A Biblical Response to the Ex-Evangelical Movement

[Edited title on February 15th, 2018. Title was formerly “Bad Theology and Hypocrisy in Churches, Doubting Christians and Ex-Evangelicals, and the Need for Sound Doctrine and Accountability in the Church Today”]

My tone is one of gentleness and I hope you read it that way. I would respectfully ask that you read this if you want to know what I really believe rather make an assumption or misrepresentation of me. I recommend you read my “Discussion with David” article, where I interview a former atheist/ Ex-Evangelical.

https://thetopsecretarea.com/2018/01/29/discussion-with-david-an-ex-ex-evangelical/

Introduction

I had included this in my “Discussion With David” article but I feel it is important to include it here too.

“Ex-Evangelicals are not rebranded Christians. Many of us are not Christians at all; we are a group that consists of progressive Christians, people who have joined other religions, agnostics, and atheists, some of whom are quite vocal as atheists. What brings us together is what Blake Chastain, who coined the term “exvangelical” to use as the name for his podcast, describes as “a shared sociocultural heritage.” Regarding the term “exvangelical,” Chastain sent me the following statement:

I am currently applying for a trademark relative to the title of the podcast and any future titled or branded projects, but the term itself can and should be used by people who have left evangelicalism, regardless of their current state of belief.

Exvangelicals’ paths out of Evangelicalism are often slow and painful. The break takes time and effort because, as opposed to merely desiring respectability while holding to bigoted beliefs and #ChristianAltFacts, we chose to stare the toxicity and pervasive abuse of Evangelicalism in the face, to recognize our complicity in the vast systemic harm that Evangelicalism does (to ourselves and others, particularly to women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community), and then we changed our beliefs. We changed our beliefs despite facing a heavy social cost, because that is the respectable and moral thing to do. Becoming an ex-Evangelical requires profound transformation, not cosmetic rebranding. No cheap grace…Ex-Evangelicals are, as a rule, deeply concerned with understanding the relationship between conservative theology and authoritarianism. And here’s the rub. The theology of Evangelicalism–even when shared by a small minority of progressive Evangelicals–is inherently authoritarian.” -Christopher Stroop

“Christians that Share the Gospel are Manipulative, Use Gaslighting, and are Authoritarian.”

This is the tweet that brought me into the world of Ex-Evangelicals:

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I was talking to an atheist and I said that loving our family more than God is a sin. I said that loving ourselves is selfish and sinful. I was respectful, I wasn’t arrogant but I said what I believe to be the truth. God says in His Word that loving ourselves more than Him is idolatry.

Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of[a] among you, as is proper for saints. Obscene and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient[b] because of these things. ‘

Ephesians 5:1-6

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient,[b] and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath,malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your[c]Creator. 11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

Colossians 3:1-11

The atheist I had been talking to retweeted me (shared my tweet on twitter) and tagged Christopher Stroop. Christopher retweeted my tweet, so naturally I thought I would respond to his statement. The following tweets show our exchange and then the other tweets I’ve included are about sharing the gospel being manipulative, gaslighting, and authoritarian:

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“Sharing The Gospel Involves Using Gaslighting, is Abusive, and is Manipulative”

I had tried engaging Christopher on twitter but realized he was not interested in a dialogue with a Christian that shares the gospel. I stopped directly interacting with him and other Ex-Evangelicals. I just followed his tweets. I tweeted this on February 10, 2018:

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I will now clarify this tweet. Certainly Ex-Evangelicals don’t mind talking to Christians and many have Christian friends. However from my experience, many, if not all Ex-Evangelicals do not want Christians to share the gospel with them. Ex-Evangelicals don’t want you to use your “manipulation and gaslighting” on them. However, when you are making claims that sharing the gospel is manipulative and gaslighting, there are people who disagree and will want to challenge the claims. I haven’t made any personal attacks but have tried to challenge the ideas that Ex-Evangelicals are putting out, quite vocally I might add. If you read the rest of this article you’ll know what I mean when I said “God has to open their eyes to His gospel”.

I didn’t use a hashtag, I just used the word “Ex-Evangelical” and some people saw it and commented on it:

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Beth retweeted me, I then responded to this tweet by posting a link to this article and I was subsequently blocked. Chris retweeted me and then I responded to his claim and he accused me of gaslighting. Let’s just say that I actually had gaslighted Chris. Some genuine questions about this…why is gaslighting wrong? If moral autonomy is what you are devoted to then how could you be opposed to gaslighting if someone believes gaslighting is okay according to their subjective moral autonomy”?

Why I Share the Gospel

I believe the gospel is the truth. I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through Him. I do not share the gospel because of “insecurity & ego” or because of my “persecution complex”. I don’t “gaslight” or “manipulate”. I share the gospel because it is the only truth. I don’t coerce people or try to manipulate people to say a prayer. I simply share the truth of Scripture and let God do the work. It’s not my job to save people. God is the one who saves people. As John 6:44 says “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them”.

