Yesterday, I saw this post over at Bruce Gerencser’s blog and loved it. It’s a criticism of a post at a fundagelical site called Sharper Iron. In this fundagelical’s post, he offers up 10 reasons why he thinks so many Christians are deconstructing these days. Deconstruction is like deconversion, except it doesn’t necessarily leave the person without belief in Christianity. Someone can deconstruct and remain Christian afterward, just less extremist and hopefully way less toxic. And fundagelicals are starting to recognize deconstruction as a big threat to their dominance. Today, let’s look at this fundagelical guy’s post, offer a brief synopsis of its errors, and then spend some time examining his choice of strategy. See, that strategy reveals a lot about him and his beliefs that he probably shouldn’t want everyone to know. So we’re heading there today.
Today’s topic almost feels kinda quaint in a way, because we don’t often see fundagelicals in attack mode like it’s the 2010s and they just realized atheism is on the rise. But these attacks are on the rise all the same, so it seems like a good time to bring up their fatal flaws.
Deconstruction: a rising trend
Words are important. They don’t simply describe. Rather, they contextualize and give shape to our experiences and feelings. Suddenly coming across words for difficult things can give us wings and set us free. They can help us see the whole universe in a completely different way. Words make all the difference in the world.
Way way back around 2012, I discovered a word that rang through me like a bell. It described perfectly what I’d gone through in my 20s and where I’d ended up. That word was deconversion. And the result was another new word that fit me equally well: ex-Christian. All those years of questioning and evolving emotions and opinions suddenly fell right into place.
A lot of other people found, similarly, that these terms described them and their journey out of Christianity. So, these words dominated our community’s discourse for years.
But as time went on, these words no longer sufficed. Some people needed new words. They might be unpacking and discarding some of their Christian beliefs, but they weren’t necessarily losing all of them. They weren’t necessarily ending that period of unpacking-and-discarding as ex-Christians, either.
So, someone came up with some new words. One of the most important of these became deconstruction (with its friends deconstructed and deconstructing, resulting in becoming exvangelical). A lot of people felt that word better described what they were experiencing and feeling.
By now, there are probably more people using deconstruction than deconversion. It’s a more versatile word with a lot more possibilities as endpoints, it seems to me, though I’ll continue using the more specific terms for my own situation.
Where it started vs how it’s going now
Originally, deconstruction belonged to the province of highfalutin’ theologians.
When the term came into use around 2000, it provided Christians with a mechanism to find common ground with people of differing beliefs. Theologians called it positive deconstruction. Its central processes involved figuring out what the differing beliefs are, then agreeing with whatever actually fits into the Christians’ beliefs, while rejecting and challenging whatever doesn’t. I found a lengthy 2006 journal article about it that explains some of its history and philosophical underpinnings.
Somewhere around 2017, I began seeing deconstruction used to describe a Christian’s own personal beliefs (here’s an interview Chrissy Stroop did around then that goes into more of these ideas).
Instead of evaluating other worldviews, though, Christians deconstruct by analyzing their own. They try to figure out why they believe whatever they believe, and they test those individual beliefs at least some extent to see if they hold up — whatever that term means to them. If the deconstruction reveals that the beliefs just don’t stand on their own merits, then they’re discarded. What’s left, theoretically, should land the deconstructing Christian closer to reality and a healthy belief system.
Almost always, the Christians who deconstruct end up as exvangelicals, meaning they’re not evangelicals anymore. Many do end up completely leaving Christianity. Some simply leave church culture. Others still find non-evangelical churches that meet their needs.
UH OH! Evangelicals have realized that deconstruction is a thing
And evangelicals have been noticing how many exvangelicals are leaving their groups after deconstruction. As usual, of course, they’re responding in the worst possible way — but in ways that reveal their worst flaws as a tribe.
For a couple of years now, various evangelical leaders have been attacking deconstruction — and deconstructed exvangelicals — with everything they’ve got. They haven’t even been subtle about their animosity.
