We come now to the final part of our special series about exvangelicals. If you haven’t read previous parts of the series, you can start here or download the free eBook at the end of this article.
Tens of thousands of young people are walking away from Christianity every year. Thousands more know little or nothing about Christianity (known as the Nones). It’s our desire to help them all.
[Podcast version available at the end of this post.]
In the last part of our series we looked at nine steps you can take to help someone who is going through the deconstruction/deconversion process. Here is the ninth step:
Give Good Answers — The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Colossians in Chapter 4 — “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” The Apostle Peter wrote this in 1 Peter 3 — “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” If you are well prepared, asked good questions and listened carefully to what they said, you’ll be ready to answer them. Be sure your answers are good ones. Many deconverted people say that even well-meaning Christians gave them terrible answers to their questions. That may be somewhat subjective on their part, but it’s still worth considering. People going through deconstruction or deconversion are not interested in “pat” answers. They want substance. They want thoughtful answers. They want both love and logic. Remember that Jesus is both the Love and Logic of God expressed in Flesh. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Giving good answers to questions and doubts is a feature of Christian Apologetics.
I recommend that every Christian learn how to defend their primary (essential) beliefs. That defense is called apologetics, from the Greek word apologia (a speech in defense). It doesn’t mean we do all the talking, but it does mean that when we talk we present a good speech in defense of Christian teaching. It means majoring on the major teachings of Christianity. Jesus and His apostles did a great job in their speeches, lessons and writings to teach us what’s essential in being followers of Christ.
What’s an essential of Christianity? The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the top of the essentials list.
The Apostle Paul went so far as to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so important to Christianity that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, our faith is empty and useless and we should be pitied above all other people (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). That’s a pretty strong and bold statement.
The Gospel (good news) is pretty simple. Paul put it this way:
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
- Jesus died for our sins according to the Scripture (truth claim)
- Jesus was buried (evidence supporting truth claim)
- Jesus rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (truth claim)
- Jesus was seen alive by hundreds of people, most of whom were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing (evidence supporting truth claim)
You might wonder why I didn’t list belief in God’s existence as the #1 essential of Christianity. It is an essential, but keep in mind that Jews and Muslims also believe in the existence of God but are not Christians. Some Jews even believe that Jesus died at the hands of the Romans, but they don’t believe Jesus died for their sins or rose from the dead. Muslims believe that Jesus is one of their prophets, but not that He died for their sins or rose from the dead. Belief in God is essential, but it is the atoning death and resurrection of God’s Son that sets Christians apart from all other religions. That’s why Paul wrote what he wrote about the resurrection.
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
Three Christian apologists helped me investigate the truth claims of Christianity when I was an atheist. They were loving, kind and patient. I worked my way from evidences for God’s existence through the credibility of the Bible to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though I found many convincing evidences for God and the Bible, it was not until I saw the evidence for Christ’s death, burial and resurrection that I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and was saved. When I confessed with my mouth the Lord Jesus and believed in my heart that God had raised Him from the dead, I was saved — “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ had another effect on my thinking after I was saved. I realized that what Jesus said was true. That may sound elementary, but it’s important to a defense of Christianity. Jesus said that He was “the way, the truth, and the life” and that no one “comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). John the Apostle wrote that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17b). Jesus always told the truth. He never lied. He proved that by predicting how and when He would die and who would kill Him and that He would rise from the dead on the third day. Why is that important to a defense of Christianity?
Jesus addressed most of the reasons I had for being an atheist. Jesus addressed most of the reasons I hear from people who have deconstructed or deconverted. When I began to read the Gospels as a new Christian in light of the revelation that everything Jesus said was true, it brought new light to my investigation of the Old Testament. I had spent months trying to disprove the Old Testament only to find strong evidence for it. The fact that the resurrected Lord from Heaven quoted from many parts of the Old Testament added to my confidence in it.
