My personal journey away from faith has consolidated some ideas in my mind which as an individual, born and raised in Evangelical Christianity, I never would have thought possible. I was taught that Christianity has all the academic answers, and that people who reject them just suspend critical thought and refuse to accept obvious evidence for Biblical Christianity. In this worldview, most people do not question, because although theoretically encouraged to do so, those who do are immediately shutdown and shunned for their questions and/or possible disbelief. I, and countless other Exvangelicals, are the living evidence of faithful Evangelical Christians who believed and lived that faith wholeheartedly. Then, through life experience, education, and Christian service, have concluded that it is a false belief system. We have rejected it and walked away. Instead of being depressed, guilty, and having our lives fall apart, the majority of us have encountered the very best stages of our lives… true peace, joy, friendship, intellectual honesty, and dare I say…happiness! We were never to strive for happiness because it is fleeting and not a real good. But damn, if I’m not so much more joyful, happy, and fulfilled than I EVER was as an Evangelical Christian.
Never “REAL” Christians
In my Evangelical upbringing, I was always taught that people who lost their faith 1) were never really Christians in the first place, 2) blamed it on disillusionment of hypocrites (those few who claimed to be Christians but didn’t really practice their faith), or 3) those who didn’t have enough Biblical education to really understand Christianity.
I started to write about my loss of faith and list the most common reasons Evangelical’s cite for individuals like me losing our faith. In perfect timing, Christianity Today published an article by Sophia Bricker titled How Should Christians Respond to the Deconstruction of Faith? The points of defense were so perfectly aligned with what I was already writing, so I will refer to it throughout my blog, as an example of the standard arguments given by Evangelicals regarding individuals who lose their faith.
By the second paragraph, Ms. Bricker referred to people like me as “Christians” because she can’t acknowledge that people like me were ever real Christians. She says, “Instead of moving toward a correct view of the Bible by removing cultural biases and interpretations, these individuals are usually rejecting faith altogether or forcing the Bible to fit their culture.” Furthermore, she claims that we were never real Christians in the first place saying “While steps can be taken to actively engage the growing movement of deconstruction within Christianity, believers do need to be aware that many who will “fall away” were never true followers of Jesus. Some people who are participating in deconstruction may claim to “fall away” or “leave” the faith, no longer believing, but the truth is they were never believers at all.
This is the most commonly taught theological response to Christians who reject the faith after once accepting it. This makes sense in that religious leaders don’t want to confront or admit any real challenges to their faith/system of control. It is much easier to dismiss former followers by claiming they were never true believers.
A lot of people say they “know the Bible”, but those of us raised as missionary kids (MKs) in boarding schools and ultra conservative Evangelical backgrounds have a different experience. Many of us memorized large portions of scripture, had personal devotions, devotions at school, and evening devotions at the boarding school in addition to Sunday service/school activities. People like us know all sorts of Biblical history, names, theology, and exegesis that surpasses the average American Christian. We didn’t just have knowledge. We were TRUE believers. The majority of us sincerely practiced this faith and were fully committed Christians.
The author also assumes that deconstructing individuals are just moving towards what is more culturally acceptable. Yet, the opposite is usually true. We are the individuals who went to extreme lengths to uphold “Biblical truths” such as no sex outside of marriage, that all LGBTQ + lifestyles are ungodly, and that women are submit to their husbands and have service roles in church. And also, many of us went far deeper and took our faith seriously enough to apply it to issues of spiritual and sex abuse in religious institutions, to carrying for the orphans and widows, to addressing issues of poverty, persecution, and assisting refugees. When we spoke out and worked on these issues from our Biblical faith, WE are the ones who were ostracized, denigrated, and maligned. It was not our rejection of Biblical teachings, but our rejection of Evangelical leaders, churches, and organizations, who refused to focus on Biblical teaching and right action, and rather focus on a few pet teachings and consolidating their own political, social, and fiscal power.
I, like Ms. Brickman, formerly believed this fallacy. It wasn’t until I lost my faith that I realized how ridiculous it was. If practicing Christians are serious about defending their faith, they need to come up with a better explanation for committed believers “falling away” than never having been true believers in the first place.
Blaming Loss of Faith on "Hypocrites"
Many Christians think that the vast majority of other true Christians present a good example of what they believe, and it’s just the few that detract. I believed this argument for many years…until I reached a critical mass of realizing (and finally being willing to admit) that my experience of a lifetime within Christian circles was the exact opposite.
I finally acknowledged and was willing to admit that I had a lifetime of (now nearly 40 years) experience in which the majority of Christian “leaders” and numerous followers do not practice the faith they claim. This included having a majority of my close friends, co-workers, and associates being Evangelical Christians. And my experience was overwhelmingly that the vast majority do not believe a doctrine, nor practice one that I find even remotely compelling to replicate. In fact, there are very few Christians I’d want to emulate or whom I truly admire.
