Episode 246: The Deconstruction of Christianity: Alisa Childers & Tim Barnett

Sit down with Jonathan Youssef for a compelling conversation with Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett, authors of The Deconstruction of Christianity: What It Is. Why It's Destructive. How to Respond. This discussion examines the pervasive and unsettling movement of faith deconstruction sweeping churches today. Whether it's affecting your loved ones, straining relationships, or stirring doubts within you, this episode provides crucial understanding and guidance.

Together, we will try to understand the core aspects of the Christian deconstruction movement, its origins, the meaning of deconstruction hashtags like #exvangelical, and why it attracts so many people, particularly those disenchanted with traditional church teachings.

Alisa and Tim offer strategies for thoughtfully and empathetically engaging with those questioning or abandoning their faith in Christ, emphasizing responses grounded in a biblical worldview.

Whether you are seeking to support a loved one in turmoil, understand the dramatic spiritual changes around you, or find answers to your spiritual doubts, Alisa and Tim provide valuable insights and answers that promise to enlighten, challenge, and encourage.

Listen and gain tools and confidence to address deconstruction with clarity and love, ensuring your faith and relationships can withstand the challenges of these transformative times.

ALISA CHILDERS is a popular speaker and the author of Another Gospel? and Live Your Truth and Other Lies. She has been published at the Gospel Coalition, Crosswalk, the Stream, For Every Mom, Decision magazine, and the Christian Post.

TIM BARNETT is a speaker and apologist for Stand to Reason (STR). His online presence on Red Pen Logic with Mr. B helps people assess flawed thinking using good thinking, reaching millions monthly through multiple social media platforms.

After you listen to this episode, you may have your own questions. We would love to hear from you! To ask Jonathan a question or connect with the Candid community, visit https://LTW.org/Candid

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This transcript recounts Candid Conversations with Jonathan Youssef Episode 246: The Deconstruction of Christianity: Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett

Jonathan: Today, we have quite a special situation. We have two of my favorite guests that we’ve had in the past, Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett. And they have teamed up and havewritten a book together, The Deconstruction of Christianity: What It Is, Why It’s Destructive and How To Respond. Thank you guys so much for taking the time. We’re all across the nation and different nations here. Thank y’all for taking the time to be on Candid Conversations.

Alisa: It’s great to be back with you.

Tim: Yeah, it’s good to see you.

Jonathan: Well, I think before we jump in we’ve Alisa and I and Tim and I, we’ve separately had conversations around this area, but I love the way you break down your book into these three parts: Exvangelical, Deconstruction, and Hope. But just again for those who are new to the terminology, let’s define deconstruction and separate it and define exvangelical, and then we’ll talk about the reasons for the writing of the book.

Alisa: Which one you want to take, Tim, exvangelical or deconstruction?

Jonathan: You each get one.

Tim: All right. I’ll start with deconstruction. You know this is a tough definition to nail down. In fact, this took quite some research and quite some time. In fact, I actually changed my mind on how I was using the term. At least initially when I started teaching in deconstruction a few years ago, I thought there was a way that we could use the word deconstruction in a healthy way and there was a way we could use it in an unhealthy way. And we were seeing this kind of thing happening, especially on social media. You’d have people like Lecrae or John Mark Holmer or other notable evangelicals using deconstruction as a healthy way, here’s a good way to do deconstruction.

Tim: That’s right. And on the other hand, there’s a whole lot of this other stuff that's very unhealthy. That's how we originally thought until we did serious research into what's going on in this deconstruction space, especially on social media where we’re seeing a movement or an explosion. And what we saw there was that there isn’t anything healthy. In fact, there are defining characteristics of the deconstruction explosion that are unbiblical and just completely wrongheaded.

So at the end of the day, where we landed on this—and again, we say this is the hardest sentence we wrote in the book, but here’s where we landed on our definition of deconstruction: It’s a postmodern process of rethinking your faith without requiring Scripture as a standard. And all those words are important in that sentence. So it’s a process, but it’s a very specific kind of process. It’s a postmodern process. Whereas where you would think (this is what many claim) is that they are on a search for truth, what we’re finding is that it’s not really about truth—in fact, by postmodern we mean that there isn’t a goal of truth; there’s actually a denial of objective truth, that objective truth cannot be known.

And so there’s that on the one hand. On the other hand, you have this rejection of Scripture as an authority. And so when we put those things together, we think these are the defining characteristics of what deconstruction is all about. And we can kind of go into more detail and give some examples of where we’ve seen that, but that's a starting point.

Alisa: Right and then the exvangelical hashtag is often used synonymously with and at least in conjunction with that deconstruction hashtag. And it’s a little bit of a tricky hashtag because it doesn’t simply mean, at face value, no longer evangelical. But it’s not like you have people who were raised Presbyterian and they become some kind of more liturgical Anglican or something and they use the ex. They are not using the exvangelical hashtag for that. What we’re seeing with the exvangelical hashtag is that, first of all, it’s very difficult to define what evangelical is. And that's kind of a word like deconstruction that's defined in a hundred different ways.

So there’s the Bevington’s Quadrilateral that characterizes the evangelical movement under four pillars of personal conversion, emphasis on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, biblical authority, and evangelism. And yet, if you ask people in the deconstruction hashtag what is evangelical, those beliefs are in the background for sure, but what they primarily see is God, guns and Trump. It’s what is perceived in their minds to be this unholy alliance between evangelicals and the political right. And so it’s all kind of mashed together, along with things like spiritual abuse and purity culture and conservative politics. It’s all kind of this ball that all gets kind of mixed together and then it all gets thrown out as exvangelical.

And so in some cases they’re conflating evangelical with the historic Christian gospel, and in other cases, they might actually be throwing out some cultural things that are Americanized that aren’t necessarily a part of the gospel. And it can be kind of like a mix of both. But it’s important like when Tim talked about the shift of authority, its’ like the only thing that matters for the exvangelical and deconstruction is that they are leaving behind what they perceive to be toxic beliefs. And so as best as I can analyze are it’s any belief outside of yourself that you would be asked to submit to, surrender to, kneel to that is not necessarily something that resonates with you inside.

