I just realized I should content-warning this for suicidal ideation, so I'm restarting the thread https://twitter.com/mcjulie/status/1385961810151411717?s=20
Also, I forgot to link the original article.
So, Russell Moore has just dropped the big premise -- when he was 15 he considered suicide *because he didn't want to lose his religion* and I find that an interesting framing of his crisis because at a similar age I experienced a similar crisis --
Which was for me *resolved* (mostly) by giving up on the church.

"losing my religion" was my way OUT of the crisis.
The next part of Moore's essay details *why* he was losing faith in the church, and it's a pretty honest list of the failures & scandals of the church, so props there.
I particularly liked him calling out this:

"I heard prediction after prediction after prediction tying current events to Bible prophecy that was all “just about to happen.” --
"But nobody ever said, “Remember when I said ‘Gog and Magog’ of the Bible is the Soviet Union? I was wrong about that”[..] These folks just moved on with the next confident assertions, as though the last never happened at all. "
This is also good. "And this was even more the case with the politics. [..] Likewise, the voter guides lined out the “Christian” view from the “anti-Christian view” on a list of issues that just happened to line up with the favored party’s platform that year."
"I started to wonder whether [..] the kind of Christianity that showed up in the slogans all around me—might really be about something else: southern culture or politics. [..] That would mean that Jesus is not the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but a means to an end."
He starts getting to the heart of the matter:

"if the gospel I had been given was really just about finding ways to get voters to back party bosses [..] It would mean that the universe is a random, meaningless void—red in tooth and claw."
"It would mean that the preacher who beat his daughter for dancing wasn’t an aberration but was instead the way the cosmos is, right down to the core. And that was a horrible thought."

Yes? And? Where did that horrible thought lead you?
"Obviously [..] I came through this teenager crisis. [..] since I’m an evangelical Christian—I came through it with my faith not just intact but deepened. That’s due, ultimately of course, to the grace of God."

Is it?
I guess I just wasn't graced enough huh?
I know, he's not trying to be offensive. But there's something about this paragraph that feels dishonest. Okay, he's 15, the hypocrisy of the church has caused him to doubt the very gospel, and he's in despair... but don't worry folks! Grace of God swoops in to save the day!
In his particular case, the Grace of God takes the form of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and  Christianity Today magazine -- which he discovered because "listening to Christian music led me to a Christian bookstore"
And I'm thinking, hold on, I think there must be something you're leaving out of this story.

You were 15, raised in the church, and you'd never been to a Christian bookstore before?

You were going through a faith crisis but also listening to Christian music?
The story about how he came to doubt sounded very true and honest, but the story of how he came to believe again feels kind of cheap, like the important details are getting glossed over.
He read some Christian writers he liked. Okay? I mean... so did I, man.

Then he makes this claim:

"the reason I even went looking for C.S. Lewis and the others is because I had been taught the Bible—in a good, loving church."
This is getting into VERY familiar still-evangelical apologetics territory, where any crisis of faith can be solved just by "teaching the Bible" good enough
White American evangelicals teach & appear to sincerely believe that their own faith is derived in a natural & obvious fashion from the Bible itself, so, "studying the Bible" will naturally lead back to their faith.
Which leads to a corollary belief: that if you leave the evangelical faith it's because you just didn't study the Bible *enough*
Or you didn't study it correctly
Or you didn't have the right teachers
But it's not true.
There is no way to get evangelical theology -- or, to be honest, MOST traditional Christian theology -- just by picking up a Bible & reading it the way you'd read any book.
"Bible study" is evangelical code for "studying the Bible with a prejudice toward reinforcing evangelical faith" & I think a lot of them don't even realize that, because -- if I can put on my English Major hat for a moment --
It's incredibly common for people to approach famous classic texts, such as the Bible or Shakespeare, already "knowing" what they say & what they mean.
Which creates a self-reinforcing illusion: you already "know" what the Bible means, then you read it and get out of it exactly the meaning you're expecting. What a coincidence! Must mean it's all true!
Moore also praises his personal church: "I had seen genuine love and community and authenticity there, week by week in Sunday School and Training Union and worship services and Vacation Bible Schools—to know that it could exist, and what it would look like when I found it."
Something isn't quite adding up here. He's brought to despair by the hypocrisy of the church in general, but saved by the sincerity of his own personal church?
I'm just having a hard time picturing what 15-year-old Russell Moore was actually experiencing. Were the adults in his own church NOT guilty of any of the hypocrisies he saw in the church at large?
Were they never racists? Never abusers? Never political opportunists? Never liars? Never false prophets? Did they never support these things in word and deed?

