Mark and Avoid: Authors that Helped Exvangelicals Deconstruct and Let Go of “Harmful Theology”

Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create divisions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them, because such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words. Romans 16:17-18 CSB

[Revised 11/23/18]

Watch Out for Deceivers

There are people who claim to speak the truth of God and the truth about God who are actually teaching things that are contrary to what God has revealed in Scripture. They may say they believe in Jesus and the gospel. They may say the Bible contains truth (the bible doesn’t merely contain truth—it is truth). The reality is that these deceivers distort the truth. They hold to the form of godliness but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5).

God has revealed the need for Christians to be watchful for false teachers and false teachings in many passages of Scripture, such as 2 Peter 3:14-18, Ephesians 4:11-16, 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Galatians 1:6-10, 2 Corinthians 11:1-4, Acts 20:28-30, 1 John 4:1-6, Matthew 7:15-20, 2 Peter 2, and Jude.

We need to be firmly grounded in Scripture if we want our faith to withstand the attacks that are made against God and His Word. Some people will overtly attack God and the Scriptures while others are more subtle in their distortion of truth. They may simply claim to be “asking questions” or “trying to make God relevant to the current cultural mindset”. We need to be on alert for anything that is contrary to sound doctrine. We need to be on guard so we are not led astray from the truth.

Deconstruction Starts With Doubt

All it takes is one little doubt in your mind about the certainty of the truth of God to send you down the pathway to rejecting the true gospel (Gal 1:6-7 and 2 Corinthians 11:3 state that people can preach a false gospel; there aren’t multiple true gospels, they distort the one true gospel of Christ) and/or believing a false gospel. If you’ve read any deconversion stories you should know that people don’t typically wake up one day and decide to abandon God. It often starts with a doubt. The doubts slowly start to pile up and they chip away everything that the person thought was true about God.

We need to be watchful for those who put doubts in our minds. There are people outside and inside the church who say that Christianity is not about having all the right answers. These people would say that those of us who believe that Scripture is the Word of God and the only source of infallible truth in this world are arrogant and close minded.

Deeds not creeds is the mantra of those who think that our actions are more important than our theology. Some common objections that are made against people who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and who affirm the sufficiency and authority of Scripture:

“Christianity isn’t about being right.”

“You don’t have a corner on the truth.”

“The Bible isn’t the fourth person of the trinity.”

“You are a bibliolater—you worship the bible more than you worship Jesus.”

“You can’t put God in a box.”

I want to analyze these claims at length in a separate article but for now I will say that these statements sow seeds of doubt about the authority and truth of God and the Scriptures. Those who lack vigilance are in danger of being tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:14).

Exvangelicals

I had encountered the Exvangelical Community on Twitter in January of 2018. I chronicled that experience here. I spent much time in the months that followed this encounter documenting Exvangelical tweets. My concern was that this burgeoning movement had the potential to lead people astray. They claim to have insider knowledge of the abusive theology of “White Evangelicalism”. The group as a movement formed largely as a reaction to Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory. They come from many different experiences of Evangelicalism and they hold to different beliefs (some are atheists, agnostics, progressive Christians, Wiccans, etc.) but what unites them is their shared Evangelical sociocultural heritage.

Exvangelical Deconstruction

Screenshot_2018-05-26-16-19-55-1

There is a difference between deconstructing theology and believing in sound doctrine rather than false doctrine as a result of careful exegesis of the Scriptures.

Deconstruction is the tearing down of everything that is foundational to theology.

When Exvangelicals talk about “Letting go of harmful theology” or “letting go of abusive theology”, it’s another way to say “deconstructing”.

“Harmful theology” is rather vague phraseology. It could simply refer to truly harmful teachings like purity culture, legalistic fundamentalism, prosperity gospel, seeker sensitive Christianity, or purpose drivenism.

However, knowing that this is coming from an Exvangelical, you can figure that they really are referring to sound biblical teachings as being harmful theology (inerrancy, sin, homosexuality being sin, hell, exclusivity of salvation through Christ alone by grace alone, through faith alone, etc.).

Mark and Avoid These Authors and Resources

I took the time to look at all the responses to Austen’s tweet and I compiled some information from them into a table. I counted each time an author was referenced (either by someone mentioning a book title or someone mentioning an author directly by name) and recorded the number of times different people had made reference to the author. Do you think you can name any of the top 5 most referenced authors that have helped Exvangelicals deconstruct their faith? I suggest you mark and avoid these authors:

