I’m Not All That Impressed with Exvangelical Deconstruction Stories

I’m Not All That Impressed with Exvangelical Deconstruction Stories May 27, 2021

Year after year, it seems like a never-ending supply of pastors, pastor’s kids, and artists formerly known as Christians are making the headlines in the religious and secular world alike. As a result, many a writer takes up the pen to provide some commentary on the subject, either celebrating the “victory” of winning them over to the secular cause, or bemoaning the state of the church, or the state of apologetics, or the state of the family. While those bemoaning the state of the church, apologetics, and the family (and more) are all true to an extent, I believe people miss the fundamental issue behind every one of these de-conversion stories. The reality is that many can make all sorts of grand excuses for why they’ve defected from the Christian faith, but the apostle John summarizes it most succinctly for us when he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us…” (1 Jn. 2:19).

Now, for many that is simply not a satisfactory answer because at first blush, it’s a bit too Calvinistic, especially when one considers what the remainder of the verse speaks to about the nature and perseverance of those who remain within the church and endure to the end. On one level, I understand the plight of the one who believes that to be a reductionist answer, because they want to know the reason why so many are deconstructing. In the end, I don’t believe that will prove any more satisfying an answer to people than what the apostle John says here, namely, because they are one in the same. However, in keeping with the spirit of this post, I want to touch on what I believe to be the main reason why so many are defecting from the faith.

One of the more recent examples people think of would be that of John Piper’s son, Abraham Piper. The reason for this is relatively simple, in that the deconstructing Abraham has taken a fancy to TikTok with clever, catchy tidbits of him mocking the Christian faith (which is so in vogue today). I will say at the onset that when I first stumbled across him some months back, I found it quite sad. I used it as a teaching moment for my own son, where he and I watched some of his videos together, and I asked him his thoughts, and then we discussed the nature of the Proverbial fool. Now, don’t misunderstand me—it is still profoundly sad, but it also gave me a deeper appreciation for John Piper. It led me to see that despite Abraham’s brutal mockery of all his father and mother stand for and love, it testifies of his paternal faithfulness.

So, I commend the faithfulness of a man like John Piper in raising his son to be so inundated with biblical truth that he still can’t quite get away from it well into his adult life. It is constantly on the tip of the tongue; he cannot go about life without thinking of the God he professes to reject. He cannot go for a stroll through industrial areas of Minneapolis without the many likely strolls with dad coming to mind, where the two spoke at length of the greatness of God. He still very much acts and thinks as a kid raised in an unabashedly Christian home—something he freely admits—and this is the way things should be if you stop to think about it.

While this is a thing of scorn to Abraham Piper, to me it simply testifies to the John Piper I’ve come to admire, despite the quibbles I might make with some of his theological positions. Surely, John Piper is not a perfect man, nor was he a perfect father. I’m certainly sure he has his regrets—moments perhaps where he knows he could have handled things differently and better. I’m likewise certain that John Piper would trade everything—all the books, conferences, podcasts, everything—to see his son Abraham, love the Lord. What father wouldn’t? Yet in the end, the one thing John Piper will not have assigned to him is unfaithfulness.

The simple reason I lay all of this out at the beginning is that Abraham Piper’s constant diatribe against the Christian faith isn’t the testament to a lazy, uninvolved father. Rather, it is a testament of a father who raised his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. It is likewise not a testament to a father who isn’t worth his salt when it comes to exposition of the Biblical text. While you may have strong disagreements about many of the positions John Piper holds, nonetheless, he is not the stereotypical Evangelical Christian father who knows a great deal of stats about secular athletes, but can’t regurgitate a single verse of Scripture from memory.

Now, I have a sort of soft spot for young men and women raised in a Christian household that never studied the Scriptures. Many a parent neglected to make the Word central in the home, raised their children to be good, obedient pagans, and then wondered why their children came back from school with all sorts of ideas that run contrary to the Christian faith. The onus is still on these children to search out the truth of Scripture, regardless of how bad a job mom and dad have done. They ought to lament the very real fact that their parents failed in their primary task given to them by God—but it is up to them to carve a new and more faithful path.

