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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  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    Thank you for this article. I do not agree with all of its interpretations and expressions, but will refrain from mentioning all of my disagreements here. I will mention that to my knowledge, although Joshua Harris has left Christianity, but has not made a “denouncement” of it. I will also mention that the article attributes 2 Peter 1:10 to the Apostle Paul, not the Apostle Peter. I wonder if the author agrees with the Reformed doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, as he gives no indication of it here.

    I wonder how many of the “prominent Christian leaders and artists forsaking historic, Christian doctrines and morals” ever reflected seriously and deeply on those doctrines and morals before them forsook them? I would find it difficult to believe that Joshua Harris never had. I think he had thought much about doctrine and morals, including the doctrines of the holiness of God. I suspect, though, that many others did not. I heartily recommend it. I also heartily recommend that one heed what the Lord Jesus says in Luke 14:25-33 about counting the cost of following Him before deciding to follow Him. This is a teaching which evangelists very seldom, if ever, convey to their audiences, and which is generally unconsidered by Christians. I think that if it were preached and taught, there would be fewer cases of apostasy and of fleshly, worldly, and lukewarm Christians.

    • Pat Gustafson

      I see how the author only posts comments he approves of. Won’t post mine, since Freedom of Speech is so adored, but not when it is against what you want to hear.

      • Jack Lee

        Paul, I don’t approve comments. I sometimes delete curse word diatribes. I mean, you made this comment without “approval”…

        • smithflight

          Jack, I have experienced the same problem as Pat in posting. (I use discus) On a recent post 30 days ago. I sent the same comment 3 x’s and they are are all still listed as “pending” Perhaps Discus is having issues?

      • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

        Why do you think the author won’t post your comments? If it is because they are marked “spam”, it could be the automatic spam-filter of Disqus, not the author, that is doing that. I have read that if a comment is immediately detected as spam, it is the same filter that did it, not the author.

        The previous article.posted at this blog, “Farewell, Joshua Harris”, currently has over 200 comments posted beneath it. Some of them disagree with the article.

    • Jack Lee

      As always. thank you for thoughts, Salvatore. I do uphold the perseverance of the saints and would heartily agree most of the reformers here. Having said that, the primary goal of the article was glean lessons from such abandonments from orthodoxy. I do pray all those mention (and some not) repent and come back to Christ.

  • Redboyds

    Rachel Evans initially claimed to be an evangelical and all her books were published by Thomas Nelson, probably the largest evangelical publisher on earth. Having made a pile of money from those books, she made a clean and definitive break with evangelicals (and took a lot of her fans with her) but continued to call herself a Christian. For her, as for these recent exvangelicals, the deal-breaker was homosexuality, so (not surprisingly) she ended up with the Episcopalians. Although I don’t claim to know where Evans is spending eternity, I have more respect for someone like Harris, because I think he realizes you can’t “have it both ways,” as Evans tried to do. If you’re going to throw Christianity’s 2000 years of moral teaching away, then it’s right to stop calling yourself a Christian at all.

    • Al Cruise

      Would you like to discuss the 2000 years of atrocities committed in the name of Christian moral values?

      • Redboyds

        I wouldn’t discuss anything with you, given your blind hatred for Christians. Nothing I could say would change your highly biased mind, so it would be a waste. You see history through the lens of the groups that you hate, and that will never change.

        Trolls get some sort of weird buzz out of getting Christians to waste our time on blogs. I’ll have to deny you that pleasure. Nothing personal.

        • Al Cruise

          Your a typical fundie, your so blinded by your holier than thou attitude you cannot see your own sin. The broom of truth is sweeping you into the dustbin of history.

          • Vince

            You’ll probably die of AIDS.

          • Al Cruise

            You represent the attitude of this blog and others like it very well .

          • Jack Lee

            Al,

            I do not know who was that was but their comment has been deleted and their profile banned. I am sorry. They DO NOT represent the attitude of this blog.

        • Pat Gustafson

          I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

  • Christiane Smith

    ” at Your word
    I will let down the nets ”

    that’s trust . . .

    how many evangelical people today need to run to the Holy Gospels of Our Lord and read HIS Words again and find direction from them?

    People MUST speak up when tender-age innocent asylum victims are being abused . . . . we who follow Christ must not remain silent, or we lose our witness.

  • Monty

    This is nothing new, except that there are many high profile people who are going, but not so quietly. Lord Jesus throws down a challenge to those who purport to follow Him. “Eat my flesh and drink my blood”. Oh how offensive to the religious! The parable of the sower describes the one who allows the world to choke the word in his/her life. We are not doing God a favour by becoming Christians. He is showing His great love by saving us through Christ. We are not doing Christ a favour by making Him Lord. He already is Lord, we are just accepting the reality. We are not doing God a favour by giving all that we are, all our resources and our time. He owns it already. It is wrong to withhold from Him what belongs to Him. The shallowness of preaching has produced equally shallow “conversions” and it is no wonder that we are seeing the prophesied apostasy. I’m glad this is happening, but not out of ill will towards the apostates. I hope and pray that they will repent. But the real church is swamped by fake Christians. Billy Graham said that he would be delighted if 5% of those who came forward were for real. Jack has made some really good points. I have no intention of taking away from from them.

