After almost a decade of relative obscurity, Zack Hunt is back in the news section of the Christ-o-sphere. This time, it’s over a new book he’s just published, which has led him to rent some billboards around Nashville. Both the book and these billboards directly contradict many beloved evangelical talking points. I guess we’re entering yet another rousing round of Christian infighting!
As much as I generally agree with Zack Hunt, though, he’s missing a key and absolutely important part of the Christian equation. It not only explains how his god differs so markedly from that of his ideological enemies, but also a number of troubling situations—in both the real world and the Bible—that he describes in his work.
(This post originally appeared on Patreon on 6/8/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there as well, and should be public by the time you see this!)
Everyone, meet Zack Hunt, who pushes back against toxic Christianity
I really don’t know exactly why Zack Hunt first came to my attention. But I know that he did around 2015. And I know it was around then because I’ve got several bookmarks to posts he wrote around then.
Back then, he wrote blog posts criticizing stuff like the Rapture, Calvinists’ downright evil takes on the character of Yahweh/Jesus, and evangelicals’ out-of-context use of Bible verses to support their culture-war stances. He even ran a blog called The American Jesus.
Alas, the book he talked about publishing soon in 2015, The Scandal of Holiness, never materialized. Instead, his first book appears to be Unraptured, published in 2019. Around then, he wrote a blog for Patheos on their Progressive Christian channel to publicize the new book.
Generally speaking, he’s always offered basically good observations, though he always misses the same important point in each one.
Otherwise, it looks like Hunt makes his living through writing and speaking. For a while, he volunteered with youth ministry in some capacity. He says he holds two graduate degrees from Yale Divinity School, but he’s not a minister. His current bio blurb says he’s spent 20 years in preaching and ministry. In one 2015 post, he says he’s an “ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene.” But I couldn’t find any info about any specific churches he’s served. That doesn’t mean he’s lying, of course. It’s just strange.
A long time ago, he belonged to some flavor of fundamentalism. Though he rejects almost everything evangelicals do and believe, I think he still identifies as evangelical.
However and whyever he landed on my radar, Zack Hunt is the antimatter to evangelicals’ matter. Put them too close together, and they’ll explode!
At the moment, though, it’s probably evangelicals who are doing most of the exploding.
Zack Hunt kicks off another round of Christian infighting with billboards
Last month, Zack Hunt published his second book, Godbreathed: What It Really Means for the Bible to be Divinely Inspired. In keeping with tradition, he’s kicked off some publicity for the new book. This includes an interview with Baptist News Global and the renting of some billboards around Nashville, Tennessee.
For those who’ve never tangled with this sort of thing, evangelicals love to put up fire-and-brimstone billboards that threaten viewers with damnation for noncompliance with their demands. These evangelicals call this practice billboard ministry or billboard evangelism. Often, they put their billboards very close to businesses that they consider sinful. As we discussed recently, sin has a very sexual connotation. So, these businesses generally offer sex-based products or services. (What, did you expect them put these dumb billboards near gun shops?!?) A small sampling:
A subset of these billboards involves Saturday Sabbath Christians fighting with, well, everyone about Sunday worship. While making regular trips to Tennessee from Atlanta in the early 2000s, I used to get a real kick out of their dueling billboards. The fight just got more and more acrimonious with every trip I made. Alas, I can’t find an example of billboard pushback to show you, but I sure saw plenty of it back then! (As for me, I always wondered how much these billboards cost [LOTS], and how many hungry people could have been fed with all that money.)
And these Christians insist that their childish billboards really and truly convert people to their flavor of Christianity. It’s not hard to find a few testimonies along those lines, though I bet it doesn’t happen often. One of the guys buying these billboards could only say he’d “had some good results from people.” That’s hardly a ringing proclamation of success.
Even so, these Christians really don’t like seeing atheists putting up billboards to counter their own. No, sir. They think of the mere concept of billboards as their property.
Well, if it’s true that an in-group’s worst enemies are those who align almost-but-not-quite-completely with their own beliefs, then they must be doubly infuriated with Zack Hunt’s billboards.
The billboards Zack Hunt made
Baptist News Global (relink) provides a picture of one of the billboards Zack Hunt ordered. It says, “It’s okay to admit when the Bible is wrong — 1 Corinthians 13:12.” His others tell viewers:
You are not going to hell. — John 3:17
God didn’t write the Bible. People did. — Romans 1:1
These aren’t particularly fighty billboards. Like those usually put up by atheists, they simply offer a gentle reminder that other belief systems exist. It’s the mildest pushback imaginable. Nashville Redditors are already gleefully anticipating a fight to break out anyway, though.
