Progressive Christianity is as Much of a Threat to Your Kids’ Faith as Atheism

Progressive Christianity is as Much of a Threat to Your Kids' Faith as AtheismIn our backyard we used to have a beautiful lime tree.

One day I noticed that a thorny vine of some kind had started growing around it. It looked enough like the rest of the tree that I figured it was just another stage of growth. A quick Google search told me thorns often grow around citrus trees, so I didn’t think much more about it.

Then, within a couple of months, the thorns took over the tree and it began to die. A gardener looked at it and said these particular thorns weren’t part of the tree at all. It turns out they were a foreign invader.

Had the foreign invader looked more foreign, I would have realized the need to uproot it immediately. But because it shared surface-level similarities with the tree, I was fooled into thinking it was all the same thing.

I often write here about the threat hostile atheists pose to kids’ faith today. But atheism is not the only threat. In fact, there’s a particular threat that can be even more dangerous because it less obviously requires attention. It’s like the thorny plant that gradually killed my lime tree because I didn’t even realize it was foreign.

That threat is called progressive Christianity.

 

What is Progressive Christianity?

It can be hard to define progressive Christianity because it’s an umbrella term for a lot of different beliefs. But I think my friend and fellow blogger, Alisa Childers (who was once part of a progressive Christian church) hit the nail on the head when she summarized it this way in a recent post:

  • A lowered view of the Bible
  • Feelings are emphasized over facts
  • Essential Christian doctrines are open for reinterpretation
  • Historic terms are redefined
  • The heart of the gospel message shifts from sin and redemption to social justice

Here’s the danger. To the untrained ear, the progressive Christian message can sound a lot like biblical Christianity. There’s talk of God, Jesus, the Bible, love, and compassion. If a child has never learned to think more deeply about theology and what the Bible actually teaches, they can easily mistake progressive Christianity for biblical Christianity.

And progressive Christianity often teaches an incomplete or false gospel.

Exhibit A: There’s a blog called Unfundamentalist Parenting that promotes parenting according to progressive Christian views. This Easter, the blog featured a guest post by a Children’s Pastor at a progressive Christian church. In her post, The Trouble with Easter: How To (and not to) Talk to Kids about Easter, the author expressed how difficult Easter is because she doesn’t want to teach the kids in her spiritual care that:

  • Jesus died for you/your sins (this is “psychologically damaging”)
  • God intended for Jesus to die (this is “confusing and jarring”)
  • Jesus died to save them from God’s judgment (“an atonement theology of inborn corruption in need of redemption has no place in a conversation with kids about Easter”)

The whole article literally made my heart hurt.

Views like these are thorny, foreign invaders in the church.

 

Why Progressive Christians Don’t Like Apologetics

The Unfundamentalist Parenting blog recently featured another post that caught my eye: Why Your Children Do NOT Need Apologetics. (If you’re not familiar with the term, apologetics is the study of why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true.) The post is filled with misunderstandings, but my purpose here is not to rebut it. Instead, I want to highlight why progressive Christians don’t like apologetics…and why that shows just how important the study of apologetics actually is.

The author bemoans the fact that apologetics “confines faith as doctrine,” explaining:

Our faith is a dynamic experience that shifts and evolves for us and especially for a child growing leaps and bounds in their development. We cannot capture that experience and box it into a set of propositions to memorize and defend—that limits and denies the realities of the human experience.”

This statement says so much. The author is confused between the objective, unchanging truth of God and the subjective, changing experiences we have as we relate to God throughout our lives.

God and the truth He has revealed do not shift and evolve.

Our experiences shift and evolve, but that has nothing to do with what is true.

Teaching kids apologetics isn’t about putting their experiences in a “box.” To the contrary, apologetics is about stepping outside personal experience and examining what reason there is to believe Christianity is true regardless of our feelings.

If kids are only developing a faith based on “shifting and evolving” experiences, they have no way of knowing if their faith is well placed. I could have faith that a mouse will fly out of a tree right now, but that would be a bad thing to have faith in.

Faith, in and of itself, is no virtue.

It’s only as solid as the object of the faith.

The question is, how can we be confident that Jesus, as the object of Christian faith, is “solid”?

