Deconversion: Brett McCracken Gets It Completely Wrong

Deconversion: Brett McCracken Gets It Completely Wrong April 15, 2021

Hi and welcome back! We ran across this post on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) last week and it made us laugh: “Deconversion Is Not As Countercultural as You Think,” by Brett McCracken. In it, the writer tries his absolute best to make deconversion sound like just some trend-chasing fad — and more than that, to make TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ sound like the real countercultural move. It’s beyond hilarious, but it also contains some very dark messages about his brand of toxic Christianity. Sure, it might seem like he’s just insulting his tribal enemies. And he is. But he’s actually not talking to us, not really. Let me show you what Brett McCracken is telling his tribemates under his breath, and what he accidentally reveals about his entire belief system.

a very very tangled tree
Jesus is so lucky he has Brett McCracken to set us all straight! (Tree pic: veeterzy.)

(“Fundagelicalism” is the fusion of evangelicalism with fundamentalism. The two branches used to be distinct, but now they’re largely identical. The term itself isn’t mine and I’m not sure where it comes from, but I like it. Also, when I talk about Christian salespeople, the product they’re selling is not belief-in-Jesus or even a particular belief package. Apologists and evangelists try to get their marks to purchase active membership in their own particular group. The “Cool Kids Club” is just a silly term describing how fundagelicals think about dominance — like it’s a high-school clique that won’t let you sit at their table for lunch.)

Everyone, Meet Brett McCracken. He’s Way Cooler Than Us.

Brett McCracken, according to his TGC bio blurb, is a surprisingly-young elder at Southlands Church. This is a large fundagelical megachurch complex in California. He appears to do his elder thang at their Brea location. Southlands is an out-and-proud Calvinist/Reformed church. So right out of the gate, we shouldn’t expect him to be one of those rare shining examples of Christian love and grace.

Indeed, we’ve mentioned him here before. In that post, we saw him sneering at Carlton Pearson (the pastor from the movie Come Sunday) and unsuccessfully trying to scare-quotes him into oblivion.

McCracken has written a few books, which he shills relentlessly in his TGC posts (like here). He’s also the “senior editor and director of communications” for TGC itself. (Conflict of interest? What conflict of interest? YOU’RE a conflict of interest!) His personal blog tells us he graduated from uber-fundagelical Wheaton College and holds an MA in Cinema & Media Studies. And if you just have to read a lot of his interviews and stuff, dude’s all over the internet.

So he’s not especially a nobody in fundagelical circles.

Remember, as we consider today’s blog post, that he is a salesperson for his religion — and apparently a fairly popular one at that. He makes his money by selling Christians stuff that they think will put butts in pews (BIPs) and keep ’em there. Thus, he has a lot to gain or lose through selling his ideas. He’s not just a disinterested bystander offering his unbiased opinion on a situation.

This OP (original post) today seeks to accomplish a particular salesperson’s desires, just like any sales pitch should. 

The Fakey-Fake Trend Chasers, in King Brett’s World.

Something I’ve noticed in my brief foray into Brett McCracken’s writing is that he’s intensely focused on presenting his flavor of Christianity as the real-deal, utterly countercultural and weeeeeeeeeeeeird Christianity that’s totes for realsies true. One of his books even takes up the question of “Hipster Christianity.”

What’s weird is that in that book, he criticizes “hipster Christianity” for trying too hard to be “cool, fashionable, trendy, and relevant.” Alas, that’s exactly what he presents to us in today’s OP: a Christianity that was cool before cool existed, but he just knows you won’t have heard of it.

hipster kitty knows the real deal
But don’t worry: he’ll splain it all to us.

It’s like he’s trying to badger his readers:

Don’t you want in on this REALLY countercultural thing? Don’t you? How bout now? Deconversion is so YESTERDAY. We’re the real cool kids here. Not you.

King Brett McCracken Has Noticed Deconversion Ex-Timonies.

It’s always hilarious to see toxic Christians reacting to deconversion stories, which ex-Christians often nickname “ex-timonies.” They always bristle so hard at the idea that ex-Christians might share our stories. And in their bristling, they always try so incredibly hard to negate what we have to say.

