Lately, I’ve been reading a book called Before You Lose Your Faith. It’s a collaboration between a number of mostly hard-right Calvinist fundagelicals, all of whom want to dictate how evangelicals must conduct their deconstructions. It’s been very interesting to see how dysfunctional authoritarians approach deconstruction in other Christians, especially with regard to how they’ve dealt with doubt over the past 10 or 12 years.
The trendline has not been broken, if you’re wondering. We’re going to take a dive today into how evangelicals have been dealing with doubt, and how that past behavior plays into their current attempt to take control of the tidal wave of deconstruction.
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Everyone, meet Before You Lose Your Faith
Before You Lose Your Faith was published in April 2021. Its authors are a grab-bag of mostly hardline, politically-conservative, literalist, culture-warrior, Calvinist, dysfunctional-authoritarian fundagelicals. Of its 16 contributors, only two (Karen Swallow Prior and Rachel Gilson) are women. Most of them are very clearly members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), with a smattering of pastors, seminary teachers and professors, and other such leaders.
Of course and as we’d expect, many of this book’s contributors directly work with or for The Gospel Coalition (TGC), which is a toxic distillation of that flavor of Christianity I just described. When I talk about TGC being where the truth goes to die, I’m not really joking around.
Of the lot of these contributors, the only one I think isn’t quite so bad is Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at an SBC seminary. She seems to try her best to stay out of the culture wars and over-the-top wrasslin-style dramas that her tribe is famous for. I gotta wonder if the book’s organizers regretted inviting her to the party. After all, she showed up in a February 2022 New York Times op-ed about various dissenters trying to “save evangelicalism from itself,” then became an unwilling part of a big dumb drama with Tom Buck. Thanks to his baseless accusations, the hardline end of fundagelicalsm attacked her nonstop for months.
No, they never apologized. Of course not.
Before You Lose Your Faith and its place in the Christian-decline timeline
This book really sits at a pivotal point in the timeline of Christianity’s decline.
In 2015, fundagelicals as a group finally accepted that their end of Christianity was, in fact, in decline. For a while, they contented themselves with vilifying, dehumanizing, and trash-talking the people who left their tribe. But when that campaign failed to cow enough people out of leaving, fundagelical leaders started focusing on busy-work that made them feel like they were fixing the problem.
The non-solutions that came out of all that busy-work affirmed their beliefs and behavior. At the same time, they entirely failed to address doubters’ concerns. So needless to say, the decline only continued.
Out of all Christian denominations, the SBC might be the most frantic to reverse its decline. Their entire stated ethos revolves around recruitment. Except nowadays, they’re not really recruiting many people! We’ve talked about that decline many times around here, and I’m still not sure it’s even possible for me to overstate just how desperate the SBC’s leaders are to find some way to start growing again.
Confounding their efforts further, a new trend has emerged over the past couple of years: deconstruction. In true dysfunctional-authoritarian fashion, the fundagelicals of TGC and the SBC have apparently decided that their best bet for dealing with deconstruction is to try to take control of it away from the flocks.
All of these points means that I have high expectations of this book—at least in terms of the humor it will provide. Very little is as funny to me as watching toxic evangelical leaders try to make demands. And there aren’t many of them quite as toxic as most of the folks involved with the SBC, TGC, and Before You Lose Your Faith.
Subtitle: You idiots just need to look at fundagelicalism the way Daddy tells you to
In the introduction, Ivan Mesa (the books editor for TGC) complains about how people portray deconstruction in social media. He really doesn’t like that deconstruction content has a large and eager audience. But he really detests the fact that popular Christian entertainers who were once “a staple in many homes with children and young adults” (p. 1) can publicly announce their loss of faith and their subsequent disaffiliation from Christianity.
Oh noes! Won’t SOMEONE please think of the children?!?
Then, Mesa launches into a set of demands for those who might be undergoing deconstruction. But even before that, he threatens those who disaffiliate with Hell.
Seriously. On page 2, even before he has really started making his demands, Mesa issues this subtle threat:
Of course, while technology has influenced some of these social dimensions, at its core this path toward unbelief is nothing new. Jesus himself warned of it: “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:12-13). From Demas (2 Tim. 4:10) to Hymenaeus and Philetus (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), the early church saw many abandon the faith they once professed (1 John 2:19). We should be saddened, but we shouldn’t be surprised.
Then he starts talking about the four soils metaphor in the Parable of the Sower. He notes that “only one out of the four soils produces fruit.” The rest, of course, go to Hell. That’s the penalty he’s hinting at here. Deconstruction means going to Hell for him, and he really wants potential deconstructors to be reminded of the same terror he must feel.