Apologetics.

Progressive Christians don’t like apologetics because it challenges them to think of biblical teachings in a category of objective truth—something we’re not free to change just because we happen to “experience” it in varied ways.

Two plus two equals four whether I experience difficulty with that or not.

Experience cannot be elevated over objective truth.

 

Progressive Christianity is Just One More Reason Your Kids and the Church at Large Desperately Need Apologetics

The study of apologetics is desperately needed for all Christians today, both for engaging with the secular world and, less obviously, for engaging with groups that teach an unbiblical version of Christianity.

But, for some reason, the church is still largely blind to this need.

Cold-Case homicide detective, apologist, and author J. Warner Wallace sees this all the time. He speaks nearly every week at churches and conferences across the country on the reliability of the Gospels, the reasonable inference of the resurrection, and the evidence for God’s existence. Wallace has the opportunity to engage with the spectrum of believers in a way that few others do.

What he’s found has been disappointing at best.

In his new book, Forensic Faith, Wallace says, “In many of these churches, the people I meet aren’t really interested in Christian ‘apologetics’…In fact, most are still completely unfamiliar with the word, and some even reject the value of such an effort. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard a well-meaning believer say something akin to, ‘Well, that’s nice, but I don’t really need any evidence. I just believe Christianity is true.”

In other words, Christians are largely unprepared to make the case for what they believe and many in the church still deny the need to be prepared in the first place.

The church is asleep.

And while the church sleeps, the secular world marches on, becoming increasingly hostile to the truth of Christianity, and thorny foreign invaders continue to grow within.

For that reason, I don’t think there’s a more important book for the church right now than Forensic Faith. In it, Wallace powerfully makes the case for the importance of apologetics for every Christian. It’s a wake up call to the sleeping church.

For those new to apologetics, it’s a perfect place to start. Wallace motivates you to take your Christian case-making duty seriously and shows you, step-by-step, what to do once you’ve accepted that duty.

For those who already understand the importance of apologetics, it’s the ultimate resource to share with fellow believers who need the understanding you have. It’s the book you can give to your small group members, pastors, children’s ministry leaders, and friends.

I pray this fantastic book will truly sweep through the church.

As Christian parents, we must continually be vigilant. Threats to our kids’ faith aren’t always as obvious as the freeway billboards proclaiming “There is No God.” Providing kids with a foundation of apologetics, however, will give them the training of a discerning gardener ready to identify and uproot any kind of invader that shouldn’t exist alongside biblical truth.

51 thoughts on “Progressive Christianity is as Much of a Threat to Your Kids’ Faith as Atheism”

  1. Great article! Its true that a particularly neglected perspective of apologetics is the defense against “progressive Christianity”. It may be the most uncomfortable for those laypeople who already need convincing about engaging in apologetics because their perception is that it’s infighting. Your article brings clarity to that false assumption for parents and church leaders. Thanks.

    1. Amen and amen. This is so tied in to the new age movement too. Satan’s greatest weapon is deceit. All of this looks so good and the intentions appear so good. But it takes God off of throne because of compromising the gospel.

  2. Excellent job, Natasha—I’m so glad you are speaking out on this! Progressive Christianity is subverting the gospel, and undermining the beauty and uniqueness of historic Christianity. Parents need to be aware of this “foreign invader.” Well done!

  3. A great book… written 94 years ago but which sounds like it could have been written in the last decade or two… is “Christianity and Liberalism” by J. Gresham Machen. He makes a strong case that liberal “Christianity” is really an oxymoron… the two philosophies are at odds on almost every key point of importance to Christian faith.

    Now they call it “progressivism” but nothing much has changed since then.

    1. Susanne Johnson

      The progressive Christians I know emphatically reject the old liberalism, which is precisely why they don’t want to be called “liberals.” And you’re wrong in saying “nothing much has changed since then.” There have been vast sea changes — and many progressive Christian scholars have exposed theological weaknesses in both liberal Christianity and conservative Christianity, making an effort to overcome the weaknesses in both sides, while synthesizing the merits and strengths from each side.

