Two prominent men in protestant Christian circles have recently announced they no longer believe in God. Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and Marty Sampson (former Hillsong songwriter) have both publicly announced that they have left the faith. What is surprising to many is how positive these men seem about it. For many of us, walking away from our faith or the church would be a somber moment. For both of these men, we might think that it would be even more somber because of how entrenched their lives have seemed in the church. This is a shift in their entire lives and livelihood. Although the same should be true of all those who profess to follow Christ.
This post is more about my reactions and I have two of them. They are different in nature, but they are both reactions to this new “trend” happening within Christianity. I’ll talk about the first reaction in this post and maybe next in a followup post.
“We are not worshiping God on the throne but have come to the point of worshiping the shadow of the throne.” – A.W. Tozer
For years I have been telling people that it’s vitally important to know what you believe and why you believe it.
Dave Ramsey tells the story of a salesman who was given a ham. He took it home to his wife who cut the end off before putting it in the pan to cook. The salesman asked his wife, “why did you cut off the end of the ham before you started cooking it?”
His wife responded that’s the way her mom did it. The salesman didn’t see the sense in cutting off a perfectly good section of ham so he insisted that his wife call her mom to find out why they needed to cut off the end of the ham. Her mother gave the same reason, “That’s the way your grandma always did it.”
The salesman wasn’t satisfied with that answer so they called grandma and asked her. The grandmother replied, “I don’t know why you’re doing it, but I always did it because my pans were too small.”
We go through life every day doing things we believe we should be doing without ever knowing why or if it’s even right. Sometimes that’s good. We don’t really have time in our lives to overthink and over analyze every little thing we do. Most things are of little significance and can be overlooked.
However, this isn’t true when it comes to our faith. We go to church, learn some of the basics, pick up ideas from popular Christian culture, and never question a thing. We get upset at those who do question these things, who strive for more than mere opinions.
We need to be asking these questions ourselves and growing in our faith. The author of Hebrews addresses this very point in Hebrews 5:11-14
There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen.You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. (NLT)
We should be progressing. We should be getting deeper. We should be moving from milk, to solid food. The truth is we’re usually content to stay in our spiritual infancy. Growth takes time, energy, and effort on my part. It’s fine if the pastor or someone else is there to guide us. We’ll follow that sometimes, but we seldom take the time to do any of the growth on our own.
Our churches are often full of people who have little or no depth when it comes to the Bible or theology. Those churches who are full of spiritual infants look to someone like them to lead them. They look to the Joshua Harris’ to give them quick answer books that feed their misunderstandings about the Bible, God, and His relationship with humanity. They look to things that sometimes even pervert the Gospel of Christ. We’re okay with these things because they’re put in front of us by the infant leaders we’ve elected through our popular opinions.
It’s not a surprise then, that our leaders are falling away. They’re no different or more knowledgeable than anyone else. They have no depth. They have mere opinions about the Bible and about God. As long as their opinions line up with ours, we’ll be content with our milk.
So what is the response? There are two things that we need here. The first is to “press on.” In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul gives us an example of this.
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Paul tells us that he is not perfect. The Philippians were probably more aware of Paul’s imperfections than we will ever be. He had flaws and made mistakes, but he didn’t use those as an excuse to stay stagnant. He “pressed” on. This implies that growth in our faith takes individual effort on our part. This can start out by reading the Bible more, praying more, or practicing new spiritual disciplines. We should seek out the wisdom of those who have done the deep work and study of the Scriptures.
Learning from these people doesn’t mean that we just take what they say and move on. We study and question along with it. It means that we analyze and allow this learning process to transform us into being a little bit more like Jesus.
When we’re doing these things in our lives, it will change the type of leaders we look to and look for. The milk won’t fill us up like it once did. We’ll need those who are offering us solid food. Those leaders who will admit their weaknesses. They’ll admit they haven’t reached perfection, but in that process, they won’t abandon the faith entirely. They won’t cause the uproar and destruction that is being caused in some communities even now.
The other part of this response is action. Our faith must be seen, not only heard. There are plenty of people who will talk about this without understanding what it means. The book of James talks about our faith being visible in action. In fact, that’s a primary theme in the book of James.
This idea has been misused and abused by leaders who hadn’t moved beyond their milk. A shallow, surface-level reading of James can lead you into believing that you have to act more holy than the rest of the world to be a real Christian. That’s where we got a lot of “Holy Roller” and “Holier than thou” movements.
The truth is, that when the Bible talks about our actions, it’s often referring to how we treat the poor, the outcast, and the foreigner. It’s also often referring to how we act in times of hardship. Do we lean on our own abilities or God’s when things get tough? Do we have a poor attitude or worry excessively? These things typically cause us to act in ways that are contrary to the nature of Christ.
James isn’t talking about what style of clothes you wear or what genre of music you like. He isn’t warning against drinking alcohol or even smoking. Those types of conversations were the ones the Pharisees were having. Those are the conversations that were contrary to what Christ was doing in the lives of people.
Our faith should produce actions and attitudes of compassion for all people. They should compel us to offer actionable grace to those who need it. And our leaders should be doing and reflecting those same things.
I am not trying to bash these two leaders who have fallen away. I’m trying to point out that this problem is more a symptom of where we are as a church. We have traded shallow palatable faith. Not for the “hard truth of sin”, but for the effort of pressing on in Christ. There is no animosity for these two men. I believe they are both in dark places in their faith journey. However, I don’t believe that God is done with them and I don’t believe they are beyond hope.
Hopefully, my next post will show that a little more than this one has. I fully believe that they are no different than the prodigal son. To resent their return into the family of Christ would make us the older brother in the story. I’ve been that character before, and it isn’t a good place to be. I believe that our faith would call us to show them grace and compassion as we pray for them.