Author Times Referenced by Different People
Rachel Held Evans 20
Rob Bell 17
Donald Miller 6
James Cone 6
Sarah Bessey 5
John Shelby Spong 4
Madeleine Le’Engle 4
Richard Rohr 4
Nadia Bolz-Weber 4
Peter Enns 4
Sally Mcfague 3
Marcus Borg 3
Barbara Kingsolver 3
NT Wright 2
Anne Lamott 2
Willaim P. Young 2
Mike Mchargue 2
Peter Rollins 2
Frederick Buechner 2
Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker 2
Karen Armstrong 1
Tom Krattenmaker 1
Richard Beck 1
Macrina Wiederkehr 1
Richard Fischer 1
Thomas Torrance 1
C. Baxter Kruger 1
John Crowder 1
David W. Congdon 1
David Crowder 1
Jim Wallis 1
Patrick Cheng 1
Chris Stedman 1
Dr. Wil Gafney 1
Diana Butler Bass 1
Tich Nhat Hanh 1
Carol Howard 1
Monica Coleman 1
Kelly Brown-Douglas 1
Karen Baker-Fletcher 1
Ram Dass 1
Lauren Winner 1
Matthew Vines 1
Justin Lee 1
Slacktivist Fred 1
Robert Wright 1
Dale Martin 1
Tito Colliander 1
Kathy Escobar 1
Elizabeth Esther 1
Juergan Moltmann 1
Brennan Manning 1
Henry Nouwen 1
Weatherhead 1
Bill Nye 1
Deepak Chopra 1
Eckhart Tolle 1
Tony Jones 1
Hugh Ross 1
David James Duncan 1
Jeremy Young 1
John Macquarrie 1
Tillich 1
Elizabeth Johnson 1
Deborah Jian Lee 1
Liz Edman 1
Nancy Eisland 1
Dru Hart 1
Warren Throckmorton 1
Bart Ehrman 1
Carl Sagan 1
Richard Dawkins 1
Philip Yancey 1
Octavia Butler 1
John Fischer 1
Jeannine K. Brown 1
Marlene Winell 1
Darren Dochuk 1
Philip Pullman 1
Rosalind Miles 1
William Loebdell 1
J. Cameron Carter 1
Delores Williams 1
Justo L. Gonzales 1
Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz 1
Bell Hooks 1
Emilie Townes 1
Gloria Anzaldúa 1
Aurora-Levins Morales 1
Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre 1

Questions Vs. Doubts

I think there is a big difference between having questions and having doubts. We all should be asking questions about what we are taught about God and theology. We all should compare truth claims to Scripture. Anyone who knows me knows that I always encourage people to ask questions. You shouldn’t believe anything (especially something you read on the internet) without studying it for yourself.

Doubt is different from asking questions. The serpent deceived Eve by placing doubt in her mind. The Serpent said to Eve, “Did God really say…?”. Then after that doubt was placed, the serpent directly contradicted God’s Word and said to Eve “No! You will not die…in fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”. Doubt is dangerous.

Please know that my admonishment comes from a place of love and empathy. I care deeply for people who are struggling with doubts and questions. We all go through periods of questioning our beliefs.

I experienced depression, depersonalization, and derealization for about 5 years. During that time I felt distant from God. I felt like I was going crazy and that I didn’t exist. I never doubted God or His Word but I had questions about what I was taught about God.

I went to community college (Fall 2009-Spring 2012) during this time of depression and my faith was challenged by students and my professors.

I was unsure of what I wanted to major in during my first two years at college. I enjoyed the arts so I took several arts and humanities classes. My humanities 101 professor was a Pantheist. She talked about how God was found in everything and how God speaks through our expressions of art. The class was enthralling and I was able to learn about and appreciate the beauty of architecture, music, painting, etc. but my professor’s worldview could have influenced me to abandon my faith. Thankfully, God kept me from entertaining doubts about Him.

I took a mythology course because I thought it would be interesting to study myths and legends. When we covered the Genesis creation account, my professor talked about the narrative and explained how there were different writers of the book of Genesis. He pointed out the differences between the creation account in Genesis 1 and the account in Genesis 2 and made a convincing argument that the accounts were written by different people.

My parents and the church didn’t teach me about this so I had to study it for myself. This same professor asked a question that I never thought about, “why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden if He knew Adam and Eve were going to eat it?”.

I didnt have an answer for that at the time. It didn’t wreck my faith as it may have done to others who weren’t prepared for questions like it but it did lead me to asking questions. I asked myself, “Why did God put the tree there if he is all-knowing and if he knew that they would eat the fruit? Doesn’t this mean that he wanted evil to be a reality?  Could he have done it differently…made a world where there was no suffering and sin?”. I did not have a firm grounding in Scripture during this time but this period of asking questions led me to discovering the importance of reading Scripture in context and using biblical hermeneutics to interpret the Scriptures.

My wife has severe anxiety and depression and at times she feels distant from God. She has lots of questions and is seeking to understand God’s sovereignty and how that relates to human suffering. I know that I can’t force her to understand. I have to continue being a loving husband and pray that God would give her understanding. Whenever she has questions for me I answer them. I base my answers in Scripture and show her why I believe what I believe is true and let her think for herself. That’s how it should be done. I in no way think people should blindly believe what they are taught.

If you have doubts or questions, I encourage you to study the Scriptures and ask God to help you understand His truth. There are some difficult questions and it may take time for you to come to an understanding of the truth but I encourage you to keep seeking him. Remind yourself of the gospel. The good news that Jesus Christ lived a perfect and sinless life, died on the cross, was buried, and came to life three days later. Now all who repent and believe will be cleansed of their sin and will be seen as righteous in God’s sight.

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord, being double-minded and unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8

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