Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Sometimes, We’ve Got to Put the Theological Gas Cans Down.

I make no apologies for being a theological bridge-burner and for the years I’ve spent both personally and publicly deconstructing my old faith structure.

As a post-evangelical who, like countless others, has been in a slow process of untangling many of the beliefs of my youth, my faith has been in a long season of necessary deconstruction. Those who have left evangelicalism or fundamentalism—especially those of us with deep church trauma– tend to have a special affinity for deconstruction, and rightly so. We were saturated with endless expressions of fear-based theology that permeated not just through our faith, but deep down into our very understandings of self. It left us terrified of God, fearful of the future, and loathing of ourselves.

In this way, how could we not spend long seasons deconstructing the beliefs that negatively impacted so much of our lives? How could we not speak up and articulate this when we finally had the words to do so, in order to help others trapped in the same system?

Deconstructing these elements of our old fear-based faith is certainly good and right if done properly, with the right heart, and with the right motivation. However, for those of us who are now on the outside of that structure, it is dangerous how easy it is to settle into a life of being a bridge burner and only a bridge burner.

Why?

Well, let’s be honest: burning something down is a whole lot easier than building something that’s bigger and better to either replace or overshadow it. Sure, it feels really good in the moment to pick up a gas can and those matches—and some people are completely satisfied to look out at the vast, empty horizon that once had a bridge spanning across it, but for others among us the satisfaction from that moment is fleeting…

There’s something I haven’t admitted publicly before, but do in my new book, Unafraid. And that admission is this:

While making my living as a writer and speaker was a beautiful accident I’ll forever be grateful for, I came to realize that I was growing progressively unhappy and more empty by the day. At first, I had no idea what it was– and in reality I’m sure it was several things all at once, but this part I know to be true:

Deconstructing my faith and a hyper focus on why fundamentalism was wrong, left me empty.

It makes sense that it would– I mean, the entire natural result of tearing something down is finding oneself in the empty space where it once stood.

But for me?

When I was finished, I had an acute realization: Even though burning things down is necessary from time to time, I’m just not one of those people who will ever be happy standing in the empty gap where my faith once stood.

Sure, I’m pretty good with a gas can. I’ll even admit it’s kind of fun. But empty space doesn’t make me happy…

Which means, I want to become more of a bridge builder than a bridge burner.

The root of my problem didn’t fully hit me until I was watching some old programs on WWII. After a season of war, destruction, and tearing things down, the West realized that for the world to be able to move forward and put that season of war behind them, it would be time for everyone to chip in and help to rebuild areas that had been destroyed by violence.

This path forward after World War II came to be known as the Marshall Plan, and it paved the way to begin a process of rebuilding throughout Europe. While it was impossible to reproduce everything that had been destroyed, and, in many cases, rebuilding perhaps would not have been a good idea, the United States knew that it was in the best interest of everyone to move forward from a season of destruction into a season of new creation.

Where the United States had just participated in bridge burning, it had come time to put the gas cans down and become the bridge builders, and so they did.

The Bible tells us that there is a time and a season for everything under heaven (Ecc. 3:1), and I suppose that means there’s even a time and place for burning some bridges—deconstructing or destroying things that have outlived their purpose, no longer function properly, or should never have been built in the first place. But like the United States did after World War II, I woke up one morning and realized that I needed to put the gas cans down, and that it was time to build something—something far more beautiful and life-giving than the old structure that once filled that gap.

My prayer for those who have either journeyed with me, or who share a similar journey as mine, but now find themselves dissatisfied at the end of their theological deconstruction, is that you’ll remember this:

Some of us won’t feel fully satisfied or alive until we sit down and realize that we’ve burned down enough, and that what our faith needs most is a Marshall Plan.


unafraid 300On one of the darkest days of my journey I wrote down all the things I didn’t believe anymore– I wrote out the net-result of my bridge burning days.

But then I took it one step further; I decided to help myself get unstuck and asked the most important question: “How do I let this point me to what I actually do believe?

And the answer to that question? Well, that became my book, Unafraid that releases next Tuesday! You can join me on this journey, and preorder your copy right here.


Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

It's not the end of the world, but it's pretty #@&% close. Trump's America & Franklin Graham's Christianity must be resisted.

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13 Responses

  1. To fudge the metaphor a bit, you still want to keep that gas can handy, because what you don’t want is to discover down the road that the bridge you are building now is in fact sitting on bad foundations that you should have torn up in your tear-things-up phase. What you don’t want is to leave things unexamined only because you’ve already found so many problems with the things you’ve examined.

  2. Thanks, BLC, for another interesting and very timely read. How often I am mulling over an issue and then you show up and give me some order and a framework. Keep the faith! There will always be some push-back from the pharisees, but there are many of us who appreciate reading you on your journey. Shalom.

  3. I have been introducing college young people, many who were raised in conservative/evangelicalism of different stripes and have left or been kicked out , to the works of people like Richard Rohr, Pete Enns , and others. It really seems to be building bridges in their lives.

  4. “…it was time to build something—something far more beautiful and life-giving than the old structure that once filled that gap.”

    Can we? Will those invested in maintaining what they claim, has always been, allow that? The problem with reforming Christianity, is that many simply don’t see a need to do so. They don’t see it as broken. While most evangelicals would agree that there is always a need to be more Christlike, to be more gracious, they would disagree that it’s any deeper than outward expressions of that. While progressives may opine that conservative Christianity has become too entangled with the power structures of Rome, conservatives merely see a bunch of naysayers that have capitulated to a post-christian society. And, of course, evangelical leadership has a vested (conflict of interest) in maintaining the status quo of the current evangelical structures.