However, I also don’t sugarcoat or water down the gospel either. The gospel is essentially the good news that Jesus Christ (God in the flesh, fully God & fully man) lived a perfect, sinless life and died on the cross. He atoned for sin and satisfied God’s wrath. Those that believe in Christ are forgiven of their sin and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. They are given a new nature. Christians still struggle with sin, however they are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6). They now hate their sin.

How Christians Should Share the Gospel

It is not our job as Christians to convince or persuade people to become Christians. We do not pull a bait-and-switch on people. I don’t like friendship evangelism too much for this reason. Paul says we are not to butter people up or use emotional manipulation (turning down the lights, playing a sweet soft music, and leading people through an emotional prayer experience).

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.

1 Corinthians 1:17

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery[a] of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom[b] but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. On the contrary, we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age knew this wisdom, because if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written,

What no eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no human heart has conceived—
God has prepared these things for those who love him.[c]

10 Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts[d]except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. 13 We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.[e] 14 But the person without the Spirit[f] does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated[g] spiritually. 15 The spiritual person, however, can evaluate[h]everything, and yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone. 16 For

who has known the Lord’s mind,
that he may instruct him?[i]

But we have the mind of Christ.

 1 Corinthians 2

Why I Care for Doubting Christians and Ex-Evangelicals

My concern with de-conversion stories is not that they are intentional deceit, persecution, or work of the devil. In fact, I have read many Ex-Evangelical stories. I’ve read at least 10 of Christopher Stroop’s articles. I’ve read the stories shared through the “empty the pews” hashtag. I am angry about a lot of the same things. I can personally think of many people that were raised in “Christianity”, kids that I went to church with, that now want nothing to do with Christ, the gospel, or the church. There are many Ex-Evangelicals in the U.S. today because these two things have happened over the past 50+ years:

1. People were taught bad theology/false teaching in the church and at home
Examples:

  • A pastor telling you that you have anxiety & depression because you are harboring sin in your life, or because you have a demon.
  • Poor teaching about the “unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit”. This leads to or has led to some Christians living with anxiety and fear about whether or not they committed the sin.
  • Pastors that create theology from quoting Scripture out of context. Pastors that twist the Word of God.
  • Any church where pastors or leaders cannot be questioned and/or demand loyal devotion.
  • Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Being a Christian is about “doing the right and moral things”. WWJD. Veggie Tales theology. Being a Christian means that “when you pray for God to take a sin away from you that He will do that immediately and if He doesn’t, and you still struggle with a sin (like masturbating, lust, anger, etc.) it means you are not saved or in danger of losing your salvation.
  • Terrible Contemporary Christian Music. Over-emotional, sensational, “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs. Me-centered worship songs. Oceans. ’nuff said
  • Cultural Fundamentalism such as not being able to listen to “secular” rock music. Claiming that songs like Highway to Hell by AC/DC and Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden are satanic (Hint…they’re not satanic. Just look at the background to the writing of the songs). Kids not being allowed to play Pokemon because it promoted evolution and was influenced by the Egyptian book of the dead (I experienced this one).
  • End-times obsessed Christians that use fear mongering about the rapture.
  • Seeker sensitive/church growth movements. Purpose Driven Life. Running the church like a business and using marketing strategies. Vision casting. Making church for the unchurched. Rock show worship services. Sermons that are 99% personal stories and 1% Scripture.
  • Emergent church, Rob Bell.
  • New Apostolic Reformation, Bethel Church, YWAM, IHOP, etc.

2. People saw hypocritical Christians in the church and at home.
Examples:

  • Either having experienced sexual abuse by a “Christian” or having heard about sexual abuse perpetrated by “Christians”.
  • Moral failure of (popular) Christians, thinking of Jim Bakker. Tim Lambesis who was in a “Christian” metal band As I Lay Dying who hired a hitman to kill his wife.
  • Strict parents who imposed strict moral rules on kids but lived hypocritical lives.

There often is a blending of these two things of which the effects are catastrophic:

Think Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen and word-faith/prosperity gospel hucksters living lives of luxury, profiting off of and deceiving people. They peddle false teaching and live hypocritical lives.

Think Jim Jones or other cults.

Think abusers that quote Scripture and say God told them to abuse you. That “God is happy when you do X for me”.

My concern is for doubting Christians that read the de-conversion stories and abandon the gospel. There are indeed many pews that need to be emptied. However, I disagree that all “conservative white evangelical” pews should be emptied. Empty the pews of bad churches and fill the pews of healthy churches that teach what accords with sound doctrine and where leaders are held accountable.

The Hope for Suffering and Abuse

I empathize and sympathize with anyone that was sexually, physically, or emotionally abused by someone, especially if you were abused by a “Christian”. I don’t seek to minimize the trauma you have as a result of abuse, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or attempts. Maybe you are a recovering addict. Addicted to alcohol, drugs, and/or sex. You won’t find solace in any of those things. The problem is not with God…the problem is sinful, wicked people that abuse. God did not abuse you.

