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.

Where Is God in the Messiness of the Church?

I have never participated in a perfect church and have never met a perfect person, yet I believe in a God who is perfect and who is perfecting us, His people.


Toward understanding and healing the wounds of the church, I write this blog piece. The context is the very public struggles of two mega-churches in the Chicago are where I live. Last year, Bill Hybels resigned as the head of Willow Creek Church, after allegations of misconduct came to light. Just today I read about James MacDonald deciding to step down from leadership of the Harvest Bible Church in the wake of a lawsuit and allegations of poor leadership.

The two situations are different, though they both involve allegations against longtime leaders of two of the largest and most prominent churches in the Chicago area. Bill Hybels is accused of inappropriate relationships with women in the church. MacDonald is accused of mismanagement of money, heavy-handed leadership and related allegations. Both situations expose the nature of the human side of the church and the prevalence of sin in the church, even at the leadership level. (The Catholic Church is not alone in this respect.)

In the 1980’s, I became involved in a church that I thought, at the time, was the “perfect” church. It was a vibrant engaging church community. Worship was spirit-led and dynamic. The leadership was charismatic and inspiring. The church community was tight-knit and familial. This church had planted many other churches that were also thriving and growing. I spent 6 years there and knew the church intimately.

It wasn’t as perfect as I first thought, of course. People are people, even people who go to church. Within a year of my leaving to pursue what I believed God was directing me to do next, the church was splintering, disintegrating and falling apart. My pastor, the man who married my wife and I, divorced his wife within a few years of our leaving. Neither he nor his wife are involved in a church today (as far as I know).

We were devastated. This was over 25 years ago, and it still puzzles me. The coming apart at the seams of this church that I viewed as a model of what churches should be impacted me more than I would care to admit.

I realize now that I had invested more of my spiritual capital in the church and its leaders than I should have.

A friend of mine, a fellow church-goer, has been struggling with issues in his church – the leadership in particular. I have listened to him, recognizing the disappointment and disillusionment in his voice. Though I don’t know the details of the issues he has had with the leadership, I do know that he feels cut adrift; he is hurt; his faith is shaken. He has stopped going to church. He isn’t sure he can trust Christians anymore, and he is struggling to make sense of his experience. I can relate.

We left the last church we attended because of leadership, trust and personality differences that affected the people to whom we were closest in that church. Our friends were financially and personally hurt by leadership in the church. We felt we needed to stand with our friends and support them as they drifted away from the church, unable to remain in a church led by people who could not be trusted with their spiritual well being.

These are just the experiences I have had, but I don’t think I am alone in having difficult and painful experiences in churches and with the leadership of churches. Church is a messy business.

Many people turn away from the church and even from Christianity because of similar experiences. How many times have you heard someone say they don’t go to church because Christians are hypocrites? And the fact is that Christians are hypocrites!

But that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

Continue reading “Where Is God in the Messiness of the Church?”

Sam Harris Podcast Interview with Bart Ehrman – Part 3 – Withering Sun

Some seed falls on hard rocky ground. It grows up fast, but its roots are shallow. When the heat of the sun comes, the plant shrivels and dies.


In previous installments, I have written two blog articles on my observations regarding an interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris on What is Christianity. Bart Ehrman is an agnostic, New Testament scholar at Princeton, and Sam Harris is one of the so-called “new atheists”. In the first article, I relate portions of Ehrman’s story about his “loss of faith”, and I question whether he really had anything but a very shallow idea of faith to begin with. In the second installment, I talk about a certain wooden fundamentalism that continues to be apparent in how Ehrman sees the Bible. It’s a kind of all or nothing approach. Previously, he accepted all of it; now he accepts none of it.

Before moving on to other observations, I want to stop and raise a couple of points related to the portion of the interview already covered. First of all, I want to go back to the comment made by Ehrman about the charismatic youth leader who influenced him in a local Campus Crusade for Christ chapter. Erhman describes the “sinner’s prayer” he recited as an induction. The same youth leader urged him to go to Moody Bible Institute if he wanted to be a “serious Christian”.

Erhman was obviously influenced by this charismatic youth leader. Many of us are similarly influenced by charismatic people that we meet along the way. Some of us are influenced to do things that we might not otherwise do and which have no lasting import to us when we leave the circle of that influence.

Continue reading “Sam Harris Podcast Interview with Bart Ehrman – Part 3 – Withering Sun”

Catholics, Pentecostals and the Body of Christ

God’s sheep hear His voice. God knows His own. They sit in the whole spectrum of churches on any given Sunday morning or Saturday night, and some of them do not visit churches very often at all.

A Sheperd by Lauri Heikkinen
A Sheperd by Lauri Heikkinen

The article, A Classic Pentecostal Encounters Charismatic Catholics, takes me back to the early days of my Christian walk. I was raised Catholic, but I found little attraction to church as a child. We went to church religiously, a practice I later came to appreciate about my parents, but there seemed to be nothing in it for me. I even felt uncomfortable in church.

I went through some very rebellious teen years, wandering lost through the haze and fog induced by alcohol and drugs, drifting to the edge of the precipice, before I woke to the emptiness that I had inexplicably been embracing. That was not my conversion, but just the beginning of walking in a new direction.

Fast forward just a short while to college  where I entered like a kid in a candy store with a new found passion for knowledge and truth. I thought I had left religion behind. Actually I did (and have never returned). What I did not realize is that I would discover the life that religion (for me) enshrouded like an empty tomb. Continue reading “Catholics, Pentecostals and the Body of Christ”

Revisiting King Henry VIII

Henry VIII King of England
Depositphotos Image ID: 5598102 Copyright: georgios

I recently saw Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The play, Shakespeare’s last one performed at the Globe Theater approximately 400 years ago, was very well done. The story line is not as compelling as most of Shakespeare’s works, but the interrelationship of church and state theme struck a chord with me, albeit a discordant one.

King Henry the VIII was born into aristocracy. Young Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle at age two, Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at age three, inducted into the Order of the Bath soon after, and a day later he was made the Duke of York. A month or so after that, he was made the Warden of the Scottish Marches. He had the best education available from the best tutors, was fluent in Latin and French and was familiar with Italian.

For all of his privilege, he was not expected to become king. His brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales, was the first born and heir to the throne, but Arthur died only 20 months after marrying Catherine of Aragon (daughter of the King and Queen of Spain). Henry VIII was only 10. (Wikipedia)

Henry became the Duke of Cornwall and assumed other figurehead duties. His father, the King Henry VII, made sure young Henry was strictly supervised, did not appear in public and was insulated from real authority. Henry VII quickly made a treaty with the King of Spain that included the marriage of his daughter, Catherine, to young Henry – yes the widow of recently deceased brother Arthur. (Wikipedia)

From this point begins a history of manipulation, abuse of power, shameless excess and rationalizations twisting biblical and religious notions to serve the king’s self-interest. This is a story that parallels the “marriage” of State and Church. The two are intertwined in an adulterous affair of blasphemous indiscretions.

Continue reading “Revisiting King Henry VIII”