Some Thoughts by a Fellow Blogger with Mine Mixed in: On Apostasy and Genuine Faith

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Over the past month, two rather prominent Evangelical Christians have publicly announced that they are walking away from Christianity. First there is Josh Harris. Back in 1997, a 21-year-old Harris wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye and became an instant celebrity within Evangelicalism. The book advocated courtship over dating, stressed sexual purity and abstinence before marriage,…

via Josh Harris, Marty Sampson: Why Some Christians Walk Away (…and why others, like Ken Ham, insist they have all the answers) — resurrecting orthodoxy

This is a thoughtful piece on the recent public “deconversions” of Marty Sampson and Joshua Harris. Most people (probably) (me included) didn’t know either name until they recently. They have become more highly visible in loosing their faith than they ever were in keeping it (so it seems anyway).

Before getting into the meat of the piece I am reblogging, I note that both men stepped into prominence in the Christian world at very young ages. Like childhood actors, that seems to me to be a recipe for difficulty. They might have been mature 21-year olds (I don’t know), but 21-year olds don’t have the life experience and perspective of, say, a 60 year old. There is a difference.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so eager to thrust influence on people so young. Just a thought. Talent for writing or singing doesn’t necessarily mean spiritual maturity. That’s another thing: we do tend to idolize the naturally gifted. But these aren’t really the points of this piece.

Joel Anderson, the blogger whose piece is the subject of this article, observes some things about the Christian culture that I think are worth examining. He says,

“Now, if you were an unbeliever who became a Christian, the external signs are obviously going to be pretty obvious: your life is going to look considerably different.
But sometimes it’s tricky if you grew up going to church and grew up in a decidedly Christian subculture. You’re already living among all the trappings of what it looks like to be Christian: you already go to church, go to youth group, etc. What do you do if you’ve grown up with all that, but then you’re faced with the clear Gospel message that to follow Jesus, one must repent and ‘crucify the old man’? What does that look like if you’ve always grown up in a very Christian environment?”

I grew up Catholic. I didn’t know I had an “old man” inside of me. I did know I was a sinner, something was wrong, but I saw nothing of any relevance to me in the church with its staid ritual. When God drew me and awakened a new spiritual reality to me, it was largely through evangelical Christians.

When I came to identify with being born again, it was a real experience. It wasn’t a doctrine taught to me in Sunday school. To that extent, it’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to grew up in evangelical Christianity where being born again is “normal”.

But, I have noted that people who grow up with evangelical Christianity have similar experiences to what I experienced in the Catholic church. They get just enough of the “virus” to inoculate the from the real thing. Not that I see evangelical Christianity as a virus: the point is that mere familiarity with Christian “doctrines” without personalizing them and having a real faith experience can prevent the gospel from ever taking firm root.

Birth happens with pain, tension and angst. Perhaps, new birth must also occur in the same way. I don’t know. I wouldn’t make doctrine out of it, but there might be some truth to the idea. Joel continues:

“I remember growing up, both in church and at my Christian high school, there was just this unspoken assumption that said, ‘Well, we are obviously all Christians; we’ve already said the sinner’s prayer when we were 8 (or whenever), got baptized when we were 12 (or whenever), and now have all the answers right in this book (i.e. the Bible). So, are you doing all the right things and saying the right answers? You’d better—they’re clear, everything is clear. Don’t be a compromiser, here are the right answers you are supposed to give. It’s easy. Just stick to the script and everything will be okay.’ Nobody purposely pushed that, mind you. It was just the feeling that permeated everything.”

I often hear people blame the church for what Joel describes here, but I don’t think we should necessarily blame the church. The church is a place where we can encounter God with other believers, but the church can’t make a person a Christian. A person isn’t a Christian just because they go to church.

(Remember the car in a garage analogy? Just because you park yourself in a garage doesn’t make you a car.)

The reality of faith most be born in each person. Each person must be born again. We don’t inherit faith from our parents, grandparents, ancestors or culture. God has no grandchildren; God only has children.

