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Deconstruction Advice for Evangelical Christians

deconversion

What would prompt you [someone who has questions about Christianity] to feed on the garbage you’re reading and watching, thereby polluting your mind?…Certainly, someone does need to read and interact with secular material, but that person is not (yet) you. You first need to prepare yourself…Quit reading and watching the infidel material you’ve been absorbing. Confess your recklessness and irresponsibility to God. Notice: I’m not saying, quit asking questions. I’m saying, quit going to the wrong people for answers.

Evangelical Apologist William Lane Craig

I get a lot of emails from Evangelical Christians who are struggling with their faith. Pastors, evangelists, missionaries, college professors, and devout church members will contact me about their existential struggles. Some of them have questions, others just want someone to listen to them. Consider how bad it is for many Evangelicals that they can’t talk to their pastors or other church leaders, so they contact a stranger on the Internet. They read my story and it resonates with them. They see me as someone who will understand, and they hope I will listen to them or answer their questions.

My goal as a writer has always been the same: to help people who have doubts and questions about Christianity and to help people who have left Christianity altogether. My objective has never been evangelization. While scores of people have deconverted after interacting with me, that’s never been my goal. I genuinely want to help people. I suspect that I am not much different today from the way I was as a pastor. Of course, I no longer see salvation or restoration as the end-all. I am content to help people wherever they are on this journey called life. I don’t try to “save” people. I’m content to let people come to their own conclusions. I might challenge their worldview and beliefs, but I know that their journey is theirs, and I’m content to let them follow the path wherever it leads. Any movement away from Fundamentalism (please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) is a good one.

When interacting with deconstructing Evangelicals, the first thing I do is listen. I am fascinated by their stories, so similar, yet so different. Sadly, they find themselves in a lonely place. No one wants to listen to them. Their pastors see them as a “problem” that needs to be fixed. Evangelicalism demands conformity and obedience. While differences of belief are permitted, typically they are discouraged or expected to fit closely defined parameters. Evangelicalism is like a box. Church members are free to wander within the box, asking hard questions such as premillennial or postmillennial, KJV or NIV, speaking in tongues or not, Calvinism or Arminianism, and a host of other game interpretations. Asking hard questions about God, the Bible, and the central claims of Christianity are unwelcome, and will quickly bring a visit from the pastor or a list of approved books from Evangelical apologists to read. Dare to climb out of the box to see what’s on the outside and you will be judged, condemned, and marginalized. And in some cases, you will be asked to shut the hell up or you will be threatened with excommunication. (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.)

When interacting with Evangelicals, the first thing I do is encourage them to read books and blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch YouTube videos. I suggest they stay away from Evangelical apologists and preachers. Such people have an agenda: to keep asses in the pews and money in the offering plates. Their goal is to maintain the status quo and protect at all costs that which they and their fellow gatekeepers have built. They know that providing honest answers to questions about God, the Bible, and church history will cause more doubts and questions, and even unbelief.

When dealing with Evangelicals, I always recommend they read authors such as Bart Ehrman and John Shelby Spong. If I sense they can handle stronger doses of medicine, I recommend authors such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the anthologies published by John Loftus. These men speak truth, but their books can be difficult for sensitive Christians to swallow.

If, as Evangelicals allege, God, the Bible, and life after death are the most important things facing the human race, then it behooves us to know whether their claims are true. Reading books written by Evangelical authors will only reinforce, not challenge, beliefs. Such writers are certain they are right, and they want you to be just as certain as they are. Non-Evangelical authors are usually more interested in facts and evidence. Their goal is education, not evangelization and conversion.

The second thing I do is encourage them to talk to people who have different beliefs from theirs. Visit non-Evangelical churches. Interact with writers who are willing to listen and try to answer what questions you might have. My inbox is always open. I will interact with some people for a time and then I won’t hear from them again. I am quite happy to be “used” if I can help people in some way. Sometimes, people will reconnect with me years later. Often, they email me to let me know where they are in life or that they are now an atheist.

Third, I ask people to be brutally honest with themselves. Meet truth in the middle of the road and do business. Don’t try to back up or go around. If people are willing to do so, they will always end up exactly where they need to be. While many of them will remain Christians, I am confident that they will come to understand that Evangelicalism cannot be rationally sustained; that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible; that many of their beliefs are irrational and harmful. Evangelicalism sells itself as THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life, but many people learn that there is a Christianity that exists that is not Fundamentalist; one built on a foundation of love, peace, mercy, and kindness. While I am always happy when people embrace atheism, I know that most people won’t. Thus, I gently encourage people to expand their religious horizons. The goal, from my seat in the atheist pew, is to smother the life out of Evangelicalism.

Hopefully, this short post will be helpful for those who are on the path away from Evangelicalism. I have no interest in arguing with zealots or debating apologists. I don’t intend to cast my pearls before swine. But I do want to befriend deconstructing Evangelicals and help them in any way I can.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Merle Hertzler

    Yes, you are doing the right thing. There are many people with questions who don’t know where to turn. The Internet has exposed people to many views. There is only so long that people can block this incoming information before their minds seek to make sense of it all. It is great that there are blogs like yours that people can turn to.

    Merle Hertzler
    http://www.mindsetfree.blog

  2. Avatar
    Troy

    If someone is coming to an atheist for advice on their lack of faith, it makes me wonder have they already decided but want an “authority” to tell them it is OK? I’m not putting them down, we are a very hierarchical species. Socially we are always taking cues from others.

  3. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, this might seem odd, but when I read the sentence, “They see me as someone who will understand, and they hope that I will listen to them or answer their questions,” I thought of the new 988 national suicide hotline.

    Think about it: Why do people dial it? While there are a few who have drawn a line on their wrists or have bottles of pills and vodka next to them, most simply want someone who understands and will listen to them and, sometimes, answer their questions.

    I know: Years ago, for a few months, I volunteered on an early, local version of such a hotline. And while I never called such a hotline, I once called my closest friend at the time–when I drew, with a fine-point marker, the path the blade would follow along my wrist.

    Of course, there is a difference between a suicide hotline and a possible hotline for Evangelicals or others who have questions: While one has an explicit goal of keeping people from harming themselves (whether or not that’s what they actually wanted to do), a questioners hotline would allow people to go wherever the answers to their questions lead. But what they’d have in common is that the person answering the phone would listen and be non-judgmental: something a questioner is unlikely to find in a church.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    This brings back memories of the visceral discomfort I would feel while I was exploring information regarding atheism – or at least information that showed how Christianity just wasn’t true. I hadn’t found human resources yet – just cold, sterile books where there was no human connection point. Then I found some blogs where people were telling their personal stories. It helped so much to know I wasn’t alone. I found Bruce’s blog after stumbling on The Clergy Project. Having had no idea that pastors also deconvert, I had to know more. Bruce’s blog is the only one from Clergy Project I felt a connection to – whether it was the writing style or content (I wasn’t IFB but had attended a school where most faculty were IFB trained), I felt at home here. There are tons of social media groups where people can connect, but this blog was really the first place I found that community

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Bruce Gerencser