We are looking at something that is sweeping through the Christian Community. It’s called exvangelicalism. As we’ve pointed out in previous parts of this series, people deconstructing or deconverting is nothing new. We find examples of it in the New Testament and early centuries of the Church.
[Podcast version available at the end of this post.]
Demas was a close associate of the Apostle Paul’s (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). Even though Demas traveled with Paul and participated in ministry with the apostle, Paul wrote that “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). The Greek word for “forsaken” means “utterly abandon, leave in the lurch, deserted.” Demas utterly abandoned Paul at a time when the apostle could have used his help. Demas “loved this present world.” Paul was in prison and nearing execution for his faithful ministry. It was apparently too much for Demas. He chose the “present world” rather than the eternal world where Paul was headed. There may be more to it than that, but it’s what we know. The “present world” could mean that Demas didn’t want to be martyred. It could mean that Demas no longer wanted to sacrifice his time and energy in ministry. He may have wanted to live his life differently. Demas may have had doubts about what he was doing, especially in light of Paul’s impending death.
It’s obvious from Paul’s mention of Demas in Colossians and Philemon that he started well. Demas was counted with such people as Luke, Mark, Epaphras and Aristarchus. You don’t get into that group without having proven yourself trustworthy. Paul called Demas and the others “my fellow laborers.” That’s a powerful endorsement from the apostle and may be why Paul thought it necessary to mention Demas’ abandoning him at the end. Because Paul had spoken so highly of Demas in previous letters and conversations, he may have wanted church leaders and members to know that Demas was no longer to be trusted as a spiritual leader. Paul’s mention of Demas was not a passing thought. It was intended as a warning.
Did Demas “deconstruct?” Did he lose his faith or just his courage? We don’t have answers to those questions because Paul doesn’t say any more about Demas than that. What we do know is that Paul thought it important to mention Demas in the last letter he (Paul) would write before his martyrdom. Demas is a name that has served as a warning to Christians through the history of the Church.
Jesus and His apostles included many warnings about false prophets, preachers and teachers. Jesus said — “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Paul said — “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).
They also warned about church members “falling away” (apostasy, defection, revolt, depart, a leaving) — “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1) — and following after bad church leaders — “speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30). Paul wrote — “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
Notice some key words and phrases from just those warning verses:
- Beware of false prophets
- come to you in sheep’s clothing
- inwardly are ravenous wolves
- savage wolves
- come in among you
- not sparing the flock
- depart from the faith
- giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons
- speaking perverse things
- draw away the disciples after themselves
- let know one deceive you
- falling away comes first
Some of the pastors and other church leaders who have deconstructed or deconverted are doing exactly what Jesus and the apostles warned about in their lessons and letters. Some are false prophets. Some look like sheep, but are really ravenous, savage wolves who come in among Christians and don’t spare the flock. Some who depart the faith give heed to deceiving spirits and teach or write or sing the doctrines of demons. Some speak perverse things and draw away disciples to follow them. Some are deceiving church members and causing them to fall away (apostasy).
That’s a big problem with celebrities in churches and denominations. Because of their celebrity they are able to speak perverse things (to distort, misinterpret, corrupt, pervert), draw people to follow them instead of Christ Jesus, and deceive and cause people to fall away from believing God.
I think it might be helpful to hear from a Christian “celebrity” who doesn’t like what he sees happening in the church “celebrity culture” today. John Cooper, lead singer and bassist of the Christian band Skillet, has a different view of celebrity and deconstruction.
Cooper said these worship leader deconstruction posts are very confusing to people, and his goal was to help people understand what was happening. Describing these moments as “gut punch after gut punch,” Cooper said it is church leaders’ responsibility to help Millennials who are going through these faith crises understand good theology and where to look for answers. Faith Strong Today
Cooper has a lot to say on the subject, but what he wrote on a Facebook post in 2019 might be helpful in understanding modern “deconstruction” by celebrities. It’s worth a longer read.
Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?) as they announce that they are leaving the faith. I’ll state my conclusion, then I’ll state some rebuttals to statements I’ve read by some of them. Firstly, I never judge people outside of my faith. Even if they hate religion or Christianity. That is not my place and I have many friends who disagree with my religion and that is 100% fine with me. However, when it comes to people within my faith, there must be a measure of loyalty and friendship and accountability to each other and the Word of God.