Jonathan: Interesting. So you’re the ultimate authority, which goes to the deconstruction definition of Scripture being the authority.

Alisa: I do think it boils down to that, yes.

Jonathan: Do you find this is a uniquely American phenomenon? I don’t even know if phenomenon is the right word to use there.

Tim: That's a really good question. I think that there’s a few reasons why we’re seeing this in particular in North America. It’s happening in Canada, too, not just the U.S. I think that we’re seeing a culture that's dominated by a philosophy of relativism on the one hand and then on the other you have this kind of explosion of social media within the last decade or so. And I think bringing those two things together in particular—

And then maybe a third thing, and that is the American church and how we have, I think, neglected the life of the Christian mind. We used to say the church teaches what we believe really well but not why we believe it. So us apologists, we’re trying to train up the church in why we believe these things. But to be honest, when you look at the research now that's coming out in the last couple of years, people who identify as evangelical, I think it was in our book we say 42 or 43 percent of U.S., so Americans, who identify as evangelical do not believe that Jesus is god. They think He’s just a good moral teacher. Hold on a second! So these people identify as evangelical but they’re not Christian. I mean, this is crazy!

So you have, on the one hand, Christians, people who are professing to be Christians because, hey, I was born in America or I was born in Canada. That's the default, right. It’s like in your genetics or something. Yeah, so you have that on the one hand, so there’s no real understanding or foundation for what real, orthodox Christianity is. Then you have this dominant culture, I mean, it’s coming from every direction, this idea of relativism. It’s literally the water that many of your young people especially are swimming in, and they don’t even know they’re wet.

And then of course you have social media, this platform now, where I have access to, I mean, the world. I have access to memes and TikToks and these, for many, they think these are compelling arguments. I can’t tell you how many times I’m sitting here at my desk and I get a message coming in. It’s a meme or a TikTok video that someone sends me and says, “Hey, can you respond to this? I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to respond.” And I watch the video or I read the meme and I think, Really? This is not a good argument. It’s not even close. Usually, it’s not even an argument. And so when you bring all those things together, I think that makes America susceptible to the deconstruction movement for sure.

Alisa: there’s also the Trump element in the American version of deconstruction. It’s just such a huge part of that that is so uniquely American. But as Tim said, I think deconstruction is happening everywhere. I know progressive Christianity is happening. Even in the Middle East I’ve gotten emails of people wanting my book to be translated into Farsi because it’s even coming into the Middle East. So where there is progressive Christianity, there is dn. But I suppose it’s just taking on maybe a different type of flavor here in America.

Jonathan: Well, and even the Trump effect has ripple effects around the world to where people in foreign nations see Trump and think, Oh, well, he’s their definition of Christian.

Let’s talk about the prevalence. Because I think there are some who think this is just happening out in large cities or this is not affecting everyday people. There can be a disconnect to just how much influence this is having. And it can be people who are watching and consuming these things that aren’t even talking about it with their family because they know how the family will react when there’s genuine questions and doubt. So tell us a little bit about what you’re seeing with the prevalence of both of these concepts entering into homes.

Alisa: Well, I think we’re in a different world now, so this is an interesting anecdotal piece to this. When I go out and speak I’ll often ask an audience, “How many of you have heard the word deconstruction in the context of faith?” And the older the audience, the fewer the people have even heard of it. And yet, when I go speak to students it’s 90 percent. But it blows my mind. Even at women’s conferences where women … the ages are 20 to maybe 60, 70, you might have 20 percent raise their hand that they’ve even heard of the concept.

And so what I mean by we’re in a different world is decades ago you had to get a book deal. There was major exposure with ideas. And so I think that there are some of us who are still living in that world and don’t realize the prevalence of some of these ideas on social media. For example, we have many posts documented in our book where it’s somebody that nobody’s ever heard of an probably never will know their name, but their video has millions of views, hundreds of thousands of likes, and if you think about the reach of that versus somebody that you might have seen on TV decades ago or maybe in a Christian bookstore even or in the catalog that they would send out, that's a lot of people. But social media can reach so many people with a message where it’s not even necessarily surrounding a particular personality.

And so I think the prevalence of it is on social media, so someone’s exposure to it is probably going to be directly related to what types of social media they have and how often they engaging with it.

Tim: And the other element to this, the older folks who have exposure to it, is because they have a loved one, usually a younger loved one, who is going through it and now we’re just, as we label it, this is what it is, deconstruction, they say—it clicks. Oh, that's what my nephew is going through, or my grandchild or my son or my daughter or whatever. So it does kind of filter up to that older generation. They’re seeing the aftermath usually. It’s like why is my grandson no longer following the Lord? Well, it turns out they went through a process called deconstruction.

Jonathan: Well, and I imagine some of the reactions can be unhelpful, and that's why, again, I think it’s important that books like yours are out there and podcasts and stuff that you guys are producing is out there, so that there’s a heightened awareness but also a helpful response. Because we do have a response and a calling, but we need to make sure we’re doing it in a right and biblical way.

I wonder if we could come to the origins of this. I know Carl Lawson writes in the foreword in your book about technically the beginning is, when Demas, who fell in love with the world, abandoned Paul and the ministry and the faith. But I mean in this particular area, is it with social media? Was there a particular person or is it just postmodernism in general? Where do you find your origins to these movements?

Tim: Well, it’s true that we could trace this thing past Demas. We can go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, always. But just more recently in the 1960s we see postmodern philosophers like Derrida in particular, who is the father of deconstruction. Now of course, his application of deconstruction was to textbook religion. He argued that objective meaning, objective truth, could not be known, and that there was no actual truth, so the reader could import just as much meaning as an author of a text. And what we traced in our research is we saw there is a connection here.

