Not too long ago, a Christian friend recommended that I read an article by Alisa Childers titled “3 Beliefs Some Progressive Christians and Atheists Share.” In the article (written in November of 2018), Alisa highlighted three main areas in which “some” progressive Christians are embracing a theology that veers quite closely to the ideology of “some” atheists—namely, viewing the Bible as unreliable, grappling with the problem of evil, and affirming culture-adapting morality. She expounded on her three points by quoting a handful of progressive Christians who seem to have embraced these heretical doctrines. For those of you who are interested, Pete Enns, one of the progressive Christian scholars to whom Alisa referenced in her post, did an outstanding job of addressing Alisa’s concerns on his podcast The Bible for Normal People. In fact, his words left me wondering . . . Had I listened to something like that 3 1/2 years ago, in the midst of deconverting, a time in which my skepticism and rational thinking were battling it out with my emotions, might I have never left Christianity? Still, this is not really about Pete Enns .
Another progressive Christian mentioned in Alisa’s article was Rachel Held Evans; unfortunately, by the time I read Alisa’s post, Rachel Held Evans had passed away in an untimely death, leaving behind a husband and two young children. Curious to learn more about Rachel, her beliefs, and maybe more about progressive Christianity, I perused her blog, listened to her podcasts, and read one of her earliest books, Faith Unraveled. I chose this particular book because Rachel seemed to be asking all of the same questions that I had asked, yet we had come to different conclusions. I walked away from the faith, initially feeling alone and quite frustrated with the unsatisfying responses provided every time I tried to converse with other Christians on certain biblical difficulties. They deflected and deferred or simply made excuses for God, and that was no longer good enough for me. Rachel, on the other hand, clung to her faith. She didn’t pretend to have all of the answers, and that was okay.
In early June, Alisa discussed the death of Rachel Held Evans with Christian blogger Anne Kennedy on Episode #50 of her podcast. While both women expressed their sorrow at Rachel’s death, they also expressed deep concern over the progressive legacy that Rachel left behind and its potential influence on the evangelical church. Sadly, it quickly became clear that neither Alisa nor Anne considered Rachel a sister in Christ. Undoubtedly, this made it all the easier to critique Rachel’s misguided theology. In fact, after sharing with the listeners her prayers of intercession for Rachel’s children upon her death, Alisa went on to explain that Rachel’s gospel “was a different gospel, and the faith that she was helping people hang on to was a different faith.” Anne hoped that in Rachel’s last moments she turned to the “true Christ.” Later in the podcast, she contrasted Rachel’s passing with the glory of God that can only be witnessed in a “true Christian’s death.” The conversation truly saddened me on multiple levels. I’m ashamed to think that four years ago my religious views would have very closely mirrored both Alisa’s and Anne’s.
You know, it is strange to listen to the voice of someone, so vibrant and full of life at the time, who is no longer here with us. And I had just listened to that voice. I listened to Rachel express her deepest contemplations regarding Christianity, but I also listened to her express her profound love and devotion to Jesus Christ. One day, Rachel’s children, the children that Alisa prayed for, will want to hear the voice of their mother. What a gift it will be for them to hear her sweet voice on a podcast. In the words she left behind, she will have given her children the permission to question, to wrestle with the things that rightfully bother their conscience. Or maybe they will come across Alisa’s podcast, where they will listen to two women—who possess the right faith, the right gospel, the right theology, who know better than Rachel did—offer a commentary on Rachel’s unorthodox beliefs.
It’s a question of legacy, what we leave behind to our loved ones and others. What would we have our children choose, a legacy in which the condemnation of others flows much too easily or a legacy of love, a love that allows 3 Christian women to sit at the same table, joined in communion by a shared love for Jesus? I walked away from that table because I could no longer make excuses for the Bible while still claiming to understand the nature of god. There were far too many contradictions for me to stomach. I’m beyond thankful that I did, because it’s no longer my job (nor should it have ever been my job) to make speculations or accusations regarding the “true” Christianity of another. However, not every doubting Christian will take my path. Where will they find refuge, in the outstretched arms of the progressive church or in the folded arms of an evangelical church that is at liberty to cast judgement upon a Christian woman who didn’t deserve a place at their table?