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After another Christian loses faith, is convenience Christianity to blame? CT

This weeks Christian Today article has apparently struck a cord….

After another Christian loses faith, is convenience Christianity to blame?

Jon Steingard Hawk Nelson
Christian rock band Hawk Nelson are seen in this photo, which was posted on the band’s Facebook page, as band member Daniel Biro responded to Jon Steingard’s announcement that he no longer believes in God.Facebook/Hawk Nelson

The young singer was excited. “This is the biggest gig we’ve ever done!” We were at a joint Christian event where 1,500 people were due to be present. I was one of the speakers – the other asked me this question: “You notice that they’ve sound checked everyone except those who are preaching the word – does that not tell you something?!”

It was my introduction to the world of Christian concerts, celebrities and cash. Another time a friend asked what they should do with the ‘star’ who was being flown over from the States for a Christian concert and wanted to be met at the airport with a limo, and have their drink of choice and flowers in the dressing room. “Tell them to stay where they are” was my not very helpful, but truthful response!

All of this came to mind this week when I heard that yet another Christian celebrity had renounced the faith. It is becoming a depressingly familiar story. Another one bites the dust. But why?

The responses tend to be largely the same as well. The apologists tell us that if only more apologetics had been done at an earlier age. The nice people tell us we are not to judge. Lots of pious platitudes and expressions of love echo round the echo chamber. Personally I find it all pretty tiring and depressing. I agree with most of what is said – although I find much of it to be cliched truisms – “He has left God, but God hasn’t left him.” For me there was nothing to be said and everything to be mourned.

Bowels Opened!

Then I read a sermon on Song of Solomon, published in 1639 in a book wonderfully entitled “Bowels Opened” – a collection of expository sermons by Rev. Richard Sibbes of Cambridge on the Song of Solomon. The title of course refers to the biblical (and anatomically correct) view that the heart of the affections was felt more in our guts than our heart! But just after I heard that Jon Steingard of the Christian band Hawk Nelson had renounced his faith, I read sermon 5 in this book and came across this astonishing passage which I now share with you (slightly abridged into modern English):

“If we should ask, what is the reason there are so many that apostasize, fall away, grow profane, and are so unfruitful under the gospel, notwithstanding that they continue to hear as much as they do? The answer is, their souls were never founded and bottomed upon this, that the word of God and divine truth, have been felt by experience to be the voice of Christ…….they were never persuaded from inbred arguments , that the voice of Christ is the word of God. Others who were strictly brought up are now profane, because they were never convinced by the power and majesty of the truth in itself; and then in the end they despair notwithstanding all the promises, because they were never convinced of the truth of them. They cannot say Amen to all the promises. But the church can say confidentially , upon sound experience, “it is the voice of my beloved.”

Sibbes reminds us that this falling away is nothing new. In 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul writes: “Demas having loved this world has forsaken me.” I’ve noticed some common threads in all of the recent ‘I no longer believe’ testimonies. All of them come under the heading of what I would call ‘convenience Christianity’.

Cultural Christians

They grew up in Christian homes. As Steingard stated he had “the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life”. They live in a Christian environment, listen to Christian music, have Christian friends, watch Christian TV, eat Christian food (Chick-Fil-A?!), and generally swim in a culture which claims the name of Christ. It is more convenient to be a ‘Christian’ in that culture than not – especially if it offers you a career.

Celebrity Christians

Often people who grow up in a Christian environment adopt the faith for cultural reasons. But when faced with other perspectives, people, pleasures and pressures – they give it up. Because the root of the matter is not in them, when the first storm or temptation comes up, the ‘faith’ they had collapses like a house built on sand.

But the trouble, as Steingard points out, is that for celebrity Christians they owe their celebrity and their income to being Christians. The young man who told me this was the biggest gig they had ever played would never in a month of Sundays have been able to play in front of 1,500 people in the secular world.

In the saddest part of his deconversion testimony Steingard declares, “I am stunned by the number of people in visible positions within Christian circles that feel the same way as I do. Like me, they fear losing everything if they’re open about it.”