In fact, we discovered a book by John Caputo, who is a scholar and actually follows Derrida and applies Derrida’s philosophy not just to textbook religion in general, but in fact, to Christianity. And he wants to do this postmodern move even on the words of Jesus. And so he gives application in his book. What would Jesus think about, say, homosexuality today? Well, He would look around the world and see loving, monogamous relationships and He would be affirming. Even though Derrida says, yet, in the first century, no, Paul and Jesus, they had a certain view on this, but we’re going to bring new meaning to the text. In fact, the way Derrida describes this is Derrida says the text actually never arrives at a meaning. In fact, he has this analogy of a postman delivering a letter, and it’s like the letter never arrives at its destination, and in that sense, Christianity has not arrived. There is no set fundamental beliefs that you need to hold to—in fact, they are always changing, never arriving.

So this is kind of the history, and of course there’s lots of people who don’t know who Derrida is, they don’t know who John Caputo is, and yet, they are taking a page out of his playbook. They are thinking in terms of that kind of postmodern philosophy as they look out at religion. It’s not what is actually true corresponds to reality; instead, it’s there is something else going on. Oftentimes, it’s personal preferences are the authority, or maybe they’re looking at the culture and saying, “Yeah, look, the culture is more accepting of sexuality and so we ought to be too.”

Jonathan: Yeah, just like in the days of Noah. Help us understand who are some of the primary voices behind this today? I know we talked about how when you’re on social media it can be a lot of nameless, faceless people who just have an opinion and they want to create an argument or a non-argument that has an effect on people with their emotions. Are there any that are writing or have some influence as, you know, even by way of warning people, hey, be careful of so-and-so because it tends towards this trajectory?

[24:42] Alisa: Well, I would say there’s, in my mind, and Tim might have some others, but in my mind there’s one figure in particular that is, in my view, the most influential, although he’s not primarily promoting quote/unquote “deconstruction,” is Richard Rohr. Richard Rohr, his ideas, his universal Christ worldview, is—Interestingly, when I was researching the coaching and therapy sites, I found all the ones I could find online of people offering services to coach you through deconstruction or even offer you therapy through your deconstruction—and by the way, these therapy and coaching sites are not helping you to remain a Christian; they are not interested in where you land, they just want to help you along your subjective journey.

But even the ones that aren’t claiming to be Christians, there’s always this recommendation—I looked at all the book recommendations, and there is a Richard Rohr book there every single time, even among those that don’t claim to be Christians. And so what Rohr has done, I think, is, especially among people who want to retain the title Christian but might be more spiritual but not religious, or some sort of a New Age-y kind of Jesus is more of a mascot kind of thing, Rohr has really given them a worldview to put in place of what they’ve turned down. And he does talk about deconstruction in his book, Universal Christ, and he says it’s like the process of order, disorder, and then reorder.

Well, that sounds good at face value. You’re taught a certain thing, and then something messes it up and as an adult you have to do some digging and some work and then you reorder. But that's not exactly what he’s talking about. His order stage is what he calls “private salvation,” your private salvation project. In other words, Rohr doesn’t believe in personal salvation, he believes in universal salvation, he’s a universalist. So he’s saying that's like the kindergarten version of faith, this kind of Christianity where you have personal faith and you have this God of wrath and judgment. All of that just needs to be disordered so that ultimately you can reorder according to his worldview.

Now I bring up Rohr because he’s so influential. I mean, he makes his way into so many of the deconstruction conversations. But beyond Rohr, it’s tough because there can be platforms that swell up and get really big, and then I've seen them shut down after they have maybe 20,000, 30,000 followers, even up to hundreds of thousands of followers. I’ve seen several of these platforms just kind of get burned out and they shut down. So it’s hard to say, but I would say Derek Webb, Caedmon’s Call, is an important voice in there. You’ve got—Well, Jon Steingard was for a while when he ended up shutting down his YouTube, but he was the lead singer of Hawk Nelson. He was commenting for quite a while. Jo Luehmann is pretty influential. Who else, Tim?

Tim: Well, there’s—I put them in different categories.

Alisa: The NakedPastor.

Tim: The NakedPastor for sure. So there’s guys who, and gals who have deconstructed and posted that they’ve deconstructed online. So that would be someone like a Rhett McLaughlin, who 3 million people watched his video four years ago. He’s been keeping people updated every year; they do kind of an anniversary thing. That sparked so many people on their own deconstruction. Now what's interesting about Rhett is he didn’t necessarily tell you how to Tim: Yeah. And that was enough for some people to say, “Maybe I should do this too.” Now there’s other platforms out there, and all they do is criticize Christianity, or they mock Christianity. Those are big on TikTok. I mean, there are massive platforms that have half a million followers and millions of views, okay, and I could go down and list some of those for you. But the point is they’re not necessarily talking about deconstruction and the process, but they’re just saying, “Hey, here’s what you guys believe, but here’s my mocking, here’s my criticism.”

Then there’s this other stream, and this is the NakedPastor or Jo Luehmann and others who aren’t just mocking Christianity or criticizing Christianity but they’re trying to advocate for a certain kind of process, okay, and that's where you’re going to get a little more detail on how this deconstruction thing works out. And so they’ve been, in fact, Jo Luehmann and the NakedPastor, David Hayward, and— Jonathan: Joshua Harris. Didn’t he do a course through that?

Tim: That's right. Joshua Harris, when he—again, on Instagram. That blew up. There were like 7,000 comments in response to him just posting, “I’m no longer a Christian.” And you could see the responses, and I’m telling you, there were many who said, “This post is what set me on my deconstruction journey.” So there’s at least three different categories of influencers out there, and they’re all playing into the same thing, deconstruction, but they all are coming at it from a different angle.

Jonathan: Alisa, for those who are familiar with your story, how is this movement different from the path that you were on?