In a February 2022 post at The Gospel Coalition, Alisa Childers describes deconstruction in ways that sound sinister, sneaky, and even predatory. She implies that a “progressive Christian pastor” deliberately preyed upon her, as a young adult, to rattle her faith. And she describes her return to boilerplate fundagelicalism as some kind of massive spiritual triumph over dark forces. Seriously, listen to this:
Many years ago, my Christian beliefs were challenged intellectually by a progressive Christian pastor. It threw me into deconstruction that took several years to fully come out of. I found out later that he himself had already deconstructed and had hoped to propel his congregation into deconstruction so he could convert them to progressive Christianity. He was very good at it. In fact, he was almost totally successful. A few of us came back around to a historically Christian understanding of the gospel, but most did not.
You can almost hear the chorus in her head screeching “BOO! HISS!” at this paragraph. Other Gospel Coalition posts (like this one) describe deconstruction as a trendy fad that’s weeding out all the fakey-fake fake Christians.
And then, y’all, sometimes you find a fundagelical who is just so over-the-top nasty and hateful about deconstruction that you just have to stop and marvel at it all.
Everyone, meet Mark Farnham — he’s figured out deconstruction!
Yesterday, Bruce Gerencser published a response post to an evangelical named Mark Farnham. I doubt most of us have ever heard of the guy. I’ve never written about him before, at any rate. He works as an associate professor at Lancaster Bible College in Pennsylvania.
If you’re wondering, I’ve also never written about them. They’re an expensive, not highly-rated private college. Another ratings site tells us they accept 97% of applicants — with 73% graduating and moving on to average annual salaries of USD$29k/year.
Bible Colleges are not like seminaries. Seminaries teach Biblical criticism and all sorts of other things that make fundagelicals dampen their drawers in rage and fright. They offer master’s and doctorate level degrees about religious topics, and most big churches demand that their pastors have a seminary degree. By contrast, Bible Colleges award undergraduate degrees in a variety of fields and are proud of teaching all subjects from a boilerplate fundagelical worldview.
As for Mark Farnham himself, he apparently taught apologetics for years “at the seminary level.” According to his own bio blurb, he’s got a seminary education. Really, you’d think he’d know better. But here we are. Dude’s big mad about deconstruction, and he’s got some things to say.
Yay, another fundagelical listicle!
Bruce found Mark Farnham’s post over at a Christian forum site called Sharper Iron. No, it’s not that chain of mall stores that used to sell weird presents for Father’s Day. The name refers to a Bible verse, Proverbs 27:17:
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Fundagelicals take this verse to mean that they should always be trying to turn each other into DIY projects. Being authoritarians, they love to criticize each other. It makes them feel superior to their victims. So this is a whole forum full of people who like calling out and fixing each other’s flaws. That’s a big NO from me, dawg.
Farnham’s written a few things on that site, mostly in 2016. The post we’re examining is from yesterday, and it’s a 10-point listicle. Because of course it is. Oh, and get this: he’s promised to tackle each one of his listicle points in ten blog posts over the next ten weeks. It’s not enough to write a paragraph about each listicle point. No no, he needs to write full posts about each one!
Did this guy lose a bet at his Bible College or something?
Deconstruction, as seen through toxic Christian eyes
Bruce (relink) already did a great job destroying Farnham’s poor reasoning and beyond-childish strawmanning. I’ve seen another great post that does the same over at Club Schadenfreude. So I’ll just quote his listicle here, because I want to go a bit further than simply pointing out Farnham’s deeply flawed thinking:
1) They have experienced some hurt, trauma, or abuse at the hands of professing Christians, churches, and/or pastors.
2) They have spent too much time reading, listening, watching, and talking to people espousing weak theology, heresy, and the hiss of the serpent asking, “Did God really say?”
3) They have wittingly or unwittingly absorbed and adopted naturalistic, atheistic, and hedonistic assumptions and presuppositions and then critiqued the Bible in light of those. [. . .]
4) They have tired of the scorn, ridicule, and pressure of the unbelieving world, and find it easier to abandon the faith to just get along.
5) They had deeply-felt expectations for life and what God would do, and when disappointed, could not bear the thought of worshiping the God they feel has let them down.