Because if so, wow, what a church that would be.

But I kinda doubt it.
I imagine that 15-year-old Russell Moore saw exactly what 15-year-old me saw: people who might be kind and loving in person, but who nevertheless supported & sometimes engaged in the many hypocrisies of the church.
"But I wonder what would have happened to fifteen year-old Russell Moore had I been born in 2001 instead of 1971? Would the things I saw have even prompted a crisis at all?

Or would I just have walked away altogether?"

Dude, I was born in 1966, I have some news for you.
"Would I have ended up the sort of atheist or agnostic or “deconstructing ex-vangelical” that I find myself counseling almost every day now?"

Interesting tell. Anybody turning to him for counseling is, necessarily, somebody who is TRYING to hang onto their faith.
And, therefore, NOT an "ex-vangelical"

The "ex" part is important, dude. It means we *already left*

If you're still going to marriage counseling, they're not your EX spouse yet, right?
"Who can know—and I suppose I should just conclude that, with apologies to Paul Simon, I was Born Again at the Right Time."

Again, dude, I was born in 1966, I don't think your year of birth was quite as important a part of the equation as you seem to think it was.
But also, didn't you earlier say you were saved by the Grace of God?

Are you trying to tell me that God -- supposedly the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow -- cares what year you were born?
Because, and I say this to you lovingly, as one Gen X former 15-year-old doubter to another: maybe you stayed in the church because you felt at home there & maybe you felt at home there because you're straight, cis, white, male,
and at least moderately conservative.
Or, you know, earlier you mentioned listening to Christian music, maybe it's that. I mean, if I had genuinely liked Christian contemporary, or hadn't cared so much about music at all, maybe I would've stuck with the church too.
Just kidding, the patriarchy & Republican politics would've eventually driven me away no matter.
He talks about the precipitous decline in religious affiliation, especially among younger generations, then gets honest again: "the evidence is mounting that a significant amount of secularization is accelerated and driven [..] by evangelicalism itself."
"What seems different about this quiet exodus is that the departures are heightened not among the peripheries of the church—those “nominal” or “cultural” Christians who grow up to rebel against their parents’ beliefs"

A moment, please.
Here, he's reaching for a couple of common evangelical cliches -- the idea that the people who leave the faith are those who were never REALLY believers in the first place, combined with the idea that kids leave the faith of their parents because they're "rebelling"
But those cliches make no sense if you combine them. A child who is RAISED as a "nominal" or "cultural" Christian must have PARENTS who are nominal or cultural Christians, therefore, what could they possibly be rebelling against?
But also, as a former 15-year-old doubter, both my present & past selves find it offensive and lazy to characterize a young person who leaves the faith of their parents as engaged in some kind of knee-jerk "rebellion"
You know, as if 15-year-old me looked around & thought "hmmm, feeling all teenagery & full of hormones today, how can I piss off my parents the most, I know, I'll stop believing in their religion"
But that's getting the doubt and the rebellion entirely backwards. My doubt BECAME rebellion because it was resisted. If my parents had been all "that's fine, you only have to go to church if you want to" presto, no rebellion!
Mr. Moore is surprised to see apostasy "among those who are the most committed to [..] the hardest aspects of Christian religion in modernity: belief in “the supernatural,” the rigorous demands of discipleship --
"and a longing for community and accountability in a multigenerational church with ancient roots and transcendent authority."