Well, Brett McCracken continues that fine tradition of showering scare-quotes “Christian love” on these worst of his tribal enemies. In his post, he begins:

In recent years, the “Instagram deconversion announcement” has become a well-established genre. The formula is pronounced: a former evangelical author, pastor, CCM star, or simply “raised in the church” 20-something posts a self-portrait looking ponderous and solemn, yet free.

Remember, always, that McCracken is a Christian salesperson. It is his job, literally and completely, to make deconversion sound as illegitimate as he possibly can, and to make embracing his particular group’s beliefs sound appealing and correct.

So we should not feel surprised that he claims he’s not wanting to “diminish” the intense feelings that go with these announcements, and then proceeds to try to do exactly that.

Here’s What It Looks Like to Try Way Too Hard.

Brett McCracken’s attempt to slam his enemies comes off as pure sneering vitriol. But then, so does most of his writing about dissension in the ranks, I guess. He writes:

Far from renegade, edgy, and brave, the announcement of a person’s conscious uncoupling from institutional religion is simply going with the flow of a culture that mainstreamed such behavior decades ago. Rather than going against the grain of Western culture, abandoning received doctrine and institutional faith—in favor of a self-styled, follow-your-heart spirituality—is quite smoothly “with the grain.”

To declare one’s spiritual autonomy, one’s unshackling from Christianity’s “constraints” and old-fashioned ideas about sin and morality, is simply to nod along with Oprah and her vast tribe of suburban moms.

Oh, okay. Yeah, suburban moms are just famous for their secularism.

Gosh, are you sad now, ex-Christians, that you do not measure up to King Brett’s lofty expectations of you? Don’t you want to be really countercultural? Cuz you’re just one of the herd, according to King Him. Ugh, deconversion ex-timonies are just so yesterday.

Don’t worry! He’ll tell us poor lowly trend-chasers all about how we can rise to his level and be really countercultural — by doing exactly what he commands.

How to Be REALLY Countercultural, According to King Brett.

See, this salesperson-for-Jesus, whose income absolutely depends on his marks’ buy-in, insists that we can all be totes for realsies countercultural by accepting his judgment upon us and conforming to what he thinks is the right way to live our lives. And that means adopting the same flavor of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ that he follows — which, again, would be Calvinist fundagelicalism, the absolute worst-of-the-worst flavor out there. He cautions us sternly:

So before you file divorce papers from the Christianity of your youth, know that doing so is in no way countercultural. [. . .]  I want to suggest that the far more radical—and truly countercultural—choice isn’t to abandon Christian faith because it is maddening, difficult, and out of step with the contemporary zeitgeist.

The radical choice is to keep the faith.

Oh really? Wow, I had no idea. Did you? I didn’t. Gosh, don’t y’all want to be radical, that buzzword that died out in 1990s youth ministries probably right around the time Brett McCracken was born? Ignore how non-Christians feel about words like radicalized. He’s using Christianese here, and in Christianese that word is nothing but awesomesauce. It means the coolest-of-the-cool, Jesus-ing to the max, dude, and it is way more hardcore than thou. Instead of a boring ole deconversion, we should be like him. Jesus like he Jesus-es.

So this guy thinks that appealing to people’s desire to be cool — cool like him — is going to make them rethink deconverting.

(How how how can anyone possibly read this dreck and not burst into laughter? I’ve been chuckling to myself all evening over this thing. It’s just so hamfisted.)

No No, You Must Try ALL THE FLAVORS Before You’re Allowed to Leave.

What’s so funny is that the very next section is titled, “Have you tried True Christianity?” Seriously. Like it’s a line of cough syrups.

(I don’t just use the term TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, with the trademark symbol and all, at random. This is how toxic Christians really think. They think if someone buys into their flavor of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, there’s no way they’d ever want to leave.)

Ah, but what might TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ even look like? There are literally thousands and thousands of quirky li’l takes on the religion. Even when it first began, believers squabbled among themselves about what their newbie sect would believe and practice. There’s not one single claim in the whole religion that could be considered monolithic. But King Brett McCracken knows exactly what the bestest and most accurate flavor is.