Likewise, I have sympathy for those raised in a church environment that didn’t equip them, or worse yet, filled them with all sorts of unsound teaching. We all know of the happy-clappy, squishy Evangelical churches that run an inch deep and a mile wide. They pride themselves on setting the bar as low as possible because they don’t want to get too deep into the Scriptures. They create emotionally manipulative atmospheres all designed to lull people into a stupor, and all the while they leave nearly all who darken their doorstep empty-headed. Yet likewise, the onus is still on these people to search out the truth of Scripture and find a biblically literate church to commit themselves to.

I also commiserate to a degree with the Religious Nones because I once would have been considered one. By today’s standards, the designation is pretty much a catchall for various different groups and belief systems that aren’t affiliated with one of the major religions of the world. I believe it is a misnomer of sorts; everyone is a devotee to some belief system, whether agnostic, atheistic, or the ever-vague “spiritualistic but not religious” group. Everyone orders their life around these same principles as well, much like one would a classified religion. But much like everyone else, the onus is on every man, woman, and child to lay hold of what’s true and submit themselves to that truth.

In other words, what I’m arguing for is the reality that Proverbs 1:20-33 lays out fairly neatly. Wisdom is personified, ever-crying out to the masses to seek her so that they may live. Yet men, being incredibly good at folly and mocking, refuse to listen to her call, but instead, foolishly mock wisdom. As a result, on the day calamity strikes them, they will cry out to her—but it will forever be too late. Rather than the sweet voice of lady wisdom crying out to them, they shall hear her derisive laughter as she lay hidden, beyond their grasp. Rather than lay hold of her and find life, they shall eat the fruit of their own ways and die in their simple-minded rejection of the fear of the Lord. But, to those who listen and heed her call, they shall be at ease, without any fear of harm.

The point being: it is not for a lack of wisdom, knowledge, or anything produced from such things, that people reject the Scriptures. This is the main reason why I find myself resoundingly unimpressed every time I hear another deconstruction story from a self-dubbed exvangelical. The other half of that is my own anecdotal experience, which, while not authoritative and binding on people, does tend to put many in a bit of a dilemma. The interesting conundrum for the many exvangelicals making shipwreck of their faith today is that I am essentially the bizarro version of them. I started off as a religious none in a non-religious home, graduated to being an atheist, then moved on to being an anti-theist, and wound up a Christian in the end.

If I’m to be completely forthright, just prior to becoming a Christian, I was more akin to how Abraham Piper is now, albeit, a bit more nihilistic in my outlook on life. In that, I wouldn’t necessarily find it completely honest to describe myself today as an ex-atheist, but rather, an ex-antitheist. It wasn’t simply enough for me to maintain unbelief; I delighted myself in being the guy who tripped up naïve Christians. I enjoyed being able to point out purported contradiction after contradiction, but I especially delighted in being able to call out the hypocrisy in their own lives. This led me to actually picking up a Bible to read so that I would have a bit more ground to stand on when I confronted lackadaisical, inconsistent, or purely ignorant Christians.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, so I found it quite easy to lift from many of the published popularizers who I believed “absolutely wrecked and demolished” the Christian faith. Yet when I actually studied the Scriptures for myself, I found much of what is popular falls woefully short of what is actually stated. When I dug even deeper into a comparative religious study, the historical context of the Bible, and simply put: looked for rational answers to the questions and objections I had, I found them. Sometimes it took relatively little time (i.e. just read the broader context of the argument in Scripture). Other times, it took quite a bit of digging to uncover how scholars throughout the history of the church have dealt with various issues with the synoptic gospels, the problem of evil, and so on and so forth. In all of it though, I found sufficient answers in harmony with what the Scriptures taught, which much to my chagrin, started to eat away at my own presuppositions against the Christian faith.