Alisa: This is a great question because I’ve actually changed my mind on how I talk about this. So over ten years ago I had a faith crisis that was really agonizing. It was years long. I landed fairly quickly in going through some apologetics arguments, knowing that God existed, but just the doubts that would nag at me were just years of this agonizing research, reading thousands of pages of scholarship, just trying to figure out if what I believed was actually true. And it was propelled by a progressive pastor. I didn’t know he was progressive at the time, but I was in a church where there was this class going on and it set my friends, a bunch of my friends, into deconstruction. And so when I wrote my first book about my journey, I actually called the process that I went through deconstruction because it was horrible, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It was agonizing and I had to kind of de-con-struct. If you just take the word at face value, and then build back from the beginning.

But interestingly, when I would go online and I would talk about my deconstruction, deconstructionists would come on and say, “No, you didn’t deconstruct.” At first, that was so confusing to me. I was like, “Well, were you there?” I mean, it was like this horrible, agonizing process.

Jonathan: I’m the ultimate authority here.

Alisa: Yeah, right, I know. And they said, “Well, you didn’t deconstruct because you still hold to toxic theology. You still have toxic theological beliefs.” And that's when I realized, oh, okay, so this isn’t just—even though I knew it wasn’t a good thing, I knew it was a horrible thing because, again, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but it wasn’t about truth. It’s actually about leaving behind these beliefs that they think are toxic. And let’s say you completely do hard work of years of studying and you decide that you are a sinner and that Jesus did die on the cross for your sins, that the Bible is God’s Word and that what Jesus claimed about Himself is true and that He proved it by resurrecting from the dead, if you hold to those beliefs, along with the biblical sexual ethic, you have toxic theology and you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and start over.

So that's when I realized, okay, there’s more to this. And so I actually correct myself—

Jonathan: There’s a goal.

Alisa: Yeah. I correct myself in the new book and say I don’t actually use the language of deconstruction to describe what I went through because I was on a truth quest. I wanted to know what was true, whether I liked it or not, whether it resonated with me or not. In fact, what was interesting in the class I was in where all my friends ended up deconstructing, and I mean all that I know of, there might be two that I lost touch with that maybe didn’t, but most of the people that I know of did. And everything in that class was all about what resonates with me. I mean, we would … they would talk about Bible verses and say, “Well, that just doesn’t resonate with me,” and they would toss it aside. And I was like, “You can’t just do that.”

And so I didn’t deconstruct, and so I corrected my language on that and really changed my mind about what I think it is. And I think what I’m hoping to set the example for others is people who are wanting to use the word because it was trendy—because I really had a thing about that. Why am I using the word? Why am I hanging onto the word? And I had to realize there’s no reason for me to use that word. Because what I did was search for truth. I tested all things, held fast to what is good—that's biblical. I don’t need a postmodern word to describe that. And so that would be my journey with this word and kind of my relationship with it is that I’ve changed my mind; I didn’t deconstruct. It was—

Jonathan: You re-entrenched.

Alisa: Yeah, they just think I circled some wagons and found some people to agree with me. Which is so interesting to me, because they weren’t there. And that's the thing. Pete Ens, I’ve seen the comment from him, “Oh, Alisa doesn’t know … she doesn’t understand deconstruction, she doesn’t get it.”

And I’m just like, “Were you there? You weren’t there. You have no idea what I went through.” But it’s like they’re so quick to say, “You have to respect my lived experience,” but they are the first ones that will not respect your lived experience if you land at historic Christianity for sure. Jonathan: That makes sense. You guys have spent hours on places like TikTok researching what leads people to deconstruct and what they all have in common. What are the common threads that you’ve noticed through that?

Tim: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, some of the factors that we’ve noticed that kind of launch people into a deconstruction are things like doubts, unanswered questions. Virtually all these stories have some instance of suffering or pain, and we’ve all been through that. There’s church hurt, there’s spiritual abuse. Now we’ve got to be careful about that a little bit, because sometimes it’s a real abuse that happens, of course, we would all want to say that is horrible and we stand against that. That is not of God. And so when a pastor engaged in that kind of thing, he needs to be held accountable for it.

But then on the other hand there is what we might call perceived abuse or perceived harm. And this is where things like teaching the doctrine of hell. In our research, we found that that's called, you know, teaching your kids, it’s child abuse. If you say that Jesus died for your sins, that's considered toxic and abusive to tell someone that, yet that's the gospel message. So we want to make sure that we distinguish between those things.

Of course, we just mentioned earlier about politics and Trump and all that stuff. So there’s these different elements that you’ll see peppered within these stories. Now we want to be quick to say that not all deconstruction stories are alike. In fact, they are often very unique, and that's because every single person is unique. So if you’ve heard one deconstruction story, then you’ve only heard one, you haven’t heard them all. But there are these common threads.

One question that we asked when we were doing our research is why is it that two people can grow up in the same house, they can go to the same church, the same youth group, they have the same parents, they experience some of the same trauma, suffering, whatever, and yet one will deconstruct and the other maybe becomes an even more faithful believer. What's going on there?

And what we found is it comes down to—at least one element—a faith foundation. What is it, what is your faith foundation? And of course, this is going to be different for different people, and what we need to be asking, we’re challenging the church to ask, is what does it mean to be a Christian? Oftentimes, you know—and this is a question I was asked when I was in university by my friends who were not believers, “Tim, why are you a Christian?” And I honestly shot back, “Because my parents are Christians.” That was my first response. I knew that ain’t right. That was embarrassing.

I’d grown up in the church. I’d done all the church stuff, and yet I did not have a strong Christian foundation and a strong Christian faith. And so I, at that point, was very susceptible to this kind of deconstruction, right, because I could—if TikTok was big at that time, I could have watched a video and, “Okay, I’m outta here. This has been refuted.”

So I think that all those things that I mentioned earlier can make you a good candidate for deconstruction, but they don’t have to lead you down the path of deconstruction. This is why it’s really, really important that the church needs to be helping to develop and disciple Christians so they have a strong foundation so when that crisis hits, they are able to stand firm in their faith.