Finally, he tells us that he wants this book to show doubting fundagelicals how deconstruction totally ought to be done. He reiterates that fundagelicalism is the bestest kind of Christianity ever. As such, he insists that it can totally answer every one of a doubter’s questions and end them up with a stronger faith than ever before.
(LOLNO. In his dreams, he is free indeed.)
Next up: “Doubt your way back to truth”
As you might suspect, the introduction was a superb example of hoping-for-the-best. But now, we get down to brass tacks with Trevin Wax, whose contribution is titled “Doubt Your Way Back to Truth.”
Wax himself holds some lofty positions of leadership within the SBC. His biography blurb in the book tells us that he holds a Ph.D from an SBC seminary, works as the senior vice president of theology and communications at Lifeway Christian Resources, and is a visiting professor at Wheaton College. That’s where SBC alum Ed Stetzer works now. In addition, Wax has written some word-salady-sounding books about management and self-actualization.
Dis gon b gud.
At first, Wax pretends that he is totally and really and truly “heartened” when fundagelicals ask questions about their faith. A lot of fundagelical leaders say this. But their actions reveal the truth. They don’t like questions at all. Rather, they value obedience. If questions always led to increased obedience, then they would be all for questions.
But questions have a funny way of leading to disobedience, especially in ideology-based groups whose stated beliefs are based entirely on a series of false claims that must be believed even when reality contradicts them constantly (like, well, fundagelicalism). As a result, I’m sure anybody who’s been fundagelical knows exactly what happens when their questions veer into off-limits territory in terms of content or duration.
Trevin Wax is clearly of the fundagelical leadership cohort that latched onto control of doubt 6-7 years ago as a way to control deconversion. Now that deconversion has become the much more all-encompassing deconstruction, he’s still pursuing that strategy. In this chapter, he’s going to try very hard to set the terms and conditions, the rules of engagement so to speak, of both doubt and deconstruction itself.
That is, after all, the literal only way that most deconstructors will be able to “doubt their way back to [King Trevin Wax’s] faith.”
The exact relationship between TGC and doubt, specifically
In conjunction with this book, TGC began running a podcast last year called Gospelbound. I ran a boatload of posts about it around then, starting here. In addition, I checked out one of their episodes about doubt in particular.
When I say that these guys try to control doubt, I get that from their own writings. For years now, I’ve recognized control of doubt as a strategy for fundagelical leaders. It never works, but it’s really a win-win attempt for them. If the flocks listen, then Hooray Team Jesus! The doubt is cured! But if the flocks don’t listen, then Jesus Told Us We’d See the Falling-Away of the Fake Christians, So Hooray Team Jesus!
In the podcast about doubt, TGC’s contributors try very hard to make the case that churches should be safe harbors for doubters. Yes, seriously. Even in the podcast itself, these guys admit that churches are very seldom like that. In fact, they’re usually the opposite. But darn it, they should be like that! Problem solved! Hooray Team Jesus!
And despite churches not being safe harbors for doubters, something TGC admits in their own podcast, they still expect doubters to bring doubts there and seek answers for them.
It was just mind-boggling, how dishonest this approach really is. But TGC isn’t alone here at all. Most evangelical leaders talk the same way. They put all these rules around questions and doubt, then try to hold free human beings to those rules, then get mad when those free human beings don’t listen to their silly rules.
How deconstruction must work, according to Before You Lose Your Faith
So now, let’s look back to the actual book. Let’s see how King Trevin Wax tries to dictate how deconstruction must work to be valid in his kingdom.
First off, I’ll mention what I think Wax gets right. And it’s the nature of doubt itself in Christianity. Most Christians do seem to start doubting when they wonder if their religion’s claims are actually true. But others spark doubt by wondering if their religion represents a net good for humanity. Wax makes an interesting point here, and I want to give credit where it’s due.
Too bad he goes off the rails everywhere else.
He tells deconstructors that “a reconstructed faith will require recovering Christian orthodoxy, not departing from it.” That means hardline, literalist, politically-conservative, culture-warrior, Calvinist, dysfunctional-authoritarian fundagelicalism. Those are the only people outside of actual Orthodox Christianity who use the term “orthodoxy” like that. It’s a dogwhistle.
So if someone deconstructs and remains Christian, they must go back to the exact kind of Christianity that King Trevin Wax practices. Otherwise, he’ll call them fakers who’ve redefined “Christian words like ‘love’ and ‘grace’ and mercy’ by filling them with meanings derived from contemporary culture.”
