Brace yourself. This might just be the worst chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith. Last time we met up, we talked about the first half of chapter 13. In it, Calvinist pastor Jeremy Linneman talked about the awfulness of his strawman of “radical individualism.” In truth, all of his criticisms applied most to his own authoritarian, tribalistic bunch of TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Now, he’s going to tell us how to deal with the pain of belonging to authoritarian, tribalistic TRUE CHRISTIAN™ groups. And as we’ll see, in the doing he loses every single illusion he ever tried to wear regarding his own good-faith acting.
(This post first appeared on Patreon on 12/29/2022, which is also where its audio recording can be found. If you’d like to be a patron, please see the links at the end of today’s post — and thank you.)
A quick rundown on Bad Christians
In Christianese, a Bad Christian is someone who embarrasses other Christians. Usually, they are also fake Christians. (Here, we refer to the definition of TRUE CHRISTIAN™ itself. It’s someone who believes the right nonsense, hasn’t yet gotten caught doing anything too embarrassing, and dies in the traces.) Even the nicest Christians dismiss absolute hypocrites as “Bad Christians,” even if they graciously allow those hypocrites to retain the label of Christian at all.
In fact, huge numbers of Bad Christians hurt and prey upon others. As a result, Christians assume right out of the gate that Bad Christians caused someone’s deconversion/deconstruction.
It must feel like a safe assumption. I’d guess that very, very few people in the world haven’t been hurt or victimized by a Christian. But the nice Christians never try to drive away the bad ones. They just use them as a talking point.
Fast on the heels of that assumption, the so-called good Christians then quickly admonish their marks not to allow all those millions of Bad Christians to turn them off forever to the Good News. (If you’re wondering, the Good News tells people to obey Christians’ demands, or else be tortured forever by their schoolyard bully of a godling.)
Busting the myths around Bad Christians
In reality, Bad Christians rarely drive deconstruction/deconversion by themselves. Instead, they spark huge, dealbreaking questions about the validity of Christians’ claims about their god. If Christians’ claims about him were true, Bad Christians would be few indeed and quickly dealt with by their better brethren. However, Bad Christians are numerous. And they cause a huge amount of abuse and pain in Christian groups.
Worse, good Christians do nothing about them. Worse still, often good Christians shield bad ones from the consequences of their actions. Really, the only time good Christians even talk about Bad Christians is when admonishing people not to become disillusioned with Christianity because of them!
The simple reality of the sheer preponderance of Bad Christians, along with the reality of other Christians’ response to them, both speak to the validity of Christians’ claims like almost nothing else could.
When compared to every other kind of Christian, evangelicals have a larger number of hypocrites in their groups. Their groups tend to be overwhelmingly authoritarian and tribalistic. That means that members only need to be able to put up a convincing false front to gain big reputations for fervor and what they call being Christlike. As it turns out, it’s very easy for one monster to fool a bunch of other monsters.
Moreover, evangelical leaders and followers alike tend to view their group’s divinely-mandated mission, whatever it might be, as being more important than anything else. So they’ll gladly hush up scandals and cover up for abusers—and silence victims and blame them for their own abuse—to keep their group’s image spotless.
The more authoritarian and tribalistic any group is, the more scandals, abuse, and bad actors you can expect to find there. Likewise, the less authenticity and connection you can expect to find.
Before You Lose Your Faith has a message for everyone hurt by Bad Christians
Before You Lose Your Faith was created by the most authoritarian and tribalistic of all evangelicals. Evangelicals’ evangelicals, as it were. So obviously, they have a metric butt-ton of hypocrites in their midst operating at every single level of authority in their groups.
And Jeremy Linneman has a simple message for everyone hurt by TRUE CHRISTIAN™ hypocrites:
Suck it up and drive on, you soft-bellied toddlers. There’s no excuse for leaving church culture, ever.
Of course, he couches this utter lack of compassion in far nicer-sounding prose (p. 116):
I mourn and grieve for anyone who has searched for God and family, only to find judgment, condemnation, and abuse. Lord, help us.
Much of my pastoral ministry involves caring for and rehabilitating those who have suffered church hurt. I’ve discovered that we’re hurt in relationships, and we find healing in relationships. [. . .]
At some point, we must move toward others to find comfort and healing.
If you’re a child of God and have been called and commissioned to live for him with purpose, dignity, and giftedness, don’t let those who have sinned against you determine your future.
He mourns and grieves, sure. Oh yeah. I’m sure he does. And yet, he still stomps down hard on the idea of not returning to church culture due to constant injuries and disappointments. His mourning and grieving might even produce some crocodile tears, but it will never extend to granting you the grace to leave the culture that hurt you. In fact, he writes:
You can move toward others with trust and hope again, not because your next community won’t fail you, but because God will never fail you, and he often ministers to us through others.