      1. The liberalism that Machen fought in the 1920’s and 30’s is merely the grand parent of today’s progressivism. Both justify unbelief. Neither really believe in Orthordox Christian doctrine. Invaders is an appropriate definition

  4. A great article, thank you. The inability of today’s standard issue Christian to identify the enemy is a huge failure of western Christianity. I have seen this shared and shared it myself in Salvation Army groups where this battle against a foreign invasive species is being fought daily.

  5. Hi Natasha,
    Progressive Christianity is code for postmodern Christianity. Those who embrace this have embraced the neo-Marxist Postmodern view of reality. The root of it is denial of truth as the Scriptures refer to it in its objective absolute state. It is most serious masquerading as God’s truth.
    Thanks for you bringing this to light. I’ve included this subject in my talks on Truth as the foundation of Christian thought.

    Blessings

  6. Great article, Natasha! You mentioned that Progressive Christians don’t like apologetics and linked to a recent post by one of their writers. This is a huge CLUE for parents. In my experience, many groups that call themselves “Christian” and are opposed to apologetics have something to hide. I have often been lectured by pastors and teachers within those groups (e.g. Progressive Christians, Emergent/Emerging, Charismatic, Word of Faith, Prosperity Gospel, Ecumenical, New Apostolic Reformation, etc) that apologetics is dangerous. I remember one pastor warning me that apologetics ministries like Ratio Christi, Christian Apologetics Alliance, Apologetics for Parents, and RZIM lower Christianity from pure faith in God to nothing more than intellectualism. We know that is NOT true. Your article is important for every Christian parent to read because there are many people in churches and Christian schools who will try to steer young people away from learning about the evidence for Christianity. Why? Because once a person learns the objective truth of Christianity they will be able to see the lies of the subjectivity that is so pervasive in groups like Progressive Christianity. Your readers may find an article I wrote about Progressive Christianity a year ago helpful in learning more about it – https://faithandselfdefense.com/2016/05/31/is-progressive-christianity-christian/ . Thank you again for another excellent article!

    1. Mark “christian” schools (notice lower case ‘c’) that do not discuss the evolutionary position in a rational, non-dismissive way (albeit the case for random evolutionary process is very defective), and fails to mention LGBTQ philosophies, ALSO with respect and compassion, (despite the inherent logical inconsistencies immediately apparent in the modern societal view), are no real “schools” at all. They are merely temporary holding tanks for ill-prepared, ignorant children who will be gobbled up by the world when released from the wrap of cotton batten surrounding them. Likewise, a discussion of Christ’s message, devoid of mention of our inherent depravity and the necessity for Divine intervention, is, no christian doctrine at all. Oh wait…the failure of these latter concepts of sin and salvation leave us wholly unable to shed light on the difficulties of the former (evolution and pan-sexuality)

  7. Your point is well taken that a false gospel can be worse than no gospel. I can say from firsthand experience during my growing up years that false religions, including those that are purportedly Christian, seem to work overtime to inoculate their followers against the truth of biblical Christianity.

    A side point is that the word “progressive” seems to be a bit over-used. I sometimes enjoy listening to progressive metal music (by Christian artists), it can be good to have a “progressive” attitude, etc. In my view, there’s nothing positive or “progressive” about rejecting core Christian doctrines.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      I had to laugh when I read your comment about the many uses of the word progressive. My husband has always been a big fan of “progressive” rock. I’ve been to many Dream Theater concerts. 🙂

      You’re absolutely right…there’s nothing progressive about rejecting core doctrines.

  8. Thanks for this article. Totally agree and am a huge proponent of teaching our kids apologetics and a biblical worldview. One caution I would voice for those of us that consider ourselves conservative christians is to not simply dismiss those that we would lump in the progressive basket. While the theology may be wrong, often their heart isn’t. And we must be careful that our theology isn’t right and our hearts aren’t. Teaching our kids truth is critical, but so is teaching them grace and love for all people. Jesus came in grace and truth. Too often it can feel like we use the truth of the gospel as a club to beat others over the head. As an example, we’re upset because we’ve departed from the biblical truth about marriage, but remained way to silent (in my opinion) when people were mean and even hostile towards gays. Obviously that’s not what you’re saying here, it’s simply my caution I’m offering. It may help win back some from that progressive basket. Thanks again for the article.

