We defined the term “exvangelical” in the first part of our new series.
A person who has left the Evangelical Christian movement. This includes people who have left to more progressive Christian denominations as well as those who have left Christianity all together. (The Urban Dictionary)
We also looked at who’s responsible for the problem in our churches. If you haven’t read the introduction to the series, we invite you to do that as an introduction to this part.
[Podcast version is available at the end of this post.]
We promised in the introduction that we would address these two questions in this second part of our series:
Why are so many young people in churches becoming exvangelicals? Could it be because of idol worship?
You’ve probably heard someone say, “Oh, she’s my idol.” What people living in a Western culture usually mean is they are a fan of a particular celebrity. However, celebrities being the equivalent of wood and stone idols in many countries in the world may not be that different.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary includes two definitions for idol worship — “the worship of a physical object as a god, immoderate attachment or devotion to something.” Celebrity worship would be the second definition, even though some people do worship people as if they were god-like.
One success/motivational writer wrote this about celebrities and idol worship:
Once upon a time, people worshipped and idolized gods. They built temples and statues for the gods, and worshipped them. They were their idols, to whom they prayed. A long time has passed since then, but the need to worship and idolize has not passed, only the idols and the gods have changed. Now, people call them celebrities. Why Do We Idolize and Admire Celebrities
People love celebrities. They love to follow them on social media, watch their movies and TV shows, listen to their music, read their books, meet them at conferences, buy stuff at their online store, etc. Some scholars believe Nimrod started physical idol worship thousands of years ago based on the power and popularity of kings and queens. That’s a type of idol worship that takes celebrity to the extreme.
Unfortunately, the Christian Community has not been immune to celebrity worship. Even though the focus of our worship should be God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), celebrity worship crept into the lives of Christians and churches long ago. People started following, in a committed sense, “celebrated” people. That is still true today and is a big part of the problem with exvangelicalism.
Think about all the “stars” in Christianity during the last several decades. As we mentioned in the first part of our series, a hertical pastor and author was lauded by Time Magazine as being “a singular rock star in the church world.” The secular press loves it when Christians gush over their celebrities. Maybe it makes Christianity seem more mainstream and less dangerous to the media. What we know about that particular “rock star” church celebrity is that his words and actions led many people away from believing what the Bible teaches about God’s judgment on unrepentant sinners.
This kind of celebrity worship can easily lead to exvangelicalism. Some people “deconstruct.” Some people “deconvert.”
Let’s first look at religious deconstruction, also known as theological deconstruction. Deconstruction is often the first phase of a church member’s move from evangelical Christianity to eventual unbelief (atheism, agnosticism, humanism).
Interestingly, this process of religious or faith deconstruction often starts within the church. Popular pastors, church leaders, academicians, conference speakers, authors, movie actors, song writers, and musicians begin to drift away from the truth of Gods Word. Their drift should be noticed long before it ever gets out of hand, but it hasn’t been in thousands of cases. A Christian who is in the Word, reading, studying and believing the Bible to be true, and communicating with God through prayer regularly should be able to spot the drift long before other Christians notice. God has given us all the information we need to recognize spiritual drift (and heresy), plus we have the Holy Spirit of God living inside of us to guide us into all truth. That should give Christians time to protect themselves, their family and church. However, all too often people don’t listen to warnings coming from knowledgeable and discerning Christian brothers and sisters.
We have many recent examples of religious “celebrities” deconstructing from evangelical Christianity. Their experience, and their sharing about it publicly, has led to many church members deconstructing as well. Many people have serious questions about their Christian faith, questions that often go unanswered in churches unprepared to answer those serious questions. Christians with questions and doubts who see “Christian celebrities” announce they’ve deconstructed because they finally got some answers (so they think) to their questions, often follow the celebrities into the deconstruction process.
I’ve read many deconstruction stories and most have a similar thread. People have questions, even doubts, but fellow church and family members don’t want to answer the questions or hear about the doubts.
This is a big problem and one of the primary reasons Christian Apologetics exists. Christians should welcome questions and sharing of doubts from fellow believers. Asking and answering questions is how we learn about God and how we grow in Christ. Christian Apologetics is about having answers to tough questions and a defense for doubt.
Church members who won’t answer questions often don’t have answers to the questions. Instead of admitting they don’t know and suggesting they and the questioner search for an answer together, church members often shut down conversation. The same is true about doubts. If we’re honest, we all have doubts at times. Instead of making someone feel bad about expressing their doubts, we should thank them for their honesty and let them know we also deal with doubts. Christian Apologetics is about facing our questions and doubts and finding the evidence that answers questions and removes doubts.
Parents are the first line of faith defense. Listen to your children’s questions. Welcome their doubts. If Christian mothers and fathers answer their children’s questions and help remove doubt, ‘celebrity Christians’ will probably have less effect on young people when they (the celebrities) deconstruct. Grandparents and other family members can also be part of that early line of spiritual defense.