6) They have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Bible’s revelation about the character and actions of God, and have come to believe that they are more moral than God, and now stand in condemnation of God’s character and his actions in the pages of Scripture.
7) They grew up in legalistic churches and families where an abundance of man-made rules were added to the gospel and to God’s moral law. At some point they tired of these oppressive environments and could not separate true Christianity from the legalism, and so left the faith.
8) They fed on liberal social justice and incipient Marxism, and found the Bible’s acceptance of inequality because of the curse of sin and the Bible’s call to suffering wanting according to their new belief system that salvation is deliverance from inequality.
9) They simply no longer wished to be bound to the biblical ethic, most often related to the Bible’s clear restriction of sexual activity to one man and one woman in a monogamous covenant of marriage. They wanted to have sex and not feel guilty about it.
10) They were never true believers to begin with. They are apostates who posed as Christians, very convincingly and for a long time.[. . .]
What a load of hooey. I’m sure your eyes are rolling so hard you need a moment to get yourself situated again. Mine sure did when I first read it! I feel like Luke Skywalker telling Kylo Ren that every word of what he just said is wrong. It feels almost magical to witness someone being this wrong about absolutely everything. It’s like being in the world’s worst cloud of lightning bugs.
Quick aside: Why Yours Truly deconverted
I’m sure that a lot of folks hearing this list will, like me, immediately think it sounds nothing whatsoever like how we deconstructed, deconverted, whatever.
I know that for my own part, I was a very firm, devout, fervent Christian before noticing that a whole lot of things my beliefs said about reality just weren’t true in real reality. The example I always point to is prayer. Almost all evangelicals think that when they pray, they’re talking directly to their god. And more than that, he not only listens but responds. If they ask for something, then he does it for them. That’s what the Bible says as well.
I definitely believed that as a Christian too! So when I noticed that prayer does nothing at all in reality, that it’s about as effective as casting magic spells, it really knocked me for a loop. I went to the Bible to get reassurance, only to see that the Bible doesn’t include all those asterisks and terms and conditions that Christians apply today to make it all work together. It’s really that simple, and really that stark of a difference. Prayer in reality was nothing like the Bible’s depiction of prayer and my tribe’s teachings. Really, all those asterisks just highlighted that fact.
And if prayer wasn’t really what my faith taught, I reasoned, then what else wasn’t true? That’s the question that creates doubt, and if we pursue doubt honestly then we end up finding the truth.
I do not recognize my experiences in this belligerent fundagelical’s listicle. But that’s kind of the point, in a way.
Spinning the fundagelical narrative of deconstruction
In his listicle, Mark Farnham is spinning a narrative about deconstruction. He’s creating a mental image for his readers about how they should think about deconstructing Christians and about deconstruction itself. In this strawman image, deconstruction is done by fake Christians or weak ones. They can’t handle all the big demands Jesus makes of them, so they take this easy way out and say they’ve done something admirable. Far from it, however: they’ve actually just fallen for evil librul lies cuz they just wanna siiiiiiiiin.
In Farnham’s narrative, no TRUE CHRISTIAN™ would ever fall for deconstruction. No way would any real-deal Jesus follower buy into those lies. After all, deconstruction would only take them further away from the capital-T Truth.
It’s not hard to think of a number of reasons why Farnham might be spinning this narrative. The dude teaches at a Bible College. He’s trained in and taught apologetics for years besides that. He lives and breathes and moves through a world where reality doesn’t say anything that matters. And he’s very obviously a hardcore authoritarian.
So in a lot of ways, it must be very challenging for him that a bunch of mostly young-adult evangelicals are vocally discussing all the ways that their false beliefs hurt them and don’t conform to reality.
How toxic Christians solve a problem like deconstruction
The hilarious part is that in addressing this challenge, Farnham goes the worst possible route. He insults, maligns, and dehumanizes deconstructing Christians — and speaks over their lived experience to depict strawmen of them. He can’t actually address what they’re saying, so he attacks their validity as Christians.
Toxic Christians do this all the time. Once you learn to recognize ad hominem attacks, you’ll see them happening everywhere. It’s not just fundagelicals doing it, of course. Hardline Catholics do it as well, as do all the other authoritarian flavors of Christians. The idea here is that if the attacker can cast enough doubt on the validity of the person offering the input, then the input can be safely ignored.