    1. Thank you, David.

      I taught workshops to Christian School teaches over a 25 year period. I taught in Christian schools and public schools. I have 4 children and 10 grandchildren. I retired to go into full time Christian ministry.

      Many “Progressives” are just as ignorant about the Scriptures as many “Conservatives.” It doesn’t help that churches on both sides have limited their preaching of the Word to a 15-20 minutes a week. Some on both sides pick a handful of verses without providing context. This is an atrocity.

      I have spent the last 17 years interviewing pastors on both sides and visiting churches of all denominations, even Catholics. Do you knows Catholics faithfully read three long passsges of Scripture in every service? Many Evangelical churches do not even read one complete passage and have eliminated Confession in their services. How can we see the need for a Savior or grow into Christian maturity if we are not given the opportunity to repent?

      We need to wake up and be faithful to the teaching of the Word of God.

  9. Just a thought – the “penal substitutionary atonement” understanding of the cross is not really the oldest understanding. The early church understood the cross and resurrection in a different way, in the what is called the “Christus Victor” theory – that Christ willingly was incarnate and died to overcome sin and death. He is victorious, not the unfortunate victim of an angry God. I do believe that PSA presents God in a psychologically damaging way. But more to the point, if PSA is a newer way of understanding the cross, might it be called Progressive?

    You can read about different theories of atonement and their origins here:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_in_Christianity

      1. Aspects of substitutionary atonement are certainly biblical and present in the early church (called the Satisfaction theory in the wiki article above), alongside Christus Victor, but the “penal” aspect (which portrays an angry God) is not. That’s the part that’s damaging and that I think people react strongly against.

        For what its worth, I’m not trying to defend progressivism or any other label, I’m just in favor of good theology.

      2. Agreed. While there are aspects of substitutionary atonement in the early church fathers, the question is: did they see a penal aspect to it? As Mary points out, not all substitutionary atonement theories are “penal”. For example, the Ransom Theory is substitutionary but not penal. One could even argue that the Christus Victor model is also substitutionary (think Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia).

  10. Great and very timely article, Natasha! We’ve been extremely convicted to start teaching our kids the deeper aspects of their faith. They need to be equipped! Thank you for the reminder about Wallace’s book! I’d forgotten to check that out, and will. Another great resource for parents is Answers in Genesis. They have great stuff for children and adults.

    1. Before you go relying very much on Answers in Genesis, please read Natasha’s book carefully!

  11. Wallace’s experience reminds me of a girl I knew in college. Always on fire for Christ, always worshipping, but a friend of mine told her she would make a great theologian and she literally covered her ears and ran away from him. Later, she told him (and me) that she had no interest in thinking about her faith, that all she wanted was to feel it.

    That probably sounded great to her then. I’ve often wondered what happened when life hit her from the blindside and she was feeling a lot differently. I’ve often wondered how she was able to bring people to faith based on nothing but how she feels. And I don’t think I want to know the answers to those questions.

    We need to know why we believe what we believe. (We need to know what we believe in the first place!) And we need to be able to explain and defend it, both for our own well-being so as to have something to hold onto when life is tossing us this way and that, and also to better enable us to preach the Gospel to others.

  12. Natasha, Great article and a timely one.

    I am reminded that social justice is the new morality, one that replaces Biblical morality, something occurred around the Year 2000. The political progressives and the religious progressives don’t like the morality of apologetics because it expresses hard, timeless truths about human conduct and behavior. Progressives would rather be the arbiters of human behavior defining boundaries as they please. It is a lazy intellectualism that pervades 21st Century thought corrupting our churches and our universities.

  13. Thank you for a thoughtful examination of these ideas. A good critic makes sure his or her opponent agrees to how their viewpoint is framed before making an alternative argument.

    You might be interested to know only 1 bullet point laid out here as “Progressive Christianity” (out of the 5) would pass such a test. Only “Essential Christian doctrines are open for reinterpretation” would stand as a conviction for self-identifying progressive Christians. I can understand why this statement alone would be alarming. Taken out of context, it sounds like it’s saying something heretical. But is what it sounds like to consertative Evangelicals the same as what progressives would mean?

    I don’t think so.

    Allow me to explain.

