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An Online World of Progressive and Counterfeit Christianity

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Illustration of a figure looking through multiple abstract screens with the silhouette of God looking reaching out on the other side of the screens.
Matt Chinworth
Are you teaching your kids to recognize false gospels?

When my daughter was born, protecting her from progressive and counterfeit Christianity was not at the forefront of my mind. At first, it seemed as if I spent all of my intellectual energy learning how to keep this new human alive. I worried about poisoning her with BPAs or corrupting her brand-new digestive tract with honey or shellfish. There seemed to be danger everywhere. And then she became mobile. From glass-topped tables to uncovered light sockets, there was no end to the threats.

But the parenting challenges were just beginning. Just as there were pitfalls to her physical health, spiritual dangers lurked around every corner. As she grew and interacted with our culture through media and the internet, my husband and I witnessed the many ways in which the ideas of our culture run contrary to our Christian worldview.

Sometimes these messages even come from Christian sources. One day I found my sweet 7-year-old daughter sitting cross-legged on the living room floor with her eyes closed, index fingers pinched against her thumbs, and chanting, “Omm.”

Turns out a teacher at her Christian school had introduced students to Transcendental Meditation, which I learned the administration had not approved.

The incident reminded me again how easily our kids absorb the ideas around them without stopping to think about whether those beliefs are true.

Progress?

As parents, we must be ever vigilant to identify the messages being marketed to our children, especially in matters of spirituality. In fact, Christians have always had to watch out for false teachings.

For centuries, counterfeit versions of Christianity have risen up to compete for the loyalty of Christ-followers. From the “circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12) to Gnosticism to Arianism, Christians have had to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Christians have always had to prepare their children to interact with the erroneous ideas of their time. Now it’s our turn.

There’s a growing movement within the church that is leading many Christians away from biblical beliefs. This “progressive” Christianity views the Bible as primarily a human book rather than the inspired and authoritative Word of God. It seduces believers with notions of tolerance, love, and a toned-down Jesus who would never question your sexual ethics or challenge you to deny yourself. Justification by faith in the saving work of Christ is replaced with activism and social justice.

Four Ways to Shield Kids from Progressive Christianity

Are your kids just one click away from a world of false gospels? Here are four ways to help build their immunity against progressive Christianity:

1. Don’t Let YouTube Disciple Your Kids.

My kids wait with breathless excitement for their favorite YouTube celebs to “drop” their new videos each week. They look up to, admire, and sometimes even imitate these celebrities.

But many social media stars preach a false gospel. The Good Mythical Morning YouTube channel made headlines when the creators recorded their “deconstruction stories” for their Ear Biscuits podcast. Their testimonies of leaving Christianity for a type of “hopeful agnosticism” sent shock waves of doubt through Christian youth groups. Kids who admired the comedy duo now questioned their own beliefs. Like many others, YouTubers Rhett and Link went through a progressive Christianity phase before exiting the faith.

I understand heroes. When I was a kid, I wore my American flag leotard and ran around the backyard smiling and waving because I wanted to be Mary Lou Retton in the 1984 Olympics. But I never had constant online access to my hero. And if I had a question about life, I asked my parents. They were the “experts” I called on to help me navigate everything from homework to friends to faith to sex. They discipled me well.

Today, we have to be even more vigilant as parents. Stay involved in your kids’ lives. Do your homework and be willing to help them find the answers to their questions. If we don’t disciple our kids, YouTube is there to do the job.

2. Expose Your Kids to Bad Ideas.

I’m not suggesting we ban everything that can’t be found on Christian TV. No, rather than shielding our kids from the outside world, and from the teachings of progressive and counterfeit Christianity, we must teach them to navigate it.

This means allowing exposure to age-appropriate ideas and world-views that don’t line up with our own. I drill into my kids’ heads that everything they take in from media — especially when it’s marketed as “Christian” — should pass through their discernment filters. And we discuss bad ideas together. I ask my kids:

  • “What is the worldview of this show?”
  • “Which specific message are they communicating today?”
  • “What assumptions do they make about morality?”
  • “How do these ideas line up with Scripture?”

Acquainting our kids with bad ideas will help them know how to stand firm in the truth. When my 11-year-old daughter and I saw Frozen II, she leaned over after five minutes and whispered, “Ugh. Pantheism?”

Celebrate these little victories and continue to keep your guard up.

3. Give Your Kids a Robust View of Scripture.

Author Rachel Held Evans recalled the simplistic view of Scripture she grasped as a child, and the subsequent disillusionment she experienced as she matured. After realizing the worldwide consequences of the Flood in Genesis and the horror of the Canaanite conquest, she wrote, “If God was supposed to be the hero of the story, then why did God behave like a villain?” This led her to see Scripture not as God’s inspired and authoritative Word, but as a primarily human — and flawed — book.

How shocking it would be for a teenager to read the account of Noah’s ark for the first time after spending years coloring cartoons of happy animals in a giant floating zoo. What if this narrative had been taught in the context of God’s justice and holiness, humanity’s rebellion against God, and God’s righteous indignation toward our sin? What if we introduced our kids early on to the biblical framework within which to understand their own sinfulness and need of redemption?

4. Teach Your Kids the Beauty of the Cross.

We live in a culture that constantly preaches that humans are inherently good. “Follow your heart,” we hear. “Look inside yourself.” These clichés may prop up a sense of human autonomy, but they can’t explain the reality of human depravity. Many have “followed their hearts” right into the false gospel of a feelings-based approach to morality and spirituality. Talk with your children about tough concepts that are difficult to comprehend but are crucial to understanding the Gospel. This will help them recognize counterfeit Christianity.

If children don’t understand how deeply sinful they are — and how perfectly holy God is — the idea that He required the sacrifice of His Son to reconcile humanity to Himself would seem horrific. Help your kids understand Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross by talking about our sinful nature and God’s holiness. Jesus bore our sin and died in our place. He conquered death through His resurrection, and we get to be free from sin’s hold on us.

Discipleship and Discernment

Discipleship, discernment, and an early introduction of both false and true doctrines help build our kids’ spiritual awareness of bad theology and counterfeit Christianity. This ability to recognize falsehoods will serve them well throughout life, helping them avoid the empty promises of today’s twisted offshoots of Christianity.

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