Advice for Your Friend Who Is Deconstructing

I was recently asked for advice from someone whose friend is struggling with their faith, and toying with deconstruction-type tendencies, due to failures in the Christian community. I thought I’d share my response below:

One thing that I think is important: don’t downplay or dismiss his sense of disillusionment or angst over the legit problems and failings of those in the church. As someone who very much sympathizes with many of these frustrations myself, I find it incredibly frustrating when folks simply dismiss my concerns with contemporary evangelicalism. It can be very disillusioning. Of course, the “deconstructionist” trend has lots of problems. But many (not all) of the things they are reacting to are real. I’ve met some evangelicals/fundamentalists who simply don’t seem bothered by the things others of us find deeply disturbing and unsettling. And for them to simply blow off our concerns is annoying, to say the least (often because they themselves are more sympathetic to the things we find problematic). But the problems are real. Acting like they aren’t won’t provide this man any solace. He won’t find it satisfying or convincing.

For me though, what’s been really helpful is (1) recognizing a global and historic church that goes deeper and wider than the craziness that unfortunately defines much of contemporary American evangelicalism/fundamentalism. Also, (2) recognizing that the NT predicted false teachers and problems in the church. So their existence doesn’t put in jeopardy the legitimacy of Christianity, as if for Christianity to be real the church mustn’t have issues. (3) Even the early church, which we sometimes hold up as pristine, was anything but. Look at Corinth. Or look at the messages to the churches in Revelation. As Augustine said, “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.” That quote has been a comfort to me these last few years, as odd as that may seem. (4) Also, online chatter and news reporting can give a skewed sense of reality. It highlights dramatic things, or the most radical voices. Instead (5) I want to focus on the actual flesh and blood community around me, my church. Yes, we’re not perfect, and there are folks that annoy me or are immature and in need of growth (I’m one of them). But focusing on my own community grounds me from ruminating in a downward spiral on some abstract sense of “the evangelical church.” (6) I’ve become okay with not having a particular tribe. From 2015 onward, we’ve seen conservative evangelicalism fracturing. And it was pretty painful for me, as people I thought were “my circle/tribe” clearly weren’t. It felt like betrayal. This caused me to realize how much I had valued having a tribe–but maybe in a way that wasn’t healthy. I feel more over that need now, because of these last few years, in hopefully a place that’s healthier. (7) Don’t give so much stock to evangelical leaders who say stupid stuff. Like yeah, they say stupid stuff. But why should I give them that much weight over how I think about my own faith or defining what Christianity is? Why should I let them have that sort of control over me, over Christianity? And ultimately (8) I’m a Christian because of Jesus. I follow him, not a church. And (9) I’m an evangelical because I believe this theological tradition reflects a right understanding of scripture and its gospel. I’m evangelical for convictional reasons, in other words, not sociological ones (like the state of evangelicalism).

Those are the ways I’ve dealt with this.

Discipleship Questions for Partisan Reactions to News Coverage

The following is a correspondence from a while back that I wrote to two friends who had reached out to me for thoughts regarding a recent news event and its coverage. I no longer remember the particular news item that gave rise to their question. But this advice holds regardless and applies beyond it. I thought I would share.

A couple of discipleship-oriented thoughts come to mind, that I hope could be helpful. I don’t follow all of this stuff terribly close, as you can tell. So I’m less interested in commenting on any of the specifics on the matter. But I do have a pastoral heart for helping us navigate this arena, as part of our all-of-life discipleship. So, at least in that respect, hopefully these questions and thoughts can be helpful.

(1) How do your hearts respond to these stories? Do you find yourself increasing in anger or vitriol towards perceived political opponents? Do you find your heart going, “Yes! More fuel I can use to defend ‘my side’”? And what might this say about our heart idols?

(2) How can you guard yourself against allowing these sorts of stories to fuel or further cement partisan biases in yourself? For instance, let’s assume the stories above are true, and they evidence clear partisan bias and corruption. It would be a terrible irony then if other people’s partisan bias became justification for becoming entrenched in that very same thing myself, and drinking the same partisan poison I’m condemning them for drinking.

(3) There’s always two sides to every story (Prov 18:17). Have we done the work to listen to the “other side” of any stories? And not just listen, but honestly and charitably listen and consider them? Not listen to deconstruct their arguments, but genuinely consider another perspective?

(4) As people centered on the gospel, i.e., “the Word of truth,” we want to be people who care about truth. This means we should place a high value on making sure we are always trying to be objective. We are after the truth, not after what scores the most points for a particular “side.” (An almost sure way to tell if you’re partisan/not objective is if you’re always in lockstep with a particular side, and never or rarely deviate). How can we best guard our hearts towards remaining objective? Especially when we know our hearts’ tendencies (and not only so, but also psychological realities, e.g., confirmation bias, choosing paths of least resistance, etc.)

(5) Our culture is increasingly becoming a post-truth society. What I mean by that, at least in part, is that we no longer have shared, agreed-upon sources of information, e.g., journalists’ reporting. A lot of this is fueled by political interests; they want to discredit reporters who negatively report on them. On the other hand, media bias exists too. Neither of these is good for society. People are skeptical, and they use that skepticism as justification and license to appeal to even less trustworthy sources (e.g., conspiracy theories, fake news)—as if that’s any better! We’re developing into a society where we all trust whatever sources “seem right in our own eyes.” Whether we agree with a source is up to our “discernment” and how we deem something is “trustworthy” — basically, does it agree with my side and its narrative? Again, not good. So the question: How do we navigate a landscape that is so polarized and partisan without falling prey to it? How do we pursue the truth, with a healthy distrust in our own hearts’ inclinations to listen to what it wants to hear? Do we distrust our own hearts as much as we distrust the bias of others (e.g., media, etc.)

From Womb to Tomb: On Being Pro-Life for the Whole Life (with Karen Swallow Prior)

What does it mean to be pro-life? Is it simply being anti-abortion (pro-birth)? Or is it something more? Karen Swallow Prior joins us to share, not only why we as Christians oppose abortion, but also how the same ethic that forms this opposition entails consistent care for human life.

Access the episode here. (Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more.)

A Concise Explanation of the SBC Guidepost Abuse Report

Note: The above diagrams are admittedly simplified, obscuring two things.

First, for most participating churches, their financial contributions do not go directly to the “Cooperative Program” or its entities. Rather, their financial contributions are made to their respective state convention, which then collects some of those funds for its purposes and then passes on the rest to the “Cooperative Program.” It’s not required to give this way. A church can give directly to the “Cooperative Program,” or select “Cooperative Program” entities, by sending their money straight to the Executive Committee and bypassing any state convention.

Secondly, although LifeWay and Guidestone are entities that serve participating churches, they do not actually receive financial support from the “Cooperative Program.” I nonetheless included them here though to make you aware of their existence within the “SBC ecosystem.”

I’ve heard things about abuse in the SBC. What was that all about?

In early 2019, an investigative journalist published a report detailing cases of abuse that occurred in churches that participate in the “Cooperative Program” (often less precisely referred to as “SBC churches”).

Participating churches grew in concern over how abuse was being handled within the association. More and more victims continued to speak up. And suspicions eventually emerged regarding how the Executive Committee (EC) in particular handled (or better, failed to handle) reports of abuse they had received.

So at the 2021 annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in June 2021, the church delegates voted to hire an independent entity to conduct a thorough (and very costly) investigation into the Executive Committee’s handling of abuse claims.

Continue reading