So let me ask this question. There may be a simple answer. Is the faulty foundations that people are building on essentially, I mean, is the answer anything but Christ? Is it in the institution of the church or in the leadership in the church or your favorite Christian singer? Is it … do you find those the main threads that came back?

[38:47] Alisa: That's an interesting question. I think, you know, when I think about foundation … Because I was trying to think through this question even within my own context. So one of my sisters was not a Christian until she was an adult, and she would say that openly; that's part of her testimony. She grew up in church. We grew up in the same home, we had the same discipleship, the same youth pastors, pretty much the same experiences growing up, same environment, and yet our foundation was different because I was a devoted Christian as far back as I can remember. I mean, I don’t even remember a time where I didn’t absolutely know that the Bible was God’s Word and Jesus was who He said He was. And yet, for my sister, she grew up in the same environment but had a totally different foundation. she did all the things, she cooperated with it, but She never personally trusted in Christ.

Jonathan: Going through the motions, yeah, okay.

Alisa: Yeah. And she may not have even realized that. You might have asked her at 12 years old, “Are you a Christian,” she might have said, “Well, yeah,” but she didn’t know that she wasn’t until she actually got saved as an adult. And so I think the foundation is more of a personal thing. The way I see it is the level of understanding you might have had. We have a lot of this sort of seeker-sensitive model that's over the past few decades has gotten really big. I’m not saying it’s wrong to have a large church or try to be sensitive to people who are seeking, of course. But some of those seeker-sensitive and megachurch models really watered-down the gospel, really sacrificed discipleship for numbers. And I think that that has resulted in a lot of people growing up in churches that maybe— And I’m not … We don’t speculate on this question in the book, were they really saved, were they not because we don’t know the end of their story either, but I do think even right now we have a lot of people in our churches who maybe may not be Christians because they may not be getting the gospel, they’re not getting Bible teaching. And they might like the community and even like and believe certain things about it, but everybody’s foundation is maybe going to be a little bit different. That's kind of how I see it.

Jonathan: Well, I mean, not to steer us theologically, but I mean it has to be the work of the Spirit in the life of a person, and that's all in the sovereign timing of the Lord. I wonder if sometimes in this American evangelical mindset from an older-generation perspective we have this understanding that my children should be Christians and they should be following the ways that I direct. And then I should start seeing spiritual fruit in their life. Like, well, I don’t know. I mean, is there something wrong with that happening at a later point? Just thinking from a parental, a parent’s perspective. Maybe I’ve gone into the weeds there a little bit.

Alisa: Like Tim said, each deconstruction story is unique. I would say it like this. Every deconstruction story is unique and yet they’re kind of all the same, too, in certain points. I know we’re getting in the weeds a little bit, but as a parent, I wouldn’t want to push my kid to say they believe something they don’t really believe. I’d want them to come to that on their own. And that might come later, certainly, yeah.

Jonathan: And there’s a level of you want your child to be honest with you, and I think sometimes we can put a false expectation on your child to be going to be at a certain place when they’re just not ready for that yet. And so what they’re actually deconstructing is deconstructing whatever that false view—again, as you said, there’s different stories of deconstruction. But ultimately, if you deconstruct and never return back, to your point, there was never faith to begin with. You experienced the benefits of a covenant community or whatever it is. As Hebrews says, you were tasting but you weren’t of that, you know … not all Israel is Israel. Do you think it’s potentially because parents are unwilling to engage in the hard questions of the faith? Or do you think perhaps there is always just people who are going to rebel against Christ? Is it all of the above? In your research, I don’t know if you’re working with people who have gone through it and then interviewing them. Are you tracing things back to a particular point? I think we all want to say, “Where does the blame lie?” Are you finding that?

Tim: I think it’s all of the above. A lot of these stories have unanswered questions. In fact, Alisa did a debate on Unbelievable with Lisa Gunger, and she makes this really tragic statement where she said, “Questioning was equivalent to sinning in our church. If you questioned the pastor, you questioned his teaching, whatever, you were in essence sinning.”

So confessing to your questions is confessing your sins. And that mentality, I mean, we wrote a whole chapter called “Questions,” In that chapter, what we’re trying to do is a little bit of a wake-up call. We’re trying to rattle the church a little bit and say, “Hey, we can do better. We ought to be the place where people feel safe to ask their questions and express their doubts.” And I hope that everyone listening to this hears that. Tim and Alisa are not against questions—in fact, we’re apologists. We travel around and we’re doing our best to answer questions, so we’re not against that, and we want the church to be a safe place.

And I mean we give an example of Tim Keller. At the end of his sermons, his services, he would do like a 40-, 45-minute Q&A time where he would just stick around and, okay, come on up. And in New York City, where you have like diversity of people, diversity of views coming in, you’re going to have skeptics, you’re going to have atheists, you’re going to have whatever coming in, asking their hard questions. And when you think about it, the way we have our churches structured, at least most of them, there isn’t really a Q&A time. That would be like a very special thing. Maybe every few months the pastor will take questions or something.

Jonathan: A special treat. Yeah, yeah.

