Yesterday, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) published yet another article on “deconstruction,” this one by Alisa Childers. The excerpt that follows comes from a longer version of the article on Childers’ site than what appeared on TGC’s website. (Please see Alisa Childers, Let’s Deconstruct a Deconversion Story: The Case of Rhett and Link, March 1, 2020.)
TGC, as with many Evangelical parachurch organizations and talking heads, is alarmed over the attention being given to deconstruction and deconversion stories. What was once talked about with whispers is now front and center everywhere one looks. Keepers of the Evangelical flame could, at one time, ignore such stories, writing them off as the rumblings of discontented, disaffected, poorly taught people in love with the world more than with God. These explanations no longer work. Thanks to the Internet, those who are deconstructing, have deconstructed, or have deconverted have a very public place to share their stories. Google has become their friend, as more and more people seek out help for their questions and doubts about God, the Bible, Christianity, the church, and the modern culture wars (primarily being waged by Evangelicals). No longer satisfied with the non-answer answers given to them by their pastors, these Doubting Thomases look for non-threatening places where their concerns will be given a hearing. And this, it seems, has scared the shit out of the people behind TGC. How else do we explain their preoccupation, and that of other defenders of orthodoxy, with deconstruction and deconversion?
Here’s what Childers had to say:
In my book, Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, which chronicles my own deconstruction journey, I define deconstruction this way:
“In the context of faith, deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with. Sometimes the Christian will deconstruct all the way into atheism. Some remain there, but others experience a reconstruction. But the type of faith they end up embracing almost never resembles the Christianity they formerly knew.“
I would add that it rarely retains any vestiges of actual Christianity.
Over the past year or so, it has become common for Christian leaders to begin to refer to deconstruction as something potentially positive. I get it. When I first heard that take, I thought, “Hmmm. That could work. Just deconstruct the false beliefs and line up what you believe with Scripture.” I was operating from the foundational belief that objective truth exists and can be known. But as I continued to study the movement, this understanding of deconstruction became untenable.
That’s because the way the word is most often used in the deconstruction movement has little to do with objective truth, and everything to do with tearing down whatever doctrine someone believes is morally wrong. Take, for example, Melissa Stewart, a former Christian now agnostic/atheist with a TikTok following of over 200k. She describes how lonely and isolated she felt during her own deconstruction, and how discovering the #exvangelical hashtag opened up a whole new world of voices who related with what she was going through. Her TikTok platform now gives her the opportunity to create that type of space for others. In an interview on the Exvangelical Podcast, she commented on the deconstruction/exvangelical online space:
“My biggest experiences with it were people talking about what they went through—their stories—and it was very personal and it focused on the human beings who have come out of this, rather than on whether a certain kind of theology is right or wrong.“
In my experience studying this movement, I think she nails it on the head. Deconstruction is not about getting your theology right. It’s built upon a postmodern-ish embrace of moral relativism. For example, if your church says a woman can’t be a pastor, the virtuous thing to do would be to leave that church and deconstruct out of that toxic and oppressive doctrine. Deconstructionists do not regard Scripture as being the final authority for morality and theology—they appeal primarily to science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history.
Recent comments by Matt Chandler have made the rounds in which he characterized deconstruction as “the sexy thing to do,” hitting on the almost trendy type of cool factor the word now carries. Aside from giving the deconstructionists endless opportunities to make him the butt of their “Matt Chandler thinks I’m sexy!” jokes and memes, his comments (along with the recent comments by John Cooper of Skillet) have revealed that many Christians are using this one word in profoundly different ways. For example, Relevant magazine claims Chandler and Cooper have a “fundamental misunderstanding” of deconstruction. I disagree. I admit I’ve had a few quibbles with points Matt Chandler has made in recent years. But on this I think he understands something they don’t. He links deconstruction with the postmodernism of Derrida, and in a subsequent Instagram post, commented, “Deconstruction doesn’t mean doubt or theological wrestle or struggling through church hurt.” (All things he said he’s been through and has tons of mercy for.) I think he’s dead right.
We are Christians, and we should be deriving our vocabulary and categories from Scripture. I see nowhere in the Bible where anything like the current movement of deconstruction is promoted or condoned. I propose we leave it with Derrida and instead use biblical words and categories like doubt, reformation, discernment, and even sometimes, (gasp!) apostasy.
Let’s save deconstruction for what it presents itself to be. Here are some characteristics to look for if you think you might be deconstructing:
1. Some type of moral relativism is assumed, whether explicitly or implicitly. If Scripture is your authority, you are not deconstructing. That doesn’t mean you’re not struggling deeply with doubt, seeking healing from church abuse, or have profound confusion over what it means to be a Christian.