That means the experience and the reality of faith must be personal… to each of us. We can’t ride anyone’s coat tails into the kingdom of God. We have to find our own way and encounter God for ourselves. Joel continuances:

Now, even though I grew up in a Christian home, went to church every Sunday and Wednesday night, and went to a Christian high school (and in a sense have been a Christian my whole life), it wasn’t until the summer after my junior year in high school that, after reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity that Christianity really started to challenge me and make sense. But that was also the same time that realized I no longer felt at home in the particular Evangelical trappings of my church and school. Sting’s song, ‘Consider Me Gone’ was my personal song for my senior year. When I came to Christ and made Christianity my own, a part of me died to, indeed repented of, the Evangelical Christian type culture in which I had grown up.”

What Joel says here may be hard to swallow for many evangelicals. Just like my leaving the Catholic church was difficult for my parents and my priest, no doubt. But I identify with him in what he says. Hear me out.

I embraced evangelicalism when I become born again. I found my home there, so I don’t say these things lightly. I still consider myself an evangelical, but I have learned that we have to be careful with the degree to which we identify with anything other than Jesus and the Gospel.

It’s axiomatic, and certainly true, that there is no perfect church. There is no perfect denomination. There are no perfect pastors, no perfect parents… no perfect people, period. This reality should give us pause to be humble.

It should also give us pause to be slow to try to control the journey for someone else. A lot can go wrong when we insinuate too much of ourselves and try too much to control outcomes for other people.

I am rambling a bit now, so forgive me, please. I see a lot of things wrong with evangelicalism today, though I still identify as an evangelical. But that’s true of every Christian stripe, every denomination and every church. To the extent that these labels are all human constructs and our corporate and individual attempts at maintaining “the body of Christ”, they are going to fall short.

Jesus said the tares will grow up with the wheat. God won’t destroy the tares now for fear of taking the wheat with them, but the tares will be separated from the wheat in the end. In the meantime, we should be mindful that God sees the difference. We might not accurately be able to identify the difference, but God knows.

The Father knows His children. The Father knows who is connected into His body through Christ. Many will say, “Lord, Lord!”, but the Father will say, “I never knew you.”

The “apostasy” of a couple of somewhat prominent men in Christian culture may (more not) create a crisis of faith in some. If a person is wrestling with a crisis of faith as a result, maybe that’s a good thing. If our faith is grounded only in the people we see as our spiritual guides, maybe we aren’t following Jesus as closely as we should.

Our faith must be genuine and rooted in Christ in a personal way to be real. While there is a corporate element to faith, we must be personally born again. The change (and there should be a noticeable change of some sort) should be real, personal and deep seated in the life of each individual who professes faith in Jesus. 

We don’t maintain that personal connection merely by going to church, identifying as a Christian, or through any other ritual or pronouncement. That connection is maintained between us, individually, and God.

Until we realize, as David did, that we can’t go anywhere that God isn’t present, that we can’t think a thought or say a word, that God doesn’t already know it, we may be tempted to think that God is only in our church, our labels, our rituals and our doctrines. These things can all be shaken. Even our understanding of the Word of God can be shaken.

When I went through a crisis of faith of sorts after leaving a “perfect” church with “perfect” leaders, I leaned heavily on Paul’s statement to the Romans: Let God be true, always, though every man be a liar. (My paraphrasing) When that “perfect” church crumbled, self-destructed and disintegrated, and some of the leaders walked away from the faith, I had to cling to God.

And, I’ve learned that clinging to God is the best place to be.

The Lord Waits to Be Gracious to You

Having sought the holistic promise of Buddhism for most of her adult life, Madelena found that God was waiting for her all of her life.


I have written a number of times on the subject of Buddhism as compared to Christianity. Buddhism attracted me as a young college student seeking truth. It lured me with the promise of harmony with the world and oneness with myself and reality. I was searching for meaning and purpose, and Buddhism promised a journey into a much larger universal reality.

Listening to the testimonies of ex-Buddhists is interesting to me. I could have gone down that road. I started tentatively down that road at one point in my life, testing the waters. When I found the Living Water, Jesus Christ, however, I didn’t need anything else to quench my thirst. I found what my soul was looking for.

As I listened to the testimony of a woman identified only as Madelena, I realized that part of the allure of Buddhism for her was just a mirage. She left the Eastern Orthodox Church she knew as a child to become a Buddhist, and she lived it for many years. The promise of losing oneself in some kind of cosmic oneness is the mirage she exposes in her testimony.