My conclusion for the church (all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years (and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20-year-old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?
I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?
My second thought is, why do people act like “being real” covers a multitude of sins? As if someone is courageous simply for sharing virally every thought or dark place. That’s not courageous. It’s cavalier. Have they considered the ramifications? As if they are the harbingers of truth, saying “I used to think one way and practice it and preach it, but now I’ve learned all the new truth and will start practicing and preaching it.” So the influencers become the voice for truth in whatever stage of life and whatever evolution takes place in their thinking.
Thirdly, there is a common thread running through these leaders/influencers that basically says that “no one else is talking about the REAL stuff.” This is just flatly false. I just read today in a renown worship leader’s statement, “How could a God of love send people to hell? No one talks about it.” As if he is the first person to ask this? Brother, you are not that unique. The church has wrestled with this for 1500 years. Literally. Everybody talks about it. Children talk about it in Sunday school. There’s like a billion books written on the topic. Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with it. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.
And lastly, and most shocking imo, as these influencers disavow their faith, they always end their statements with their “new insight/new truth” that is basically a regurgitation of Jesus’s words?! It’s truly bizarre and ironic. They’ll say “I’m disavowing my faith but remember, love people, be generous, forgive others”. Ummm, why? That is actually not human nature. No child is ever born and says “I just want to love others before loving myself. I want to turn the other cheek. I want to give my money away to others in need”. Those are bible principles taught by a prophet/Priest/King of kings who wants us to live by a higher standard which is not an earthly standard, but rather the ‘Kingdom of God’ standard. Therefore if Jesus is not the truth and if the Word of God is not absolute, then by preaching Jesus’s teachings you are endorsing the words of a madman. A lunatic who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” He also said that he was alive before Abraham, and to see him was to see God because he was one with God. So why then would a disavowed Christian leader promote that “generosity is good”? How would you know “what is good” without Jesus’s teachings? And will your ideas of what is “good” be different from year to year based on your experience, culture trends, poplular opinion etc and furthermore will you continue year by year to lead others into your idea of goodness even though it is not absolute? I’m amazed that so many Christians want the benefits of the kingdom of God, but with the caveat that they themselves will be the King.
It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.
Is it any wonder that some of our disavowed Christian leaders are letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible and subsequently their lives are falling apart? Further and further they are sinking in the sea all the while shouting “now I’ve found the truth! Follow me!!” Brothers and sisters in the faith all around the world, pastors, teachers, worship leaders, influencers…I implore you, please please in your search for relevancy for the gospel, let us NOT find creative ways to shape God’s word into the image of our culture by stifling inconvenient truths. But rather let us hold on even tighter to the anchor of the living Word of God. For He changes NOT. “The grass withers and the flowers fade away, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
More recently Cooper published a book titled Awake & Alive To Truth: Finding Truth In The Chaos Of A Relativistic World. He pointed out in an interview that deconstructionism and cynicism are two tenets of postmodernism.
I do think it’s a pretty big warning to all of us to build your life on top of the Words of Jesus Christ,’ he said. ‘We need to continue to build our lives upon that, or we will get destroyed … and I do think that that has happened to a lot of our pastors.’
He also cautioned that the same thing might happen to someone who is not steadfast in God’s Word, noting that the “woke” society claims to be ‘more Christian than Christ.’ ‘That’s what we have to watch out for,’ he warned.
Cooper claims that emotionalism is part of the ‘woke ideology’ that has infiltrated the Church, and that many people today worship Jesus because it ‘feels good,’ rather than make Him the Lord of their lives. ‘What Jesus requires is actually Lordship, and with Lordship comes an understanding that I am not my own God,’ he said. ‘This isn’t about what makes me emotionally feel good. This is about the Lordship of Christ, He is God, and I am not.’
There are many videos of John Cooper online, but this one is fairly short and helpful on the topic of deconstruction.
We’ll look at the problem of “deconversion” in the next part of our series, EXvangelical – What’s That?
And Jesus Said (Part Six) – Faith & Self Defense
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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