I'm not entirely sure what he's talking about here, but I will say this --
You should never be surprised when the people who leave your religion are the ones who previously seemed the most dedicated to it. They're often those who took it the most seriously.
Plus, many who start to experience religious doubts respond first by becoming more dedicated to the faith, in the hope that will "cure" the doubt.
"Where a “de-churched” (to use an anachronistic term) “ex-vangelical” (to use another) in the early 1920s was likely to have walked away due to the fact that she found the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection to be outdated and superstitious"

... um... is that even true?
Because not only does it sound a bit... uh... made up, "the early 1920s" seems like a weirdly specific time period.
"People before and after that were just fine with miraculous occurrences, but wow, those hard-headed early 1920s skeptics were really something."
Anyway, I've heard a LOT of stories from people who left Christian & Christian-adjacent religions, and "I found the claims of the supernatural to be implausible" almost never forms a core part of their narrative.
He continues, "or because he found moral libertinism to be more attractive than the “outmoded” strict moral code of his past"

Ah, yes.
Evangelicals LOVE the idea that you left the church mostly because you wanted to party.
But it's another narrative that doesn't really make any sense, because it's getting cause and effect backwards.

People who *stop believing in the moral authority of the church* do things the church considers "immoral" but they stopped believing FIRST.
Further, if you're a privileged person in the church culture -- think Ted Haggard or Jimmy Swaggart or Donald Trump -- then you can "sin" all you like, it doesn't matter at all.
He continues, "or because she wanted to escape the stifling bonds of a home church for an autonomous individualism"

"Autonomous individualism" seems reminiscent of the "therapeutic self" Timothy Keller was nattering on about, and similar to that --
It strikes me as a way to make basic human needs like autonomy and authenticity *sound* decadent & self-indulgent, especially when applied to those -- women & LGBTQ people -- who are most expected to sacrifice those things for the sake of the church.
But, all that aside, now he sees "a markedly different—and jarring—model of a disillusioned evangelical."
"We now see young evangelicals walking away from evangelicalism [..] because they believe the church itself does not believe what the church teaches. The presenting issue in this secularization is not scientism and hedonism but disillusionment and cynicism."
"Many have pointed to compelling data [..] showing that the politicization of American religion is a key driver of people away from religious affiliation."
You know what? That DOES fit my experience. I DID walk away from the evangelical church because of the politicization of the faith.

I mean, I did it in 1989, so it's not exactly NEW, but, okay.
I think it's a bit like global warming. These trends have been a long time coming, and you could *see* them coming without too much trouble, and yet, they were ignored until "Oh no! Crisis!"
"it seems to me that the controversy is not actually even over the specific political planks or ideas or personalities as the fact that many have come to believe that the religion itself is a vehicle for the politics and the cultural grievances—and not the other way around."
This essay is seeming honest again. I do think that's a fairly honest assessment of what's happening now. Except, look back to the beginning, where he talks about what he saw when he was 15, which would've been in the mid 1980s --
"Somehow the Bible suddenly gave us a “Christian view” on a balanced budget amendment or a line-item veto, things that, like the European common market as a sign of the last days, were never noticed in the text until the favored candidates started emphasizing such things."
It seems to me that he's describing exactly the same phenomenon -- politics treated as doctrine -- that he identifies as driving young people away from the church.
"If evangelicalism is politics, people can get their politics somewhere else"

Interestingly, I've said almost exactly that. "If being a Christian & being a Republican are basically the same thing, people will eventually just cut out the middleman."
"Almost every survey of disaffiliating people has also emphasized the scandals within the church—most notably the sexual abuse cover-ups and predatory behavior"

That also tracks. But look where he goes a couple of paragraphs later:
"We might reassure ourselves when we see the proliferating “Nones” among our youth that the reason they are leaving is because they want to run their own lives and pursue the sexual hedonism the church (rightly) forbids."

