By now most of us have heard the news about Joshua Harris apostatizing from the faith. I never knew about him (though I’ve heard of his book) and his background. The more and more the news came in, the more it became apparent to me why this was a big story. Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was a huge success for him, and shot him up in popularity, becoming something of a celebrity minister in evangelicalism. Naturally, then, news about his departure from the faith comes at a great and heavy shock, especially to those who looked to him as a great example of a biblical man.
Not long after this, we hear of more news of apostasy, this time from a Hillsong worship leader and artist, Marty Sampson, who posted an Instagram article on why he was leaving the faith. Once again, I had never heard of this person before, and once again, it seems like in certain circles, he was a well-known and respected minister. Either way, this is two prominent figures in their respective evangelical worlds that have rejected the faith.
There is little doubt that this will, much like the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, cause many people to question things, and begin to wonder how and where things had gone wrong. I want to encourage my brothers and sisters in the faith, especially in reformed circles, to be mindful of the confusion and perhaps even betrayal many evangelicals feel about this. It can never be a kind feeling to discover that someone you once held at such high esteem (regardless of what other people may have thought of them) had betrayed the faith. We should pray for these people, that God would comfort them, and that perhaps these men would realize that they had never truly known Christ, and would hence truly repent and desire to know the true faith that saves.
At the same time, we have to talk about why, what Dr. James White has called, “a tsunami of apostasy”, seems to be happening right now. Granted, it seems that way primarily because we have two individuals who happen to have a significant spotlight that, when it goes out, drastically affects the lighting everywhere else. Nevertheless, more and more will come as our culture continues to deteriorate into God-hating rebellion, and if we do want to comfort those who followed these men all through the years, and help them through this confusing time, we need to discuss why (at least in a human perspective) this kind of thing happens, so that we can better ensure it happens on a far less frequent basis.
These Things Are Talked About, Sampson
I think the best way to diagnose what the problem is is found in Sampson’s Instagram article. There he states numerous “reasons” for why he is leaving the Christian faith. We cannot assume that these are recent developments. I suspect these have been things creeping in the back of his mind for many years, and he tried to push it down until he couldn’t take it anymore. His reasons include the claim that preachers “fall” and no one talks about it, miracles don’t typically happen, and no one talks about that. Finally, that there are “contradictions” in the Bible that no one wants to talk about.
It seems clear to me that these are things he could not find any solution to, and it was enough to destroy his faith. Sadly, if his faith could be destroyed by things like this, it demonstrates his faith was self-produced and self-sustained; not the biblical idea of faith, which is another theological problem that I address here.
Looking at the things Sampson said, and in particular, when he made the claims that the problems he mentioned in the church go with no one talking about them, those were some pretty strong statements. They were blanket, absolute statements; he didn’t say that people don’t often talk about them, but that no one actually does. That is simply untrue, of course, and the fact that he would say that demonstrates that Sampson was in certain circles and probably echo chambers where quite simply, no one did talk about them.
But if he had shared some of his concerns, instead of simply turning away, I can guarantee that someone somewhere, who takes their faith seriously, who knows that this is more than good vibes and being nice to people, has the answer to the alleged contradiction. I know for a fact that fallen pastors is something that is talked about, not swept under the rug. It’s just talked about in circles that will actually hold Christian ministers accountable.
It’s not discussed in the circles that Sampson was hanging around in, where the movement gets so big, that it has to engage in politics on some level to maintain its image and hence its income. This means that morally troubled pastors are not helpful for that, so they are swept under the rug, and most certainly, sound theology that is willing to divide over truth is not helpful to that kind of ministry’s growth.
Finally on this point, the same circles that will talk about fallen pastors will also be the ones willing to answer your difficulties with Scripture. The solution then is to get away from the Hillsong, good-vibes Christianity, and start taking your faith seriously. This is not a roller coaster ride. The God of the Bible is a righteous God, who demands justice–perfect justice, and you are a sinner. That is not something to glibly declare a thing Jesus magically sets aside for everyone, and is not a problem anymore.