As far as responses go, most people will go the second mile to try to convince ad hominem attackers that no, really, they were valid Christians who Jesus-ed just right and believed all the correct things with the correct levels of fervor. Though there’s certainly a place for that kind of pushback, it won’t work on the attackers, only on onlookers. They will constantly shift goalposts and seek out any point of your former beliefs that differed from their current ones, then claim that obviously you deconstructed because of that point of difference.
Once you realize that their ever-shifting definition of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ is entirely solipsistic and self-serving, designed specifically for them to reject your input out of hand, you can opt out of this reindeer game.
And the truth that Mark Farnham can’t handle
This listicle is really Mark Farnham trying to deconstruction-proof fundagelical beliefs, and there’s just not a way to do that. They’re not based on reality. All he’s got is dehumanizing and slamming his enemies so hard that he hopes his readers wouldn’t ever dream of joining them. He’s telling his readers something important here: that if they deconstruct and become exvangelicals, he will call them fake Christians who just wanted all that free sex he mistakenly thinks heathens have.
Christians deconvert and deconstruct, though, from all of the flavors of Christianity. Within evangelicalism, they deconstruct from Calvinism and Arminianism, from flavors considered dangerously liberal and from flavors considered dangerously legalistic. Deconstructed exvangelicals flow out of churches of all types and sizes, all culture-war levels of ferocity, and all positions in the culture wars themselves.
Deconstruction itself begins with simply observing reality and how reality lines up with one’s beliefs. Often, it involves learning how indoctrination works and how children get indoctrinated when they’re way too young to critically examine what’s being taught — and when they’re too powerless to be able to give meaningful consent to being taught.
What this listicle shows us
And seeing a fundagelical openly attacking exvangelicals shows us some important things:
First, this attack shows us that fundagelicals are hateful hypocrites who wouldn’t know love if it bit them on the nose like a kitten. Mark Farnham has constructed a god for himself who actively approves of his antics. He’s part of his tribe’s problem and a reason why they’re in decline. Just look at his listicle and read between the lines. It shows us stuff about fundagelicals that they shouldn’t want us to see: that they hurt people all the time, that they attack dissenters, that they sneer at those they dehumanize. And their grand solution to their dealbreaking flaws is to put up with it or be attacked as fake Christians.
Second, this listicle shows us that fundagelical leaders are scared shitless of deconstruction. Shitless! They don’t have any real way to defang the points exvangelicals make, so this balls-to-the-wall attack is all that’s left for them. I don’t know about y’all, but I am loving seeing all these attack posts coming out of evangelical sites these days. Dogs don’t bark at what don’t move, as my first pastor used to say.
Third, this listicle reveals that there aren’t any rational fundagelical responses to deconstruction. Christians have had 2000 years to come up with objectively-real evidence supporting their claims. So far, none of ’em ever have. All they’ve got is manipulation and threats and fake miracles and bad arguments. And here’s the kicker: Mark Farnham clearly knows he has no evidence. He sure never provides any. Instead, he goes for the manipulation as hard as he can.
The big takeaway
And last, this listicle tells us that deconstruction will continue unabated. All these self-righteous fundagelical hypocrites will not be able to reduce the number of people leaving. In fact, these hypocrites will inevitably become part of the reason why people begin deconstruction in the first place.
All it takes is one objective observation that doesn’t fit at all with Christians’ claims. Hypocrites are one of those realities.
So Farnham and his pals are simply another point on the line of Christianity’s claims not being true. Instead of acting like they even halfway believe in Jesus and want to obey his commands, they react like basic tribalistic authoritarians who sense their dominance being chipped away.
And the more they act out like aggrieved, tantrum-throwing despots, the more of their flocks will begin their own paths of deconstruction.
To quote another Star Wars character, Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, the more star-systems will slip through your fingers.
And this has been Captain Cassidy of Roll to Disbelieve. Thanks for listening! Please check out the writeup for links if you’d like to support my work. Have a great weekend and we’ll see you on Tuesday!