In an ironic reversal of the teaching of Christ where people won’t follow Him because they fear they will lose everything, these celebrity Christians fear that they will lose everything if they give up their Christian position! Which is not to say that every celebrity Christian is fake – but more to ask what we have done in creating a Christian world that mimics the secular world and holds up some people as celebrities, and pays and honours them for being so?

Steingard admits that now his Christian career has faded he finds it much easier to give up his Christianity: “I’ve got a whole lot less to lose now. The band isn’t playing shows or making music at the moment, and we’ve all found other work and careers to focus on for the time being.”

This statement takes away from the whole ‘I’m being honest and this is a thing of integrity’. It is now more convenient for him to not be a Christian.

Cliched Christians

When I read his statement, it also struck me how cliched it was. Here was a Christian songwriter for many years saying that he was now renouncing his faith because of questions about evil, suffering and hell. Had he never considered these questions before? The minute I became a Christian, these questions challenged me and I hear them every day. But they drive me to Christ – not away from him. Christ is the answer to these questions. Renouncing Christ is no answer.

I looked over some earlier statements from Steingard and they were full of the kind of Christian jingoese that so many Christian songs perpetuate. It wouldn’t take a genius to set up a Christian songwriting machine which pours out the ‘buzz words’ which can make a ‘hit’ song. Of course there are excellent Christian songwriters but far too much of the ‘industry’ is a pale reflection of the secular pop music scene – giving us cliched and banal lyrics and uninspiring music.

Convenience Christianity leads to cliched Christianity where life is full of slogans and pep talks, clichés and emotions, but little reality.

Christless Christianity

And this is the saddest thing of all: convenience Christianity is a Christless Christianity. Now, some Christians say this is a harsh statement. But it’s only being fair to those who renounce their faith – because it takes them at their word. They now no longer believe in the Jesus of the Bible – because they say He doesn’t exist. So even if they believed before, they were believing in someone who didn’t exist. By definition they are calling themselves Christless because to them there is no Christ. You cannot have what doesn’t exist.

When I say Christless Christianity, I’m not agreeing with them that Christ does not exist. I’m simply stating that the Christianity they had before was Christless. They did not hear the Shepherd’s voice. They did not love Him. They did not give up everything to follow Him. At best, He was a mirage, a distant memory, a religious cliché and a convenient figure from history on which to hang your family, life and career. When He or His standards are no longer needed, He conveniently no longer exists.

This is not to deny that there are Christians who fall away – the Bible warns us about the danger of becoming such. But it is to warn us about the danger of pronouncing people as Christians too quickly and, even more so, putting young (in the faith) Christians into positions of leadership and influence before their faith has ever been tried and tested in the heat of spiritual battle. Because battle it is. We need to count the cost before we profess Christ.

Nor should we deny the possibility that genuine Christians can, in the old phrase, ‘backslide’. We can lose our first love and need to repent.

Sweater or Armour?

Steingard speaks of his faith as being like a sweater whose threads were gradually unpicked. It’s an apt metaphor for comfortable, convenient, cultural Christianity. The Bible uses a different metaphor. We are to put on armour – the armour of God. The chain mail of God that can never be gradually unpicked but which together with the Sword of the Spirit, the word of God, enables us to stand fast.

My hope and prayer for Jon Steingard is that if he ever was a genuine Christian, he would be restored to Christ, and if he never really knew Christ, he would come to know Him. All of us need to listen to the voice of our beloved – the good shepherd – or we too will wander like lost sheep. It’s time for some inconvenient and challenging Christianity.

Jesus’s Plea to Russell Brand – CT

The Apostate Free Church?

20 comments

  1. What an awful burden it must be to be given your faith; to grow up as a christian and have the religion handed to you, and never given the chance to discover it for yourself. These so called apostasies are certainly never moments to mourn, but they’re to rejoice. For how can a man who’s truly met the living God ever deny him. You cannot deny someone you’ve met. It would be as absurd as denying the mother who you knew and loved. Now this singer has the opportunity to begin the road to having a personal experience of God, on his and God’s own terms. Not his parents, not his peers, nor his old church friends. For that you should be happy.

