3 Lessons from the Rise of ‘EXvangelicals’ and How Not to Become One

3 Lessons from the Rise of ‘EXvangelicals’ and How Not to Become One August 23, 2019

There is a growing trend of prominent Christian leaders and artists forsaking historic, Christian doctrines and morals—denying the God they used to proclaim. Many are even adopting the designation “EXvangelicals” to describe themselves. Joshua Harris, former Covenant Life Church Pastor and Christian purity book author, is the most recent to abandon orthodox beliefs for the culture’s fool’s gold. His denouncement of Christianity shocked countless people who grew up with his advice on dating, courtships, and sexual purity. For many of these, Joshua Harris represented the idealistic Christian life. He was a young, fervent Christian thinker who seemed to have every theological nut and bolt tightened just right. And yet, unless he repents, he will have traded it all for a divorce, some rainbow-pride donuts, and God’s holy wrath.

It seems every few months some former evangelical announces via social media they’ve outgrown the bible’s teaching. A few of these have really stung. Personally, musician Derek Webb’s departure of the faith felt like a gut-punch betrayal. His first several solo albums were very influential on my life as a new Christian. I still find it hard to listen to his music. Such apostasies cause us to wonder why these men and women, who at one time not only professed, but seemed genuinely convinced thereof, are renouncing biblical Christian doctrine? Although everyone’s reasoning is unique, there are common threads of reality woven into all who walk away from Christ. With some discernment, we can learn from these with the hope that we do not follow in their folly.

The first, and perhaps the most obvious lesson here, is that the culture is deceptively enticing and immensely powerful. It is not a coincidence that the rise of pastoral moral failures and orthodox doctrinal relinquishments is trending alongside the growth of the sexual revolution. The enemy has seized one of the most fundamental pillars of Christianity—love,  and is weaponizing it against us. In the name of love, well-meaning Christians roll over every day to liberal social agendas.

Christians and love should be, practically speaking, synonymous. So then, how can we not also fully love and accept the advocates of the sexual revolution?  What is wrong with two human beings expressing love? After all, isn’t love better than fighting? Furthermore, if we love them, we should not just embrace their fluidic gender and sexual preferences, but we should celebrate them. Clearly, anyone opposed to “love” is guilty of the opposite: hate. No one wants to be known as a hateful, religious bigot! This line of thinking, while flimsy and ill-informed, is powerful against the weaker Christian. The abuse of love in our culture is horrific. Love was never meant to be a ticket for licentiousness. Without wisdom, love is a reckless tornado.

I perceive celebrity Christians to be particularly vulnerable here. They’ve developed their brand and name on the premise that people agree with their thinking/product and endorse them because of it. Without the public, they risk losing who they are (a danger of one’s primary identity not being in Christ). The Christian music industry wants content that’s “positive and encouraging” and “safe for the whole family.” Controversy is not welcome.

I am immediately reminded of Christian artist Lauren Daigle’s recent incident. When asked if homosexuality was a sin, she replied “I can’t say one way or the other. I’m not God.” As one who has been surrounded by Christian culture her entire life, I seriously doubt she doesn’t know what the bible says about homosexuality. Many who have never cracked open a bible are culturally aware of its stance on such things. When faced with an opportunity to offend the culture or God, she chose God; she collapsed under the pressure of the culture’s demands. Failure is inevitable when one fears the culture more than they fear God.

I hope my assessment of Lauren Daigle’s comment is not read too harshly. While my conclusion of Ms. Daigle’s answer is certainly critical, it is not without empathy. The pressures and influence of the culture are wildly powerful and while I do not endorse her comments, I understand why she said them. We are in many ways oblivious to the depths at which entertainment, news, and education penetrate our thinking. Christians are called to more than this. We are called to forsake the world for the sake of Christ and His gospel. Consider Jesus’ authoritative words in Mark 8:

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’” (34-38, ESV)

If we are to claim Christ, we must live as those who are unashamed of Him and His message. This means we must also adopt His worldview. We cannot flippantly define “love” as the culture does—for it cheapens it a great deal—but rather, seek to understand it in the context of the sacrificial cross. The death of Jesus was the greatest demonstration of love the universe has ever seen. We must start there and let that empower and define us. If we are unwilling to deny the world, then we are unwilling to meet the requirements Christ gives us to be a Christian. If faith ever becomes means to something other than Christ, we’ve missed the main point. Money, fame, and public adoration are terrible substitutes for the blood of Jesus. Heed Paul’s words from the book of Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (6:7, ESV).

The second lesson we can learn from such apostasies is that to prevent such moral and spiritual failures, Christians must cling to the doctrine of God’s holiness. The fear of God is something of a foreign concept for many Christians; still, we are told that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). I think this is because without a baseline of God’s ultimate and awe-inspiring righteousness, we will insert other methods of appropriating God against the culture’s ever-changing morals.

The holiness of God are the glasses through which we filter all of scripture—not reckless love. God is not defined by His parts or attributes; rather, He is the great sum by which everything else is defined, meaning we cannot interpret God’s love and mercy in scripture apart from His unchanging holiness. Understanding begins with reverential fear and a profound recognition of God’s majesty. The fear of God imparts to us wisdom to understand and stand firm in whatever the world can toss at us. His holiness is an anchor for the Christian.

A general misconception among many evangelical Christians is that God’s character mirrors the bible and is to be read and understood in two distinct parts. The first being that of an angry God of wrath (Old Testament) and the second being that of a loving God of forgiveness (New Testament). This is incorrect; God is the same throughout. His holiness is prevalent under, in, and through every single word. God is love, as scripture tells us—but this is a holy, genuine, powerful, and jealous love!

I urge you to consider the moment Simon Peter first experiences Christ’s righteousness. It’s a wonderful reminder of the significance of God’s holiness, recorded in the Gospel of Luke:

“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he [Jesus] was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ (Luke 5:1-8, ESV).

Here we find Jesus displaying His sovereignty over creation and interestingly, Peter does not respond in amazement, praise, or with a plea for help (as the boats were beginning to sink). Instead, he falls on his knees and begs for Christ to leave from him. At that moment, Christs’ holiness was so clear to Peter that all he could contemplate was his sinfulness; he knew he did not belong in the presence of such a magnificent Being. Truly, Peter feared Christ more than he feared drowning!

Meditate on this truth for a moment: when Peter’s sinful nature was face to face with the majesty of God, death was preferable. Graciously, Jesus didn’t grant his wish. Instead, he calls him to be an apostle and a leader of the disciples. By grace, Peter’s fear pulled him away from the world into the arms of His Savior. We can learn from Peter’s experience. Evangelicals often treat the holiness of God as something trite and forgettable, when in reality, it is an eternal treasure and something to treat with reverence.

For the ever-growing list of “exvangelicals,” let us pray for them and their restoration. It is easy to be critical (and rightly so in some cases), but it is much harder to regularly pray for their repentance. Even Peter, who experienced Christ’s majesty firsthand, found repentance after he denied Jesus 3 times. We are all broken, but none are without hope.

Finally, let us consider the Apostle Peter’s suggestion to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). That is, let check ourselves regularly against the doctrine and demands of holy scripture and ensure we are in the faith. It is a sobering thought that many who have departed from the faith never had it. This should frighten us and spur those in Christ to pursue Him more deeply. The three evidences of genuine faith are the Holy Spirit bearing witness with your spirit, the fruit of good works, and perseverance to the end. Friends, seek Christ while He still may be found.

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