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What Is an Exvangelical?

In its simplest form, an exvangelical is a person who is “ex-evangelical,” much in the same way one would be considered an ex-husband or ex-president.

Jul 27, 2022
What Is an Exvangelical?

As a younger man, Kevin Max Smith was one-third of the chart-topping, Christian music hit machine, DC Talk. Along with bandmates TobyMac and Michael Tait, he created the industry-busting rock album, Jesus Freak. “What will people think,” Kevin Max sang in the title song, “when they hear that I'm a Jesus freak?”

Well, that label no longer applies to the singer, who, according to CBN News, announced in May 2021 that he was joining the ranks of “exvangelical.” He is not alone. The former DC Talk vocalist now stands alongside other prominent voices who’ve left Christianity, like Abraham Piper (son of theologian John Piper), and DesiringGod.org writer Paul Maxwell.

So… What Is an “Exvangelical?”

In its simplest form, an exvangelical is a person who is “ex-evangelical,” much in the same way one would be considered an ex-husband or ex-president. A pop-savvy term, exvangelical was coined to describe those who’ve left either the Christian church or the Christian faith—or both.

Of course, as Blake Chastain will tell you, it’s not always as simple as that. Chastain is credited with creating the exvangelical term and the blog of the same name that serves as a sort of flagship for the movement. “People have been leaving evangelicalism for decades,” he says. So to assume this phenomenon is simply the result of a clever, internet search-friendly word is a stretch.

At the same time, the fact that large numbers of people have chosen to identify themselves as “exvangelical” does present a unique moment in history.

Dr. Thomas Kidd is a distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and the author of Who is an Evangelical? from Yale University Press. He observes, “In our time, social media has opened new opportunities for people who grew up in traditional Christian environments to publicize their departure from their childhood faith.” And perhaps that’s what makes exvangelicalism unique: Today’s internet has provided a virtual community for those disillusioned with evangelical organizations, giving a place where people can go to find each other after divorcing themselves from the Christian faith.

What Should I Know about Exvangelicals?

“I'm not sure how to answer this question,” Chastain says.

“I'm just one person, a middle-aged Midwestern dad. I went to a Christian college with the intent of becoming a pastor, and had a faith crisis instead. I've wrestled with questions of theology, belief, and politics within evangelicalism for almost 30 years and found it untenable. Thanks to the social internet, I have found other people who can relate.”

Likewise, Kidd acknowledges that Chastain’s experience is not a historically unfamiliar one. “The exvangelical movement is our generation's version of a much older trend,” he says.

“Certain people who grow up in a devout Christian environment always ‘fall away’ from the faith. Benjamin Franklin, for example, grew up in a Puritan family in Boston, but by his teen years, he became skeptical about Puritan doctrine and the Bible and became a self-described ‘deist’ … The journey they're describing [today] is not particularly new.”

Timothy Paul Jones is vice president for Doctoral Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and bestselling author of Misquoting Truth. He sees two things happening simultaneously in the “exvangelical” phenomenon.

“On the one hand,” he says, “for many people, turning exvangelical is simply an excuse for sliding into beliefs that seem more palatable in a secular culture. On the other hand, there are also people who are sincerely concerned as they see abuses of power and entanglements with political parties among evangelicals.”

And that raises the next question often being asked:

Isn’t the Exvangelical Movement Really Just an Anti-Trump Thing?

“That’s an oversimplification,” Chastain quickly points out. Or, as Kevin Max describes it from his point of view, being exvangelical means he is “anti-war, pro-peace, anti-hate, pro-live, pro-LGBTQIA, pro-BLM, pro-open mindedness, anti-narrow mindedness, pro-utopia, anti-white nationalist agenda, pro-equality, pro-vax, pro-music, anti-1%rs, pro-poor, pro-misfit-pro-Jesus, etc…” So there are obviously many factors that went into his decision to make himself an “ex” of the Christian faith.

Dr. Jones sympathizes with Chastain and Kevin Max, though not to point of disassociating. He says, “I am an evangelical, but I also recognize that there are some legitimate critiques here that should challenge us to recognize our responsibility to protect the vulnerable and to make it clear that the kingdom of Christ is a kingdom that’s not tied to any political regimes of this world.”

