Wilderness Wanderers

A number of well-known speakers and teachers are criticizing and rejecting biblical faith in favor of these 7 ex-vangelical teachings.

For a collection of shorter articles on ex-vangelicals, see Beware of Ex-vangelical Teachings. 

Speaking about leaving evangelical Christianity, Jen Hatmaker says:

“Just when I thought I was leaving a structure where I was banished and doomed to wander the wilderness by myself the rest of my life, I get out to the wilderness and find it fairly populated and it’s kind of wild out here…There’s great joy out here.”  (source)

There’s a growing number of former evangelicals who have made it their mission to “de-evangelize” other Christians, encouraging them to “deconstruct” their faith. These “progressive Christians” or “ex-vangelicals” are wandering about in the wilderness of human wisdom and want us to join them. 

Some of these people still call themselves Christians, such as Jen Hatmaker, Richard Rohr, Pete Enns, Brian Zahnd, Brian McLaren, Sarah Bessey, and the late Rachel Held Evans. Others, like Bart Ehrman and Josh Harris, have been honest enough to admit that they are no longer Christians. And some, like Rob Bell, appear to be somewhere in-between. 

Note: For the purpose of this article, I have used the terms "evangelicals"or "Bible-believing Christians" to identify those who believe in the inerrancy of God's Word, those who believe Scripture is our guide for living the Christian life. These terms may mean different things to different people, but that is how they are used in this article. They are not political terms. 

"Progressive Christians" differ on how much Scripture they reject or redefine, and they hold slightly different views of Jesus. But they have a similar "game-plan" in that they:

1. Claim they're victims of evangelical abuse.  

2. Stereotype evangelicals negatively.

3. Present themselves as purveyors of truths that Christians have missed for 2000 years. 

4. Claim God approves of LBGTQ lifestyles. 

5. Judge teachings by how they make people feel. 

6. Teach distorted views of the cross and/or hell. 

7. Claim to be non-judgmental.  

See each of these points discussed below:  

1. Ex-vangelicals claim they're victims of evangelical abuse. 


For exampleJen Hatmaker claims “being on the wrong side of the evangelical machine is terrifying and punitive.”

A number of well-known speakers and teachers are criticizing and rejecting biblical faith in favor of these 7 ex-vangelical teachings.

I find it ironic that in her NY Times best selling book "For the Love," Hatmaker says, "Maybe we can lay down our fear and criticism, self-directed and otherwise. Maybe if we let ourselves off the hook, we can let others off, too, and discover that God was in control all along."

Why is that ironic? Because Hatmaker judges evangelicals as "terrifying and punitive." This is very normal within the ex-vangelical movement to talk about non-judgmental love while harshly judging those who disagree with their theology, and negatively stereotyping evangelicals.

Perhaps Hatmaker has had some terrifying experiences, but that doesn't equip her to judge and discredit millions of Bible-believing Christians, past and present.

During our 40+ years as Christians, my husband and I have seen the bad side of evangelical Christianity. We've seen proud, dogmatic, and manipulative pastors and elders. We've been slandered and misrepresented by some, and ended up leaving one church because of this. These things happen in every organization, secular and religious. It's sad when it happens among Christians, but it's about bad people, not bad principles. And these bad people do not represent evangelical Christianity as a whole. My experience might equip me to judge the character and actions of certain people or churches, but they do not equip me to  judge 2000 years of biblical Christianity. Nor do they equip me to judge the entire evangelical church in America or in the world. But that's exactly what most "progressive Christians" do.

In addition, it appears that some ex-vangelicals were not really "abused." They just didn't like the biblical principles they were taught.

For example: Sarah Bessey’s writings can be quite compelling because she uses emotions rather than Scripture to make her points. 

She starts her article Damaged Goods(1) by dishonestly claiming that a youth pastor told a whole auditorium full of people that she was damaged goods because she'd had premarital sex. She quickly admits that wasn't true, but says that's how she felt when he used some "good-intentioned" but immature illustrations of sexual impurity.

But Bessey doesn't see this as one bad example. She goes on to describe the terrible "swirl of shame" she felt, not from her sin but from evangelical teachings. They all "melded together" to proclaim that her life was hopelessly and permanently ruined by her premarital sex. 

If this hopeless message is truly the one Bessey heard, she was not in churches that represent evangelical Christianity. 

Bessey's article never talks about the cleansing power of forgiveness, something preached repeatedly in evangelical churches. Instead, she tells her readers who've had premarital sex: "It's okay. Really. It's okay. There is no shame in Christ's love."  These words may sound biblical, but they are a deceptive half-truth. 

James 4:8-10, 2 Corinthians 7:9, and 1 John 1:8-10 explain that we should grieve over our sins, feel sorrow for them, and repent without excuse. Christ says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent (Revelation 3:19). See Is Sin Okay?