These three ideas also form a big part of Zack Hunt’s new book, Godbreathed. In essence, the book describes the Bible from the standpoint of it being a human (and therefore flawed) document rather than a purely divine (and therefore perfect) one.
A book about an imperfect book about humans’ relationship with Yahweh/Jesus
Evangelicals aren’t real clear on exactly what “divinely inspired” means, nor “divinely breathed” or “divinely written.” But they’ve been so addled by the Calvinistic doctrine of inerrancy that they’re still quite certain that whatever they call it, the Bible cannot be wrong in any way whatsoever. Everything it says happened really happened as it describes.
With inerrancy, every decision of Yahweh or Jesus was a perfect and correct decision. Every order, similarly, is absolutely perfect and must be obeyed—unless it’s really onerous, like all those Jewish dietary and farming laws, or it’d send someone to prison for doing it, like all those laws about how to properly obtain and keep female sex slaves, or it’s totally boring, like feeding the hungry instead of putting up a bazillion proselytizing billboards along the roadsides of America. To get away from orders like those, evangelicals have evolved many libraries’ worth of hand-waving to reconcile their avoidance and biblical revision with their inerrancy addlepation.
To us ex-Christians, it’s beyond obvious why evangelicals are so disobedient to Jesus, yet why they insist that they are completely obedient. But of late, I’ve been seeing more and more liberal/progressive Christians tackling that problem. That’s what Godbreathed tries to do. And to its credit, it sounds like it works well in that regard. If someone is a Christian and desperately wants to remain a Christian, they might get what they need from it. At least, I’ve noticed that a lot of deconstructing Christians who remain Christian seem to end up in the exact headspace that this book describes.
Evangelicals are not enthused about this book or the billboards, either
Zack Hunt is, a lot like me, not often noticed by the evangelical Christ-o-sphere. But I assure you that the evangelicals who’ve noticed him don’t like him any more than they like me! I bet they thought they’d trampled the emergent/progressive Christian movement out of existence years ago!
In his May 24 blog post, pastor Jonathan Richardson of West Haven Baptist Church (yes, it’s Southern Baptist) took a little time to sneer at the guy. First, he complains that so much negative news coverage of Christian hypocrisy and Christianity’s decline is hurting recruitment and sales. Then, he brings up those billboards, which presumably also hurt recruitment and sales, and finally he judges their creator:
After a quick check of Hunt’s theological history and his Twitter feed, I would add the word “sensational” to his approach. His statements definitely get your attention, but after a short examination, his reasoning and conclusions are flawed. Just because an individual chooses not to believe in something (also the reverse) doesn’t make it true. These sensational prophets do a great job of getting attention for themselves by bucking the norm and calling traditional practice into question. A negative approach to gain an audience.
These types of people are no different than the false prophets Peter, James, John and Jude warn us about in the Epistles. These folks rise up quickly but, due to their lace of substance, they fizzle out just as quickly. What is left is a hurting, misdirected and lost group of people who thought they had the inside track to a new teaching or greater understanding of God.
Self-awareness is never an evangelical leader’s strong suit, is it? He’s exactly the kind of self-satisfied, hooked-on-power-and-certainty, antiprocess-shielded evangelical that Zack Hunt criticizes.
In the wild: Inerrancy-addled Christians vs Zack Hunt
While researching, I found some scattered pushback to the ideas Zack Hunt writes and talks about.
In 2012, a hardline Catholic blog, Called to Communion, took exception to Zack Hunt’s The American Jesus blog (relink). These folks are hardline Calvinists who converted to hardline Catholicism. That means they’ve figured out how to take the very worst parts of the very worst flavors of Christianity and combine them to make a new Mecha-Zealot that fires beams of pure belligerence, control-grabs, and condescension at its many enemies.
Specifically, they disliked an entry titled “You’re a Heretic & So Am I.” In his post, Zack Hunt simply pointed out what I call the doctrinal yardstick. No matter how correct one Christian thinks they are, or how heretical they think another Christian is, that other Christian thinks exactly the same of them. Every Christian is a heretic to some other Christian. But these Calvinist Catholics got very upset about it:
Neither your personal interpretation of the Bible, nor mine, is the Rule of Faith. But this does not entail that we are all heretics whenever we disagree and / or are divided. Nor need we revert to restorationism, in one its many permutations, in order to embrace a full and absolute orthodoxy.