According to Chastain, there are many reasons people become exvangelicals. He lists a few: “The abuse made possible by complementarian theology, the racism experienced by BIPOC people in white-led evangelical settings, the de-facto Republican politics, the homophobia and transphobia, etc. White evangelicalism has a very particular mold, and if you do not fit that mold, you will not feel at peace.”

While acknowledging multivariate influences, the historian in Kidd sees a different picture. “Undoubtedly the election of Trump,” he says, “and his overwhelming support from self-described white ‘evangelical’ voters, has turbocharged anti-evangelical sentiment in America. The media is largely interested in evangelicals only as a political movement, not a religious one, so it is relatively easy to caricature ‘evangelicals’ today as white Republicans who consider themselves religious.”

Kidd next points to planetary realities and adds, “For example, most evangelicals in the world are not white, American, or Republican. Should we base our view of evangelical faith (or of God) only on the behavior of some religious voters in America?

top half of mans head with glasses looking up at many confusing lines wondering spirituality vs. religion

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/phototechno 

What Exactly Do Exvangelicals Believe about Jesus?

Kidd seems to raise good points about globalization and American stereotyping. At the same time, history has proven that Christians from anywhere can be total wads. But if Christians are taken out of the picture, what does an exvangelical believe about Jesus?

“I imagine,” says Kidd, “that there is a range of sentiment among self-described exvangelicals about Jesus, from still believing he is the Son of God and unique Savior, to believing he was only an important moral teacher, but not divine. I suspect other exvangelicals haven't thought much about it, since their anger is directed toward the church and particular evangelical leaders, not Jesus per se.”

Kevin Max takes an abstract, esoteric view (quoted on CBN News as saying he follows “the Universal Christ”) while Chastain mostly agrees with Kidd on this point. “There is no single exvangelical theological belief,” Chastain says, “and I consider that a feature, not a bug. It is a shared starting point.

“In theological terms, it is apophatic: it defines what it is by describing what it is not. It is quite simply not evangelical (or more appropriately, formerly evangelical) in the modern, contemporary sense of the word—like I wrote in the 'defining exvangelical' post on my website, it acknowledges the influence evangelicalism had on our lives the same way terms like ex-spouse or ex-boyfriend do. But it makes no claims about the person or divinity of Jesus per se. That is up to the individual to decide.”

All politics and white American narcissism aside, this appears to be the starkest difference between the exvangelical and the evangelical: The first has, at best, ambivalent opinions about Jesus; the second is convinced that Jesus alone is what matters most—even when Christ’s followers are total wads.            

What Should Evangelicals Do with, for, or about Exvangelicals?

Chastain and Kidd both offer closing thoughts on this question. Here’s what they have to say:

Kidd: Being angry and lobbing bombs on Twitter obviously doesn't help much.

Chastain: Listen to the stories and perspectives of exvangelicals without agenda, and remember that an exvangelical once believed as you did—and that belief was sincere.

Kidd: Christians have a special obligation to be kind, even as they defend Christian belief in a forthright manner.

Chastain: Don't denigrate or insult exvangelicals by saying “they were never really Christian to begin with.” The process of losing one's identity, faith community, and understanding of God is not simple or straightforward.

Kidd: If you know an exvangelical personally, you should absolutely pray for them and keep lines of communication open, if possible.

Chastain: [Remember] exvangelicals changed their beliefs & practices for good and valid reasons, but those can't always be boiled down to a single interview or a single post online.

Kidd: [Also remember] there may also be opportunities in your sphere of influence to point out inconsistencies in exvangelical criticisms.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/KL Yuen 

Mike Nappa is a practical theologian known for writing “coffee-shop theology” and Christian Living books. He’s a bestselling and award-winning author with millions of copies of his works sold worldwide. An Arab-American, Mike is proud to be a person of color (BIPOC) active in Christian publishing. Google Mikey to learn more, or visit MikeNappa.com. Find Mike Nappa’s bestselling book, Reflections for the Grieving Soul wherever books are sold.

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