I started writing a post last spring when Warren Wiersbe and Rachel Held Evans died within a few days of each other. To say their lives ended up being radically different is not an overstatement. I wrote a bit and then set it aside since I did not think it was the right time. Generally when this happens I discover later there is a reason. I think that reason is because there was more to say, but we hadn’t gotten there yet.
But now I do have some thoughts to share about not only Wiersbe and Evans but also some of the other Famous Christians who have announced with great public fanfare that they are no longer Christians or have radically changed their views to put them outside of historic orthodox Christianity.
There has been a steady trickle of them, but I’m not going to address each one individually because of time and space constraints. However, I do think they all have a few things in common. For this post, I’m going to focus on Wiersbe and Evans because I think they give a good example of what is happening.
Warren Wiersbe died two weeks short of his 90th birthday. He was a pastor, seminary professor, and prolific author. If you’ve ever been in a Christian church that teaches the Bible, you’ve probably been influenced by him many times. His books on the Scriptures are widely used by Bible-believing pastors, Bible study leaders. etc. I have some in my personal library that I’ve used when teaching Bible studies.
Wiersbe committed his life to understanding the Bible and helping others do the same. After he passed away, I saw nothing negative written about him – and I looked. By all accounts he was a kind man who loved Jesus, loved people, and loved writing about the Bible and Christian faith. His entire life was spent pointing people to the Bible and Jesus.
When I read about Wiersbe’s death, my first thought was, “Oh, it’s too bad he didn’t make it to 90!” My next thought was of how he had run the race, used his gifts, and was now able to rest from his work. From all I can observe, there was nothing complicated or concerning about his legacy. This summary of Wiersbe’s life (with some great stories from his life) shows that he followed Jesus, preached repentance and salvation from sin available in Christ, and taught the Bible. He was committed to giving God the glory.
Wiersbe finished well, something I have thought a great deal about in recent years.
Rachel Held Evans
Rachel Held Evans is a bit more challenging to describe. She was raised an evangelical and her father is a well-liked Christian professor. She was in her mid-thirties, from all accounts happily married to a good man, and the mother of two small children. (Her daughter was less than a year old when Evans died.) Her death was tragic, in part, because she was relatively young and left behind a husband and children.
Her death was also tragic because she leaves behind a confusing and troubling legacy. Evans’ legacy as a leading and vocal Progressive Christian is sobering. Instead of calling people to repentance from sin and salvation in Jesus according to the teachings of the Scriptures as Wiersbe did, she spent much time and energy calling the Scriptures into doubt.
Evans started out a number of years ago asking valid questions about things that many Christians through the centuries have wrestled with. But over time the questions became less and less about understanding the Bible and her faith and instead about leading people down the path to rejecting the authority of the Scriptures, doubting the goodness of God based on things in the Bible she did not like, and, ultimately, pointing people to a version of what she would call Progressive Christianity that does not fit the historical orthodox faith. Her books will stand as a lasting testament of her journey to deconstruct and remake her faith into something more comfortable.
When she died, there was a tremendous amount written about her – including her eternal state. I have no idea the state of her salvation and that’s way above my paygrade (and everyone else’s, for that matter). What I can see is what she wrote, what she did, what she rejected, what she embraced, and her willingness to embrace a view of Christianity that does leave me sincerely concerned regarding not only her eternal state, but the eternal state of those she claimed to try to reach with what she claimed was love compelled by her faith.
Unlike Wiersbe, I personally cannot write that Evans finished well. As a Christian, I find her legacy confusing, sad, and concerning regarding what she left her followers with in terms of her teaching. I wonder that if she knew that one of her tweets (for she was a prolific tweeter) was going to be one of her last if she would have chosen to implore people to repent of their sins and come to Christ instead of fretting about missing Game of Thrones. We will never know. Some people have an opportunity to leave the world with a last message. She did not.
The Public Response to Their Deaths
The reactions to the death of Wiersbe and Evans were interesting because there was a huge outpouring of grief and angst over Evans’ passing and barely a mention of Wiersbe. Now some of the grief over Evans was certainly warranted. It is tragic when a young mother dies, period. By comparison, Wiersbe had lived a full life span and so his passing seems less tragic despite the fact that it, too, is a loss to his family and loved ones.
But the online responses regarding Evans were honestly kind of crazy. Her followers were angry and vicious toward anyone who said anything that wasn’t 100% praise. They pressured a prominent Christian magazine to remove an online article written by someone who knew her because it wasn’t full of effusive praise and had the audacity to suggest that Evans wasn’t perfect. Even U.S. presidents have lengthy articles written when they die that point out their successes and failures. This was not to be with Evans. She was made a saint almost instantly. Her followers told people to “keep her name out of your mouth” if you don’t know her personally or don’t have anything positive to say. The responses to her death by both those who claim Christ and those who freely declare themselves non-believers, atheists, and many other things would make a fascinating psychological study. It was almost cultish in some ways and I don’t use that term lightly.