      1. I wonder if it’s worth considering what is being meant by “given” here.

        Perhaps Will is speaking in the context of “God having children but no grandchildren” to use a cliche. That being that in the word you use David, Christless faith. That being faith in the church community, parents, even believing Jesus is the son of God but something that has come from human tradition.

        And maybe you are talking about faith in the context of it being given from God?

        If it were not for the former then Martin Luther would never had started the reformation and married an ex-nun.

      2. Theologically we’re given faith by God as a gift, you’ll know which verses I refer to. And in answer to your question no, I became a Christian at 15 – my Dad is an atheist and my mum was a lapsed catholic – after a summer of revelation and experience of the Holy Spirit. But I saw then and I see now, how trapped a number of Christians are, who are now in their 30’s but have only ever known church. They were dressed on a Sunday as little children and taken to church and they still go now, out of habit, fear, and whatever else, and have never kicked the habit.

        And sure, you can deny knowing someone for a variety of reasons, Peter etc. But you can’t deny someone exists deep down if you’ve met them. I’m a terrible sinner and walked as far as it is possible to walk from God but I could never have denied his existence once I met him.

        To think people need more apologetics is no good, people need an encounter, in whatever way great or small, loud or silent, with the living God, once they have that, then there’s no going back, in terms of knowledge of the existence of God.

        And so when I see people who were brought up in the church and never experienced life away from it – thinking about this musician and the likes of Jonathan Edwards the athlete – I think it good, and would never consider it an apostasy, these announcements. They were living a lie and the lie is over. That must be a great relief and I’m happy for them. Now they can begin to explore the meaning of existence themselves.

      3. Yes – it is possible to deny that someone exists – even if you have met them. YOu say you have an encounter – yet this encounter has told you that Jesus was wrong when he spoke about Hell!

      4. What a strange comment you make David. As if my encounter with God should primarily make me speak and think of hell! What bleakness to your thinking. As a matter of fact I do believe in the existence of a place that Jesus spoke of as Gehenna. The point I’m making – and you seem to intentionally misrepresent – is that I can’t deny the existence of my friend Dave, lets say, because I’ve spoken to him, listened to him, hugged him, met him. Now I know God exists because I’ve had supernatural experiences of God, it’s not a belief system built primarily on what people have told me to believe, from the likes of you in a pulpit. I’ve felt the physical presence of God in a way more profound and real than any hug of a human. I’ve heard his voice, I’ve encountered him in his word, and also in other ways. I can no longer deny the existence of God than a blind man (who’d never seen with his own eyes) could deny the existence of his brother, or mother, or friend. Not to himself anyway.

        Do you get what I’m saying? Let me spell it out to you if you still don’t. This musician, and other recent announcements by people of supposed apostasy, never knew God. What they had was religion handed down to them by their parents. They were kept in the church system and never got to experience God for themselves.

        They were no repetitions of Judas, or Peter, who knew God existed very well. Nor of a persecuted Christian who apostatised to save their physical bodies, or those of the people they loved (but kept their faith), these weren’t people who knew God and then didn’t.

        They were people who believed in God – because they knew no other way – and now they don’t. My point is that there’s a profound difference between believing, and knowing, God.

    1. An excellent critique.
      No root, no fruit as we’re told.
      Recently , we lost two titans of Christian apologism in the persons of Ravi Zacharias and David Pawson.
      One an excellent Bible teacher, the other a discerning cultural analyst of contemporary though.
      The Christians have long lost their bearings, education being the major battlefield soon after WW1. We ceded all we’d ever influenced to ” the State” , and increasingly had no forum , thereby no right to speak and then no knowledge or access to reading the culture as it emerged.
      And all for a booster cushion at a teacher training workshop for primary teachers if we were lucky.
      The Christless Culture is obvious and getting worse by the year.
      Thankfully, we prophetesses etc can read the signs and hold forth. Once the men once more grow a pair( current readers and author honourably excepted) then we might, once more be worthy of persecution again like Watchman Nee

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for this post. I grew up listening to Hawk Nelson, and am sad to hear this.