Madelena’s father was a priest in the Eastern Orthodox church. She described it as “intense”, but the religiosity turned her off. She knew what it was to fear God, but she didn’t know the love of God.

When her father separated from her mother, she and her mother were left without support from the church, feeling disconnected. A time of searching and experiences with depression and disconnection from family support led her to embrace Buddhism.

Continue reading “The Lord Waits to Be Gracious to You”

Sam Harris Podcast with Bart Ehrman – Part 1 – On Being Born Again

While the interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris was an exercise in the pastor preaching to the choir, some interesting insights into his journey are apparent from the discussion.


I recently listened to a podcast interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris on What is Christianity? Bart Ehrman is a New Testament scholar and professor at North Carolina who, famously, journeyed from self-described fundamentalist Christian to self-described agnostic as he graduated from Moody Bible Institute, to Wheaton College, to Princeton.  Sam Harris is one of the so-called “new atheists” who have been evangelistic in their atheism. Following are some comments and thoughts that I have about the interview.

The first thing that strikes me is Sam Harris’s statement about approaching a subject with which he is familiar as if he were not familiar with it and getting re-acquainted with the subject. This, of course, is a good, scholarly and open-minded way of approaching any subject. What strikes me, though, is that this exercise for Sam Harris isn’t really what he makes it out to be.

Sam Harris is an atheist, and Bart Ehrman is a former believer, self-described agnostic. In that sense, Harris is not approaching Christianity from an unfamiliar position. He has brought into his studio someone who thinks the same way he does. Ehrman came preaching to the choir. It would be far more interesting for Sam Harris to adopt the same approach with a scholarly believer.

That aside, as I listened to Bart Ehrman tell his story, a couple of things immediately jumped out at me. One is that he describes his “born again” experience as a kind of social induction into a group (like pledging for a fraternity or something) orchestrated by a charismatic youth leader. Then he comments that he was “supposed to have been changed”, but he “wasn’t sure from what”.

These statements are telling. First, Ehrman doesn’t describe an experience with God, but an experience with a group of people to which he was drawn, presumably, by the “charismatic” youth leader. He wanted to be part of the group. Anyone who has had a born again experience knows that this is not an apt description for the experience.

Continue reading “Sam Harris Podcast with Bart Ehrman – Part 1 – On Being Born Again”

Rabbit Holes from Age to New Age

Truth matters. I could ignore the truth of gravity, but I do that to my own peril. the same is true of spiritual matters.

From the Steven Bancarz YouTube channel

I have never been into New Age religion. I swerved close to it at one time. I was intrigued by Buddhism and tended toward Eastern religion at that time. New age philosophy was also intriguing to me in those days, though I didn’t have a label for it. But, my path took a turn away from New Age philosophy and Eastern religion a long time ago.

I have been a student of religion since I took a world religion class in college. For what it is worth, I have never thought that scientific truth and religious truth were incompatible, but I have never felt that one necessarily leads to (or excludes the other) the other. Further, it seems self-evident that all truth is harmonious, and any contradiction between the science and religion is likely due to an errant interpretation of one or the other, or both.

Science deals with the realm of the natural world, matter, energy and all the things that we can touch, feel, measure and quantify. Religion deals in the metaphysical, which is no less true. Beauty is no less “true” than gravity, but they cannot be approached in the same way.

We all put our faith in something; though materialists don’t want to believe that. A materialist is someone who believes simply and only in the material, natural world. The materialist puts his confidence in that premise and entrusts himself to it. That is a faith as sure as anyone who believes in a god.

Truth matters. I could ignore the truth of gravity, but I do that to my own peril. My disbelief in gravity at some point is likely to get me into trouble, and it might land me in the hospital. Spiritual truth matters as well, though it is much more difficult to grab hold of for obvious reasons. So I am attracted toward people who are able to reach some clarity in the realm of spiritual truth, like Steven Bancarz, a former expert in “spirit science”.

Steven Bacarz was the owner and editor of the Facebook page, Spirit Science and Metaphysics. He wrote for the largest New Age website on the Internet. Steven’s website was so successful that he had 150,000 to 200,000 views every day and “was making a killing off of ad revenue”, but he terminated the webpage and now advocates a different way. Continue reading “Rabbit Holes from Age to New Age”