. Instead of reading it as an authoritative source for truth, he recommends it be read as an “inspired library” that preserves the best attempts of our (apparently less enlightened) spiritual forefathers to understand God in their own culture and times. He compares Scripture with fossils to be dusted off and observed, rather than a revelation from God that we are to obey. David Felton and Jeff Procter-Murphy put it like this: “The Bible is the witness of generations of faithful people recording their own understandings of the divine in their particular time, place, and culture. This theological pluralism reveals changing, developing, and sometimes conflicting ideas about God.”

B. A rejection of Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God. In his 2016 “Everything is Spiritual tour,” Rob Bell gave a lecture in which he described God in terms of an “energy” and “force” that connects all things. When he got to the Jesus part of his story, he declared that when the apostles referred to “the Christ,” they were referring to “a universal animating energy that holds the universe together.” Here, Rob loosely referred to Colossians 1:17 “He existed before anything else and he holds creation together.” Rob described this as Christ consciousness.

C. Rejection of the atoning blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In the lecture mentioned above the only reference to the blood atonement of Jesus was Bell’s explanation of communion. He explained that the defining characteristic of eating the bread and the wine was to invite all people to “realize that there is this common humanity that we share that trumps any of the ways we have cooked up to divide ourselves…” Bell mockingly quipped that the 2,000-year-old Christian doctrine of the Atonement could be summed up in seven words, “God is less grumpy because of Jesus.” In his final “benediction,” Bell exhorted the crowd, “May you line yourself up with the fundamental energies of the universe which always move forward and beyond in love, complexity, depth, and unity.”

D. Redefining biblical words. Progressives often engage in linguistic theft. Going back to the opening story, Alisa Childers says, “When I told my agnostic pastor that I was uncomfortable with where some of our class discussions were heading, he encouraged me to ask him any question I had. He promised to answer honestly and said that no inquiry was off limits. I asked, ‘Do you believe in hell?’ and ‘Do you believe the Bible is divinely inspired?’ He answered unequivocally yes to both…A few months later, I came to know what he meant by “divinely inspired” He believed the Bible was inspired much like the writings of C.S. Lewis or A.W. Tozer but not in any special kind of way. And hell? He meant it in a figurative sense—as in living out the negative consequences of bad choices we make here on earth.”

E. A focus on social justice. Love and justice are biblical concepts and attributes of God. But social justice is a cultural term that carries a lot of baggage. Progressive “Christians” have adopted the cultural definition of social justice and retrofitted it to reinterpret Jesus’ teachings….This is why so many progressive “Christians” are fighting for acceptance of LGBTQ behavior, modern feminism, and abortion—all in the name of Christ.


False doctrine # 1: You Are Perfect Just as You Are. The doctrine of original sin is abandoned and replaced with “original goodness.” In their survey of progressive “Christianity,” progressive authors Felten and Procter-Murphy write, “Far from being fallen creatures trying to return to a mythical Eden, human beings are emerging as a species from more primal and baser instincts to become more responsible and mature beings.” Although most progressive “Christians” admit that humans are “broken,” they won’t call that brokenness “sin,” but rather, attribute it to immaturity. It isn’t our sin that separates us from God, but our own self-imposed shame. Of Adam and Eve, progressive author Brian McLaren writes, “They lose their fearlessness in relation to God.” So, rather than viewing their sin as what separated humans from a holy God, McLaren refers to their experience in Eden as a “classic coming of age story.” According to this counterfeit truth you don’t need to deny yourself and repent. You just need to realize that you were never separated from God in the first place. You are perfect just as you are.

False doctrine # 2: Jesus Didn’t Need to Die on the Cross. If sin doesn’t separate us from God, why then did Jesus die on the cross? According to progressive “Christianity,” Jesus didn’t die as a blood sacrifice offered to God for the sins of the world. He died to show us how to forgive our enemies by allowing himself to be crucified by an angry mob. One progressive author puts it this way: “Who originated the Cross? If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner.” In progressive “Christianity,” the view historically known as the substitutionary atonement, which has to do with Jesus being punished in our place—as our substitute—is perceived to be an abusive doctrine that implicates the character of God. The logic goes like this: If God the Father requires the blood of Jesus His Son, doesn’t that make him something like a divine child abuser?  

False doctrine # 3: The Resurrection Doesn’t Have to Be Historical to Be Meaningful. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Progressive Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber commented on Christian beliefs like the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the miracles of Jesus. She said, “I believe that all of it’s true. Whether every single bit of it is a fact or not doesn’t interest me.” In a blog post to help Christian parents explain Easter to their children, a progressive pastor claimed, “Stories don’t have to be factual to speak truth. And it’s okay to question a literal resurrection.” As Felten and Procter-Murphy write, “Today, the metaphor of resurrection stands for many Christians as a symbol of the call to new life, as an appeal to practice resurrection here and now.”

False doctrine # 4: God Doesn’t Care Who We Sleep with. One of the hallmarks of progressive Christianity is a rejection of biblical sexuality, and an affirmation of same-sex marriage and premarital sex. In her book Shameless, Nadia Bolz-Weber argues for a new Christian sexual ethic that allows for moderate pornography consumption, one-night stands, same-sex encounters, and virtually any sexual activity that demonstrates a “concern for each other’s flourishing.” According to this counterfeit truth, human sexuality is based on what makes someone feel happy and fulfilled, rather than on God’s holiness and purpose for sex. 