Right after this admonition, he asserts that nobody can possibly find real belonging and connection outside of his flavor of Christianity. This counts as a threat, more than anything else: If you leave, you’ll never even have the hope of good friends and a supportive friend network ever again.
Before You Lose Your Faith then makes a shocking demand of those hurt by Bad Christians
Not content to tell people to put themselves into harm’s way again and again and again, Jeremy Linneman then makes a demand of those injured by Bad Christians. It’s such an over-the-top, incredibly shocking, ultra-entitled demand that I’m just gonna quote him (p. 117):
We must learn that Christian community is built, not found
One of my pastor friends has often told his church, “This isn’t a great place to find community—it’s a great place to build community.” In other words, if you’re looking for a community that will welcome you into its club of happy, non-dramatic, non-demanding friends, good luck. Maybe you do find a group that says, “Come on in; it’s perfect in here. We’ve been waiting just for you. We have everything taken care of.” But that’s either a false promise or it’s a cult—or maybe just an overeager group workout class. No, Christian community must be built, not found.
Interesting, isn’t it? I couldn’t figure out who the pastor friend is. That quote only exists in Linneman’s writing. Equally interesting is the concession that no evangelical group can offer what he describes a culty mentality.
And most interesting of all is his concession that one group is exactly like this, and that group has nothing to do with his flavor of Christianity: a workout class group. If one group exists like that, then more do. I’d venture to say that the Roll to Disbelieve community is another one such group. Our openness to new friends and our lack of drama comes up often when people talk about us.
But then Linneman goes off the deep end by demanding that people hurt by church culture roll up their shirtsleeves and build, from scratch, the kind of friends group they want to belong to.
To me, that is shockingly bad advice. It’s much easier, not to mention far safer and more certain to yield good results, to leave church culture behind and join a workout class or, I dunno, a heathen cat-worshiping community that rallies behind a disillusioned angel named Eddie.
The problem with building any kind of group involving TRUE CHRISTIANS™
See, the problem that Linneman runs into here is the same one that leads people to question Christian claims because of hypocrisy.
When you run into one asshole in a day, then yes, you sure did run into an asshole. If all you run into is assholes all day long, then the chances are good that you’ve accidentally wandered into an evangelical church service.
The problem with evangelicals’ social groups isn’t that they’re not being built correctly with the correct methods and intentions. It’s that they are made up of evangelicals.
Evangelicals themselves are the common link in all abuse stories. They themselves are what make their groups so prone to abuse and harm.
Even if the best, most well-meaning evangelical did as Linneman suggests, they will be stymied because the people entering their new group are authoritarian, tribalistic evangelicals. It doesn’t matter how good the general foundation is. Flood a house often enough, put it through enough earthquakes, and even the best-laid foundation slab under it will crack.
And because the person making that group doesn’t know how a functional group is made or run, chances are it won’t even take long before the group is just as bad as whatever hurt its founder in the first place.
The one person in such a group who can actually make any big changes to its behavior and rules is its top leader. Here, we don’t mean the group’s founder. That person has no real power in a church. No, I mean the pastor. And the pastor probably doesn’t want to. The chaos, drama, and pain swirling through his subgroups is actually good for his own purpose: growing and guarding his own personal power.
And with that, we will now dive into Jeremy Linneman. He’s just made a suggestion that is guaranteed to hurt people and add to his own personal power. As you’ll see, his suggestion wasn’t some kind of weird accident.
Following the white rabbit, Mark Driscoll, to Jeremy Linneman
To find out what kind of person Linneman himself is, first we have to know about his first pastor gig. He worked under Daniel Montgomery at Sojourn Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
And what kind of person was Daniel Montgomery?
The worst kind.
But to learn that, we must go back even further, to the leader and the movements that facilitated his rise to power: to Mark Driscoll and the two groups he founded, Acts 29 and Mars Hill Church.
Mark Driscoll ran his organizations like extensions of himself. He acted like a grand lord and master, treating others to his rage-filled, petulant, sexist demands without regard for consequences. Boy oh boy, was he surprised when the accountability chickens came home to roost in 2014. That’s the year when all his abuse finally hit the normie news headlines. Rather than accept the pastoral restoration song-and-dance from his elders, he quit without even a by-your-leave and waltzed off to Arizona to start a whole new church.
In 2014, Acts 29 also shitcanned Driscoll. Right before that, though, he appointed a new leader, Matt Chandler, for the uber-Calvinist church-planting group. You might remember Matt Chandler as the raging control freak and ultra-authoritarian who recently returned from a leave of absence from The Village Church because of a sexy texting scandal.
But he’s not the only artifact of Mark Driscoll’s former rulership of uber-Calvinist evangelicalism.
Daniel Montgomery is, too.
