Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Deconstructing Deconstruction (A Biblical Analysis of Rhett and Link’s Deconstruction Story)

Why I’m Writing about This

About a month ago Rhett and Link, two super-popular You Tubers who come from an evangelical background, shared the sad story of how they lost their faith. Their deconstruction story appears to be reaching hundreds of thousands of their followers. This includes many Christian families and Christian youth who had been enjoying the clean, goofy type of humorous content that they are known for.

Like all Christians, I am called to defend and confirm the gospel (Philippians 1:7). Those of us who are gifted to teach God’s truth have a special responsibility in this area. But why have I felt led to spend time addressing this specific issue? It’s not like I don’t have a lot else to do. Teachers of God’s Word are also called to equip and encourage other believers. And even when it comes to confirming and defending the gospel, there is a constant barrage of attacks on all parts of God’s truth from many sources. So why am I responding to Rhett and Link’s story in particular?

By God’s providence, Rhett and Link went public with their stories at the same time I was working on a sermon on defending and confirming the gospel as part of my sermon series on Philippians. Someone shared a link to their videos, and so I decided to view them when I probably wouldn’t have noticed them otherwise. When I viewed their videos I was struck by how much I have in common with them in two ways: (1) events in my life are eerily similar to events in theirs up to a point, and (2) some of the issues they focused on the most are the same issues which I have focused on and studied for many years. I’ll explain.

Ways in which my life story is similar to theirs:

+ We accepted Christ in elementary school.
+ We were active, serious evangelical Christians in high school.
+ We all majored in engineering at NCSU.
+ While at NCSU we were very active in campus ministries.
+ After graduating college, we worked as engineers for several years.
+ We left our engineering careers to pursue full time ministry.
After this point our stories diverge significantly.

In terms of issues that they spoke about and that I have studied in depth over a period of years, there are two big ones:
+ How science relates to faith
+ The issue of hell

While the details of Rhett and Link’s story are of course unique to them, the types of issues they shared as reasons for their deconstruction (including the role of science and the problem of hell) are issues that are very commonly mentioned by people who have left the evangelical faith for either progressive Christianity or agnosticism or atheism.

All of this prompted me to think, pray, speak, and write in response to their deconstruction story.

Two Levels of Influence

The forces and evidence and reasoning that influence our beliefs and worldview are complex. My discussion here is thus, necessarily, a simplification. Simplifications can still be accurate and helpful. I pray this one will be.

In their videos, Rhett and Link (especially Rhett) focused on intellectual types of reasons for losing their faith. I think these types of reasons are real and important. I take them at their word that these were important parts of their deconstruction experience. Based on both my experience and the teaching of the Bible, I believe that there are other types of influence as well. I don’t know Rhett and Link personally and I cannot say how much of a role these other, often unmentioned and perhaps hidden even to themselves, influences played in their particular case. But I feel certain that these deeper influences are affecting many people. In fact, we all struggle with them, even if by God’s grace they do not lead us down the road towards destruction that Rhett and Link appear to be on. In this blog post I want to discuss these deeper issues first and then return to the intellectual issues.

Deep Influence

Rhett and Link left their staff positions and ministry with Cru in order to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Like many in full time Christian ministry (including myself to this day), God provided for their needs but compared to their peers with similar levels of education their finances were modest. Since leaving their ministry jobs and joining the entertainment industry, Rhett and Link have made millions. Do I know if there is a connection between their apostasy and their financial success? No, I don’t. Do I know that seeking to get rich is a spiritually hazardous endeavor? Yes, I do. The Bible tells us so:

CSB 1 Timothy 6:9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.
 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

CSB Matthew 13:22 Now the one sown among the thorns-- this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Whether it’s thirty pieces of silver or millions of dollars, money can be a dark influence.

And what about popularity? Gaining sixteen million You Tube followers is a big reason (but not a good one!) to be quiet about your Christian faith (when they still had it) and to go along more and more with the anti-Christian worldview that is dominant in the entertainment industry they moved into. Again, I can’t know if this played a role in Rhett and Link’s story, but I know it is a danger that God’s Word warns about:

CSB17 John 12:43 For they loved human praise more than praise from God.

Whether it’s the false prophets of Canaan or the magic spell of Babylon (see this post, written before I ever heard of Rhett and Link, warning of the seductive influence of the entertainment industry), there is both an alluring pull and a constant pressure to go with the flow of whatever culture we find ourselves in.

None of this means I don’t take the type of intellectual issues mentioned by Rhett and Link seriously. I do take them seriously.

Science and Hell

Two of the issues mentioned by many who reject evangelical Christianity, including Rhett and Link, are science and hell. It turns out I have studied, written, and spoken on these two issues extensively. For that reason, they featured prominently in a two part You Tube video I made prior to this blog post where I responded to Rhett and Link’s deconstruction.

You may view part 1 here:

In part 1, I begin by examining the intellectual side of the process of Rhett and Link’s deconstruction. I then spend most of the video addressing the positive evidence I see in science for the existence of our great Creator. I discuss the evidence from physics and the evidence from biology. I also address a specific piece of scientific evidence that Rhett discusses as influencing him to believe in the man-to-molecules evolution story. I’m not a scientist, but as a former nuclear engineer, I am reasonably well equipped to evaluate scientific arguments.

You may view part 2 here:

In part 2 I begin by discussing the issue of hell. Many who have rejected Christianity over the last couple of centuries have mentioned the doctrine of eternal conscious torment as a major problem. It seems to them (and to me) that this is a terribly unjust and cruel punishment. I explain that those bothered by the doctrine of eternal torment should not reject Christianity because although eternal torment is the traditional belief of most Christians there is really strong evidence to believe that the Bible teaches something different: conditional immortality. After discussing hell, I share some of the positive evidence I see for believing in the resurrection of Christ. I then go on to briefly discuss a few other types of evidence that strengthen my faith: (1) miracles I have experienced, (2) biblical prophecy I see being fulfilled in history up to this day, and (3) manuscript evidence for the reliability of the Bible.

Partners in Defending and Confirming the Gospel

When it comes to guarding ourselves and other from deconstruction, remember the deep, more hidden influences as well as the surface issues. I’m convinced that a healthy spiritual life is even more important than understanding the various issues (science, manuscripts, etc.). The key to a healthy spiritual life is staying close to God through Christian fellowship (going to church IS important), being devoted to prayer, and meditating constantly on God’s Word.

All of us who have been saved by God’s grace are called to work together for “the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” I pray that this blog post and the videos I shared will help equip you to do this. I also would ask you to prayerfully consider sharing this post and/or the videos with others who are, or should be, concerned by Rhett and Link’s deconstruction and the similar experiences and struggles that others have had. Rhett and Link already have millions of people who follow their online content. I don’t. You can help.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

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