To be quite frank, it is this reverse trajectory of mine that causes me to have very little sympathy for exvangelicals and their de-conversion stories. The reason for that is relatively simple, and it isn’t bound up in me thinking that I am somehow the better version of them. Rather, it is that I genuinely know what it is like to wrestle through all of the uncertainty, doubt, and at times, what it is like to be faced with the pure, moral dilemma of what the Scriptures say is good, based on my ethical framework at that time. But in the end, I’ve come to be more and more convinced that the vast majority of those who reject the Christian faith do so on the basis of intellectual laziness, intellectual dishonesty, or simple ignorance. They either don’t care to find the answers, they don’t care to hear the answers, or, they don’t know where to even begin.

Though most tend not to care to find or hear the answers, people tend to make much of the exvangelical deconstruction story, as if the church has failed magnificently in some respects. Don’t get me wrong, it has in many ways. If we’re broadly speaking of the modern American phenomena that passes for church these days, there is undoubtedly a black mark on her reputation. Frankly though, as truthful as this might be in many cases—even this is a tired, old excuse that removes personal culpability. We literally have thousands of years where the most brilliant minds innately gifted by the Spirit of God have penned responses to life’s most burning questions.

For anyone who has taken the time to actually study these things in depth, the question isn’t if someone has given a satisfying answer to reconcile the apparent contradictions of the Scriptures, given exhaustive treatment on things like textual criticism and transmission, or provided ample solutions to the “problem passages” we find as finite readers. No doubt, we live at the apex of world history, in that we have the world’s wealth of information at our fingertips—which very simply means that for the most part, we have free access to the world’s writings on nearly every topic under the sun. Even if we were to devote the entirety of our lives to studying these resources, never taking a moment’s rest to sleep, eat, or even defecate, we wouldn’t even come close to exhausting them. Add to this then the resources you have to plunk down cold, hard cash for, and the prospect of studying these things becomes even more daunting.

And this is particularly what makes the whole exvangelical deconstruction story all the more dull in my mind. The objections that people like Rhett and Link, Abraham Piper, the Gungors, Newboys’ former member George Perdikis, dc Talk’s Kevin Max, Joshua Harris, Derek Webb, et al., have, are basic, Sunday school level objections. In where we are in the history of the church, these aren’t even the interesting questions that Christians have any more. These are some of the most basic elements of the historic Christian faith that it leaves many of us wondering if these people took much time at all to crack open some dusty, old tomes from dead guys on the subjects. They are tired old tropes that have been handled quite adequately—and at this point, you can find any number of resources available to help you understand them. So, coming from guys (and gals) like me who took the reverse route, we tend to see the whole exvangelical deconstruction narrative as a rather bland phenomena that speaks more towards humanity’s ability to make grand explanations out of a place of willful ignorance than anything else.

Again, I’m not saying churches and parents haven’t failed, because Lord knows, many of them have. What I am saying though is that there isn’t an excuse to give for what can only be construed as intellectual laziness, intellectual dishonesty, or willful ignorance. Exvangelicals can blame it on the youth groups they frequented, their parents, and everyone or anything else they desire to, but the onus is upon them at the end of the day. It won’t be for a lack of cogent apologetics material, historic writings from the church for the last several thousand years, or the hundreds of thousands of materials available to us today from faithful teachers. If you don’t know where to start in the thick of all of that, trust me, I get that and will happily point you in the right direction. But let’s stop pretending as if there aren’t resources and tools available to us to understand these things with accuracy and reliability.

What it always boils down to in the end is that people simply have no genuine desire to submit themselves to the God who declares all things to be under His rightful jurisdiction. Thus, the natural disposition of one is to cast off the fetters of an antiquated belief system they no longer desire to subscribe to, though arguably, there was little to no genuine Christianity residing in their bones to begin with. In other words: it is the same old sin of our federal head, Adam, who simply rejected the will of His Creator in favor of expressing his own sinful desires—and what’s more than this, the pattern of blame-shifting responsibility on something or someone else was likewise present. Just as Adam’s propensity to blame-shift fell flat with God, it will likewise fall resoundingly flat with any self-dubbed exvangelical.

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