Today’s post combines chapters 3 and 4 of Before You Lose Your Faith, the evangelical-written 2021 book aiming to stem the tide of deconstruction and deconversion in the tribe. Our topic, after all, touches on both chapters. The writers offer the hands-down dumbest reasons imaginable to leave evangelicalism. And then, having done that, they offer the dumbest solution imaginable for this supposedly-drastic problem.
Gotta give the people behind this book credit where it’s due: I reckon I can’t accuse them of having no narrative arc for their chapters, at least. Chapter 3 hints at The Big Problem Here, while Chapter 4 slams down what they are positive is a slam-dunk resolution for it.
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Chapter 3 of Before You Lose Your Faith knows what The Big Problem Here is
We talked about Chapter 3 of Before You Lose Your Faith last time. In that chapter, Brett McCracken launched an all-out assault on a strawman he built to resemble post-Christian spirituality. Attacking it as “bespoke,” “bourgeois,” and chained to “capitalism,” he presented this simulacrum, this golem, this grotesque mannikin, as poor widdle ex-Christians’ clearly-inferior aping of his flavor of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.
Toxic Christians love to assume that people only leave TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ for shallow, vapid, even stupid reasons. They always have. For various systemically-authoritarian reasons, they cannot admit that their belief system has any flaws whatsoever. So obviously, if anyone leaves then they must have left for an invalid reason, a bad reason. If they can paint people’s reasons in as insulting a way as possible, that might deter still-believing sheep from contemplating such a move.
This is how I ended up thinking for years that I was literally the only person on Earth who had really truly believed in TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, only to discover it was false and leave it. I’d left because it wasn’t true at all. None of its claims were based in reality. It had taken a while to come face to face with that reality, but eventually I reckoned with it and deconverted.
It wasn’t till I got to college that I even knew anyone had left evangelicalism. But those rare people who’d left TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ had done so for what I’d interpreted as invalid reasons. So it didn’t occur to me that anyone else might have figured out what I had.
Similarly, the writers of Before You Lose Your Faith are simply dishonest about why people leave evangelicalism (much less Christianity itself). They laser focus on something that they define as The Big Problem Here, then offer solutions for it.
But if they’ve gotten the problem wrong, then their solution won’t fix anything.
The person behind Chapter 4 of Before You Lose Your Faith
Hunter Beaumont contributed Chapter 4 of Before You Lose Your Faith. In his bio blurb, we learn that he’s a pastor in Denver. In fact, he officially started his church in 2006. It now looks to have grown quite large. Indeed, its staff page offers viewers the usual flotilla of sub-pastors and ministry leaders that one expects of megachurches these days.
Appearing to be in his late 40s, Beaumont is almost certainly the oldest person on that staff page.
Given Beaumont’s affiliation with this book, which was organized by the very Calvinist group The Gospel Coalition (TGC), we already should expect to learn that he’s a hard-right Calvinist. But we must read between the lines to learn just how committed he is to that ideology.
One of his professed church staffers showed up in 2016 to the Reddit group r/Reformed to describe Beaumont’s church as “little-r reformed.” As well, Beaumont works with Acts 29, which is very Calvinist. Otherwise, his church site barely hints at its Calvinist leanings. Even its formal statement of beliefs contains the barest imaginable number of dogwhistles (like “eternal security and assurance of believers”).
Calvinists think they’re sooooo clever!
He’s sure he avoided manipulation, but he fell all the same to it
In his chapter in Before You Lose Your Faith, Hunter Beaumont reveals that he converted into Calvinism from mainline Christianity. He gloats about not being fooled by wily Baptists’ emotional manipulation. Here’s how he describes their failed attempt, made in his childhood [pp. 34-35]:
We were mainline Methodists of a liberal bent. All I knew of evangelicals was that a Baptist youth group had once tried to trick me into “getting saved” by offering pizza and access to the cool crowd. I recognized the trap and kept my distance.