Teachers and other leaders at church are the next line of faith defense. People who teach and lead in churches should be in those positions because they are able to teach and lead in a godly way. If they can’t or won’t do that, then they need to step aside and let people who are able do the teaching and leading step in. They can always return to teaching and leading when they gain more knowledge and ability. The spiritual health of children, teens and young Christians is at stake, so it’s important we get this right.
Here are some recent examples of celebrities who have “deconstructed.” Some say they’re exvangelicals. Some say they no longer believe in God. We’ll address “deconversion” in a future part of our series, but we’ll include those celebrities as well in this list since many of them went through a deconstructing process before they deconverted. Keep in mind that each one of these celebrities were followed and loved by thousands of young Christians. Celebrity deconstruction has a big impact on their adoring fans. Celebrities influence their fans and that carries consequences.
- Jon Steingard, former frontman of Hawk Nelson — no longer believes in God
- George Perdikis, early member of Newsboys Band — says he’s lost faith in God
- Kevin Max, singer songwriter, former member of dc Talk — says he’s an exvangelical who is “deconstructing and progressing” (See video below for more about Max’s deconstruction/reconstruction)
- Joshua Harris, author and evangelical pastor — no longer a Christian
- Marty Sampson, Hillsong song writer and worship leader — losing his faith and deconstructing
- Katy Perry, singer — says she believes in a higher power, but it’s not God anymore
- Paul Maxwell, author, former writer for Desiring God, former professor of philosophy at Moody Bible Institute — says he’s no longer a Christian
- Rhett and Link, YouTube personalities, former missionaries and Crusade for Christ (CRU) staff members — both deconstructed/deconverted
- Michael and Lisa Gungor, former Christian alternative rock musicians– deconstructed, deconverted, reconstructed
- JGivens, former Christian rapper — deconstructed
- Landon Jacobs, lead singer and guitarist of Sir Sly — deconstructed, deconverted
- David Bazan, singer, songwriter, formed Pedro the Lion — deconstructed, deconverted
Here are social media quotes from several of the celebrities about what happened to them.
I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus,” wrote Harris. “The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Joshua Harris
I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me,” Sampson wrote in an Instagram post that has since been removed. “Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy. Marty Sampson
I always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules imposed by Christianity. All I wanted to do was create and play rock and roll… and yet most of the attention I received was focused on how well I maintained the impossible standards of religion. I wanted my life to be measured by my music, not by my ability to resist temptation … The Christian music scene is populated by many people who act as though they have a direct hotline to a God who supplies them with the answers to the Universe. There seems to be more ego and narcissism amongst Christian musicians than their secular counterparts. George Perdikis
Hello, my name is Kevin Max & I’m an #exvangelical (on Twitter). Kevin Max
Maybe I’m not ‘Christian’ but I still believe God loves me because He can’t lie (on Twitter). JGivens
When I lost my faith at 22, I figured it was the end of any kind of spiritual life for me. I now believe spirituality to simply be a process of becoming comfortable with unknowing. I wrote the lyrics to “Material Boy” about feeling free to explore spirituality outside of the bounds of my childhood faith. Landon Jacobs
Growing up, Christianity didn’t feel oppressive for the most part, because it was filtered through my parents. They were and are so sincere, and I saw in them a really pure expression of unconditional love and service. Once I stepped away, I could see the oppression of it. David Bazan
Unfortunately, the list of ‘Christian’ celebrities who deconstruct and deconvert will continue to grow in the coming months and years. As those celebrities go, so will thousands of young people who idolize them.
It’s more important than ever for you to understand the deconstruction process because some of those future exvangelicals may come from your family or church. We need to learn everything we can now to be ready to help them before it’s too late.
The Deconstruction Process
Understanding process is an important part of solving problems. We can identify a problem, but how do we solve it? One way is to unravel the process to get back to the root(s) of the problem. It’s a type of reengineering from an investigative perspective.
How does the “deconstruction” process work? Where does it start and how does it proceed? Why do some exvangelicals continue to have some belief in God while others don’t?
Keith Giles is a former pastor, the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast and author of Jesus Untangled. He believes there are “6 pillars of religious deconstruction.”
- The Bible
- Eternal Torment [Hell]
- Penal Substitutionary Atonement [PSA]
- Suffering In The World
- The End Times Hype
- The Church
Based on conversations I’ve had through the years with people who have experienced a religious (faith) deconstruction, these have all been mentioned as where questions and doubts started. For me it was hypocrisy among church leaders. For others it’s evil and suffering in the world. Others are bothered by the idea of God “sending” people to hell. Some say it’s the way Christians view science, age of the earth, evolution, sexual ethics, sexual abuse by church leaders, politics, abortion, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ issues, etc.
Every person who has deconstructed or is now in the process of deconstructing had a starting place. One of the things I want to address in this series is how to help those people be restored spiritually. Everyone is an individual, so we need to understand their process, their journey, from an individual perspective. If they truly believed in God, we can help them understand what they misunderstood about God that led them away from Him. If their faith was hollow and empty, we can introduce them to the true God of the Bible. Either way, though, we need to treat each person as a unique, unrepeatable miracle of God. Every person is precious in God’s sight.
We’ll look at “deconstructing deconstruction” in the next part of our series, EXvangelical – What’s That?
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