Tim: That's right. But for the most part, that's not there, and that can give a lot of people the impression that questions aren’t allowed here. You just listen to what's spoken, do what you’re told, and that's the end of it. So I think that's part of it. But you also mentioned, yeah, maybe there’s a rebellious heart, too. You can’t read the Bible very far without seeing someone who has a rebellious heart. So we—

Tim: That's right. Just a couple of pages in. And so you end up seeing that this is a realistic element that we need to be talking about, too, and that's why we devoted an entire chapter to the deconstructor, because there are things about the deconstructor that are important to be aware of from a biblical anthropology perspective. And so there certainly are people who are seeking answers, and we want to be there to provide answers. But then there’s also these questions out there that are seeking exits. And you see lots of those. You see them in Scripture and we see—

When you’ve got Richard Dawkins saying, “Well, who made God?” Richard Dawkins should know better, you know. When my four-year-old asks that question, okay, fair enough. But when you have an academic from Oxford asking that question as if it’s legitimate of the Christian God, something else is going on. Jonathan: I remember Keller teaching on Job, and he says Job is filled with questions, right, but the issue was that he never left God. He didn’t say, “I have questions and now I’m going to go over here and ask them.: But he kept asking the questions of the Lord in his particular situation. And he was saying that questioning can be a good thing because it’s, as we talked earlier, all truth is Christ’s truth, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re not going to get an answer where it should cause difficulty. But rather, you’re sticking close to the source and you’re going to get your answers within reason. But rather than going—

And it’s interesting, because that's what these TikToks and all these things are creating is new avenues for you to go and ask questions and find a story that resonates with you, right, that’s the big terminology that we were using earlier. So that resonates with your story and how you feel, and then where did they land? How do we invite this sort of cultivating an openness for asking of questions? Is it let’s have a Q&A session at the end of church? Is it, you know, we need to start training our parents to have them understand that your kids asking questions is a good thing because they’re coming to you versus no, everything is fine and I’m going to go to YouTube and find the answer because I think you’re going to be mad at me or whatever it is. Help us think through that from a church perspective.

Alisa: Well, I think starting with the parents is a great place to start because if we can train parents to be the first person to introduce some of these difficult topics to their kids, we know statistically the first person to introduce the topic will be viewed as an expert in the eyes of the child. So when we as parents are the first people to talk to our kids about gender and sexuality and all of these different things—and promoting an environment where we’re not weird about it, we’re not acting awkward about it, then we want to be the Google. I want to be Google for my kids. And that means I’m going to be really honest when they ask their questions and sometimes give more information than they wanted.

My daughter, she jokes with me like “I know I’ll get a straight answer from you with whatever I ask.” And so maybe even training parents to ask your kids questions like “Hey, what's your biggest question about God?”

And parents don’t need to be afraid of what their kids say, because it’s perfectly fine to say, “Wow, I’ve never really thought about that. Let’s think that through together,” and then go do some research and continue to engage with your kid about it. But I think in the home, if we can start there, that's a great place. And then the church can help come around parents with even youth groups doing Q&As and pastors doing Q&As. I think that's a huge way to promote that environment from the home, all the way through the church culture.

Jonathan: Okay, let’s do a little sort of engaging with others segment here. What would you say to those who are seeing their loved ones go through deconstruction or exvangelical. What would you say to them? Buy our book.

Tim: Yeah, that. And I mean the first thing that I would say is stay calm. It can be not just earthshattering for the person going through deconstruction, but the loved ones of those deconstructors it’s often earthshattering. We talk about this in the book, actually. To find out that my kids who I’ve raised in the church come to me and say, “Dad, I don’t believe any of this stuff anymore, I’m out,” that would be crushing.

And I would want to remind myself: stay calm. I’ve heard so many stories, and they’re actually horror stories, where a child comes to a parent and says, “I’m deconstructing” and the parent just loses it. “How could you do that?” And they overreact, and of course that's not going to help. That's the first thing.

I would want my kids right away to know that they are loved, period. That this doesn’t change my love for them. It’s not “I love you, but let me fix your theology.” It’s “I love you, period. You’re still my daughter. I’m still your dad. That's not going to change.”

And then another thing just to add is say thank you. It must have taken a lot for that individual, if they come to you and share that they’ve deconstructed, it must have been a big deal to do that. So I would say, “Thanks for sharing that with me and me being the person that can be there for you.”

So those are introductory things. Obviously, relationship is going to be so important. It’s not necessarily that you’re going to be able to maintain the relationship. We’ve heard stories of people getting no-contact letters from their loved one saying, “Your theology is toxic. I don’t want anything to do with you and so we’re done. Here’s my no-contact letter.”

But if they’re willing to stay in your life, then we want to do whatever is possible to maintain that relationship without compromising truth. Truth is absolutely necessary. But you want to be in that relationship as long as possible, because that's where you’re going to be able to have probably the best impact. Its’ interesting you brought up Job earlier. And Job’s comforters started on the right track. They were there and they sat with Job—

Jonathan: Silent.

Tim: Silently for seven days. And then it was when they started to open their mouths they got themselves into trouble, and I think we can learn something from that. So we want to hear, “Hey, tell me your story.”

One of the first questions I would want to know is, “What do you mean by deconstruction?” If they’re using that word, I want to know if they just mean, “Hey, I’m asking some questions. Hey, I don’t know if I believe in this view of creation, baptism, and maybe I’m changing.” Okay, that's different than what we’re seeing online, okay, this idea of a postmodern process. So I want to nail down, okay, what are you going through and what kind of process or methodology are you using to go through it? I want to be able to identify those things.

And of course, in the book we talk about this idea of triage. If you have a gunshot wound to the head but a broken finger, they’re treating the gunshot wound to the head, right, the thing that's more serious. And in a similar way, once you understand where this person’s coming from, you’ve heard their story, you’re going to be able to do some triage. Okay, what's the most important thing in this moment? Is it that I answer all these questions that I’m having? Is it that they just need me to be with them because they are going through something?

And I think that's important because sometimes we miss the mark. Especially as apologists, oh, let me answer that question. Let’s go for coffee. I’m going to fix your theology and then we’ll be back on track.

Jonathan: We’re going to fix the problem, yeah.

Tim: That's likely not going to happen. And then finally, I would just say continue to pray. We cannot underestimate the power of prayer. If someone is going through deconstruction, what they need is God. They need the Holy Spirit. And so let’s petition God on their behalf. Let’s pray that God does whatever is necessary to draw that person back to Himself.

Jonathan: All right, now thinking for the person who is considering deconstructing their faith. And again, that could be a myriad of different positions along that path, but what are the things you would want them to know?