Oh, yeah, he totally understood that they were trying to lure him with the power of cool kids and pizza! Alas, those exact same blandishments sure fooled me when I was a desperately lonely teenaged Catholic girl at a brand-new high school.
Beaumont simply required a different lure and more patient tricksters. Once these had been found, he got completely sandblasted by the power of literalism and inerrancy just like I did.
Once I’d been indoctrinated to believe that Christians should of course follow the Bible, I was primed to accept a particularly modern, particularly authoritarian interpretation of the Bible. It all sounded all too plausible to me. After all, I knew nothing about the Bible or the history of Christianity as a whole.
Hunter Beaumont didn’t either.
The people at his new high school had the luxury of time and a captive audience. They easily tricked him into believing that evangelicals as a group actually “lived out” their professed beliefs. (LOL, sure Jan.) They taught him their quirky take on literalism, which they called “the gospel.” And when he had serious questions about their claims, they pointed back to that single indoctrination wedge, that foot-in-the-door they’d already established with us both [p. 35]:
This is not Christianity, I thought, but the teachers patiently showed it to me in the Bible. Accepting all of this seemed to awaken something new inside of me.
Well, yes. Of course it did.
It was designed to do exactly that.
And yes, I went through exactly the same emotions.
Before You Lose Your Faith tries very poorly to separate evangelical culture from evangelical indoctrinated beliefs
It’s striking to consider just how similar my story is to Hunter Beaumont’s. See, he goes on to describe the same culture shock I felt upon entering Pentecostalism for that first time. As I did, he found his new tribe’s culture to be “amusing and unconvincing” [p. 35]:
They had their own pop music, and it wasn’t as good as real pop music. There was a pantheon of B-list celebrities. Some evangelical athlete or musician or preacher or strongman who tore phone books in half often came to perform at our chapel service. [He almost certainly refers here to something like the Power Team, which swept the evangelical world in the 1980s and 1990s. That phone book stunt was their signature move.] They were in love with Republicans. . . My girlfriend was not allowed to watch PG-13 movies even though we were 17. Then there were the creepy talks on the dangers of sex and STDs, part of a tendency to teach “Christian values” using fear.
He even complains about the substandard college-sports situation in evangelical colleges.
Of course, most of that passed me by, since Pentecostals were way harder-right than any of this. I don’t even remember hearing about the Power Team. And Pentecostals tended to avoid most Christian pop, as well as literally all movies and TV shows, and even all sportsball events.
So unsurprisingly, we both observed that the people raised in either restrictive culture tended to realize early on that it was all based on false claims. They acted very worldly, as we used to say, meaning they behaved like normies rather than TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Meanwhile, the new converts who had joined in high school maintained their fervor well into adulthood. This observation clearly blew his mind like it did mine: imagine the sheer luck to be born into a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ family! Why were they throwing away that cosmic stroke of divine fortune?
But in each case, the culture reflects the tribalistic indoctrination of beliefs. It can’t be separated.
Maybe it could once, to at least some extent.
But not anymore.
Why the subpar world of evangelical media exists and cannot be separated from evangelicals’ beliefs
Evangelicals buy subpar music because they can’t handle good music. The subpar pap they get instead panders to their beliefs, confirms all their delusions, and doesn’t challenge them in any way.
Evangelicals buy tickets to subpar movies because they can’t handle good movies. There are lots of good movies nowadays. The good ones challenge viewers in all kinds of ways, and I’m not even talking about gore and horror. They present thorny emotional situations and moral dilemmas to viewers, then refuse to hold their hands or wrap everything up neatly with a bow like in a sitcom.
The Black Panther (2018), for example, doesn’t shy away from the backstory of Killmonger’s troubled past, nor from one father’s grievous mistakes.