On the night before Jesus was arrested, He told His disciples that He would ask His Father to send them another Helper after He left them. Jesus called the Helper “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). Jesus also told His disciples that “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13). That meant what the apostles said and wrote would be true as well because the Spirit of God would guide them into all truth. The apostles addressed many of the questions and doubts that exvangelicals have shared about their reason for deconstructing and deconverting.
The combination of the truth-telling of the resurrected Lord of Heaven and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the words of the apostles add to our confidence in the evidence we have for the truthfulness of the Old and New Testament writings. As we talk with people who are questioning and doubting, we should include the resurrection of Jesus in our defense of Christian truth.
Every exvangelical you talk with has a unique story. They may be early in the process of deconstruction, completed deconversion or somewhere between. If you’ve built a trusting relationship (see part six of this series), you should be able to talk with them at a deeper level about what they’re thinking, feeling and wanting.
The big question is how to best help each individual. Some may be open to hearing what you have to say. Some may be argumentative or even confrontational. Whichever way the conversation goes, continue to love them and pray for them.
Jude’s epistle give us some insight how to help exvangelicals. Jude was one of Jesus Christ’s half-brothers. Jude didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah until after seeing Jesus alive following His resurrection. He wrote one letter that’s included in the Bible. He wanted to write fellow believers about “our common salvation,” but found it necessary to exhort them “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The reason for that was false teachers had crept unnoticed into the churches and had turned “the grace of our God into lewdness” and denied “the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s similar to what’s going on in today’s churches, which you can read about in the early parts of this series.
Jude warned fellow believers about the false teachers who had become the church celebrities of that time. Jude called them “spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves.” Jude said they were “clouds without water carried about by the winds.” He called them “late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots.” Jude called these celebrity false believers “raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame.” He called them “wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Jude said they were “grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.” He reminded them that Jesus’ apostles had warned that there “would be mockers” in “the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts.” Jude said that the false leaders were “sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” Those are the types of people who influence church members today. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing who sneak into churches to ravage the sheep.
The only way to handle false teachers is to confront and expose them, but what about people in the church who are influenced by those false teachers? How do we help those who deconstruct or deconvert? Here’s what Jude recommended:
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. Jude 1:20-23
Notice Jude’s logic. Christians who want to help people influenced by false teachers should do four things:
- building yourselves up on your most holy faith
- praying in the Holy Spirit
- keep yourselves in the love of God
- looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life
We need to be in good spiritual shape before trying to help others. If we’re weak in the faith, weak in prayer, weak in the love of God, weak in our relationship with Christ, we should focus on our own need before trying to help someone else.
It reminds me a little of what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount:
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5
We need to be cautious for many reasons. One of them is that we might be fooled while trying to help someone else. I’ve known people who deconstructed and even deconverted while trying to help others who had walked away from Christianity.
When we’re spiritually strong, we’re ready to help people. Here’s Jude’s logic for doing that:
- on some have compassion, making a distinction
- on others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh
Some texts divide Jude’s logic into three parts:
- be merciful to those who doubt
- save others by snatching them from the fire
- to others show mercy, mixed with fear
Since experts on the original Greek text are divided about whether Jude presented his advice in two or three parts (some point out Jude’s use of other triads in his letter as one reason to support three parts in verse 22), we will look for some general insight into what God wants us to do to help exvangelicals.
Mercy and Compassion
The Greek word in Jude 1:22 is eleeó and means “have pity on, show mercy to.” The next word is diakrinomenous and means “to distinguish, to discern, to judge between.” However, some texts have the word in the accusative case instead of the nominative case, which would change the definition to “doubting, wavering.” That’s part of the disagreement about two parts verses three parts. I can see a case being made for both views, but it’s not something we need to spend a lot of time on since the language and textual experts can’t come to a final agreement. The point for us is that we need to extend mercy to people who have questions and doubts. We might think of these people as early deconstructionists. These are our friends and family members, co-workers, people we know in the community, who are beginning to have questions and doubts. Don’t look down on them. Don’t think yourself better than them because you’re not doubting. You probably did at some point in your Christian life, so be patient and merciful. Listen to them and address their questions and doubts with love and thoughtfulness.