If Bessey never heard about her need to repent and the wonderful joy she could feel in God's forgiveness, her experiences were definitely not representative of evangelical Christianity.

Broad generalizations and exaggerated descriptions are powerful tools of persuasion, but they aren't honest.

2. Ex-vangelicals stereotype evangelicals as being cold, unthinking, close-minded, and dogmatic; and they see themselves as open, loving, seekers

For example, Rob Bell's explanation of the evangelical attitude toward inquiry: “Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: ‘We don't discuss those things here.’" Rob Bell 

I have been part of the evangelical community my whole life even though I didn’t accept Christ until I was in my 20’s. Because my father’s and husband’s jobs involved multiple moves, I’ve been part of 20+ churches all across the United States and Europe. So I've had more opportunity than most people to get a good cross-section of evangelicals. In addition, I'm very analytical and known for asking questions. Not once has any evangelical leader or friend told me that questions were not welcome. Rob Bell's quote does not represent the majority of evangelicals.

Another example

“Christianity, we might say, is driving around with a loaded gun in its glove compartment, and that loaded gun is its violent image of God. It’s driving around with a license to kill, and that license is its Bible, read uncritically.” ― Brian McLaren (source)

There’s no denying that there are narrow-minded, hypocritical, unkind evangelicals and there are some dogmatic, legalistic churches. But lumping all evangelicals into negative stereotypes is bigotry.

3. Ex-vangelicals present themselves as purveyors of truths that Bible-believing Christians, Bible scholars, missionaries, and martyrs throughout history have missed

"My passion is to clarify the gospel...seeing it as a liberating message for the earth, for people, for history. Of course, my great sadness is that it hasn’t in its first 2,000-year iteration, it hasn’t come across that way." Richard Rohr (source)

When someone listens to Rohr, they are listening to a man who believes he understands more about Christianity that the missionaries, martyrs, theologians, and dedicated Christians for the past 2000 years. He believes he has greater understanding of God than John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, etc.

Each Ex-vangelical decides which parts of the Bible are from God and which are not

“I think we should stop using ‘You just pick and choose what you apply from the Bible’ as an insult. Of course we do… I think the Biblical writers want us to pick and choose… But because of a dozen or so generations of ‘Only the Bible!’ we are very out of practice when it comes to listening to God through tradition, community, our own experiences, and the Spirit of God. It’s like we have been forced to run a marathon but haven’t gotten off the couch for a few hundred years…we need to start picking and choosing how we read our Bible based on love.” Pete Enns 

A number of well-known speakers and teachers are criticizing and rejecting biblical faith in favor of these 7 ex-vangelical teachings.

Brian Zahnd believes some of the Bible is simply the biased beliefs of ancient, culture-bound men. He explains that when he reads Scripture, he asks Jesus which passages are true and which are not (source).

They claim the Bible is irrelevant in some/all areas of life

"Despite what some may claim, the Bible’s not the best place to look for traditional family values as we understand them today." Rachel Held Evans

“The church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense." Rob Bell 

They even judge God.

“After all, Jesus was as fully human as he was God, so perhaps he had the capacity to be challenged on his cultural prejudices and then to grow, to realize his mistake…Jesus isn’t the hero in that story [Matthew 15:21-28] even though he ultimately heals the child. Rather, the woman is the hero…” Sarah Bessey

For more on this, see: A Serious Christian Feminist Error

If that doesn’t offend you, dear Christian, it should. And it’s a perfect example of wilderness thinking that exalts human wisdom to a position of authority over Scripture. According to these ex-vangelicals, God allowed His children to misunderstand Scripture for 2000 years until they came along to set us straight.

4. Ex-vangelicals claim that God approves of LBGTQ lifestyles.

For many ex-vangelicals, LBGTQ approval was the pivotal issue that turned them against evangelical beliefs. Cultural pressure has always separated true believers from false believers.

Some claim that scriptural commands against these sexual sins were not divinely inspired. Others claim the commands against homosexuality only apply to abusive acts. See Gay Revisionist Arguments.

Evangelicals believe it's loving to warn people of sins that damage their souls. Ex-vangelicals believe it's loving to accept and approve all lifestyles.

One former lesbian sees the tragedy in this kind of “love.” She's grateful that Christians were willing to tell her the truth (Love Your Neighbor Enough to Speak Truth).  

Some ex-vangelicals go so far as to claim that LBGTQ "Christians" are more spiritual than evangelicals:

LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the Church what it means to be Christian. Rachel Held Evans

This ex-vangelical point of view is described in detail in Romans 1:18-32. It ends with these words: Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

5. Ex-vangelicals judge teachings by how they make people feel

There's a popular teaching embraced by "progressive Christians" which claims that a teaching bears “bad fruit” if it makes people feel sad or ashamed. For example, if LBGTQ people are hurt or offended by biblical commands, then the biblical commands are bearing bad fruit and can't be from God.