Way to miss the point, fellas. Of course, they wouldn’t even exist if their Dear Leaders hadn’t become heretics, and if America hadn’t allowed heretical groups to flourish through the acknowledgment of human rights.
More infighting, because it’s hilarious
Answers in Genesis, the pseudoscience grift operated by Ken Ham, got upset with Zack Hunt in 2013. This time, the post that riled them up was about how the Bible itself says that it’s not perfect. In particular, I’m sure this line didn’t make Ken Ham happy:
Anyway, this post isn’t about the historical problems with affirming Biblical inerrancy. It’s about the lack of faith it takes to do so and what the Bible actually has to say about itself.
OUCH! But so true.
Well, Ken Ham himself responded to this mortal blow:
It’s not “arrogant” to say that God’s Word is without error. Is God, who created language, incapable of communicating a timeless, inerrant message to His people, through men? Of course not! If God’s Word doesn’t provide the standard of what it means to be “without error,” then the standard for deciphering what in God’s Word is accurate and what is not becomes completely arbitrary guesswork, to say nothing of posing a problem with Scripture’s own claims to be true!
Of course, understanding the Bible as a document is far from “completely arbitrary guesswork,” just as the Theory of Evolution itself does not mean that life evolved through sheer luck and chance to its many present forms. But Ken Ham needs his followers to think both of these things to make his money.
Also in 2013, Derek Rishmawy had a bone to pick with the same post. We’ve discussed him at length here, since he contributed to the book Before You Lose Your Faith. Rishmawy saw the post at Red Letter Christians, but it’s the same one. His response offers all the usual evangelical hand-waving apologetics that we’ve come to expect from this crowd. None of it successfully nullifies the OP’s points.
More recently, an absolutely swivel-eyed, Jewish-targeted evangelism and Rapture-peddling business, Jewish Awareness, published an actual PDF last year complaining about Zack Hunt’s hot takes about the Endtimes. Their masterful rebuttal involves just threatening him with Hell and drilling down on the severe penalties they imagine await anyone who isn’t on board with their brand of fundagelicalism. (Their blog is just mind-boggling in its sheer ineptitude. Jews are quite forthright about why Jesus can’t possibly be their Messiah.)
Inerrancy is a poison, an infection in the body of Christ
All of these hardline culture warriors are upset about the assertion that the Bible might not actually be inerrant. That their entire way of Jesusing might not actually be the utmost correct way ever devised. That their grabs for power and control might not actually be divinely-mandated and -commanded.
Without an inerrant, perfectly-correct Bible, every single foundation under evangelicals’ feet dissolves. Inerrancy is how they justify their culture wars, their demands for cultural power, their political maneuvering, and even their nonstop unwanted recruitment attempts. Everything we despise about evangelicals (as well as the bio-identical hardline Catholics like the ones at Called to Communion) flows naturally from the toxic, sickening waters of inerrancy.
Whenever evangelicals mix up hate and love, cruelty and kindness, subjugation and liberty, control and freedom, they’re basing these errors in discernment on inerrancy-informed teachings.
They are high on the fumes of their own perception of themselves as America’s Designated Adults—the rightful rulers of their hoped-for future theocracy. For such people, inerrancy functions for them much like bourbon does for an alcoholic. It props up everything that they cherish about themselves. They will argue themselves blue in the face before even once considering that it might be wrecking their lives, not making everything better.
Inerrancy is also a fake security blanket, which Zack Hunt is threatening to rip away from them
But inerrancy grants evangelicals something else they can’t live without.
It soothes their fears.
To be evangelical is to be afraid. Of everything. All the time. Even the most pugnacious and belligerent evangelical is terrified of so many things:
- Being wrong about anything
- Losing a fight of any kind (literal or metaphorical)
- Having to change their minds
- Change, just in general
- Losing power in any way, in any area of life
- Not controlling everything and everyone around themselves
- Being irrelevant, especially to people they wish to control
- Someone figuring out just what failures they really are deep down
That may look like a checklist for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. To an extent, it is. Narcissists act like mighty warriors, like they are brimming and overflowing with confidence and self-esteem, but in reality they’re black holes inside. They hate themselves, and they’re terrified others will figure out what they’re really like and start hating them too.
They can’t handle living in a world full of uncertainty and change, one where they aren’t powerful or highly-esteemed at least in an imaginary world, and most of all one that offers each person who has ever lived exactly one life to live. And no, I don’t mean the long-running soap opera that ended in 2012-2013:
But that world is exactly what we have. In fact, that’s all that we have. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something that isn’t good for you.