This is the image ex-Christians usually deploy at these times:

our denomination set things aright
Saji George, “Tom’s Doubts #14.” (Sept 2011)

I hope Jesus knows how lucky he is to have Brett McCracken around to tell us all exactly how to get the Bible right.

So what is TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, according to this most excellent and radical of Christians?

When I say keeping the faith is radical, I’m talking about Christian faith in the true, biblical sense. [. . .] I would encourage you, if you’re considering a break from Christianity, to make sure you’ve given real Christianity a try.

Oh, okay. So all those other flavors aren’t Jesus-ing in “the true, biblical sense.” He is, and he knows this. And he is just so positive, so utterly certain, that if we give his flavor “a try,” we’ll totally see it’s not like all the others.

He even calls ex-Christians’ movement away from religion “bespoke spirituality.” Like it’s some kind of boutique, bougie, pretentious, sad imitation of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ that hardly even merits any kind of attention, unlike his totally true and for realsies interpretation of the Bible.

I just can’t. I’m laughing so hard. He’s just trying so hard here to slam his enemies. His assumptions are just off-the-charts funny.

The Biggest Problem Here.

Obviously, the biggest problem Brett McCracken faces is that people don’t deconvert to chase a trend or follow a fad. They deconvert because nothing about Christianity is based on reality. They just realized it, that’s all.

He may praise TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ as accepting “the taxing burden of lingering questions, knotty paradoxes, and ‘mirror dimly’ faith,” but if someone just flat realizes it’s all a big ole Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game and loses faith entirely, well, obviously they weren’t Jesus-ing correctly like he does. His flavor is just as unaccepting of the wrong kinds of doubt as any other flavor of toxic religion must be.

His literalist/inerrant worldview does not allow for his religious claims being simply untrue. (That’s what Calvinism is: an interpretation of the Bible that creates trump cards that Calvinists use to gain control of other Christians. Calvinists used one of those trump cards, inerrancy, to devastating effect during the Southern Baptist Convention’s schism in the 1980s to gain control of the denomination.)

So don’t worry — he’s got a hundred different ways of hand-waving away challenging information that disproves his religious claims. His antiprocess shields are off-the-charts strong, I’m sure.

(I used to hyphenate the word.)

Because Brett McCracken can’t really understand deconversion, he won’t ever understand why ex-Christians write ex-timonies or why we leave at all. All he’s sure of is that we did not Jesus the same way he does. That’s because he’s still Christian. So obviously, if we Jesus like he does, then we won’t leave either.

In short, we must try his flavor before he’ll even consider our deconversions valid. That’s what this salesperson says: he wants to make us feel obligated to try his product, and then he’ll possibly deign to consider our disaffiliation valid. Maybe.

Probably not, though, as we’ll soon see.

But Gosh, Brett McCracken, What Does TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ Look Like?

Luckily, Brett McCracken describes TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ in his post. Finally, someone’s gonna tell us heathens how to Jesus in the most correct way possible!

I’ll highlight in green the items that totally fit me when I was Christian:

  • Deny yourself and “take up your cross.” Yep, that was me.
  • Conform to “the likeness of Jesus” and be “imitators of God.” Yep, that was me too.
  • Do lots of charity and be willing to give up material possessions. Absolutely, yes.
  • Be an “others-focused servant.” LOL yes, 100%. People-pleasers, unite!
  • “Glorify God with your body.” I play “Pentecostal holiness standards” and win the hand.
  • No off-limits sexytimes. Marriage for opposite-sex couples only. Yeah, I was a bigot too.
  • Value weakness instead of power and “winning.” He’s just as politicized and dominance-hungry as any of his pals, but I fit this.
  • Instead of “thinking the worst of your enemies and trying to ‘own’ them,” like Brett McCracken does even in his OP, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ love their enemies. And yes, I did.
  • Be super-duper anti-abortion and forced-birther. Yep, I bought completely into this ginned-up sham farce of a culture war, just like he does now.
  • Believe that only TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ gets people to Heaven. Oh yes.
  • “Be reconciled” with people who differ from you. Yeah, I bought into that too. 
  • Buy completely into literalist interpretations of the Bible: magic healing, resurrections, ZOMG MEERKULS, etc. Yep, this too. I wasn’t a strict Creationist, but overall I believed all of this.