For a fuller understanding of this heresy, see Teachings that Bear Good Fruit.

6. Most ex-vangelicals distort the meaning of the cross and deny hell

In his popular book, The Shack, "progressive Christian" Paul Young presented his false views of God through powerful fiction. By mixing truth with error, Young created a cultural-friendly god who rejects important biblical truths about forgiveness and salvation. Lest you doubt that Young was proselytizing through fiction, he wrote a Bible study to accompany The Shack and later wrote a book about his ex-vangelical beliefs. In Lies We Believe About God, Young claims the cross of Christ was not part of God's plan unless God is a “cosmic abuser.” 

Brian Zahnd feels the same way about a God who sends unrepentant men to hell: I am sympathetic with the atheist who cannot believe in a god who is so petty and cruel that he defends his so-called honor by torturing billions of souls for eternity. I don’t believe in that god either.

Apparently, Zahnd feels it's a "petty" offense to reject the sacrificial death of Christ.

Instead of seeing the atoning death of Christ as necessary and precious, most ex-vangelicals believe it was unnecessary because we all deserve heaven.

See What Jesus Said About Hell and 10 Important Truths About the Cross.

7. Ex-vangelicals claim to be non-judgmental and loving 

  

A number of well-known speakers and teachers are criticizing and rejecting biblical faith in favor of these 7 ex-vangelical teachings.
However, they are often quite judgmental.

Brian Zahnd consistently mocks, name-calls, and criticizes Bible-believing Christians. In a single blog post, Zahnd calls biblical inerrancy “wrongheaded and anti-intellectual.” He calls those who believe it “flatlanders” who enjoy a “flat” reading of Scripture, lack curiosity and courage, endorse “unsustainable theories,” and defend “morally repugnant ideas from a primitive era.” 

You will notice that I addressed actual quotes in this article and supplied the sources for those quotes and explanations. I didn't name-call or judge hearts. I did not use exaggeration or mockery to judge these people's statements, teachings, and methods. And that is what we as Christians are called to do:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Romans 16:17-18   

See also Matthew 7:15-20.

Conclusion

In John 7:7 Jesus says the world hates Him because He testifies that its works are evil, and 1 John 3:13 tells us we can expect the same: Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

Those who want the world to love them must bend with the culture, keep their mouths closed about hell, and make people comfortable in their sins. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3

It's getting less popular to be a Bible-believing Christian, but genuine believers are standing firm. Are you?  

Abortion footnote:

I'd like to footnote that most of ex-vangelicals have abandoned the pro-life movement. They claim they have done so for compassionate reasons, but their explanations are tied to politics more than ethics. Admittedly, they seem to have more difficulty denying the human rights issue behind abortion, and many of them continue to call themselves "pro-life" while justifying legal abortions.

A response to Jen Hatmaker's criticism of the pro-life movement: We're Not Screaming.  

(1) I took these quotes directly from Bessey's blog, but she updated her blog and removed this post. I found it in its entirety HERE, but it does not credit her as the author.  

For a collection of shorter articles on ex-vangelicals, see Beware of Ex-vangelical Teachings.


Bible Love Notes

5 comments:

  1. John 1:14 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.'...and...Hebrews 13:8 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.' Jesus Christ, the Word, thankfully never changes. (((HUGS)))

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  2. There’s only two reason people ‘leave’. A, the anti Christ!? Hellluuuurrr?!!!! And B, they NEVER KNEW HIM PERSONALLY. I prayed on and off for years but didn’t have an ENCOUNTER with JC until I had hit a very rock hard bottom. Everyone’s testimony is different but those of us that truly have felt an experience of having some kind of encounter with Him, know. They know it is something nearly unexplainable. And that wild horses couldn’t tear you away from your spot ‘beneath His wings. Those that know, wouldn’t dare leave the Lord. Call me what you want. Only the Creator of the Universe defines me. I also have a new view of what family is. Everyone is my sibling and I never even considered others very much. I’m proud of the changes only knowing the Lord can and have brought. I’m sorry that others don’t know Him the way they wish to. I say keep Him all day everyday in your heart and seek the Kiingdom. Pray for apostates and just everyone. It’s not ok for anyone to spend eternity in hell

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    1. What do you mean it's not OK for anyone to spend eternity in hell? It is very sad but nonetheless true. Jesus makes it clear that heaven is exclusive per Matthew 7:13-14, "broad is the path that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it." The exclusivity is based on attitude, not talent!

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  3. Thanks for telling the truth. I find the quotes hard to read because it is obviously a heresy. We are confronted by none bible believing Christians and it can sometimes make me so sick. I lean on Christ and his word alone.

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  4. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.
    (1 John 2:19)

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