But evangelicals can’t handle nuance in their media. They need stories that show them that their beliefs are 100% true, that miracles totally happen for realsies, and that Jesus totally drastically changes people in an instant with Jesus Power. This dishonesty requires a lot of drastic changes to how reality works, and those changes defang whatever power these stories could ever have.
Evangelicals support Republicans and viciously attack Democrats because their Dear Leaders have taught them for 40 years that Democrats are demon-possessed baby killers. They use fear to teach children “Christian values” because they think real facts would make their kids fuck like rabid bunnies on Viagra and probably deconvert by college.
See what I mean? Everything about evangelicals’ beliefs has led to their culture being what it is.
Evangelicals and the authority they exercise to get their way
You can count on one other thing, too: the things that so amused and failed to convince Hunter Beaumont all had Bible verses to prop them up.
There’s a funny scene in The Hunt for Red October (1990). In it, Jack Ryan tries to convince two American submarine officers that a renegade Soviet sub captain, Marko Ramius, wants to defect, rather than attack America, with his new state-of-the-art submarine. One officer wants to know what Ramius is planning to do once he reaches America, if defection is indeed his desire. He tells Ryan, “Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.”
That’s how evangelicals are. They don’t take a dump, son, without a Bible verse.
That’s why they’re so careful to indoctrinate newcomers with the belief that Christians must always follow the Bible and obey it. Once that’s done, they can feel free to introduce any demand, as long as it is buttressed with at least one probably-mangled Bible verse. Indoctrinated and fervent Christians don’t ever want to disobey the Bible, after all!
Yes, this is a classic illustration of an argument from authority (or appeal to authority), which is a logical fallacy. Instead of supporting one’s point, the arguer leans on their authority. That might involve bulldozing opponents with their academic credentials or their job title.
Or it might involve them scuttling behind an even bigger authority, like the omnimax god of the universe and the poorly-written book of myths that he apparently gave humans to teach them about his demands and desires.
Before You Lose Your Faith laments the poor widdle ex-Christians who don’t realize they could just reject evangelical culture
Otherwise, evangelicals don’t have good reasons for any of their demands. A lot of those demands don’t make any sense at all. Much of it is obvious emotional manipulation, or driven by all-too-obvious self-interest. So instead of offering good reasons, they lean very hard on Bible verses as their authority.
That tactic works on Christians who believe that Christians should always follow the Bible. Such people almost never know a lot about how ultra-authoritarian Calvinists developed their interpretations of the Bible or how those interpretations coincidentally always give them vast amounts of personal power without any real oversight or supervision.
Some of those demands are more like wants, though, while others are absolute demands. Which demands qualify as which severity depends entirely on the leader of the evangelical group. Going by their staff photos and that Reddit post, Hunter Beaumont doesn’t mind drinking beer, tattoos, and short hair, pants, and makeup on women. Nor does he object to hipster clothes and dyed long hair on men. But my old Pentecostal church would have objected to every one of these things, and they had Bible verses to support every one of those demands.
So sure, yes, some evangelicals, like the ones at TGC and behind Before You Lose Your Faith, might indeed chuckle sensibly to themselves over someone drinking beer or watching secular movies. Like this:
But they can’t separate their culture from their beliefs. Sooner or later, someone’s going to leak that they voted Democrat, or they’ll do something else that steps beyond the sensibly-chuckling line. And the tribe will attack.
Their leaders will also certainly do what so bamboozled me and Hunter Beaumont, and “patiently show it to them in the Bible” to get them back into line.
Before You Lose Your Faith forgets that it’s evangelical leaders themselves who set their culture, not those leaving
Sometimes, I hear people say they left this-or-that group because it left them, rather than them leaving it. I know the feel. It can be hard to accept that one’s group has moved in a direction that we don’t like or can’t support. It can be even harder to leave. For a while, we might hope against hope that we’ll be able to pull the group back toward its old glory. But then, we realize that’s impossible.
In the case of evangelicalism, when someone hits a tribal dealbreaker, they face the same choices and decisions.