We also need to make a distinction from the next group that’s farther down the road to deconstruction and even deconversion.
Save from Fire by Snatching
Another group in the churches Jude wrote to were in more trouble. They had gone beyond doubting and wavering and had fallen for the lies of the false teachers and celebrities who had secretly slipped in among them. These church members, like many today, had fallen under spell of the false teachers and were in great spiritual danger.
So, what’s the “fire” Jude mentioned? The Greek reads hous de sōzete ek pyros — “others also save out of the fire.” The word sōzete means “rescue, make safe.” Jude is calling what we do a “rescue mission.” That’s a good way to look at it. What we rescue people from is pyros, the fire. The word pyros means any kind of hot fire, but Jude meant the word to be understood in a spiritual sense. Jude used pyros in verse 7 when he wrote, “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Jude’s context was of the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and cities around them who were “set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Jude’s use of the same word, pyros, several verses later certainly had the same meaning. The rescue mission we’re on is to save people from the vengeance of eternal fire.
You may remember in the first part of our series that I started with the example of former pastor Rob Bell who shocked the evangelical world with his 2011 book, Love Wins. Bell, who Time Magazine called “a singular rock star in the church world,” questioned whether God punishes unrepentant sinners by sending them to hell. If God does not send unrepentant sinners to hell, why did Jude write that Sodom and Gomorrah are examples of people “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire”? Why would Jude write that we need to save people from fire? I’ll go with the plain teaching of the Bible. God has called us to rescue people from the vengeance of eternal fire.
How do we do that? We “snatch” (pull) them out. The Greek word is harpazontes and means “to seize by force, catch up, snatch away.” That’s what a rescuer would do with someone who was in danger of being burned. They would grab them, pull them out and carry them to safety. That goes to show us the seriousness of our rescue mission with people who have deconstructed or deconverted. They are literally in mortal danger and need rescuing. Does that mean we kidnap people and put them through deprogramming? Probably not, unless they are in a dangerous cult. However, the spiritual end is just as bad. Rescuing people from the vengeance of eternal fire is serious.
Jude also includes a warning for the rescuer — “hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” Here’s how one commentator explains this:
Believers are to beware lest their mercy is transposed into acceptance, and they themselves become defiled by the sin of those they are trying to help. Jude may have been thinking of Jewish purity laws where one would become unclean by coming into contact with something that was unclean. In contrast, believers will be presented before God “without blemish” (NRSV) in the last day, with every stain removed. Perhaps mercy is demonstrated especially through prayer in cases like these. The text constructs a nice balance between showing love and mercy and maintaining standards of purity and righteousness. Showing love for the sinner does not exclude an intense hatred for the corruption brought about by sin. Furthermore, believers need to beware of getting too entangled with some who sin, lest the sinner influence them rather than vice versa. Thomas R. Schreiner (2012). New American Commentary Vol 37: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. B&H Publishing Group.
Ask any firefighter about being in the rescue business and they’ll tell you it’s personally dangerous. Rescuing people from fires means getting as close to the fire as the person they are rescuing. I covered scores of fires during my years as a reporter and can attest to the dangers. I also went through firefighter training to report on the process and saw firsthand how difficult and dangerous rescuing people from fires can be. I’ve seen firefighters overcome by smoke and injured by falling structures. Some firefighters are seriously hurt. Some lose their lives. Rescuing people in danger also puts the rescuer in danger.
The same is true for Christians who want to help rescue people from the vengeance of eternal fire. Many have gotten too close to the flames and stumbled and even fallen into unbelief. I’ve talked with former pastors, evangelists, teachers, church leaders and apologists who are now in need of rescuing.
