This article originally appeared on February 29, 2020 at Worship Overflow.
A pair of YouTubers who I admittedly had never heard of named Rhett and Link recently shared their de-conversion stories. Now, I’ve never watched any of their videos other than the two videos about their personal stories. But with that said, there was much about their stories that resonated with me. Both of them grew up in conservative evangelical churches and served in the worship ministries of complementarian, Calvinist churches in the Carolinas. If those terms are Christianese to you, feel free to be curious and explore them! But for me, Rhett and Link understood exactly where I have come from.
Their story is not unique. It’s a very common story today where unsuspecting Christians begin to question Young Earth Creationism, which leads to questioning the historicity of Adam and Eve, which creates questions regarding Paul’s connection of Adam to Jesus, which may get shelved for a while. Then Noah’s flood falls apart, which leads to questions about divine violence, which opens up an entire unsettling exploration of the OT Law, the conquest narratives, and hell. Eventually the questions keep going until you get to the life of Jesus himself. And in the end, you’re left wondering why the Truth seems so hard to hold together.
The point of this article is not to explore all of those questions, calm your angst, and give conservative evangelicals certainty that there’s virtually nothing to see here. But I want to respond to an article that The Gospel Coalition just shared entitled, “Let’s Deconstruct a Deconversion Story: The Case of Rhett and Link.”
Alisa Childers begins by sharing about her childhood obsession with a TV celebrity who left Christianity to become an agnostic. Then she shares a “Brave New World” quote about truth being lost in a “sea of irrelevance,” to bridge the conversation to YouTubers Rhett and Link.
My primary concern with Alisa’s article is that she is asserting a number of false assumptions.
She falsely assumes that deconstructing Christians are immature.
By describing Rhett and Link as “engaging in zany stunts such as duct-taping themselves together, playing wedgie-hangman, crushing glow sticks in a meat-grinder, and flinging bags of dog feces at one another’s faces,” and their followers as Reddit and YouTube commenters or shaken youth group kids, she’s presenting Christians who are asking hard questions about their faith as immature. This could not be further from the truth. There’s nothing wrong with Rhett and Link being comedians. And there are plenty of serious minded theologians and scientists who do not engage in such activities that are asking their same questions. Both Rhett and Link recommended the writings of Francis Collins, who mapped the human genome, founded BioLogos, and is the Director of the National Institutes of Health. Francis Collins believes in theistic evolution and denies a global flood. Many of the writers and speakers for BioLogos have a variety of beliefs regarding the nature of Scripture. Yet, they are all serious-minded believers. I am currently a student at Northern Seminary. My professors also accept modern science, hold to an inspired imperfection view of the Scriptures, would be considered to have deconstructed from TGC’s version of Christianity, and yet are very serious about their faith.
She falsely assumes that deconstructing Christians are driven by LGBTQ affirmation.
Alisa says, “But as both Rhett and Link recounted, there was something brewing underneath the intellectual questions. They both felt a deep discomfort with biblical sexual ethics, which they perceived to oppress women and their LGBTQ+ friends.”
Here she begins asserting a motive that simply isn’t true. Many of the most influential voices for deconstructing Christians (such as Brian Zahnd, Greg Boyd, Bruxy Cavey, Preston Sprinkle, David Fitch, etc.) are non-affirming of LGBTQ sexual relationships. Many progressive Christian seminaries that deconstructing Christians pursue training at still require their faculty to sign non-affirming pledges.
She falsely assumes that the deconstruction journey is quick and easy.
Alisa says, “How can two guys who make a living as YouTube personalities go from making possum corndogs one day to throwing 2,000 years of Christian history under the bus the next? Why were so many people rattled and even persuaded by them?”
If you listen to their stories, that’s not at all what happened. Rhett and Link agonized over an ever unfolding set of questions that caused marital stress, and deep fears that had to be sorted through for many years. In fact, they took six years before they even said anything publicly about being agnostics. If you’ve ever read deconstructing Christians on Twitter, you’ll know how much maturity that would take for someone of their platform to not discuss it for that long. And perhaps the reason they’re persuasive isn’t because they’re asking new questions, but that they’re asking questions that many of us are already asking privately ourselves.
She falsely assumes that Rhett was dismissing the need to read conservative authors just by naming them.