The Origin of Good Vibes Christianity
The reality of the matter is that mainstream evangelicalism has forsaken sound, doctrinal teaching for emotional, romantic feelings about Jesus. At work, I was working on a gentleman’s car the other day, and his radio was playing a Christian music station. I don’t listen to Christian mainstream music, so I had no idea who this was, but I could tell so quickly from listening to the brief clips, and considering this sounded like the thousands of other Christian hit songs that comes out each year, all of which sound the same, that this was what I sometimes call “good-vibes Christianity”. It had the feel-good vibe, talked about having struggles but still having faith, and that they always trust and love Jesus. Your standard, dare I say lukewarm Christian who only goes to church on Sundays listens to that and gets their high from it. These are shallow songs that do not truly capture the power of God in Christ.
But songs like these honestly are not the cause of shallow evangelicalism. They are the symptom of it, feeding itself the same lukewarm poison that does not create a disciple of Christ. It just gives someone enough positive vibes wrapped in Christian buzz words to live lives of self-determination, self-interest and self-promotion until they meet their Judge in the afterlife, and may we pray God has abundant mercy, and that they learn truly in that moment what the words “mercy and grace” actually mean that they heard vaguely said in all those songs.
Of course, there are times when such desensitization is not able to keep a person fully inoculated with the good-vibes Christianity that Hillsong sells. Sampson is one such case. The result was that he could not find answers to the genuine questions he had in his mind. No amount of the emotional stimulation was able to sustain this lurking white noise in the back of his mind. He was aware of the alleged contradictions in the Bible (none of which he names in his Instagram post), but apparently, he could not find answers to these.
Which reminds me, Sampson also said in his post that he couldn’t understand how a God who is all loving would send 4-billion people to hell because they did not believe. Again, this is not a problem if Sampson knew what the Christian faith he sung about for so many years actually was. But he was not given any of this. He was pranced around on the stage because he happened to be a good musical artist, and had a way with crowds. That honestly is probably the only reason, and the “ministers” who put him out there like this evidently had no regard to his doctrinal security and personal conviction of the faith.
Joshua Harris was evidently a similar case. Here was a man thrust into a spotlight before he was really ready for it. What happens is he instantly becomes someone that people look to for guidance and help, while he is actually hiding secret, deep problems and cracks in the foundation. How can he come out and honestly express this problem when so many people rely on him? So he continues to take on the pressure of pastoral ministry when he’s not ready for it. Something eventually has to give.
The real problem here is we are dealing with an evangelical culture that does not have the doctrinal soundness, and the mental and spiritual conviction of what those doctrines stand for. As a result, men who once appeared to be great, wonderful, had the outward appearance of being men of God, eventually cave to the growing pressure of the culture around them. The flashes are there, but the conviction within is nowhere present.
If Sampson perhaps was taught right theology, rooted and grounded in solid, biblical faith, this may never have happened. That’s what the real problem here is. If Joshua Harris was given the sober truth about what it takes to be a pastor, to be an elder in a church, maybe he would have saved a lot of people the heartbreak later down the road and said then and there, “This ain’t my thing”. But It appears that there are Christian ministers and leaders out there who perhaps themselves are deceived as they deceive, who are pushing out these people when they don’t have the conviction to be in those positions.
The Importance of Sound Doctrine
We cannot look at what has happened to both of these men and continue to accept the idea that they simply apostatized, and there was no inherent reason for it. Though God always has His decree, that does not take away the fact that there are always internal reasons for why things happen. If we ignore what caused this, we will continue to see more and more people like them drop like flies. Again, I don’t want to discount the fact that God always keeps His elect, but we don’t know who they are, and hence must always be vigilant, must always be doing what God has commanded us to do, and be faithful to it.
If we do not want our children and our youth to be the next Joshua Harris, or Marty Sampson, we must learn from these fallen men, seeing that giving our youth good-vibe Christianity will not save their faith. It will not persevere in college, or in the adult world. We must be teaching our kids what the Christian faith is, and stop treating them like they are children who cannot understand theological truths. They can. I have had kids ask me about eternal security before, and I’ve heard them talk about the mystery of the Trinity. They are smart, so stop treating them like they are not. That kind of attitude towards them is why we lose them.
Look again at Sampson’s Instagram post. Show that to your kid and see if they can see the problems with it. If they can’t, your kid is in danger of apostasy just like him. Teach your children who God is, and that means teaching them sound theology. I’m not asking people to become covenant-theology, raving Calvinist reformers. I’m simply pleading that we desire to raise children to think and ponder upon Scripture.