That third way of looking at the text makes sense in light of that danger: “to others show mercy, mixed with fear.” Firefighters will tell you that they have a lot of respect for fire and are especially careful that they don’t get burned or overcome by smoke. We also need to respect the danger of false teaching and be careful that it doesn’t burn us. It’s wise to show mercy to others, mixed with fear.
The next verse in Jude is insightful: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless.” God is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us faultless. That’s good advice for us and for the people we’re rescuing, but we might wonder how that works.
Jude warns Christians who “snatch” others “out of the fire” that they need to be careful of the dangers inherent in such missions. Which goes back to the importance of being prepared. One of the things I learned during my years as a reporter was the importance of firefighting equipment for firefighters. The equipment weighs a lot, so strength training is part of how firefighters train. They also learn how to suit up correctly for their battle against the fires they will fight. They also learn the importance of trusting their equipment, other firefighters on the scene and the person in charge (e.g. captain, chief).
The same is true for Christians who want to rescue people from spiritual fire. Paul wrote about the equipment we need to put on and trust before going into the battle for souls:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:10-20
If fighting fires was easy and not dangerous, firefighters wouldn’t have to bother with special equipment that protected them and gave them the tools to literally snatch people out of fires. If the battle against Satan and his spiritual forces was easy, we wouldn’t need to put on the armor of God. Even as firefighters will tell you about the dangers of fighting fires, we can confirm the dangers of rescuing exvangelicals. You need to take it seriously and prepare well.
Jesus and His apostles made it clear that we are in a battle for souls. Jesus won the war by dying on the Cross and rising from the grave. Our job is to fight the good fight. Paul told Timothy to wage “the good warfare” and “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:18 and 6:12) At the end of Paul’s life, he wrote — “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) Paul also told us how to fight —
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6
Paul told Titus that church leaders (elders) must “be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” (Titus 1:7-9) Notice the importance of holy living and holding fast the faithful word. It is through sound doctrine that we are able to both exhort and convict those who contradict.
Unfortunately, that is what’s missing in so many churches today and has been for many years. If we are going to be able to really help exvangelicals, those who have deconstructed and deconverted, we must be strong in the Lord and His mighty power. We must dedicate ourselves to the great Gospel our Lord has given us. We must be ready to defend it at all cost. There is no greater calling or need in this life.
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things. 2 Timothy 2:1-7
One of the best training programs I know to prepare people to talk with exvangelicals, Nones and other unbelievers is from Engage 360. Their training program is called Engage Your World: A Practical Guide To Having Spiritual Conversations In Everyday Life. You can download the first chapter of the guide at the link above. Engage 360 has online training and in-church training. I highly recommend their programs. They have a unique way of training and helping every Christian prepare to have spiritual conversations with family, friends, co-workers and other people in their community. Engage 360’s training is a great combination of practical evangelism and apologetics.
Apologetics Book Reviews — We’ve been sharing reviews on apologetics books for many years. You can look through some of our past reviews at this site.
The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics — Dr. Ed Hindson is one of the apologists who personally helped me during my journey from atheism to Christianity. His Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics is an excellent resource for any Christian who is helping exvangelicals and others with questions about Christianity.
The Poached Egg — an excellent resource of some of the best apologetics articles.
LifeWay Research — Church Goers Express Hope/Sadness Over Leaders Who Leave The Faith
LifeWay Research — Reconstructing Faith in a Deconstructing Culture
Barna — Only 10% of Christian Twentysomethings Have Resilient Faith
As I wrote in the first part of this series: “Our purpose in this new Faith and Self Defense series is to shine a light on a growing problem in families and churches.”
My hope and prayer is that we have accomplished that purpose. The light shines and we see the massive challenge before us. Please know that our prayers are with you as you engage with your family and friends who are on their way to becoming exvangelicals. If we can help you, please let us know.
But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: ‘Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light. Ephesians 5:13-14
You can download, read and share the entire EXvangelical series in our free eBook.
Life of an Apologist – On the Importance of Love – Faith & Self Defense
Faith and Self Defense © 2021
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.