Alisa says, “With the precision of a gifted lawyer, he laid out roadblocks to the objections he knew would follow his statements. By naming several apologists such as Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Tim Keller, and Ravi Zacharias, he knocked the legs out from under their arguments. There’s a good chance the Christian kid who looks up to Rhett (and probably doesn’t ever crack open his Bible) will never read those authors now.”
Rhett never once said to not read those guys. He just said that he did, that their answers were not compelling, that there’s no need to send him all your conservative book recommendations, but that you’re free to do so if you want to. Rhett promoted curiosity. Like Rhett, I have also found much of the writings of these men and others like them to be underwhelming. But if someone wants to read them for the next few years, that’s totally fine. Rhett’s video was also already an hour and forty minutes long. He didn’t have time to point by point list the arguments for those authors. And if your youth group that you’ve pastored for years is threatened by an hour and forty minute YouTube video because they never read their Bible, then perhaps you should be the one who starts asking questions about the strength of your message and pastoring you’ve been doing.
She falsely assumes that Rhett was accusing conservatives of having a profit motive.
Alisa says, “Then he skillfully planted a possible motive: money. He suggested that if all these apologists and theologians were to recant their stories and change their opinions, their livelihoods would be at stake.”
I was once a five point, double predestination Calvinist who was fully committed to complementarianism and basically everything The Gospel Coalition puts out. But out of a season where I became aware of my wounds and was discipled toward healing for a year, I began to have some questions. But I suppressed those questions because I wanted to get hired as a worship pastor by a church. I had no profit motive. I just wanted to be able to provide an average income for my family, while investing my life doing what I loved and felt called to. After I died to that dream, however, I felt free to ask the questions I had been suppressing. That’s when my “deconstruction,” if you want to call it that, began. There are many pastors who are making $35-45,000, who have no other training than ministry training, who are asking these same questions privately. They aren’t remaining silent about their questions or refusing to pursue them due to a profit motive. They simply love their family and don’t want to be fired, especially if they have virtually no training or experience for anything else. The fact that the livelihood of their family requires them to have the right answers prevents them from asking questions. That’s what Rhett was referring to.
She falsely assumes that Rhett might have a profit motive.
Alisa asks, “What would Rhett and Link stand to lose if they didn’t capitulate to culture on an issue like same-sex marriage?…How would it affect their revenue streams and net worth to remain faithful Christians in today’s cultural climate?”
I don’t know. They seemed to be doing just fine financially without even discussing spiritual things. By them bringing this out into the open, they risked losing a ton of fans, which could have cost them their livelihood. When Christians or former Christians come out as affirming of LGBTQ relationships, they lose their ministries, they lose many friends, and they lose many close family members. Conservative evangelicals need to stop promoting this idea that affirming LGBTQ relationships is a cave to cultural pressure to make your life easier. For those who have done so, they often lose virtually everything they loved or at least risk doing so. You can disagree with them. But don’t dismiss them as taking the easy road.
She falsely assumes that Rhett offered no alternative.
Alisa says, “It’s evident that Rhett has traded in one worldview for another: Christianity for postmodernity, with all its skepticism, denial of absolutes, and relativism.”
Actually, Rhett affirmed being present with your family, being open and curious for discovery, being open to hope, remaining open to God and faith, remaining faithful to your spouse, and continuing to live a life that loves your neighbor as yourself. He also said that he plans to share more things that he’s journeyed toward in future episodes.
I get it. For the Christian who believes that every word of the Bible is inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and infallible, especially as they interpret it, and for the Christian who believes the stakes are eternal conscious torment in hell, asking questions is a scary proposition. Of course, I’m confused how such a Calvinist organization like TGC who believes God predestined individuals to get saved and persevere to heaven could somehow feel threatened by “a personality-driven culture in which two comedians can persuade Christians to rethink their faith in just three hours of video.” But contradictions aside, I do understand how the fear of eternal conscious torment would cause grave concern over Rhett and Link’s de-conversion.
That said, we now live in a world where Rhett and Link’s questions cannot simply be dismissed like this article wants to do. If you are a Christian who is having these questions, there are plenty of resources out there that will affirm the legitimacy of your questions and help you begin to work through them in a context that is not only sympathetic to Christianity, but is committed to Christianity. Feel free to reach out to me and let me know some of your questions. I’d love to be able to point you to some resources that fit whatever journey you’re currently on.
In any case, I get the conservative angst. But don’t assume that the conservative critique of deconstruction stories is assumption free.