Alisa: Well, so here’s what I would say. If someone is considering deconstruction as if it’s like an option, “Oh, maybe I’ll deconstruct my faith,” and there’s no crisis that's actually throwing you in deconstruction, I would say you don’t need to do that. There’s no biblical command to get saved, get baptized, and then deconstruct your faith. You don’t need to do that. If there are some incorrect theological views that you—maybe you grew up in a very legalistic stream of Christianity. Maybe you grew up in the Mormon church. Maybe you grew up as Jehovah’s Witness and you need to go to Scripture, make Scripture your authority, and then get rid of beliefs that were taught to you that are not biblical. I want you to know that that is a biblical process and that is what you should do.

Jonathan: This is what we call disentangling, right, that we were talking about.

Alisa: Yes. In our book, we would call it reformation. But yeah, Jinger Duggar calls it disentangling. I don’t care what you call it. I would just really encourage you to not use the word deconstruction, because deconstruction is a very specific thing that isn’t about getting your theological beliefs corrected according to the Bible, and so we want to be reforming our faith according to Scripture. And so if you need to disentangle, as Jinger would say, or reform beliefs that were unbiblical, please do that. And that can be a very long process. It can be a difficult process.

But if someone is listening who’s maybe propelled into deconstruction through some church abuse or whatever it might be, my encouragement would sort of be the same. It’s actually good for you to get rid of beliefs that led to abuse, that Jesus stands against abuse as well. But I would just encourage you not to get sucked into this sort of deconstruction movement, because it’s not based on absolute truth. It’s not based on Scripture. And it’s not going to lead you to any sort of healing and wholeness spiritually. And so whether you’re just considering it intellectually or you’re just interested, I would resist it. And that's … There’s going to be well-meaning evangelical leaders that will tell you you can deconstruct according to the bible, but I don’t think you can. And so let’s keep our language and the way we think about this biblical rather than bringing in a postmodern concept that just clouds the … muddies the water and causes confusion.

Jonathan: All right, this is good because this goes to the next level. What do you say to those who believe that Christianity is toxic or patriarchal? What's your word to them? And then the follow-up to that would be for believers. When do we engage and when do we not engage with people who are kind of promoting that sort of ideology? Tim: I would want to ask some questions, like what do they mean by toxic, what do they do they mean by patriarchal, to nail down those definitions. Are they appealing to something objective or are they appealing to something subjective based on their own personal preferences? I think it’s really important that we start with what's true before we can look at whether or not something is toxic, or harmful, or whatever.

In the book, we give the example of you stumble upon someone who’s kind of beating on someone’s chest, and in that moment it may look like they’re being abused, but you come to find out that actually they’ve had a heart attack, and that person is not beating on their chest, they’re doing chest compressions, doing CPR. That totally changes how you see that action, right? It goes from being, hey, that's harmful and toxic to, wait, this is lifesaving, this is lifegiving. So I think that's really important, when I see a deconstructionist talk about how hell is causing child abuse, I want to know, first of all, if there is such a place as hell. For them, it’s not even on the table; it’s not even the question, right, because it’s a totally different philosophy, a totally different worldview. I want to look at is this true?

I give the example of I told my kids not to jam a knife into the wall socket. Well, why not? Because there’s electricity in there and it could electrocute you and kill you. So any good parent warns their kids about that. Or touching the hot stove, these kinds of things. Is it harmful for me to tell them not to do that? Everyone agrees, no, that's not harmful; it’s not toxic. Now, it would be toxic if there was no such thing as electricity. If I’m just playing these games where I’m trying to torment my kids so they’re scared to do whatever, to actually make them terrified of the stove or something. No.

Okay, the reason that they need to be careful around this hot stove or not stuck, stick stuff in the wall outlet is because there are dangers. And if hell really is this kind of danger, then we ought to appropriately talk about this issue. Look, I’m not talking to my three-year-old about eternal conscious torment. You know what I’m saying? Obviously, there is some appropriate when the time is right. Sexuality, we appropriately talk with those … about those issues with our kids. But we do talk about those things, and that's because they’re true, and that's were we start.

Jonathan: That sort of answers a little bit of the next question, which is that you both dedicated the book to your children. And we’re, I think, we’ve kind of addressed it in terms of being available. But in light of everything that you know and all that is going on with deconstruction and the questions and the struggles of the next generation, how are you taking this and applying this as you raise your children?

Alisa: Well, I know that this research has definitely affected how I parent. In fact, I went through a phase in the early stages of the research where I would hear myself saying things, and I was like, “That's going to end up in their deconstruction struggle.” And I found myself almost becoming way too passive for it was probably just a couple of months when the research was so intense, and it was new. And it was like, oh my gosh, all these things i’m saying to my children is what people say they think is toxic and that's what they’re deconstructing from.

And then I swung back around and I’m like, no, it’s my job as a parent to teach my kids what's true about reality. Just because maybe culture things that 2 + 2 = 5 now doesn’t mean that I need to cower and say, “Well, you know, I’m not going to be too legalistic about 2 + 2 + 4.” No. 2 + 2 = 4. You can believe what you want, but this is what's true. And so I actually, you know, what I’ve started to do is tell my kids “Look, it’s my job as your mom to teach you what's true about reality. And what you believe about God and what you believe about morality is in the same category of science, math, logic. These are facts about reality. It’s my job to teach you. Now, you are the person who chooses to believe it or not.”

And so what I’ve tried to do is really engage my kids in conversations, but knowing also that statistically they might deconstruct one day. I have to leave a lot of that to the Holy Spirit, and also to try to model to my children what a real believer looks like. I think that's a huge, a huge element in parenting is letting our kids see us repent to them if we sin against them, in front of them. Reading our Bibles on a regular basis together, praying together as a family. Not just being Sunday Christians. Here in the South it’s real easy to just be that Sunday Christian and then—

Jonathan: Haunted by the ghost of Christ.