From Mark Driscoll to Daniel Montgomery
As Wondering Eagle relates the story, Daniel Montgomery graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary around 2000. Right about the same time, Nathan Quillo was holding Bible studies in another church’s basement. This Bible study soon became Sojourn Church. In 2000, Sojourn had gotten big enough to require official leadership. So Quillo appealed to Acts 29 to help him find someone.
Well, Montgomery just so happened to be on an Acts 29 board of some kind. Wondering Eagle had heard rumors of it, and I found corroboration of it in two different places. In a 2009 post, Tim Challies names Montgomery as one of the “key leaders” in the church-planting group.
So Montgomery was happy to become Sojourn Church’s founding pastor. It sounds like some other Mars Hill leaders came into the fold soon enough, like Brad House.
Gosh, that’s what someone always wants to see, isn’t it, as a potential church member? The more Mars Hill leaders, the better, right?
The Daniel Montgomery apple didn’t fall far from the Mark Driscoll tree
In Daniel Montgomery’s 18 years at Sojourn Church, soon to become Sojourn Network, disquieting rumors soon emerged. These rumors whispered of his heavy-handed, autocratic, downright abusive and bullying behavior toward underlings.
His rule at Sojourn was marked by a curious leave of absence, much as his fellow Acts 29 leader Matt Chandler had to take. In 2016, Sojourn had to put out a letter to the congregation to explain things. In it, Montgomery wrote:
I need to rethink how I lead. I’ve not been leading well and have hurt others, and I need to fix that. [. . .]
My pace is unsustainable, not only for me, but also for the leaders I work alongside and this pace is doing more harm than good. [. . .]
I can’t just push forward anymore and push down the stuff in my life that God wants me to work through.
His church added their pious hope that Montgomery would find, in the next 9 months off work, “transforming grace, healing, and rest,” and would return to “a more healthy church.”
It’s not hard at all to read between the lines of that letter to see what chaos he’d been wreaking there. Still, Sojourn regarded its divine mission as being so important that nobody was allowed to talk at all about why Montgomery was gone.
Unfortunately for Sojourn, Montgomery returned and went right back to his old habits. In 2017, he fully resigned from the church. Once again, the church’s remaining leaders demanded silence.
Incidentally, Dave Harvey, who used to be the #2 leader at Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), began working for Sojourn around 2014. He soon became its leader. Starting in 2010-2012, SGM began to topple under the weight of a huge sex-abuse scandal. But Harvey had fled in time. He was Sojourn’s leader till about 2019.
Needless to say, every single group and person discussed up till now has been an uber-Calvinist evangelicals.
And now, from there to Jeremy Linneman
Jeremy Linneman worked for Sojourn Church as well. And he describes Daniel Montgomery as his master. In a November 2012 blog post, he wrote:
Sitting under Lead/Founding Pastor Daniel Montgomery’s teaching (or any of our lead campus pastors’ teaching) can be both invigorating and discouraging.
Church Leaders.com picked up the blog post, running it in January 2013. By then, Linneman’s blurb said that he was the “executive pastor of Sojourn Community Church’s East Campus.”
At some point, probably around 2016, Linneman’s title at Sojourn was “Pastor of Community Life,” as is revealed in this document about an upcoming sermon series.
But he left in 2018 to found his very own church in the college town of Columbia, Missouri. Trinity Community Church seems to have grown fairly quickly, which isn’t too surprising given the area and nearby colleges around town. It quickly got a mention on a Sojourn Network roundup at Wondering Eagle.
I can’t find any indication of what Trinity’s culture is like, one way or t’other. That’s unusual, but not incredibly so. Unless a church is huge, it won’t always garner any reviews on church sites like FaithStreet and or on Google Search.
That said, it is rather odd that a guy pushing community like Linneman does doesn’t have anyone talking about how awesome his church’s culture is.
Tainted church DNA makes for a tainted culture
There’s a lot that is missing, when it comes to a close analysis of Jeremy Linneman and his current church culture. True. But I can speak to the church’s spiritual lineage, and to its pastor’s professional lineage. And I will.
Both stink to high heaven.
Daniel Montgomery and Sojourn are both products of Acts 29, which itself is an authoritarian, abuse-prone environment. As for Sojourn, they’ve been oozing rumors of abuse for literally years now. (When that cork finally pops, it’s gonna be a doozy. Mark my words.) Montgomery even had to resign over his abusive leadership style.
And Jeremy Linneman sat at Daniel Montgomery’s feet. What bad habits of poor leadership did he pick up while trying to figure out how to write good sermons?
At least Linneman did learn to hide his uber-Calvinism a bit better. If not for the hint about “the perseverance of the saints,” the matter could have gone either way, really. Also if not for that hint, I might never have thought to run searches on his name, thus discovering his link to Sojourn!
He’s also dropped his Southern Baptist affiliation. Sojourn is SBC, but Trinity is nondenominational. At least one other pastor left the SBC specifically to avoid his abuse getting out into the public eye. But that doesn’t mean Linneman didn’t join up for the same reason.