You just haaaaad to get that little dig in there
True, surprising fact: even people who leave the church BECAUSE they object to sexual purity culture are rarely *particularly* sexually hedonistic.
I mean, one of our biggest "church against the world" fights of the past 20 years was SAME SEX MARRIAGE which, uh, is just about exactly the opposite of what's normally thought of as sexual hedonism.
"The problem now is not that people think the church’s way of life is too demanding, too morally rigorous, but that they have come to think the church doesn’t believe its own moral teachings"

Hmm. Not untrue, exactly, but also not how I would characterize the problem.
For one thing, he's implicitly characterizing "morally rigorous" as "adhering to ritual sexual purity laws" which I think is a grave theological error and part of how we ended up in this mess.
I'll say to Russell Moore the same thing I would say to Timothy Keller: the way men like you talk about the gospels, you'd think the message of Jesus was mostly concerned with sex, gender, & reproduction.
See, I read the gospels on my own, because I was told that the whole of my religion was to be found that way, and what I found was nothing at all like your teachings.
So, first, if you're going to talk about people leaving the church "but that they have come to think the church doesn’t believe its own moral teachings" you need to be a bit more specific about what you actually mean when you say "moral teachings"
You know, do you mean things like "feed the poor, comfort the sick, visit those in prison" or do you just mean the "no sex" stuff?
Second, zeroing in on the hypocrisy (they have come to think the church doesn’t believe its own moral teachings) sort of skirts around what I see as the more central issue, which is the question of moral *authority*
That is, if the church tells me "don't do that, it's immoral" why should I, or anyone else, listen to the church?
(You know, in retrospect, it may have been a mistake for evangelicals to call their racist right wing political action group "The Moral Majority")
So, the problem -- from the standpoint of a still-evangelical who wants to save the church -- is even worse than what he's describing.

If the church "doesn't follow its own moral teachings" it's exposed as a corrupt human institution, and loses followers that way. But --
A church that has lost moral authority is a voice shouting into the whirlwind: "Listen to us! Listen! We have all these moral teachings! "

And the world shrugs back "So what? Everybody's got an opinion, Jack."
A church that has lost moral authority is a church that has no reason to exist.
He kind of gets it here: "What if people don’t leave the church because they disapprove of Jesus, but because they’ve read the Bible and have come to the conclusion that the church itself would disapprove of Jesus? That’s a crisis."
But what's his proposed remedy?


He just asserts "Will the church die? No."
I mean, he's probably technically correct, in that something as huge and worldwide as Christianity is unlikely to simply *cease to exist* any time soon. But he takes far too much refuge in "the truth" of how he sees the gospels.
"The church moves out into the future not on the strength of its culture or its institutions but because of the promise of Jesus"

Hmm, you might want to think again about that. Do you think the church has survived until now WITHOUT culture or institutions?
This strikes me as a very evangelical kind of delusion: the idea that the Christian church just kind of *exists* in some abstract Platonic ideal state, independent of human action.
I've talked before about how I believe this weird evangelical faith in the power of an abstract essential idealized church is part of what kept my parents attending a church that was, in the real world, very toxic.
But I believe the church IS what the church DOES, and Christians ARE what Christians DO.

The idea of some beautiful, perfect, idealized church that exists, somehow, without actually existing? It means nothing to me, AND I think it enables toxic behavior.
He goes on: "And—however buffered the modern self might be from the so-called supernatural—the tomb is, in fact, empty. The apostles were telling the truth. The stories are true."

Um, have you watched those ghost shows, modern people love the supernatural.
But also, it's SUPER evangelical of him to insist that some key component of the faith is "in fact" true.