It is hard to work through trauma, I’ve done it myself. I’ve experienced depression, depersonalization, and derealization. I know what it feels like to be hurt, to endure suffering. We all experience suffering. However, the hope for healing and surviving is found at the cross. It is found in laying down my painful, traumatizing experiences at the feet of Christ. Jesus suffered and died on the cross for us…the enemies of God (Colossians 1:21, Romans 5:11).

It’s saying to God and thinking to yourself something like: “What I went through was wicked. It was sinful and terrible. I’m hurting, God. I’m scared and I feel alone. I have intrusive thoughts every day. Images and mental pictures are running in my mind constantly. I don’t feel real. I feel like I’m going crazy. My mind fights against me. I awake with agony. I put on a fake smile when I am screaming and sad inside. People have hurt me. I feel worthless. But God, You did not forsake me or abandon me. You are with me and you comfort me. Please bring me healing and comfort. Thank You for your grace. Thank You for forgiving me of my sins that I’ve committed against You. Thank You for redeeming me. Father, give me peace. I know it will take time to heal but I trust Your sovereignty. I trust in You.”.

The Folly of Human Autonomy

Ex-Evangelical Christopher Stroop champions moral autonomy as being good for society and “conservative Christian theology” like calvinism as being “irredeemable, sadistic, manipulative, gaslighting”, and bad for society. My genuine question is, who’s moral autonomy do we follow? What if according to my moral autonomy I decide to emotionally hurt people and it brings me pleasure to do so? With no objective morality, how can Chris object to something like this? It would simply be his subjective opinion on morality based on his reasoning and experiences. Why should we trust our reasoning and experience? Are they infallible?

The ultimate problem is that we don’t want to submit to God’s authority. We want moral autonomy. We want to do what we think is best. We want to do what makes us happy. We are our own god. Do you know the famous quote by Karl Marx? He got it wrong…I have corrected it:

Moral autonomy is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

Here are some great quotes by Cornelius Van Til:

“If one does not make human knowledge wholly dependent upon the original self-knowledge and consequent revelation of God to man, then man will have to seek knowledge within himself as the final reference point. Then he will have to seek an exhaustive understanding of reality. He will have to hold that if he cannot attain to such an exhaustive understanding of reality he has no true knowledge of anything at all. Either man must then know everything or he knows nothing. This is the dilemma that confronts every form of non-Christian epistemology”

“The charges made against this type of reasoning we must turn upon those who made them. It will be said of this type of reasoning that it introduces the subjective element of belief in God, which all men do not share. Of this we can only say that all men should share that belief, and before the fall of man into sin man did have that belief. Belief in God is the most human attitude conceivable. It is abnormal not to believe in God. We must therefore hold that only the Christian theist has real objectivity, while the others are introducing false prejudices, or subjectivity.

The charge is made that we engage in circular reasoning. Now if it be called circular reasoning when we hold it necessary to presuppose the existence of God, we are not ashamed of it because we are firmly convinced that all forms of reasoning that leave God out of account will end in ruin. Yet we hold that our reasoning cannot fairly be called circular reasoning, because we are not reasoning about and seeking to explain facts by assuming the existence and meaning of certain other facts on the same level of being with the facts we are investigating, and then explaining these facts in turn by the facts with which we began. We are presupposing God, not merely another fact of the universe. If God is to come into contact with us at all it is natural that the initiative must be with him. And this will also apply to the very question about the relation of God to us. Accordingly, it is only on God’s own testimony that we can know anything about him.”

“It is not kindness to tell patients that need strong medicine that nothing serious is wrong with them.

“You realize that if you are to change your belief about God, you will also have to change your belief about yourself.”

“For what you have really done in your handling of the evidence for belief in God, is to set yourself up as God. You have made the reach of your intellect, the standard of what is possible or not possible. You have thereby virtually determined that you intend never to meet a fact that points to God. Facts, to be facts at all–facts, that is, with decent scientific and philosophic standing–must have your stamp instead of that of God upon them as their virtual creator.”

“It should not be forgotten in this connection that the minister’s duty is increasingly that of an apologist for Christianity. The general level of education is much higher than it has ever been. Many young people hear of evolution in the high schools and in the college where their fathers never heard of it except as far as a distant something. If the minister would be able to help his young people, he must be a good apologete, and he cannot be a good apologete unless he is a good systematic theologian”

“I shall not convert you at the end of my argument. I think the argument is sound. I hold that belief in God is not merely as reasonable as other belief, or even a little or infinitely more probably true than other belief; I hold rather that unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else. But since I believe in such a God, a God who has conditioned you as well as me, I know that you can to your own satisfaction, by the help of the biologists, the psychologists, the logicians, and the Bible critics reduce everything I have said this afternoon and evening to the circular meanderings of a hopeless authoritarian. Well, my meanderings have, to be sure, been circular; they have made everything turn on God. So now I shall leave you with Him, and with His mercy.”

Conclusion:

I stress the importance of not just believing what people say, especially strangers on the internet. Don’t just blindly believe anything someone says. Ask yourself if these things are true. Read the bible and see what it says.

I will end with this passage:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world,according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient.[a] 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy,because of his great love that he had for us,[b] 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (You really should just read the entire book of Ephesians to get the whole context)

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