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

Arguing Semantics: Bruce Ashford Says He’s “Not Good With the Bible.”

“You’re Just Arguing Semantics”

Have you ever been in a discussion, conversation, or debate and have had someone say to you, “you’re just arguing semantics”? I’ve been thinking lately about this phrase. Have you ever stopped to think about what the phrase means? What are semantics? What does it mean to argue semantics?

Here is how the English Oxford Dictionary defines semantics:

  • “The branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. The two main areas are logical semantics, concerned with matters such as sense and reference and presupposition and implication, and lexical semantics, concerned with the analysis of word meanings and relations between them.”
  • “The meaning of a word, phrase, or text.”

When someone tells you that you are “merely arguing semantics”, they’re essentially saying “You’re just arguing about meaning.” or “You’re just arguing about the meaning of words.”.

I think it is important to argue semantics/meanings and that is my aim with this new series of articles. I will be examining and critiquing words, phrases, and statements that I think are not quite accurate or are somewhat confusing. You might say that I am nitpicking but I would say in return that truth is important even in the smaller details. Small errors or slight inaccuracies can often make a big difference. For example, there is a big difference between critiquing something someone says and criticizing what someone says. I will explore this distinction in a future article but I intend to critique rather than to criticize.

“I’m Not Good With the Bible”

Bruce Ashford is a professor of theology and the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In an opinon piece for Fox News (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/03/31/chrissy-teigen-says-shes-not-good-with-bible-neither-am.html), he responds to a joke tweet by Chrissy Tiegen (John Legend’s wife) where she used the phrase “I’m not good with the Bible”. I want to respond to some of the statements he made in the article.

“But Chrissy has a point. None of us are actually “good with” the Bible, myself included.”

When someone says “I’m not good with the Bible”, they’re essentially saying “I don’t really know the Bible” or “I don’t know the Bible very well”. Bruce uses a different definition for the phrase “good with” and then reacts to this different meaning. “I’m not good with the Bible” has now been changed to mean “I’m not a master (acquire complete knowledge or skill in (an accomplishment, technique, or art)) of the Bible”or “I don’t know everything there is to know about the Bible”.

I agree that none of us will ever be “masters” of the Bible (using the definition from above) but we should strive to be master (having or showing very great skill or proficiency) Bible students and teachers. See the difference?

I would hope that a professor of theology knows the Bible well.

“The main reason we aren’t good with the Bible is that we have difficulty getting a handle on it. The Bible is a sprawling, sometimes confusing, often unsettling collection of ancient writings, purporting to reveal the nature of God and his dealings with the world.”

I wouldn’t describe the Bible that way. The Bible is a connected book with meta-narratives that run throughout the entire OT and NT. It actually isn’t that difficult to get a handle on the Bible, especially with all of the resources we can access on the internet. All you have to do is watch a few YouTube videos about biblical hermeneutics or biblical theology. Do a web search for any Scripture passage you are having difficulty understanding and you’ll find tons of resources. You really only need to learn the number one Bible interpretation rule: context is king. The reason people are not “good with” (notice that now he is using this phrase to mean “don’t know very well”) the Bible is that many have not been taught basic biblical hermeneutics.

“We can’t master it, tame it, or pigeon-hole it like other books on our shelf.”

We can’t have exhaustive, ultimate, or comprehensive knowledge of the Bible but we can and should skillfully handle it and interpret it. We grow in our understanding and knowledge of it over time. We will not ever fully understand everything there is to know in the Bible. However, there are truths that we can understand for certain. How else can we know the difference between false teaching and sound teaching? Take the trinity. You will not find that word in the Bible. Yet the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly taught throughout Scripture (https://www.monergism.com/topics/trinity).

“But when we approach the Bible in earnest and read it on its own terms, we find that this book – written over the course of many centuries – contains the true story of the whole world.”

Many people read the Bible in earnest and then walk away from it disillusioned or believing error because they don’t know how to read it.

After briefly describing the four “acts” of the story of the Bible (Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration), he says:

“That’s the true story the Bible tells. So, if we learn how to read it, will we suddenly be “good with the Bible”?

I sure hope not.”

Again, we’re not talking about being able to completely master the Bible but simply being able to skillfully understand it. It takes time and hard work to learn how to interpret the Bible so no, we won’t “suddenly be good with the Bible”. We should mature and be able to skillfully understand over time as we study and learn and the Holy Spirit illumines the Scripture to us.

If we learn how to study and interpret Scripture will we be “good with the Bible” over time?

I sure hope so.

“When we read the Bible seriously, we find that the Bible reads us. As we lay bare its pages, it lays bare our hearts, showing our own complicity in the badness of this world. Apart from Jesus, that experience would ruin us. But because of his death and resurrection and his offer of salvation, we are now offered a future in which everything sad will become untrue

And as for that … I’m good with it.”

I know Bruce is not an emergent or Ex-Evangelical, but this statement sounds like it could come from one of those two communities. As I’ve been saying, I believe it is important that we know how to study and interpret the Bible. It’s also not this cold mechanical process that we do at a specific time every day. We read and study the Word and then we apply it to our lives. We know it and then we live it. We understand it and then we obey it.

Conclusion

I believe one of the biggest problems we are facing in the church today is an attack on the inerrancy of Scripture and on our certainty of Scripture. There are many who flat-out deny and reject inerrancy and the inspiration of Scripture. There are also those today who would say they believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God but then say we are finite and because we are finite we can’t fully understand the infinite God. Therefore, we can’t really say what we believe is true besides that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

I get what he was trying to say with his article. I know that many today think Christians are people who always have to be right (probably going to be the next topic in “Arguing Semantics”). Many see Christians that make firm stands on doctrine and on Scripture as close-minded, self-righteous and arrogant. I believe (though I could be wrong) he was speaking to this audience.

I don’t intend to say that Bruce doesn’t know the Bible well. He most likely knows a lot more about it than me as I haven’t been to Bible college or seminary and he is older than I am. I simply think the article would have been better and would have been more helpful if he talked about the importance of biblical hermeneutics. Many people know how to open their Bibles and read the words. Yet how many in our churches know how to open their Bibles, read the words, interpret them, and understand the meaning so that they can then apply it?

Like always,

I say these things in humility and out of love for people.

I hope you will not just believe what I say but will be a berean and compare what I (or anyone else has to) say to what God says in His Word.

Be a critical thinker. Be a berean. Speak truth in love.