  • KMR

    Just to add something else to think about celebrity Christians travel a lot and meet a lot of different people. Way more than the average devout Christian who goes to one church with the same people in the same community. Experiences shape our evolution as people. They may be dropping their faith due to the accumulation of such experiences, because the truth they were taught, they truth they personally taught, was simply contradicted one too many times and they no longer could support it guilt free. People don’t deconvert without thought. People don’t become celebrity Christians without thought. To say Joshua dropped his faith because he didn’t clung to God’s holiness is trite. He’s lost his marriage and his career. I’m sure he’s lost many friends since Christians are not known to be kind when one leaves their tribe. I’m sure he tried to cling to his faith with every vestige of willpower he had since that would certainly be the easiest path for him to take. But he lost it anyway. You don’t have to approve. But it’s laughable to try to explain it away with him somehow losing sight of who God is. He knows who you say God is. He just no longer believes it for whatever reason but I’m sure it’s not for lack of trying on his part.

  • Christiane Smith

    I come from another branch of the family in the faith, so I can share an ‘outsider’s’ point of view, and I may be wrong, but here it is for what it’s worth:

    in fundamentalist-evangelical comments, ‘God’ is often spoken of as a separate personage from ‘Christ’, rather than in the trinitarian concept where ‘God in three Persons’ includes Christ as ‘God’

    so sometimes, there seems to be a ‘disconnect’ between ‘the God Who would be offended’ and Lord Christ, Who told that if we saw Him, we saw the Father’

    and then some have removed Our Lord as the ‘lens’ through which sacred Scripture must be understood, and that had increased the separation from how the Word is to be interpreted by those reading it and applied; and how the Word might be seen through our knowledge of Him Who IS ‘the Word’

    So there is a great difference in how people ‘judge’ sin and sinners based on their own understanding of ‘Who God is’ and ‘Who Christ is’ and we see that difference reflected in how much contempt is present for certain sins and sinners, and rather than ‘God, be merciful to us sinners’, we are seeing these fundamentalist-evangelicals point the finger and tell that they are glad they are ‘not like those other sinners’.

    Well, Our Lord told a parable about who received God’s blessing: the pharisee or the publican.
    And it didn’t matter to those who want folks to point the finger as they do.
    So if folks don’t join the contemptuous finger-pointers, then these folks themselves come to be held in contempt.
    So, what have I missed here? What did I get wrong? What have I not understood?

  • Stefan Stackhouse

    In his parable of the four soils, Jesus tells us of the second soil where the seed springs up a grows profusely for a time, but lacks deep roots and thus eventually withers. I believe that this phenomenon we are seeing is exactly this. If there has been a fatal flaw in American evangelicalism in particular, it is that it has been too much about making “converts” and not enough about making disciples (which is what we were actually commanded to do). The actual moment of first turning around is in fact only to be the first step. A lifetime of following Jesus on the narrow path of discipleship is what is supposed to follow. Unfortunately, what we see in so many churches (especially, but not exclusively, those that are “seeker-friendly”) is nothing but an emphasis on making converts. Once people have prayed the sinner’s prayer, they never hear much of anything about what comes next. Combine that with a display of superficial piety and little genuine love and community, and you have all the ingredients for a short-term impressive show followed by a withering and falling away.

  • Tedd Ludd

    I have never read a better essay that so clearly illustrated the complete hypocrisy of Conservative Evangelical Christianity in my life. The author clearly illustrates just how intellectually bankrupt both he and his so called religion are in their current state. Seriously, I knew you people were not too bright, seriously you believe in imaginary creatures and and big invisible imaginary sky daddies but this takes the cake. You start this easy out by revealing your hatred and intolerance for people that just don’t love the same way you do then proceed to tell us all how much your big imaginary sky daddy is about love. The level of stupidity and hypocrisy in this word salad is so bad that my brain itches after reading it. This is why people are leaving religion, especially evangelical Christianity, in droves across the planet.

    • Jack Lee

      “I have never read a better essay” – Todd Ludd

    • Theodore A. Jones

      Well then read this. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13

      • Pat Gustafson

        I don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.

  • Rational Human

    Interesting that you talk about h.m.o.s..uality and then throw an unrelated Jesus quote to give your comment the weight of authority. That was the perfect place to insert a quote from Jesus specifically about h.m.o.s..uality, why didn’t you do that? Oh, wait …nevermind. He never said a word about it.

    You seem to really be driven by fear. And you are right, fear keeps a lot of people in the pews, but people are waking up to the fact that both the threats and promises of Christianity are baseless and toothless, and nothing to fear.