Whether it was employment with a Christian NGO, membership at local churches, marriage to an abusive Evangelical man, or listening to the messaging of Evangelicals in the social/political sphere in which I operate professionally, I have come to realize that the beliefs and system of life imposed by Evangelicals in America is the root of much abuse, discrimination, disfunction, and loss of faith. Every week I read stories of Christian (primarily white, Evangelical, male leaders ) being caught/exposed for any number of horrible actions such as sex abuse, hiding and covering up for colleagues engaged in abuse, and fostering church climates of fear and service in which members feel obligated to perform. In my experience, many Evangelicals believe that the young/hip mega churches and pastors are the problem such as Carl Lentz of Hillsong and Ben Courson of Applegate Christian Fellowship. Yet, if you investigate, you’ll discover that the most revered, older pastors/ leaders are equally culpable of abuse such as Ravi Zacharias, Franklin Graham, John McArthur, and Dave Ramsey.
The real story behind Exvangelicals and the rejection of Evangelical Christianity is about rejecting a faith and its power holders/structure that utilize a faith for their own personal benefit. Anyone seeking to criticize those deconstructing should first look to the very pharisaical leaders who are augmenting it.
Lacking "Biblical Teaching and Understanding"
Ms. Bricker claims, “One of the reasons people are doubting key Christian doctrines is that they do not properly understand the teachings of the Bible…Compounded with the problem of deconstruction is the fact that Christians in the Western world have a long-neglected personal reading of the Bible, the study of theology, and growing in discipleship.” Unfortunately, these type of generalizations are replete in Ms. Bricker’s and other Evangelicals’ writings.
I was born and raised in an Evangelical mission agency and transitioned immediately into a Christian University named BIOLA. I also was accepted into the Torrey Honors Institute, a great books program, which enabled participants to read original sources including early and latter church fathers, creeds of the church, and many key Christian theologians and philosophers, including through the Protestant Reformation with a focus on Luther and Calvin and ending in more modern times with C.S. Lewis. Rather than listen to lectures, Torrey required students to debate the meaning of the text in a Socratic method in classes of about 20 students. By Sophomore year, students were assigned classes to lead, and professors merely listened and interjected occasionally. In this way, we all learned to rigorously read and study text in order to lead and participate in weekly classes.
I became a committed Calvinist after reading large portions of the complete works of John Calvin. I attended an Evangelical Free Church while attending BIOLA and continued attending it the first several years after graduation. I was completely committed to my Christian faith through these years and did everything possible to absorb the teachings and knowledge from my classes, readings, and church leaders.
My personal experience, and the experiences of other Exvangelicals I know of from participating in large, private social media support groups, goes in direct contradiction of Ms. Bricker's assumptions. I was extremely engaged in small groups, Sunday services, participated in church ministry, and supported and attended nearly every church campaign and event wholeheartedly! I did so joyfully because I was a true believer and enjoyed participating and serving. I’m not a minority in this previous devotion to my faith. I think most Exvangelicals wanted to learn and grown, to serve, and to do everything possible to live their faith to the best of their ability. For this reason, I venture that Ms. Bricker has not spent much time with a significant number of Exvangelicals, or she’d realize just how ludicrous her assumptions are.
Because my loss of faith came a few years after my first divorce, it’s easy for individuals to point to the abuse I experienced from my first husband and his family as the raison d'etre for my loss of faith. We both attended an Evangelical University, BIOLA, and met at a small group from our Evangelical church. As such, I was still full of faith during the time of separation and divorce. I just thought my abusive husband and his family were poor representations of Christianity, but never thought the whole faith was false.
I actually started more in-depth research into Orthodox Christianity at this time and joined a Greek Orthodox Church. I was chrismated and had both of my children baptized. I pursued this path in full belief in Christianity. I very much enjoyed this part of my journey even though joining a Greek Orthodox Church was uncomfortable and we had a lot of learning and adjusting to do. If not for the Orthodox faith, I would have lost my Christian beliefs far sooner. It was my last hope for a cogent and academic Christian worldview.
In addition to my extensive Biblical education, I continued my own in-depth research once I really started questioning my Christian faith. I pursued an assessment by reading numerous books, watching lectures and debates between atheists and Christians, and speaking to Christian friends and leaders about these issues. I allowed the questions to come, which I previously had avoided. I finally allowed myself to consider other beliefs and worldviews without assuming unbearable guilt for doing so.
Loss of Faith is Threatening
My loss of faith came in stages. It’s hard to disentangle when exactly I came to conclusions about different topics and experiences. Like the rest of life, I think it was all intertwined, and I finally reached that critical mass when I could no longer go on living and believing as before.
I now believe that encountering an individual such as me, a former Evangelical who spent the majority of her life wholeheartedly believing, practicing, becoming better educated in her faith, and ultimately deciding it is false and leaving it behind, is the biggest threat to Evangelical believers.
I believe my greatest achievement in life was to break out of the Evangelical cycle of teachings and abuse, and to give my children the opportunity to see a different way of life modeled to them. As I tell them whenever they ask faith questions, I will never try to force you to believe as I do. I will answer your questions and tell you what I believe. I will model what I believe to you. I will teach you and expect that you treat all others with respect and kindness and that you become responsible adults who contribute to society. But ultimately, you have to decide what you believe, and that cannot be forced on you. I know their Dad, Stepmom, and relatives are trying to force specific beliefs on them. But, as long as my home is a safe place to discuss questions and difficult topics with respect, I trust that my children will make wise decisions and become the best version of themselves.