It’s apparent to me so-called “deconstruction” has a particular reoccurring pattern for Evangelical women, specifically. That is, for those raised as culturally conservative, traditionalist, and Biblicist (sometimes referred to as fundamentalist) there is a particular pattern of deconstruction. Inherent to their culturally conservative and traditionalist views was an advocacy for some 80s and 90s fad, known as purity culture. These are still rather loaded terms and I want to break them down a bit. But before I do, let me describe the pattern of deconstruction as I’ve observed it.1
The Pattern of Deconstruction Among Evangelical Women
Pattern of Deconstruction
As evangelical women grow in understanding of what’s being taught them, questions inevitably arise in their mind about how doctrine x reconciles with doctrine z. These questions are almost always connected to apparent contradictions between the so-called “pink passages” and essential doctrines. Essential doctrines are initially left unquestioned. Out of genuine interest, these women will inquire with their pastor as to how to reconcile these contradictions.
These questions are often dismissed with rather quick, overly simplistic responses or a “don’t worry about it” sentiment, but no real reconciliation is offered. The lack of reconciliation between the “pink passages” and essential doctrine leads to deeper questions, greater doubt. These tend to remain unanswered, overly simplistic or reductionist.
Along side usually are other women, not questioning these things, who respond with phrases such as,
- “that’s not charitable.”
- “you’re just being divisive, discontented, etc. and that’s sinful.”
- “you’re being gullible.”
- “go ask your husband!”
- “this seems like gossip. Maybe you should take this back to your pastor.”
All of these statements are aimed at ending the inquiry no matter how genuine it is.
Women will then find themselves in other venues (online forums, playdates for the kids, conversations with in-laws) where they observe other women with similar questions and similar experiences of dismissive responses. They continue to seek answers but find new groups who are willing to give them responses. These tend to be egalitarian, feminist, or (now) exvangelical groups.
These responses are not necessarily correct, and this isn’t what initially draws women in. Rather, what draws them in is a sense that they’ve finally been heard, understood, and taken seriously.
The new group doesn’t treat them the same way their old group did. People in the new group listen, understand, dialogue, offer solutions, grapple with tough issues, affirm her intuitions, treat her like a human being who is capable of reason. They feel loved by the new group and hated by the old group.
But now, any belief that remotely resembles the “old” group is seen as part of the problem. Now where her questions were only about inconsistencies with a Biblicist understanding of the pink passages, now essential doctrines are called into question. These may include (but aren’t necessarily limited to) election, penal substitutionary atonement, hell, Christlike headship, Bride-of-Christ submission, etc.
Hate, they know, is antithetical to God’s character (citing John 3:16), so they incrementally begin questioning historic doctrine as potentially inventions of misogynistic authoritarians (therefore, hateful) of the ages long gone, outdated.
These women still hold to essential doctrines at this point, (perhaps more loosely than before) but will return to their original circles to “test” the responses offered to them by these new groups. But now, from their original circles, they are met with defensiveness, skepticism, guarded, and untrusting responses.
All of this gives the questioning woman the sense that she’s the enemy. The “old group” inevitably accuses them of not understanding true doctrine. But recall that these women were not taken seriously with their genuine inquiries and so (effectively) weren’t taught true doctrine to begin with.
Evangelical women suddenly realize the Biblicists either:
- don’t know the answer to their questions
(which undermines Biblicist’s expertise on the matter),
- don’t trust women with the answer
(which undermines Biblicist’s relationship to women), or
- have an indefensible view
(which undermines the authority Biblicists claim to have on the matter).
In either situation, what is found by the questioning woman is a large gaping hole in the Biblicist’s theology who’ve demonstrated themselves to be someone she cannot trust. Add to this the sense she has now found that she’s the enemy, and it’s not hard to understand why these women leave for their new-found group (the egals, feminists, and exvangelicals).
Each time they question their old group about these ideas, they are now met with vitriol, reviling, tribalism, condescension, etc. Even if their old group has no practice of excommunication, these women are effectively ostracized and made to be an outsider. She questions too much! No love for their sister. No love for the stranger. No Gospel for you! She is anathema and a threat to the Biblicist’s culture. This is a culture war now, and you’re either with us or against us.
Too Little Too Late
Other orthodox believers will point out the Biblicists are wrong in this nuanced way or another. If their explanation is the slightest bit friendly to what these women now understand from their new group, then that non-Biblicist view of historic orthodoxy is taken to be either on the slippery slope to Biblicism OR on an eventual path to theological progressivism. Ie. Those non-Biblicist, orthodox believers are simply in a kind of theological limbo and will eventually fall into one of the two of this religious pendulum.
But ask these orthodox believers your questions about the pink passages, and still most of them will give you the response of, “well, don’t worry about it because it doesn’t mean what the Biblicists mean.” Even if it was unintended, this feels much like “square one” in a woman’s inquiry.
