We are starting to see a pattern, and we need to respond differently.
Hillsong worship leader and song writer Marty Sampson recently posted on Instagram about losing his faith:
Time for some real talk… I’m genuinely losing my faith.. and it doesn’t bother me… like, what bothers me now is nothing… I am so happy now, so at peace with the world.. it’s crazy / this is a soapbox moment so here I go xx how many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgemental people on the planet – they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people… but it’s not for me. I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others. All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point… I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.
In response, there have been multiple articles written about the “apostasy” of Marty Sampson. (The same thing recently happened to megachurch pastor and author Joshua Harris, who renounced his Christian faith and popular purity culture book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.)
These articles are essentially a defense of the church and faith and an attack on the person who has lost their faith. Such commentaries also project character issues and motivations on to Marty Sampson with statements like, “They’re retreating from faith not because they’re ignorant of its key tenets and lack the necessary intellectual, theological depth but rather because the adversity of adherence to increasingly countercultural doctrine grows too great.”
Two accusations are commonly made about someone who shares about losing their faith. The first is that they didn’t have enough theological depth. There is an assumption that what is lacking is enough information about the faith. If they had just studied more theology, they would have stayed in the faith. In the information age, it’s an interesting assessment that it’s lack of theological information that would have made a difference.
In many Christian circles, people are encouraged to continually read defenses of Christianity and reasons why their sect of Christianity is right and to be suspect of a differing perspective. Those in the church are usually taught that we are right and everyone else is wrong, and to either avoid other influences as to not be deceived or to only engage with other influences in order to create arguments against them. Yet, it is often the expanding of knowledge and the capacity to listen deeply to another’s perspective that leads to a shift where we can no longer propagate the narrative we were handed.
The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough theological knowledge, but that we have made “faith” synonymous with theological knowledge. By handing people a disembodied faith which is all about belief (what you intellectually accept as true), it’s no wonder people walk away when their house-of-cards-faith comes crashing down due to the discovery that a previous claim didn’t hold up.
When a new experience contradicts an old paradigm, we can feel lost and think that perhaps the whole thing was wrong. We are going to see many more people walk away from faith due to this reality.
It breaks my heart, because people leave the church when they’ve only experienced a small slice of the tradition, thought it was Christianity, and found it unsustainable. Our tradition is rich and varied, but many don’t think they belong within Christianity just because they don’t fit in where they once did.
The second accusation is that there is countercultural pressure. Often people who don’t maintain their faith are accused of bowing to the secular culture and that’s why they walk away. Here is the biggest problem with that. The cultural pressures that have the most power over us are not coming from the majority culture but the subculture we experience. It’s the social construction of our subculture that creates much of our identity. The subculture is the group we identify with, the relationships we have, and the community that gives us place and meaning.
Those who are deeply involved in church culture primarily experience the pressure of the church subculture. Those who pull away from their dominant subculture often experience rejection and loss of identity. They are then treated like traitors by the group that have always been home and given them a place to belong. It isn’t succumbing to worldly pressures that causes this, but an awareness that your community is deeply flawed and may not have all the right answers.
For those of us who have questioned the Christian subculture we were ingrained in, we did so with great trepidation. We did so terrified of the rejection of our community. We often have to work up a lot of courage to “go against the family.”
What is often seen as cowardice, backsliding, and “going along with secular culture” is actually the opposite. It is more often a step taken with great fear knowing you will experience a loss of identity as you are rejected by those who have always been home and family. It isn’t a move toward secularism, because you know you don’t entirely fit there either. It’s a move away from your dominant subculture, and it’s one of the hardest things people choose to do.
Many Christians are appalled at the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church with its protests of hatred and cruelty over the last few years. When Megan Phelps-Roper left Westboro, it was the hardest thing she had ever done. She is an extreme example of leaving the subculture you have always called home and being rejected by it. The reactions to many of these people leaving the faith may be less extreme, but it is the same type of experience. For most, it is an experience of great loss. When people take this step, they are not thinking, “I’ll finally fit in with the cool kids.” It’s more like, “I don’t know where I belong anymore.”
We each only see a small slice of the world. From what I have seen, those who accept Christ based on a good argument can have their faith pulled apart by a better debater. If someone is persuaded into faith by an intellectual argument that leads to a certain kind of belief, then they can be pulled out by a strong enough argument against belief.
But those with the most solid faith have far more than a belief system. They have far more than an emotional experience with God. They practice a holistic faith that includes their mind and its ability to reason and comprehend the deep and rich tradition passed on to generations. They also engage their heart to experience the wide array of this one wild life with compassion, wonder, sorrow, and joy. But it hasn’t become truly holistic until they have embodied what it means to live the faith now. Was this not Jesus’ call from the beginning to the disciples to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind?
You will hear some say, “It’s all about what you believe or think.” Others will argue, “It’s all about your experience and what you feel.” And some will assert, “It’s all about what you do.”
But life is comprised of all these beautiful things. My friends, let’s include them all.