Ultimately, Zack Hunt’s approach suffers from a singular problem he can’t resolve
I’ve mentioned already that Zack Hunt’s work suffers from a serious problem. This problem is why Christians can disagree so much about what their god is like, what their holy book actually tells them to believe and do, and what they ought to be spending their finite lifetimes doing.
You already know what it is.
It’s that his god isn’t real.
Nothing in Christianity tethers to reality. That means that no Christians can compare their beliefs to reality to figure out who’s right or wrong in their many, many, manymanymany disputes. All they’ve got is appeals to various authority sources and emotions. They all do it, too, just in different ways.
As a result of this singular, universal problem, watching Christians argue about their respective competing beliefs is one of the funniest things in the world. Each is convinced that their quirky take on their canonical source documents is the right one, and that this take of theirs means that their opinions about their god, cosmology, and religion are correct—while their counterpart’s opinions are incorrect.
They can’t both be right.
But they can all be wrong.
Reality changes everything
It’s not that I’ve got anything against Zack Hunt. His approach to Christianity likely brings him closer to me and to us, our community, than any evangelical in terms of how his beliefs inform his behavior. His form of Christianity likely comes as close to what I’d consider a best-case form of the religion than anything evangelicals or hardline Catholics have ever devised. Overall, I think I like the guy and what he has to say to Christians. I hope more Christians adopt his beliefs. Maybe he can gentle a few of them before his time on Earth is done.
But his god still isn’t real. He’s wasting his time on a bunch of beliefs that simply aren’t true. In the end, he’s just arguing fandom details with fellow fans of a fictional series. If I proposed a DCU multi-part movie adaptation of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew to grimdark Dark Knight-style DCU fans, they’d probably react to me much like Calvinists do to this guy.
Because I’m based in reality, though, I can confidently tell toxic Christians of any stripe that they can spew apologetics all they like. I know Hell doesn’t exist, and my definition of “good” and “evil” relates to reality rather than being the result of contortions that Christians are required to make so their god looks less monstrous. I’m not ever converting to their repulsive flavor of Christianity because their threats can’t possibly come true, and besides, I know that no good god would ever condone a single thing they do to others.
But neither will I ever anchor my desires to change and improve the world and humanity itself to a bunch of false claims about imaginary beings and realms. Instead, I can move forward faster and with fewer impediments like bunches of furious, ego-stung narcissists who can’t handle the idea of someone having a slightly different headcanon about their favorite series.
I don’t understand why so many Christians don’t care if their beliefs are true
I’ve noticed that progressive Christians seem singularly disinterested in figuring out if their beliefs are even based on reality or not. They all talk in such lofty, euphoric ways about how their beliefs make them feel. Their counterparts talk the same way, and all of them think Jesus is making them feel that way because they’ve landed on the perfect way to Jesus.
But none of it’s true. None of it’s real. They’re all just working themselves up into these heights of religious passion and even mania, and it’s just them doing it. No gods are making it happen.
When I was Christian, hearing such prattle sent me into the depths of despair. In every flavor of Christianity that I encountered, there were people who talked like that. But I didn’t realize that they were just working themselves up. Rather, I thought Jesus was making them feel that way. It devastated me, until I figured out that none of it was true. Then, their behavior made perfect sense.
Their behavior made even more sense when I figured out that Christians all gravitate to a form of Christianity that makes sense to them and lets them do whatever it is they want to do in life. For hardline evangelicals and Catholics, it’s a really noxious, cruel form based in inerrancy. For Zack Hunt, it’s a very progressive form focusing more on charity and kindness. If someone absolutely must be Christian, I’d rather it be that.
Either way, I just can’t imagine what it’s like to have a worldview that’s super-important to you, and yet you just don’t care if it’s based on facts. That’s a world where geometry doesn’t work, where everything bends at impossible angles and atoms operate under different laws and values. I want no part of it.
Maybe lots of Christians are like that, and this is a shortcoming in me. If so, then I’m happy to suffer from it. At least it keeps me well away from other harmful ideologies that are equally untrue. I’ve noticed that if I stray away from using facts to form my opinions, I always seem to land in bad groups of terrible people. Worse, I open the door to accepting more false beliefs. Maybe some folks aren’t like that.
To keep myself in reality, though, I must ensure that I build my beliefs only from reality.
And so I shall keep doing that.
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