Alisa: That's right. And then you just live like He doesn’t exist the rest of the week. And that's the thing about the Bible Belt. Certainly, people aren’t acting … like doing pagan sacrifices during the week. They are pretty much good people. But it’s just not relevant to their lives until Sunday comes around. And just being different from that in front of our kids is something I’ve really tried to engage.

And just engaging their questions without pushing them, I think, is a huge thing. Like you mentioned earlier, is letting them have their own story and their own journey. And even as my sons wrestled with the problem of evil for about two years really intensely, I really didn’t want to push him. And I just validated that that's a good question, that's an honest question to ask, and let’s talk to the Lord about it, let’s think through some things. But trying not to push him to just settle really quickly so that he can work this out for himself, with discipleship and the guidance of parents. But that's one of the ways it’s really affected my parenting.

Tim: That's so good. Yes and amen to all of that.

Jonathan: Okay, I second that. All right, give us some hope. This is your part three. Part three. This can all sound pretty scary and off-putting and you need to block it out. Tim: It really really does seem hopeless, especially if you spend any time kind of typing in hashtag deconstruction or hashtag exvangelical. I mean, I would go into my office here and start working and writing and I’d come out and I’d just be like … my mood has changed.

Jonathan: Spiritual warfare, for sure.

Tim: My wife knew it, oh yeah, my wife saw it and my kids could see it. It was really discouraging. And so I feel for those parents who have that loved one who’s going through this, and many do, so we wanted to make sure we end the book on a hopeful note. And one of the things that we were thinking about—in fact, I think it started with a phone call. I called Alisa, and I remember I was sitting at my dining-room table and I had a sermon that I was going to give on deconstruction. And I’m like, Alisa, I need to end this thing with something hopeful because it is so … And I had, actually, a parent reach out to me before I gave the sermon, saying, “I really hope that you’re going to give us some hope.” Because they have a child themselves, a young adult, who’s deconstructing. I’m thinking, okay, what is it Alisa? Help me out here.

And we just started talking back and forth and so I don’t know how this came up, but eventually we started thinking about Easter weekend, right, we’re coming up to it. Of course, you think about what was going on Friday night. It’s like Peter’s there; he’s seen his Savior, his Messiah being crucified, and his world is turned upside down. We could just imagine what that was like to go through this traumatic experience.

And then, of course, it jumps to Sunday and Sunday brings with it resurrected hope, right? And you have the angel shows up, tells the women, you know, go and tell His disciples AND Peter. Like Peter really needs to hear this. Friday night, he denied the Lord three times. It was a bad night for Peter. But he’s going to receive this resurrection hope on Sunday.

Well, we actually titled the last chapter “Saturday” because we think that a lot of people are living in what could be described as a Saturday. Now again, we’re not told much about that particular Easter Saturday, so we can only speculate, but really, I mean, what kind of questions were the disciples, in particular, Peter, asking? Were they starting to doubt some of the things that they had been taught, maybe like trying to explain away some of the miracles they had seen? It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, was it? And so there’s self-doubt, there’s all this trauma that they’ve experienced.

Now of course, Sunday was just around the corner. We think that, look, if that hope can come for Peter, then it can come for you and your loved one, too, right? We don’t know what that Saturday looks like. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be just one 24-hour day. It could be months down the road; it could be years down the road; but we think this is a message. Because if it can happen for Peter, it can happen for your loved one. And I think that can move us from a state of “This is completely hopeless, what good can come from this? How can this be undone,” to a state where, no, we can be hopeful. Jesus rose from the grave after being dead. And when that happened, Peter’s faith is restored.

“Do you love me?” He says, “Yeah, I love you.” Three times, kind of like paralleling the three denials.

Jonathan: Exactly.

Tim: And then the Church is built on this confession. So I mean that brings me hope, and hopefully it brings hope to others who are going through this. Jonathan: Just one final question. Have you seen anyone who’s been restored out of this?

Alisa: You know what? I have heard a few stories, but these are people that have platforms. So I have several people that are part of my Facebook community who have said they deconstructed into progressive Christianity but have been brought back. I have had a couple of people on my personal podcast who had deconstructed. One is a guy name Dave Stovall. We actually tell his story in the book. He was in the band Audio Adrenaline, and he deconstructed into progressive Christianity and then a local pastor here in town discipled him back to the historic Christian faith and had all these difficult conversations with him and engaged him in conversation. So I think we are seeing some. We’re not seeing a lot yet, but I think a lot of the stories maybe are just more private, where people aren’t necessarily shouting it on social media. But yeah, the Lord’s at work, absolutely.

Jonathan: That's good.

Tim: Yeah, I can echo that, too. We’ve been … A I travel around teaching and speaking, I’ll have people come up to me and usually you get a lot of people saying, “Thanks for hits information. I had no idea this was going on.” But this one guy, he said, “I went through deconstruction.” And he said, “It was when you put up your definition of deconstruction that you had me because that”—

Alisa: Wow!

Tim: I thought he was going to push back and be like, “But that's not how you define it. Instead, he said, “You had me as soon as you put up your definition.” Why? “Because,” he said, “that exactly described the process that I was going through.” And yet, here he was on that Sunday morning at church kind of completely kind of turning a corner and willing to say, “No, I’m willing to follow the truth wherever it leads.”

And that led him to affirming that the Bible is God’s Word, and now he’s trying to align his beliefs. And of course, that's a journey we’re all on. I have false beliefs right now; I just don’t know which ones are false, right? I’m always trying to correct my mistaken beliefs and make them align with Scripture. And praise the Lord, that was the journey he was on.

Jonathan: Oh, amen. Well, the book is The Deconstruction of Christianity: What It Is, Why It’s Destructive and How To Respond. Alisa Childers, Tim Barnett, thank you, guys, so much for being on Candid Conversations. I’ve really enjoyed our talk today.

Alisa: Me, too. Thanks so much.

Tim: Yeah, this was a lot of fun. Thanks for having us.

Jonathan: God bless.

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