With all of this stuff in mind, it just seems vanishingly unlikely to me, in my opinion, that either Sojourn, Trinity, Linneman, or any other part of the current equation somehow reached 2022 without a serious streak of toxic authoritarianism informing their behavior.
And now, back to Before You Lose Your Faith
Whew! That was one heck of a rabbithole to dive down, wasn’t it? Now let’s return our attention to the actual chapter Linneman wrote in Before You Lose Your Faith.
Knowing what we now know about him, his advice to keep going back to Christian communities sounds absolutely sinister. His advice to just build the community you want to belong to, knowing about Sojourn, sounds downright impossible.
If anyone were actually to take his exhortation to “be honest and vulnerable,” as he suggests on page 118, and keep trying to find new groups within his flavor of Christianity, they would only open themselves up to harm. Toxic Christians love encountering honest, vulnerable people. You know how they see those people? As prey. And just like predators in the wild, they always need new prey.
If anyone were actually to take Linneman’s advice about building the group they want to see, it would soon be destroyed by bad-faith actors using it to jockey for power and abuse their frenemies in church.
And it’s not even the very worst part of his chapter.
Before You Lose Your Faith threatens doubters with never finding real friends ever again if they leave
Once again, we find the logical fallacy known as an appeal to consequences. And it’s the very last part of the chapter, so it represents Jeremy Linneman’s very biggest gun, his biggest threat, his last Hail Mary pass. This is what he’s really got to say in his chapter. All the other stuff was extra, filler, fluff.
So we find ourselves here in the same position as with a Hell-believer who realizes we didn’t buy all the lovey-dovey shweetie-shmoo Jesus stuff. Soon enough, our salesperson busts out the threats of Hell, which is the real reason they believe, and the reason they think is most convincing. If the lovey-dovey shweetie-shmoo stuff had worked on us, great. Then the threat would not need to be brought up. But it never works! So the threat always follows right behind the failure of the Jesus feint.
In this case, if a reader has gotten this far without being convinced to stick around and keep getting hurt by toxic Christians, then here’s the threat Linneman ends with (p. 118):
If you’ve left the faith and found community in a social group or club or shared activity, there may be a strong sense of belonging—stronger even than in your Christian experience. But does it nourish your soul and make you the person you want to become, the person God has created you to be?
Unfortunately, many of my friends who’ve left the faith haven’t found what they were looking for. In search of freedom, they’ve found only bondage to a lifeless system of individualism, consumerism, and a new, secular judgmentalism. But those who’ve stayed when it’s grown hard, or who’ve been hurt in the past but tried again in another community—they have often been so glad just a few years later.
He sounds just like a multi-level marketing hun: success is right around the corner! Or a gambling addict. Or, I dunno, a pastor who derives his entire income from people attending and participating in his church.
He doesn’t know that everyone who stays is glad “just a few years later.” If anything, anyone saying that is simply expressing survivors’ bias. Most folks who couldn’t say that have already left. Of those still at the church and still experiencing toxic community, they don’t tend to feel safe in saying what they really think.
But he sure feels comfortable threatening people with never finding good friends ever again if they leave evangelical church culture behind.
I can see how that threat might really rattle people who have bought into evangelicals’ strawmen about non-Christians. At least, till they break free and see what life is really like on the outside.
I’ll end my analysis here: if a god actually needed people to participate in evangelical church culture to become who he wanted them to be, then he’d be an evil god and not humanity’s friend.
The topsy-turvy mess that is Before You Lose Your Faith
What. A. Goddamned. Mess.
Gosh, this book tells us, there sure are a lot of evangelical groups, especially hard-right culture-warrior uber-Calvinist groups, that abuse people nonstop. But you must be part of a group. If you’re not, Jesus won’t be able to mold you the way he wants. Of course, an abusive group won’t do that either. So if you discover that your group abuses you, then obviously you’ll leave and find another.
If that one abuses you too, you have to leave and join another. And another. And another.
Or you can totally make your own, which totally won’t be subject to exactly the same cultural forces that the abusive groups experience, even if the group works under pastors who learned leadership from the worst-of-the-worst abusive asshats their religion has to offer. I guess if that handmade vs boughten group abuses you too, you can go make another. And another.
At no point will King Jeremy Linneman graciously allow you to opt out of church culture entirely. Or to write off hard-right, culture-war-focused, uber-Calvinist evangelicalism as a sick and broken system that is obviously not what Jesus wants for his ant farm followers. Oh nooooo! You can’t do that for sure.
If you ever did that, you’d never, ever find good friends again. Ever. Ever ever.
So says the guy who represents a religion full of toxic, sick, broken, abusive groups just dying to find new victims.
And he’d be the first to tell you that he knows what’s best for you.
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