    The problem with that is, they are propping up a crumbling edifice. What happened to mainline denominations over a century ago in Europe then in America, is now happening to evangelical denominations in America. Progressivism is not the Liberalism of the early 20th century. We have learned to do better, and represent the Gospel more consistently with the teachings of Christ. Evangelicals can learn from their mistakes and do better as well. But it will take an honest assessment of church history, the creeds, and a willingness to man-up to the failings of the church.

  5. You wrote, “We were saturated with endless expressions of fear-based theology that permeated not just through our faith, but deep down into our very understandings of self. It left us terrified of God, fearful of the future, and loathing of ourselves.”

    How tragic! How did this come from religion that was supposed to be Good News?!

  6. As a post-evangelical who, like countless others, has been in a slow process of untangling many of the beliefs of my youth, my faith has been in a long season of necessary deconstruction. Those who have left evangelicalism or fundamentalism—especially those of us with deep church trauma– tend to have a special affinity for deconstruction, and rightly so. We were saturated with endless expressions of fear-based theology that permeated not just through our faith, but deep down into our very understandings of self. It left us terrified of God, fearful of the future, and loathing of ourselves.

    Reading this is so odd. I’ve been what people might define as ‘evangelical’ my whole life and my experience has been so totally different than what you describe that it almost seem like you existed on another planet. My evangelical community is full of joy. We sing together. We accept and love the poor and downtrodden of our community. We encourage broken and hurting people to reach out for the love of Christ while supporting them along the way. We don’t walk around in fear, we walk in assurance.

    It seems to me that what you describe as “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” isn’t really either of those things. What you’re really talking about is your specific experience, but instead of burning the bridges that existed in that experience, you’ve decided to burn the bridges with all of evangelicalism.

  7. I appreciate your thoughts, as I don’t read many blogs. It is comforting to my soul as I see God moving in His church to restore and rebuild what has been lost in the lives of so many wounded people. Might even buy your book. 🙂

  8. The book comes out two days before my birthday, so that’ll be a nice present.

    I empathize with this post. I’m coming out of a long period of deconstruction, myself. And you’re right – it’s not fulfilling to define yourself around what you don’t believe or what you object to or what you think is stupid. It’s certainly not fulfilling to engage life that way, as if my primary contribution to the world is critiquing everything around me.

    I have more mixed feelings on the reaching out element. On the one hand, relationships are more important than my theological views at any given time. On the other hand, as others have pointed out, sometimes these differences cross over into very tangible real-world effects that have to be opposed. Maybe Paul captures this by pointing out that we don’t struggle against individual people, but the powers that be – forces that are bigger than the single person we may be talking to. But navigating that difference is very tricky. It is very difficult to stay relational with an individual who is contributing to the very forces that oppress the world. Although, I don’t know. Maybe we’re all complicit in that to some extent or another.

    Where I’ve come to is, if I want a positive theology and positive contribution to the world, I need to focus on how I can make the world as I have the power to do so look a little more like God wants it to look – where justice, love, mercy, and restoration are the key dynamics. The people who are drawn to this project will be contributing to it. The people who aren’t, won’t, and I don’t know that I’m ever going to talk them into it. I think the best thing I can do is help bring this project to fruition the best way I can and hope its positive effects draw people to it.

    This is, actually, a vision I have for the local church. How about instead of focusing on growing our numbers, we focus on the project we’re building? If people are into it, they’ll come – and they may come from all sorts of spiritual (and non) backgrounds, and if they aren’t, they won’t, even if they’re Christians.

    This is one of the ways I admire Judaism’s dynamic. “We’re going to be over here doing our Jewish thing. If you want to get in on this, we’ll get you in on this. If not, then don’t. If you think we’re idiots, we don’t care. We’re still going to be doing our thing.”

  9. I want to be a bridge builder. I desire to be a peacemaker. It just seems Christ-like.

    That said, like others who have already commented, I ask if such is possible with those
    who see some of us as wolves in sheeps clothing, who think some of us are not even true believers, who
    consider most of our theological positions abhorrent, etc.

    I suppose we must try. Be diplomatic. Be patient. Exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirt. Listen.
    Love.

  10. Thank you Dr. Corey. In addition to your blog, I also appreciate RedLetterChristians and Sojourners, as they model some of the bridge-building you describe. While RLC and Sojo articles illustrate the bridge-building, their comment sections illustrate the polar opposite, like a spawn of Fox “News” and a Trump Rally. This stark contrast, easily accessible for anyone with wifi access, is a firm reminder that you can’t build bridges with those whose entire theological foundation stands in opposition to the concept of bridge-building.

    Jesus was unable to build bridges with the Sanhedrin, Caesar, or Herod. Likewise, I doubt that Jesus-followers will succeed today at building bridges with White Evangelicals following the Herod/Sanhedrin/Caesar hybrid of Trump.

  11. What about 2 Corinthians 6:17: Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from
    them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will
    welcome you. or Rev. 18: 3-5: All the nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her immorality.
    The kings of the earth were immoral with her, and the merchants of the
    earth have grown wealthy through the extravagance of her luxury.” 4Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins or contract any of her plagues. 5For her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.

    I think the Evangelical right is Antichrist and Trump’s America is Babylon. On what basis do you build a bridge, when we don’t follow the same Jesus, worship the same God? You can tell who they are worshipping by their fruit, and since their fruit bears no relationship to the teaching of Jesus, it’s from a tree which will be chopped down and thrown in the fire. By attempting to build bridges with people who have turned their back on God, you are only casting pearls before swine. I think we should shake the dust off our sandals and move on–it doesn’t matter if someone rises from the dead and preaches the gospel–they are so lost in their Pharisaical sins, they won’t hear.

  12. Best wishes on the release of your book.
    May it bring you great joy to see others enjoy what you wrote.
    May it make the New York Times bestseller list.
    Legally.

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