Questioning women are still left feeling unheard, not taken seriously, not trusted with God’s Word, etc. by those holding to orthodoxy. They then face a choice:
Accept the essential doctrines on the basis of inerrancy AND ignore the “pink passages” which now make zero sense at all (ironically calling inerrancy into question),
OR try to make sense of the “pink passages” with altered understandings of essential doctrine.
The false choice is this: no matter which route taken, you must effectively deny the doctrine of inerrancy. Either the pink passages are erroneous or essential doctrine is.
This happens in part also because those promoting non-Biblicist essential doctrines tend to treat the “pink passages” as land mines – don’t put too much pressure on them or they will explode and their will be casualties.
We hear this in sermons where phrases such as these are used:
“This is a notoriously difficult passage in Scripture to interpret.”
(preface your sermon with this every time you preach about women, and that tells women the perspicuity of scripture does not apply to God’s sayings about women.)
“This one is pretty controversial in today’s culture.”
(which is an implicit command against raising questions or else you’ll be viewed as controversial, divisive).
“You probably won’t like it, but you must accept it.”
(which is a command against conscience for many women).
What does God think about women?
Pattern of deconstruction: How church officers treat these women, these passages, and cultural implications speak loudly
One of my favorite new podcasts is Mid-America Reformed Seminary’s Round Table. In episode 149, Preaching as the Word of God, they address a question about whether faithful preaching is equivalent to hearing the voice of Christ himself. Dr. Beach answers persuasively (but very nuanced) that indeed faithful preaching is equivalent to hearing the voice of Christ. The operable word there is ‘faithful’.
Now imagine Christ being dismissive, patronizing, enfeebling, vitriolic, or reviling. Imagine Jesus saying to Mary, “don’t worry about it and get back in the kitchen with Martha.” Christ says, “my sheep hear my voice,” and we know that is audibly heard in the sermons on Sunday … so long as the Word is faithfully preached.
But if the Word is hedged as “notoriously difficult,” “pretty controversial,” “just accept it,” OR what is taught is actually false, then how exactly will we hear Christ’s voice? You’d have to appeal to some heretical view or other.
Upholding the qualifications of special office is not about “keeping women out,” it’s about keeping false teachers out. When you’re focused solely on keeping women out, you let false teachers in who aim at keeping women down. (This is NOT an argument favoring women’s ordination, or even downplaying the problems associated with it). The real qualifications of elders are then diluted, downplayed, ignored, because officers become distracted by women, and their questions, as though they are a threat to the church.
Patterns of Deconstruction:
The late Rachel Held Evans, who just might be the harbinger of the exvangelical movement, borrowed this definition of biblicism from an author named Christian Smith:
“By biblicism,” writes Smith, “I mean a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability” … Biblicism falls apart, according to Smith, because of what he calls, “the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism.”
This sounds like the Doctrine of Inerrancy, which I will touch on in a moment. However, the Reformed also oppose Biblicism, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was born out of a resistance to both theological liberalism and Christian fundamentalism (Biblicism). (And they don’t deny the inerrancy of Scripture.) So, how can this be?
Reformed theologian, R. Scott Clark introduces us to the distinction between sola scriptura and Biblicism:
“Luther was no biblicist. What he was asserting at [the Diet at] Worms was sola Scriptura (according to Scriptura alone) not biblicism. He was asserting the unique, final authority of Holy Scripture and the necessity of good and necessary consequences inferred from Scripture. He was asserting the perspicuity of Scripture, i.e., that Scripture is sufficiently clear that Christians, with the help of the Holy Spirit, are able to understand Scripture and to find what we need to know for the Christian faith and the Christian life.”
Clark rightly points out that the Reformed understanding of sola scriptura was all but lost in many respects during the “Anabaptist radicalism” that “transformed American evangelicalism in the 19th century.” Clark adds further, “biblicism or the attempt to understand Scripture by one’s self and by itself, i.e., in isolation from the history of the church and in isolation from the communion of the saints. In biblicism the interpreter, not Scripture, becomes sovereign.”
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was a Reformed response in particular to “trends toward liberal conceptions of Scripture and higher biblical criticism.” Higher biblical criticism would easily be grounded in the very problem Evans points to, “interpretative pluralism.” In other words, the very grievance against inerrancy stems from a problem created by abandoning the doctrine of inerrancy to begin with.
And, in fact, the theological liberal-progressivism within American Christianity today is fundamentally Anabaptist. “Neo-Anabaptists have been noted for their “low church, counter-cultural, prophetic-stance-against-empire ethos” as well as for their focus on pacifism, social justice, and poverty.”
The Statement further clarifies,
“inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts (which no longer exist, but can be inferred on the basis of extant copies), not to the copies or translations themselves. Further, inerrancy does not mean blind literalism, but allows for figurative, poetic and phenomenological language, as long as it is accurate. Nor does the Statement define the precise set of biblical books to be considered ‘Scripture’.”