In 2021, The Gospel Coalition leaders recognized how prevalent deconstructing stories of young adults from Christian homes were becoming. One of those they asked to address this phenomenon was Ian Harber, the director of a non-profit in Denton, TX who was enticed away from his Christian faith by the teachings of progressive “Christianity” but then returned to the faith. Let’s look for truths that will help us equip our teens to resist the enticements of this false religion masquerading as a form of Christianity. Harber writes,

The Christian tradition I grew up in—for all the wonderful things it gave me—was not prepared for a generation of kids with access to high-speed internet. Not that the critiques of the Bible we discovered online were new, but they were now at the fingertips of curious folks who grew up in evangelical bubbles….legitimate critiques that were a Google search or YouTube video away.

  • What about the contradictions and scientific inaccuracies in certain biblical stories? 
  • How have we shrugged at the passages where God commands Israel to slaughter their enemies and their enemies’ children?
  • How could a loving God condemn his beloved creation to eternal torment? What about all the other religions? Aren’t they all saying basically the same thing?

These questions, among others, began to chip away at the authority of the stories I was handed as a child. Not only did I have questions about the Bible, I also had questions about how it squared with my faith’s political culture:

  • Why did our policies seem to particularly disadvantage poor and marginalized communities?
  • Why would Christians degrade immigrants, made in the image of God, who were simply seeking a better life in my Texas town?
  • As important as abortion is, surely we’re supposed to care about those suffering after birth as well, right? (Before You Lose Your Faith).

These questions so haunted Harber that he left the faith completely, wanting nothing to do with Jesus or the church. Looking back on what happened to him, Harber realizes that he wanted a faith that fit into the values of the social media world that was shaping him. “Wokeness was the new morality. Therapy was the new path to happiness. Cancel culture was the new church discipline. And like the moral therapeutic deism, there was conveniently no personal god to place demands on your life in any meaningful way…Elizabeth Gilbert’s trope is the only thing left, ‘God dwells within you as YOU.’ There’s no way to distinguish between ourselves and God. In this paradigm, we are God” (Ibid).

Ian Harber finally came to see the accuracy of author, Mark Sayer’s description of the progressive vision of the world as “the kingdom without the King.” Sayers goes on to say, “We want all of God’s blessings—without submitting to his loving rule and reign. We want progress—without his presence. We want justice—without his justification. We want the horizontal implications of the gospel for society—without the vertical reconciliation of sinners with God. We want society to conform to our standard of morality—without God’s standard of personal holiness,” (cited in Before Your Lose Your Faith).


A. Train them in worldview issues. Before they leave home devote time to examining the enticing anti-biblical views promoted by many in the social media showing our kids how much more sense the Biblical worldview makes. Before beginning this current podcast and blog series, I carefully studied the deconversion stories of those who have lost their faith to become atheists or progressive “Christians.” I chose the false worldviews we have examined base upon what I learned about these deconversions. So, you may have noticed that many of the doubts identified by Ian Barber in the above paragraph corresponded to specific questions we have addressed in this podcast series. You may want to go repeat this series again and or use it as a curriculum with your teen. The written version of each podcast identifies the resources I quote throughout the podcast and the show notes have links to the key resources I used. The best resources I have found to prepare teens to leave home are, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle, The Colson Center’s What Would You Say video series, Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies, edited by Hillary Ferrer and two books published by the Gospel Coalition, Before Your Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church, edited by Ivan Mesa and The Secular Creed: Engaging Five Contemporary Claims by Rebecca McLuaghlin. So, train them!

B. Make absolutely sure they feel safe with their doubts and questions. True Christianity is not an inherited religion. It is a chosen one. Every child moving through adolescence and into adulthood must go through the painful (and frightening for parents) process of examining what he has been taught and deciding for himself if he believes it. Owning what you believe is a good description of adulthood. We need to make a safe place for our child to express his doubts. But that does not at all mean abandoning him or her to the wolves. Satan will present his lies about Christianity, so we need to prepare our kids.

C. Help them understand the correct view of faith. Faith is a set of assumptions that are logically the most plausible way to explain life. Functioning faith does NOT require absolute certainty. When I board a plane, I have faith that the pilot knows what he is doing. This belief is more logically plausible—more likely—than that he does not. My working faith at that point is NOT absolute certainty. I haven’t personally watched him fly the plane under every condition we might encounter on our flight. Faith is built upon a preponderance of evidence—not absolute certainty. When I drive through an intersection on a green light, I have faith that the other drivers will stop at the red light, but I do not have absolute certainty. We don’t need absolute certainty to operate on the basis of faith. When I sometimes doubt the reality of the Christianity, I ask myself, “What other faith or system of thought better explains life? Every other system has massive logical flaws. For example, Naturalism: There is no God because the world is all there is—then how do you explain spiritual qualities like love, and a moral sense of right and wrong? Eastern Mysticism: God is just an impersonal powerful force—but God, by definition, has to be the greatest of all beings and personhood is greater than non-personhood (like a rock or ocean current). A rising young adult may have doubts and some unanswered questions—but is there any other way to explain life that makes more sense than the biblical worldview?

D. When young adults focus on the failure of Christians, explain grace. Christianity is not for the good, moral people of the world but for those who admit their brokenness. The least moral, self-confident, and will-adjusted members of the society are often those most likely to recognize their need for Jesus to forgive their moral failures and make them whole. Jesus didn’t come for the well but for the sick. As Jesus’ representatives, Christians will always be flawed. That is why we need to lift the eyes of the rising generation to see Jesus.

Questions for Guiding the Rising Generation to think about this material.

  1. What alarms you most about the rise of progressive Christianity?
  2. Why do you think this movement would be attractive to today’s rising generation of kids raised in the church?
  3. What was most helpful in thinking through how to help the rising generation reject this heretical movement?

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