    I’ve seen a lot of friends in their 20s come to struggle with or lose their faith. Could you give tips (or possibly do a post) on what you think is helpful for working through doubts/helping others with doubts?

    Best,

    MC

  3. Hello David,

    Another interesting post. I’ll engage with what I think are your main points, hopefully understanding as you intend, offer my views about them and my perspective and share a little of my experience.

    First of all I hope you are OK and when you say “tiring and depressing” this for you is hyperbole, an indication of you feeling sad about this and not of you experiencing burnout and going ill with depression. I hear what you say about Christian upbringing etc. it’s not something I have had a privileged of, coming from an atheist / agnostic background and being someone strong willed as you know the Lord had to work powerfully in me for me to want to step anywhere near a church apart from “hatch, match and dispatch” – i.e. baptism, weddings, and funerals. “Questions about evil, suffering and hell” – so yes I did some with such questions, wearing out poor elders at the time I am sure! So yes aware of what you say of the need for “Sword of the Spirit, the word of God” with of course the word ultimately being Jesus and Christ less Christianity being an oxymoron.

    Of course this has a twofold dynamic, with an individual and eider church elements where only if it were so easy to point the finger and say “backslider” then we would be able to sit on our laurels and not have to do anything else. The truth is that none of us are completely in alignment with Chris and there but for the grace of God it could be any one of us. Hell is what God has saved us from, is saving us from and will save us from by his work in us. It’s 100% the work of God that we participate in. And the love of God is such that he doesn’t force this on us but we are free to go our own way at any time. Just as with any healthy marriage with both partners being free individuals and making choices to be together.

    What perhaps is more difficult is to consider the corporate side with this “Christ-less Christianity” or what sometimes is called a “Christian veneer”. Which obviously is the other side of this particular coin and every member of a church has responsibility for addressing. And this is where I am prepared for some negative reaction – its harder to take responsibility than attribute it to someone else.

    And this is my experience. I felt closer to Jesus in a rock concert a number of years ago than in the church I was attending at the time. when I expressed frustration with that in Church, the pastor took exception to it and I later had a meeting with him and another church leader where the conclusion he made was “we haven’t got the resources to deal with your issues” and I was invited to leave the church. On another occasion I have been invited to leave because of “the good old fashioned sin of pride”. So, to what extent was it me, the individual, having the issue here and to what extent the leaderships in both churches. And so I continued on my journey of personal faith, challenged to discern to what extent I was a troublemaker as was implied, and to what extent a “prophet without honour” among his own people.

    I’ll leave with this final thought. The rock band I had been to see was The Alimighty. My brother was the bass player in the band and they had success in the 90s appearing on Top of the Pops and the Big Breakfast with Zig and Zag. My brother had been ill with leukaemia. When he recovered, the band got together to perform two concerts in London and Glasgow as fund raisers in support of leukaemia research.

    The song that for some reason I found a passionate connection with Jesus in was “Jesus Love you but I don’t”. The lyrics include:

    I never pleaded
    To a god unknown
    That I won’t let in
    Cos religion is business
    And there’s money in sin

    and…

    I’ve never seen Jesus
    Inside a church

    Of course this was satire about the church, but to what extent is like this – Christless Christianity the “god unknown”, not knowing God, no different in principle to pagan Athens where the Apostle Paul talks about the “unknown god”? Surely this must be considered as well as individual Christlessness? Or am I completely off track here and it is always the individual where the the issue lies?

    “Is then the salvation of worldwide Christendom to be expected form the Free Churches? By no means. Too often, the latter merely reflect the cultural worlds surrounding them along with the serious illnesses attaching to those worlds” Mirosslav Volf, After our Likeness – The Church as the Image of the Trinity pg18.

    kind regards,

    Adam

    1. To think that what we’re saved from is hell… Is one of the tragedy’s of the message of the church. Totally anti-gospel, rooted in fear, and a message so utterly powerless for this time in a hurting world.