This is not to say that Evans didn’t identify a very real problem, however. What she rightly uncovered, but wrongly identified, is actually a problem with theological liberalism. (This is one problem in associating socially liberal or conservative views with politically or theologically liberal or conservative views). For it was that culturally conservative, traditionalist American evangelicals had adopted Biblicism (as Scott distinguishes it) but erroneously invoked the doctrine of inerrancy as their defense, and why Evans and exvangelicals oppose it.
In other words, culturally conservative Evangelicals adopted the errors of liberal Evangelicals and applied them toward a culturally conservative end. Rationally speaking then, it can be said that culturally conservative Evangelicals effectively (and unwittingly) falsified (disproved) the grounding of liberal progressive ideology by applying it counter-factually.
With that said, however, very real and damaging effects arose as a consequence.
Your familiarity with this term will depend largely on your exposure to the ideology. On the surface, it’s defended as the biblical sexual ethic. Deep down, however, it’s rife with fear, authoritarianism, and spiritual abuse. Author Rachel Joy Welcher discusses these dynamics in her book Talking Back to Purity Culture. If you want to get a bird’s eye view of “purity culture” and the lasting impact it’s had, I recommend the book.
In brief, purity culture was a reactionary response in the 80s and 90s to fears of STDs (including HIV), teen pregnancy, abortion, and divorce. If you were exposed to books like, Everyman’s Battle, Wild at Heart, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Captivated, Romance and Purity, Let Me Be a Woman, Every Man’s Battle, or Lady in Waiting, (there are plenty others), you were exposed to purity culture.
The authors of these books essentially lifted the truth about God’s design for sex from the pages of Scripture, eisegeted2 it to fit a desired cultural paradigm, published numerous books through “parachurch” organizations, effectively laying back down into Scripture a distorted (and therefore erroneous) view of biblical sexual ethics.
This led to false promises such as, if you do everything right, you’re going to have a good marriage, good sex life, everyone will get married, have many (and obedient) children, a happy dog and white picket fence.
It’s the “prosperity gospel” for sex.
Instead, what many got were singleness, infertility, abuse, divorce, sexual shame, distortions of personal identity, and more. And since purity culture invoked the doctrine of inerrancy, the only way to reconcile these outcomes with Scripture was to reject God altogether, or reject the doctrine of inerrancy and try to understand God in a different way.
Pattern of deconstruction: Concluding thoughts
I recently came to realize this pattern among evangelical women in speaking to someone very close to me about her experience. While I was exposed to purity culture nonsense in college and in my marriage, I wasn’t steeped in it during my formative years as a child – she was! But in a conversation we had about theology, she told me that my “hanging on to” the doctrine of inerrancy was (in her mind) “the last bit of patriarchy” contaminating my thinking.
But I’ve also studied the doctrine of inerrancy and know that it is not what she thinks it is. I’ve also studied trauma and spiritual abuse and understand why she felt the need to let go of it. I later had my thoughts of this pattern confirmed when scrolling past a video clip of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson and his interview with Dr. Peter Kreeft. In the clip, he mentions his observation that many atheists are so because they are reacting to the realization “they were hurt by people who purported to be religious when they were young.”
As someone who has been hurt by purported Christians and many of these teachings, I can empathize with what women are going through as they deconstruct. I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to hear that every passage where God is addressing women, is known as “a notoriously difficult passage.” Either God has a problem with me, or man has a problem with me. God cannot have a problem with me, therefore, men – Christian men – must have a problem with me. This is a very logical assertion – even if it’s ultimately false.
That I haven’t “deconstructed” in the sense many of these women, and I’ve held on to the faith and essential doctrines, I can only attribute to the grace of God. But I do recognize this pattern of deconstruction. And by God’s grace, he’s placed certain Christian men and women in my life willing to answer my own inquiry about true doctrine and women. But I must adamantly plea – especially with church officers – to try and understand this pattern as a logical response to heresy. These people do not know the true Gospel even though they’ve been exposed to the language of it, such as with the doctrine of inerrancy.
“They know not what they do!” – They need to hear the true Gospel, and they need patience with their inquiries and untwisting of Scripture.
It’s also so fundamentally important to speaking out against Federal Vision and the CREC (Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches). They are also acting in a reactionary way to the culture, and eisegeting the Gospel to become works-based.
This person close to me said to me at one point, “why don’t [Protestants] have a doctrine of Purgatory, where we can reconcile with God [instead of being given over to hell].” If this sounds “works-based” it’s because it is. Purity culture and American evangelicalism have always been a works-based, and therefore false, Gospel. And the depravity staring us in the face today, is the outworking – at least in part – of that false Gospel.
- Please note, this may be similar for Evangelical men, I don’t know, but I’m certainly not claiming this is exclusive to Evangelical women. Also, I myself am a Confessionally-Reformed believer, holding to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and do not count myself as a “deconstructing evangelical.”
- introducing one’s own opinions into the original: opposed to exegesis.