If someone had told me that I couldn’t be Pentecostal if I wasn’t a Young-Earth Creationist, I’d have left Pentecostalism. I knew Young-Earth Creationism wasn’t true. In fact, I felt embarrassed when visiting preachers talked about it in their sermons. My then-husband Biff felt the same way. We both knew that it wasn’t true. But it also wasn’t a dealbreaker at the time.
Similarly, if evangelical leaders spend tons of time telling their followers that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ vote Republican and oppose abortion rights, that they hate equal marriage and trans people and contraception, then what happens when someone in the pews realizes that the basis for all of these demands is invalid? In effect, their Dear Leaders are telling them that they can’t be evangelical and differ in their opinions here.
What does it matter if the Hunter Beaumonts of the tribe chuckle sensibly over beer-drinking, tattoos, and makeup, but have laid such land mines where it matters most? They’re the ones setting the qualifiers here.
Why setting allowable routes for doubt just doesn’t work
We’ve already seen how Before You Lose Your Faith tries very hard to set the rules of engagement for deconstruction and deconversion.
Evangelical leaders have been doing that for just forever. When deconversion started to become a recognized problem in evangelicalism, around like 2015 and 2016, I began seeing evangelical leaders try to define a firm line for their followers regarding doubt. It was okay, they declared, for the flocks to doubt these topics, for this length of time, in these approved ways, to these approved people, for only this list of reasons, as long as the doubters always returned back to this predetermined final state.
And the flocks largely ignored those dictates. Well, sort of. Doubters went right ahead and doubted the way they needed to doubt. But their still-believing peers felt free to attack and ostracize them for doing it. Their leaders had all but prescribed a cattle chute for doubters, then told the flocks that anyone who wasn’t following the predetermined path was doing it for nefarious reasons and probably just wanted to have unapproved sex.
This thing with “culture” is just another attempt along the same line. Hunter Beaumont is trying to set forth the allowable topics for doubt, the things he’ll oh-so-graciously allow evangelicals to change.
But if anyone does start seriously doubting evangelicalism because of, say, subpar music, then it’s because the subpar music indicates something seriously dysfunctional in the collective psyche of evangelicals. Ultimately, the music is subpar because evangelical claims are completely false, and evangelicals need to hide that reality from themselves as much as they can.
But Beaumont thinks he can forbid evangelicals to chase the reasons for the “culture” to their ultimate conclusions. At the same time, he thinks he can force doubters to come only to the conclusions he allows.
Before You Lose Your Faith also assumes that ex-Christians are idiots
We’ve covered a lot of ground tonight. But what we haven’t talked about yet is how gobsmackingly stupid people would have to be to leave evangelicalism for these reasons, especially these folks’ ultra-authoritarian, hyper-politicized flavor of it. Hunter Beaumont hints at this stupidity he perceives in those who leave his tribe:
They had no way to differentiate what parts to keep and what to let go. For example, they didn’t know they had permission to retain the gospel while rethinking their politics. Nor could they see the difference between the Christian sex ethic and the guilt trips used to teach it to teenagers. It was all one package, and to doubt any part of the package was to doubt the whole thing.
I wished I could give them my buckets.
That last bit refers to his equally-gloating description of how he oh-so-wisely classified some stuff as extraneous and some as essential.
But he’s being very dishonest here.
Would he, as a pastor, be completely fine with a fervent member who vocally discussed their excitement at voting Democrat? Or with one who completely rejected “the Christian sex ethic” itself as outdated, even as a bizarre mangling of misunderstood Bible verses with evangelicals’ hostility toward inalienable human rights? Or, dare I say, someone who figures out the con game behind literalism and inerrancy?
No, obviously not. In fact, I think he’d use literalism and inerrancy to yank wayward sheep right back into line if he could. That’s what that “retain the gospel” bit means. As long as an evangelical mistakenly thinks that Calvinists’ fixation on literalism and inerrancy translates into a real live god’s demand for their life, then Hunter Beaumont can pick and choose whatever he wants to chuckle sensibly at.