      1. I did no such thing. I pointed out that when a Christian says that what they’ve been primarily saved from is hell – from punishment – then they’ve got it totally upside down. It’s a fear based belief system that is dry and powerless. If this makes you mad, and you don’t get where I’m coming from, then you’re completely missing the point Im making.

        I could say your system of Christianity sounds like one where we should indoctrinate as many as possible, our kids and all, and get them in church to continue the cycle so we all avoid hell. Is that what Christianity is?

  4. Aye, it’s unfortunately all true if nothing was there to begin with then really ‘ nothing ‘ is what you leave with…
    It saddens the soul to realise it’s capabilities of deception ….

    Many of us folks believe if we just believe in ‘ Jesus’ then all is well with my soul.
    There is no mention of ‘ Repentance ‘ and what you have to do to become a ‘ Christian’ to have ‘ Jesus’ in your heart .

    My Dad ( Church of Scotland) not judging ofcourse believes its all done for you .Not going into a really big subject …maybe write about this ?
    My Dad believes Christ did it all if I just Believe it ….

    Jon Steingard would have believed but was he converted ? Did he Repent ?
    Did he experience Gods forgiveness and Gods Love?
    Jon Steingard is not alone in his decision to not go on singing about ‘ Jesus’ because his lyrics were never full of His Saviour but A Saviour ….
    As you clearly say counting the cost was never there to fight the spiritual battle we are in .
    Romans Chap 2 v4 ( It’s your kindness that brings us to Repentance oh ! Lord)
    From a song …Jon Steingard has left ‘ Jesus ‘and made a statement why ….Rather,He thinks he has left ….and many ,So Called Christians ,do not know Christ and have stayed in an empty relationship because they believe …..
    Going to Church confirms this .It is very subtle because most So Called Christians attending ‘ Church ‘ do not have a platform like Jon Steingard ,they go to Church and LEAVE!!!!
    So,who is to blame for the Gospel not getting through ? Gillian

  5. David,

    This has a very simple explanation. Over 100 years ago Oswald Chambers captured it in this sentence.

    “Both nations and individuals have tried Christianity and abandoned it, because it has been found too difficult; but no man has ever gone through the crisis of deliberately making Jesus Lord and found Him to be a failure.”

    Test that truth against every “loss of faith”!

    You will notice in every testimony of abandoned Christianity and the Christian faith,…. that it is that which they have abandoned!

    None of them ever claim that having made Jesus Lord, he proved to be a failure to them.

    When Christianity, Church or Pastors becomes the object of faith, its no wonder people become disillusioned and abandon it. You will find they all make the same statements. They don’t believe this or that any more.

    But it was never about that. It is about deliberately making Jesus Lord. None of them ever outline how they did that, and abandoned it.

    They abandoned beliefs, churches, traditions.

    The question to ask them is one Chambers raised.

    When did they go through the crisis of making Jesus Lord? In doing so, how has he failed them? Ive never heard one of them make such a claim.

    Therefore, the highlighting by the secular/atheist community regarding those who abandon Christianity, is a false dichotomy.

    Its not the issue that matters.

    1. Come on Alistair. Consider the context.

      It’s a metaphorical reference to the Passover.

      When he said he was the ‘bread of life’, he was not suggesting he had been baked in an oven, or was made of flour.

      As the door, he was not suggesting he was made of wood…….

  6. One lose faith when they start to question existence of God, or when they don’t get something they want. I would say it a biased worship, when you only believe for something in back.

  7. I was horrified when I listened to his interviews on YouTube.
    He also mentions that he ensured he was financially secured before making the announcement on his media platforms. This should give any of us a shudder.

    He blames God for every unpleasant situation in this world. This is a good indication that he never understood the Bible message. He is the son of a pastor, was also a church leader for many years.

    We should ask how many are fooling people in congregations?
    It is indeed an alarming and sad life.

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