Paul in Romans 12 calls us to be renewing our minds. Not renewing our feelings, renewing our minds. That involves intellectual exercises, and exegetial exposure to the word of God. Not eisegetical, narcegetical silliness that turns the Bible into something about us. It’s all about God. Knowing God is always first and foremost, and knowing God requires a life of devotion to prayer, worship, service and studying of His word. That sometimes means that college careers are to be sacrificed. But if you must choose between God’s word and a good career, the choice is obvious. God will always supply you with what you need. Simply throw away this life and come after Christ!
In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author rebukes and warns his audience against apostasy, and how does he do it? By telling them to listen to more emotional Christian music? No! By lecturing them on being dull of hearing, of needing milk rather than meat. In other words, not being able to discern deep theological truths that ground them in the faith to protect them against heresies and vain philosophies.
Churchianity will not save your children, nor will it save evangelicalism. Yet also still, neither will doctrine alone. The Spirit of God saves, and keeps His people. But part of that saving is renewing saved sinners in the things of the Spirit. There must be a balance between our heart-felt experience and our theological knowledge that helps us discern our feelings and our experiences. Make no mistake, a theological soundness with no functioning doxology is as worthless as good-vibes Christianity. But the existentialism, so to speak, cannot truly have any meaning unless proper theology is applied.
I can personally testify that growing in my theology deepens my conviction of the faith, emboldens me further in it amidst the pressure of the culture, and false religions around me, and more importantly, brings me into deeper worship of God. The more I know Him, the more holy He is, and hence the more I know myself and how much of a sinner I am, and hence, how much more I need Christ. That is how we sustain a healthy Christianity.
Questions Asked, Christianity Has Answers
Closing this article, I want to return once more to Sampson’s Instagram post for a brief moment. As has been stated before, it seems very clear to me that Sampson’s loss of faith was a result of a shallow, good-vibes Christianity that had a nicely decorated and impressive outer shell with nothing to show for it on the inside. Sampson said further that he wanted “genuine truth” and not simply “I just believe it”. Once again, that is sadly the reality of the Christian circles he was around, which is the mainstream of evangelicalism. He’s right. That is shallow and not worthy of being embraced or defended.
Unfortunately, that’s not what Christianity is. It goes far deeper than that. But Sampson did not get any of it because he drifted on the surface, and was never encouraged nor challenged to go deeper. As linked above, I have an article The Nature of Faith that you can read on the subject of faith and what it is. It shows that this is much more than a simple blind faith scheme.
But I would also like to say to Sampson one of the reasons this really hits home with me is because I was close to where you are. I never gave up my faith, of course, but like you, I had many questions. I was not content with just a faith in faith kind of Christianity. I had difficulties, and they needed answers. But that’s where we’re different. I knew that I needed more than what I was getting, and so I went looking, and I did, in fact, find more. I found answers. I found real answers to the questions I had–answers that did not try to satisfy what I wanted, but answers that I needed.
I do not believe that Sampson ever truly heard the gospel. My hope and prayer is that at least now, knowing he never truly knew the faith, he would actually attempt to understand what it actually is, as I have done. As I said, I’m not content with simply saying, “Jesus died for my sins”. Why did he die? Why did he have to die? Why did he have to be God? Questions like these, I needed to know the answer to, and learning the answers has deepened my faith. Knowing the answers to even the claims that the Bible contradicts itself (yes, Sampson, there are answers) has made my faith stronger, has convinced me more of the truth of the triune God, and hence given me the desire to live after His revealed word even more. I pray that happens for you one day.
For the rest of us, we must reject this empty shell of feel-good Christianity, and teach our people the faith. Yes, that will have consequences. I know it will. But the consequences are far less costly than the consequences that follow if we do not do this. We will lose more people to this culture of death. Unless we are willing to take seriously the phrase “theology matters” we will always be susceptible to this empty shell of feel-good Christianity that, because it has nothing inside of it giving it life, is a dried up shell that will eventually break apart, leaving a person in the situation that Marty Sampson has fallen into, and furthermore, will lead to incompetent Christian ministers who ordain more of themselves, more ill-prepared men like Joshua Harris, for ministry that leads only to collapse and ruin.