My dude. Do you know what facts are, because I have a feeling the answer might surprise you.
Also, that particular wording "the tomb is [..] empty. The apostles were telling the truth" seems familiar, did my fellow Gen X teenage doubter have somebody put "Who Moved the Stone" in their hot li'l hands? I bet they did!
He goes on, "And that means Jesus is alive—and seated in heaven" which is an interesting thing to get stuck on. When @paulcarp13 called the charity run by The Traitor, Franklin Graham he got a very nice dude who was very stuck on that detail --
"Do you believe Jesus is seated at the right hand of God" and I guess that must do it for some people because it comes up a lot, but I literally do not and never did care the teeniest tiniest bit about that, not even when I was busy getting baptized.
But here's the thing -- at the church where I WAS baptized, that extinct or nearly extinct species, the social justice-oriented evangelical church, it didn't seem to matter a whole lot.
Some people believed all that Nicene Creed stuff, some people believed "they'll know we are Christians by our love" but overall, there was a sense that we were united in purpose, driven by the teachings of Jesus.
What I'm getting at, I guess, is that if you focus on the teachings, you can say something like "it doesn't matter, we're all here feeding the poor" but if you focus on the mysticism, suddenly it DOES matter.
Which means that I think Moore's faith in the power of mystical truth to redeem the church is woefully misplaced.
Moving on, he expresses a notion I would agree with: "That truth, though, doesn’t mean that the institutions as they are will continue to exist. "
"Any church can lose its lampstand—and any church “culture” can lose its credibility and die."
Yes. But then he asserts "The church will be reborn in every generation" which... you know, maybe?
Then he quotes Jeremiah.

Beware of evangelicals quoting the Old Testament prophets.
"The church will survive—even here in America—but, along the way, a lot of fifteen year-olds will be hurt."

True, but he's playing a bit loose with HOW those fifteen-year-olds will be hurt.

Will they be hurt by church or the lack of church?
"A lot of them will conclude that the gospel is just one more aspect of political theater or outrage culture or institutional self-perpetuation or worse."


"They will be wrong, of course"

Look, I get it, he's trying to make a distinction between "the gospel" and the church as an earthly institution, but I think that's a distinction that can only possibly matter to Christians.
"We are losing a generation"

Three generations, by my count.
"What this demands is not a rebranding, but a repentance—meaning, as the Bible does, a turnaround. Stranger things have happened, and that’s good, because we will need it."

Awwww, he believe the church is redeemable, that's cute.
"We need to be the people of Christ and him crucified, the people of a Word that stands above all earthly powers and, no thanks to them, abides."

Sure. You do that.

It won't change anything.
And the final conclusion:

"Somewhere, there’s at least one fifteen year-old who needs to see if we’re such a people. Maybe, even, his life depends on it."


See what I mean?

He still. Doesn't. Get it.
He's just not thinking clearly about what's going on here, or -- I think -- being entirely honest with himself about what "saved" him when he was 15.
Just like Tim Keller, he's engaging in sloppy thinking about how people come to be Christians: are we talking about *hanging on* to young people raised in the church or *winning over* young people NOT raised in the church?
Moore's own teenage crisis of faith was explicitly that of an insider. When you're raised in the church, coming to doubt the church also means doubting your family and community. It's excruciating, but is it relevant to somebody NOT raised in the faith?
Let's say the church DOES redeem itself the way he's calling for -- get out of politics, get back to gospel basics.

What's going to change, exactly? Are a bunch of Gen-Z-ers who never went to church before going to suddenly START going?
Why would they do that?

What is church -- even a redeemed, non-political, gospel-oriented church -- going to do for them?
This is why you can't trust any still-evangelical to talk about why people are leaving the church. Because they themselves are still believers.
They'll assert things like "The stories are true" as if the stories are believed because they are true, and not "true" because they are believed.
That's the end of his essay, and the end of my deconstruction.

Enjoy the rest of your Saturday!

I'm listening to virtual Jazzfest. https://www.wwoz.org/ 
Addendum: This thread explains why the church isn't going to redeem itself. https://twitter.com/mattsheffield/status/1386005555785781251
You can follow @mcjulie.
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