By the way, this is as close as fundagelicals ever get to conceding that they redefined those words in the first place—by using DARVO tactics to accuse tribal enemies of doing exactly what they themselves did.
More projection from King Trevin Wax
What’s absolutely bizarre here is just how much projection and DARVO we see out of Trevin Wax. Having established that deconstruction must become reconstruction or else the doubter is a faker led astray by the secular world, Wax now launches into a complete and vicious mischaracterization of doubters themselves.
This flabbergasted me, even knowing these guys like I do. He writes on page 12:
But I don’t believe you are faithless. Your faith has merely shifted—away from the people of God who confess faith in and allegiance to Jesus, and toward people who affirm your deconversion. You’ve been conditioned by your cultural context and your new community to see doubt as courageous. [Wait, I thought doubt was awesome? Questions welcome? — CC] Instead of finding your identity and purpose within the story of the Bible, you have adopted a faith that follows the contours of the Enlightenment’s story of the world. . .
Make no mistake: you’re still on a faith journey; it’s just that the way you tell your story has changed.
Seriously, what an asshat. However, this quote does represent a prime example of what Thought2Much named The Law of Conservation of Worship.
Before You Lose Your Faith is gonna be that kind of book
Fundagelicals tend to see everyone as worshiping something and following some religion. Just as fundagelicals go to church, they think atheists go to science lectures. As fundagelicals revere the Bible, they think atheists revere On the Origin of Species. As fundagelicals think Yahweh magicked the universe into existence, they think atheists think everything just randomly came into being.
So here, the very fundagelical King Trevin Wax assumes that people who deconvert (and he does actually use the term “deconversion” here) have simply joined the churchlike equivalent that he assumes must exist for people who aren’t religious anymore. He goes on to assert:
Until thinkers ask more questions of their deconstruction, I believe they are trading faiths—merely accepting (on faith) a new story that gives meaning and significance to their life.
He’s flat wrong here too, of course. All that’s required is to look at Christianity from the null hypothesis. Rejecting it doesn’t require anything further than to see that its claims aren’t true and that its various groups bring way more harm than good to those who put their misplaced trust in them.
His last paragraph is a nonstop dribble of claims that he never actually bothers to support:
Jesus is alive. He continues to surprise people today, and I pray he’ll surprise you. And I hope that one day, maybe soon, you’ll look back and see how God used this season of deconversion in a manner similar to the way a broken limb can actually wind up stronger and more fortified at the very place the break occurred. Broken limbs, deconstruction stories—neither of these is good, but Jesus is all about bringing good things from bad. He can resurrect life from the grave of a buried faith. I can’t wait to read the next chapter in your story.
But only if it matches what King Him thinks it should be. He’s already made that clear. I’m 25 years out of a faith he’d have called supremely orthodox, barring not being Trinitarian. But I seriously doubt he’d like hearing anything about what I’ve done with my life since deconverting!
To the rest, I can only say: 
Also, that bullshit about broken bones is dead wrong. Once broken, bones don’t heal to be stronger at all. That fact took me 15 seconds to find. Here’s another source (and another) saying that at most, the healed bone will be of similar strength.
Wax’s entire metaphor here is based on his deep misunderstanding of biology. Interesting, considering that his faith is based on similar willful ignorance.
Maybe TGC should have chosen contributors who were actually interested in addressing deconstruction
So far, I’m not impressed by Before You Lose Your Faith. But I am deeply entertained by it.
This is the galaxy-brained Hail Mary thrown by the brightest minds that TGC could corral. And so far, we’ve gotten nothing but smears, insults, and mischaracterizations, attempts to control doubters’ search for the real truth, veiled threats, and endless false claims.
The strongest chapter in this whole book should be its first chapter. But it was a series of nonstop manipulation attempts, garbled metaphors, and blatant control grabs.
Not one sentence in this book so far has offered a single valid reason to reconsider affiliation with Christianity. What we’ve already seen is all that they’ve got.
I really hope to see some good apologetics blahblah in future chapters. Nothing beats a professional apologist in full voice talking down to heathens, heretics, and apostates. If it’s interesting enough, I’ll follow up this post.
But for now, it seems like this is a very safe book to ignore if someone is actually doubting their faith. It certainly didn’t give me a single reason to reconsider the religion, and I doubt it’d have that effect on anyone whose critical-thinking thrusters are firing on full power.
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