2. You are detaching from the body of Christ and seeking only the community of others who are also in deconstruction. If you are working through your doubts and questions in community with other believers, or at least have the intention of doing so, you are not deconstructing. Sometimes this will mean leaving an unbiblical church environment for a time, with the goal of finding a healthy one.
3. You are looking to non-Christian religious philosophies, history, or sociology—rather than Scripture— to determine authentic Christianity. Not that things like history and sociology are without merit, but if you are honestly seeking to derive your religious beliefs from Scripture, you are not deconstructing.
As Christians, we tend to protest when progressives and secularists take words and phrases like “love,” “tolerance,’ “biblical inspiration,” and “incarnation” and change the definitions to suit their preferences. Let’s not do the same with deconstruction.
Deconstruction has taken on a life of its own, and now is the time to be extremely careful to define our words accurately. After all, if the word means everything, then it means nothing, yet it carries the potential to suck unsuspecting Christians into a very dangerous vortex of ideas from which they might not return.
According to Childers, those deconstructing are moral relativists.
Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others. It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values; the denial that there are universal moral values shared by every human society; and the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own.
I could argue long and hard about morality, how all morality is inherently subjective — including that of Childers and her fellow Evangelicals. But, what I want to focus on instead is the clash of worldviews: one that believes the Bible is the ground for “objective” morality, and another worldview that is grounded in humanistic ideals. Childers, a Fundamentalist, believes the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. It is Big T Truth. As such, the Bible is the moral rulebook all humans are commanded by God to live by. Its moral pronouncements must never be doubted or questioned. God said it, end of discussion. Thus, abortion, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, premarital sex, masturbation, and a host of other things are crimes against the thrice-holy God of the Protestant Christian Bible. What ancient men 2,000-4,000 years ago wrote down in writings that were later made into a book must be obeyed at all times and in every circumstance. GOD HATH SPOKEN! No amendments, revisions, or memos are forthcoming. For Evangelicals, morality is set in stone, and anyone who suggests otherwise is _____________ (fill in the blank with whatever pejorative word Evangelicals use to describe those who refuse to play by their rules).
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.
This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:
Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.
Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.
Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.
Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.
Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.
Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.
As you can see, the worldview espoused by Childers and her friends at TGC is the polar opposite of that which is espoused by humanists. Childers’ foundation rests on the Bible, whereas humanists value science, skepticism, and rationalism. Childers admits as much when she says that people undergoing deconstruction tend to value “science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history” over the B-i-b-l-e (as if this is a bad thing).
Of course, Childers is right. The Bible is no match for science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history. Gone are the days of passing off Genesis 1-3 as science or with a straight face saying that the earth was destroyed by a flood 4,000 or so years ago. Think about all the Bible stories that were passed off as the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God. Think about all the stories that were ignored or sanitized, you know the ones that paint God in a bad light. Richard Dawkins was right when he said:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
This is the God the doubters and questioners see in the Old Testament. And the New Testament is no better. We see a blood cult sacrifice in Jesus’s atonement, misogyny in the writings of Paul, and the wrathful, violent, vindictive God makes a final, glorious appearance in the book of Revelation as he violently slaughters the human race, save the Evangelicals who have been raptured away.
Childers and the TGC want to maintain the status quo. Content to “reform” around the edges, they want things to remain just the way they are. This will, of course, only hasten the death of Evangelicalism. One need only look at attendance numbers to see that Evangelicalism is in decline. I have no doubt that this decline will only continue in the years ahead. What will become of Evangelicalism remains to be seen. I doubt the TGC gang will prevail.
Childers thinks it is okay to have doubts and questions as long as you seek out answers in the right places: theologically sound Evangelical churches. Seeking answers outside of the box is not permitted. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You Are In It and What I Found When I Left the Box.) Lurking outside of the box is are likes of Bruce Gerencser and other deconstruction commandos who only want to destroy your faith. This strawman, of course, is a figment of Childers’ and other protectors of the Evangelical realm’s imagination. I, for one, have never tried to deconvert anyone. Have people ended up walking away from Christianity (and the ministry) after reading my writing? Sure, but I don’t coerce people or try to evangelize. All I do is openly and honestly interact with people, something their pastors are unable or unwilling to do.
The smell of fear is in the air in Evangelical circles. Their house is crumbling, and instead of excavating the foundation, Evangelicals look for outside sources to blame for their demise. Deconversion is just the latest bogeyman underneath Evangelical beds.
I have one thing that Childers does not have: a story. A compelling story. A story that resonates with people who have doubts and questions. Surely, Childers knows the power of a good story. It seems, at least to me, that my story and that of other sevenfold children of Hell, is more compelling than the stories of the tired, less-than-believable stories told by Evangelical preachers Sunday after Sunday. My suggestion to TGC is that they come up with better stories. Better yet, write a better Bible. 🙂
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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