    Many, if not most progressives take the Bible just as seriously as their counterparts, studying the text diligently and allowing it to speak for itself. Generally, they take it so seriously they seek to acknowledge everyone brings an unprovable assumption to the text that informs the direction of one’s interpretation. This has been going on for centuries and it continues on today. Progressives would argue that the cumulative results of Western American Christianity has its own set of modern, unorthodox assumptions that can be and perhaps should be reevaluated. This is what is progressive would understand by “essential Christian doctrines are open for reinterpretation.” Is it possible our own cultural lens has distorted an “essential Christian doctrine” that needs to be reunderstood? It is possible, and we shouldn’t run away in fear or hide that fact.

    Take for example… Is the text “prescriptive” of the ideal community of God’s people for all time (based on God’s unchanging nature) or is it “descriptive” of people just like you and me working out what life with God is all about, seeking and making small steps to align ourselves with God’s unchanging nature as best as we understand it? Whether we choose a conservative/prescriptive or progressive/descriptive is not an objective verus subjective truth debate. Both are subjective lenses we wear. Both are unprovable assumptions we take on by faith. And of course, both lead to radically different conclusions about what the text means. But confusing one lens over another as objective truth is a dangerous assertation.

    This means, if we are honest, we must also acknowledge conservative Evagelicalism of Western American Christianity is not objective truth, but rather a subjective lens from which truth is derived. If we are really after objective truth, we must allow others to challenge this lens, as progressives do, without labeling them as a threat to the entire Christian faith. We may disagree with the conclusions they come to, but we must accept those conclusions as valid possibilities and listen to their critics as they expose the lens we ourselves wear.

    What good is a critique of someone else’s lens if we can’t acknowledge and accept critique of our own? In other words, how can we see help with the speck in their eye when we can’t see the log in our own eye?

    When we acknowledge the subjective assumptions we bring to the text, I think we can have a much more productive dialogue over the merits of such widely differing conclusions.

    Thanks for listening. And thank you for your thoughtfulness.

  14. The way some progressives behave when truth is preached, is shameful and shows exactly why they might look the same, but they aren’t the same.
    I’ve had my own vengeful and prideful attacks by progressive Christians. You can say you just want to love like Christ, but unless you actually do, your words are useless.
    This is not of God! This is a weapon of the enemy. People to infiltrate the church as wolves in sheep’s clothing. But we will win!

  15. This is quite interesting, and while I’ve not personally been in contact with such a movement, recently I was introduced by way of a family member a group that draws professing Christians in to have three day “getaways” in order to strengthen their Christian walk. Because it invites those from every “Christian” denomination including Roman Catholicism and in their groups they don’t get much into doctrine lest some, from the sounds of it, might be of a different mind on doctrine then doctrine is not discussed. The bringing of a Bible to such events is optional. It appears to be all experience oriented. Anyway, I’d be interested in getting your take on this given the theme of your article. The groups is called, “Tres Dias”, and it’s an international organization. http://www.tresdias.org/

  16. Thank you so much for this article. They have been very affective in taking over the UMC. The author of the Social Principles, Harry F. Ward was actually a communist and lead the American Eugenics Society. Most UMC have never heard of him or the MFSA. God bless you.

  17. Completely true, and AWESOME article!
    Most 21st century Christians are not aware that the EVIDENCE is on our side! That we have an “evidential faith”, which is NOT founded on fables and fairy tales as is commonly depicted. That’s just an excuse for man to be “God” himself. Don’t people realize that “God” means forever, whereas all of us, with 100% certainty (though some today are beginning to argue with this, incredibly), are going to die?

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  19. I just read the results of a Barna.org study on Christian world view and it was surprising even among professing Christians only a small number had a Christian world view. “The survey of the general public revealed that 10% of American adults currently have a biblical worldview. That pales in comparison to the 46% of adults who claim to have such a worldview.” “Three out of ten adults (30%) can be considered to be born again Christians based on their decision to confess their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their savior. However, among that segment of Americans less than one-third (31%) emerged as being Integrated Disciples.( Integrated Disiples are people whose Christian beliefs match their Christian world view. )

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  22. Wow, this is very interesting! I just read another article about this exact thing today. It’s so important to raise our children up with the very basic principles of the Gospel. Jesus came, died on the cross, and rose from the dead. He takes away our sins and gives us new and eternal life! Thank you Jesus!