Oh gosh.

Well, that’s a dilly of a pickle!

Wherein Your Captain Blows the Curve.

I appear to have Jesus-ed exactly right.

I didn’t miss even one item from his exhaustive list.

Indeed, I fit 100%.

And yet I still deconverted.

Worse still for King Brett, I deconverted almost 30 years ago. That’s well before social media existed and also well before Christianity went into full and recognizable decline. For many years, I didn’t even know the word for my loss of faith (“deconversion”). I thought I was the only ex-Christian alive for a long time.

And worst of all for King Brett, I could name quite a few ex-Christians who fit that list too — and they also still deconverted.

How oh how could this be?

Don’t expect answers from the OP, though, because — again — Brett McCracken can’t even conceive of someone completely fitting his list and still deconverting, much less deconverting for valid reasons — like, say, it just isn’t true.

Missing the Mark, Grandly.

Brett McCracken ends his OP thusly:

Do you really want to be countercultural? Then don’t abandon Christianity. Stick with it.

But people don’t “want” to be countercultural in deconversion. That’s not even a factor. We deconvert because it’s the only way to live authentically. We deconvert because the religion just isn’t true, and all the antiprocess tricks that Christians learn to make it all fit hurt us more than pretending to comply does.

Formally disaffiliating — deconverting — gets us on the road to healing.

bird maiden, magic card
A friend gave me this card shortly after I deconverted. I still keep it in my wallet.

Indeed, Christianity broke my brain. I came out of that religion with a scorching case of PTSD and an anger problem that took years of therapy (real therapy, not fake Christian counseling) to resolve. Every lesson I learned in religion only made my problems worse, not better.

When I finally realized that none of my beliefs were based in reality, it was like growing wings and flying out of a cage in one breath. My world finally made total sense.

Even if I wanted to gain King Brett’s personal approval, which is a purely ridiculous idea in and of itself, I can’t re-believe what I know for absolute certain is false. I’ve no desire to associate with Christianity if its claims are false. So he’s trying to get up the creek without a paddle on this one.

His Real Targets.

Ah, but Brett McCracken ain’t really talking to us heathen ex-Christians. Not really. I mean, how many non-Christians even read TGC, much less sympathetic non-Christians? No, he’s got to have a very different audience in mind.

In reality, he’s likely aiming his post at Christians who are starting to entertain the wrong kind of doubt. He’s leveling his sneering and insults at Christians who are edging toward the back doors of their churches. But those Christians are leaving because they realize their beliefs aren’t true, not because they wanna be all trendy and hip and join the scores of big name Christians writing deconversion ex-timonies so they can be heaped with “Christian love” too.

As well, he’s aiming his post at Christians like himself. He’s telling them to sneer at us and insult us, telling them that our deconversions aren’t valid according to King Them, and implicitly telling them that they can buy his books to learn some more justifications for showing us their patented brand of “Christian love.”

By assuming that ex-Christians leave because they think Christianity is the stodgy old tiredness, while secularism is the great new hotness fad, Brett McCracken demonstrates the sheer poverty of his empathy and the irrationality of his false worldview. And in turn, he tells us something very important about why he believes in his flavor of the religion. (It sure ain’t cuz it describes actual reality!)

At any rate, Brett McCracken won’t be slowing the tide of deconversion ex-timonies. He can insult the people who write them all he wants. In the doing, he just reveals that even he doesn’t fit into his list of what a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ should be — and also accidentally reveals that he knows his religious claims aren’t actually objectively true.

I’d wag my finger at him and shame him for his utter hypocrisy, if I thought it’d do anyone any good.

NEXT UP: It doesn’t matter what someone believed or didn’t believe before deconversion. We’ll talk more about this tomorrow. Later, we’ll cover Brett McCracken’s claims about “bespoke spirituality,” because oh my gosh, dang, he really has no idea what other religions are like. See you then! Thanks for reading this long post! <3


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Last thoughts: He is Brett, Calvinist. He won’t cringe. So I cringe for him.

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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