Before You Lose Your Faith tries hard to weasel out of terror and threats
And at the bottom of Calvinism, like we find at the bottom of evangelicalism as a whole, we find Hell itself. That stinking, long-refined putrid pit of stench and excrescence, Hell. Polished to a mirror shine like the microblade of a nano-razor, Hell. So sharp by now that it would lop off a finger without Christians even feeling the cut, Hell.
At the bottom of everything Hell-believers do and believe and preach, we find terror. The terror of Hell gets indoctrinated into toddlers before they can even defend themselves against it. The dread of Hell dances behind every Hell-believers’ thoughts. And there’s a reason why preachers and evangelists lean so hard on Hell. As threats go, Hell works better to gain Christians’ obedience than any other tactic they have ever tried.
Hell works. And Hunter Beaumont knows it. He admonishes doubting evangelicals to differentiate between what he calls “kernel issues” and “cultural husk” issues. Then, he punts back to Hell. It’s no accident! However, he tut-tuts about preachers who use “high-pressure sermons focused more on escaping hell than knowing God.”
Dude thinks that there’s a way to teach about Hell without using terror.
In truth, Hell itself is the terror.
So it doesn’t matter how much a Hell-believer simpers (as he does) about “judgment” rather than using the H-word. No pretty words can rationalize this evil doctrine. (And as we discovered during our series on Hell’s evolution, this one has a very understandable and particularly earthly lineage.) A polite mugger with a gun pointed our way is still terrorizing us.
Someone who’d literally go to Hell over silly cultural baggage is next level stupid. That’s someone who is so stupid that no gods could possibly want them around their afterlife. But that’s what TGC and Before You Lose Your Faith want you to think. Like oh yeah, people totally do it all the time. They just, like, forget all about Hell when they’re flouncing away over culture.
“Culture,” as a reason to leave evangelicalism, is the silliest reason imaginable
For that matter, Hunter Beaumont, like Brett McCracken before him, assumes that evangelicals only develop doubts because of those ever-elusive, sensible-chuckle-evoking extraneous and purely optional parts of evangelical culture. So his non-solution is to try to teach evangelicals that they can totally remove evangelical culture from the equation, and just keep “the gospel”!
As I hope I’ve shown today, that’s a ridiculous suggestion. But it also needs deconstructing evangelicals to never have contemplated exactly that move. This is one of the many, many non-solutions that offers a bright, perky, chirpy answer, a “well gosh, you should just do THIS” to someone who absolutely, positively has already realized that “this,” whatever it is, isn’t possible.
It’s so insulting and condescending, but I’ve seen evangelicals pull this stunt for almost a decade by now. Why change now? Those who still believe would never question the tactic, much less push back against it. Only those who have left know the truth, and those people will never buy this book.
Why books like Before You Lose Your Faith really get published
That’s really what matters most. That’s why these books keep getting printed. And it’s why evangelical leaders keep pushing the same failed suggestions and debunked bad arguments at their readers as surefire tips for success.
The writers of this book have already gotten their reward. They got paid by evangelicals to write this book. Quite possibly, they got an advance beforehand. And they likely get royalties from each sale, at least for new books. (That’s why I bought mine used!)
So the book itself can fail all it wants. It’s already succeeded in all the ways that really count.
And it will. It has already flopped firmly atop the dungheap of evangelical publishing history after failing to make any real impact on the number of evangelicals leaving the tribe.
I’ve yet to encounter a single doubting evangelical who was persuaded by it. Chances are, it’ll just become another homework assignment at best, one handed out by sensibly-chuckling evangelical leaders to anyone who expresses doubt in “the gospel” or evangelical hypocrisy. Or whatever.
Just like all the other evangelical books tackling this subject.
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