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  24. This is fantastic. I respect that you did not “name names” but to a degree, I wish you had. I turn people to the TGC all of the time and an excellent conference on The Christian Mind 2012 by Ligoneir . But most of the women I talk to have little discernment because they do not study Apologetic’s. As the head of a relatively large women’s ministry, I often get asked to “order certain books or studies.” I tire of playing the bogey man and saying, “No, sorry, we can not get this book or do this study because……..she or he has gone neo-liberal which I was raised by the way so let me explain it to you what this looks like..” I often get a type of “deer in the headlights” look after the explanation.

  25. Thank you for this article Natasha. My heart aches over this issue and I hope more parents wake up. Thank you for making us more aware!

  26. A helpful article. I wish the author had done more to situate Progressive/Liberal Christianity and Conservative/Fundamentalist Christianity along side one another as American movements that emerged in reaction to one another in the late nineteenth century. They are both new forms of Christian faith. Neither embraces the depth and bredth of Orthodox or Catholic theology and praxis. Both are wedded to twentieth century economic practice.

    It’s a complex web.

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  30. What an amazing article! Totally agree! So glad to have “met you” in that Facebook group!

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  33. Skyler Brian Escamilla

    I’d just like say I don’t think either side of this argument is completely correct. There are some parts of progressive Christianity that I think are correct, though like a lot of other denominations, they’ve taken them too far, but I have to say that some of the more traditional stuff is also, if not wrong, simply poorly carried out. But then what do we all expect from imperfect, fallen human beings?! There’s no possible way, on this current earth, that any of us would be able to perfectly understand or carry out without fail everything in the Bible. Not that we shouldn’t try, but we could be a bit more understanding, but I digress. I’m not claiming to be an expert on either conservative or progressive Christianity, and I’m not saying abortion and homosexuality aren’t big issue, but as long as we have the same foundation of Jesus Christ fully human, fully God, dying on the cross for our sins and rising from the grave, does the rest really have to separate us so much? I’m asking an honest question, so feel free to reply.

  34. Why is it that Christian students often lose their faith in college? Wouldn’t the sharper, more analytic mind that one gets in college make the truth of Christianity all the more easy to embrace?

    Seems to me that the opposite is true. With a broader worldview (rather than the sheltered worldview Christian parents often create), students are able to see that Christianity is just a popular cultural trait, like any other religion.

    Two plus two equals four whether I experience difficulty with that or not.

    If you’re saying that we need to follow the evidence where it leads, even if that requires rethinking our comfortable worldview, I agree wholeheartedly.

    1. The problem is that these children with sharp minds, grow up hard working and intelligent, but are not taught that Christianity is a valid intellectual pursuit.

      They have neither been taught:
      – To defend their faith
      – That their faith is worth defending

      The problem is exactly as the author of this article has described.

      So they go to University, most of which are utterly hostile to the Christian worldview, and their (extremely fragile) faith disintegrates.

      This happens not because they have been sheltered by Christianity, but have never been taught that Christianity an intellectually fulfilling worldview… And that we are war.

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  36. This is an excellent article. I have been beyond frustrated and disappointed that none of the churches I have attended in the last several decades have had a sense of urgency to teach us to reason and defend the truth. Not only are Christian leaders asleep, it also seems that they choose to take sleeping pills to remain in the dark about such issues…perhaps because they do not know as much about apologetics or how to teach/incorporate it into the church they lead? That being said, what doesn’t change over time is our need to know the truth, and to know what we should do with the truth.

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  38. I just stumbled on your page (in the middle of the night) because i saw something on Jen haymakers instagram about a conference she was headed to “evolving faith”. Evolve triggered evolution in my mind and just the sound of this conference was suspicious to me. So I googled a question about and it funnily enough lead me to this! The part where you mentioned God and truth don’t evolve is just exactly what my heart was feeling when i saw the “evolving faith”. I’m looking forward to reading your book and others you have here to prepare myself and not just have faith but to defend it. I just subscribed to your posts and look forward to hearing more from you!

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