The coverage was also ironic given their status as authors. Evans received so much coverage at her passing because she was a prominent New York Times best-selling author and darling of the media due to her willingness to speak against traditional and orthodox Christianity. However, I’m confident that Wiersbe probably sold many, many more books than Evans ever came close to selling.
Crossing the Line
I wrote A Wise Woman Builds Her Home several weeks before Wiersbe and Evans died. In that post I was reflecting on how people who get so much right about the Christian faith end up going so wrong in the end. I wrote:
It was when I realized that, far more often than not, women who allow their spiritual pain or abuse they suffer(ed) to significantly impact their beliefs almost always end up going wrong theologically.
I also realized that far more often than not, people who obsess about their sin almost always end up going wrong theologically.
There is a line a person crosses where they allow the event, abuse, or pain to become greater than the truth of the Bible. They view everything through a lens of abuse or pain instead of viewing their pain through the lens of Scriptural truth. For others, they view the Christian faith through the eyes of a prominent speaker or pastor who betrays their trust in him/her. When that line is crossed regarding the event, abuse, or pain, all bets are off as to how far the person will fall into error.
There is also something about living constantly in the thoughts of sin that warps a person’s theology and seems to make them open to other errors that our culture is rife with right now.
This is where I believe people are getting it wrong, especially those who claim to be “deconstructing their faith” as a way to become what they think is a more enlightened Christian.
This is where I believe Wiersbe got it right and Evans got it wrong.
A Christian must start with the Scriptures and the faith handed down through the centuries. Then you try to understand your life and your situation through the truth that our brothers and sisters in Christ have faithfully passed down through the ages. If you start with your pain and try to cram the faith into your life around your pain, you will eventually go wrong.
Wiersbe studied the Scriptures and tried to help people understand them and follow them.
Evans was seemingly increasingly consumed with the things in the Bible she found uncomfortable and the tragic stories of broken people, especially those who had been hurt by those who claimed to be Christians. In the process, I believe she tried to remake the Scriptures into something that made her feel comfortable. That truly is Progressive Christianity in a nutshell.
These stories of ripping apart the orthodox Christian faith in order to make it something more comfortable and acceptable have become so predictable that there are clear patterns to them. When someone announces their deconversion, it generally follows a pattern which you can see in Jen Hatmaker and the Power of De-Conversion Stories. (Update: See video I’ve inserted at the end of the post that is an interview with the man who wrote this post. It’s excellent.)
Which brings us to the higher-profile people who have been openly falling away or rejecting the Christian faith.
Falling Away by Deconstructing Their Faith
The prominent people in Christian circles who are falling away in seemingly ever increasing numbers are oftentimes either unwilling or uninformed about the historic Christian faith. Either they truly don’t understand the faith handed down through the centuries or else they are unwilling to submit to Christ because it is too hard in our culture.
This is where much of the falling away is happening. Have you noticed that so often now when a Christian announces he/she is leaving Christianity or renouncing his/her faith, or now has some new view that they are free to embrace (insert popular sin here), that it invariably makes it easier to live in our culture? It is almost always about fitting in and being more acceptable in our culture where tolerance is one of the religious pillars.
It is always about “love” when someone becomes less committed to the Scripture as though someone must hold a low view of the Scriptures and teaching of Jesus in order to be loving.
Below is a Facebook post by John Cooper of the Christian band Skillet in response to this trend. I have no idea who he is and wouldn’t know a Skillet song if I heard it. The same is true of the Hillsong guy, Marty Sampson, who said he was leaving Christianity. Hillsong isn’t my thing and I’ve honestly never heard of the guy. If I passed either of them at the grocery store, I wouldn’t know it.
First, what Sampson wrote and then Cooper’s response:
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 … 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 four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental 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.
This statement about losing his faith is tragic and misinformed on so many levels that I would like to address each point myself. Thankfully, others have done so which you’ll see in the links at the end so I’ll simply continue.
This is what Cooper wrote on Facebook in reaction to the latest “Christian leader” to walk away from the faith.
Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?)as they announce that they are leaving the faith. I’ll state my conclusion, then I’ll state some rebuttals to statements I’ve read by some of them. Firstly, I never judge people outside of my faith. Even if they hate religion or Christianity. That is not my place and I have many friends who disagree with my religion and that is 100% fine with me. However, when it comes to people within my faith, there must be a measure of loyalty and friendship and accountability to each other and the Word of God.
My conclusion for the church(all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years(and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?
I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?
My second thought is, why do people act like “being real” covers a multitude of sins? As if someone is courageous simply for sharing virally every thought or dark place. That’s not courageous. It’s cavalier. Have they considered the ramifications? As if they are the harbingers of truth, saying “I used to think one way and practice it and preach it, but now I’ve learned all the new truth and will start practicing and preaching it.” So the influencers become the voice for truth in whatever stage of life and whatever evolution takes place in their thinking.
Thirdly, there is a common thread running through these leaders/influencers that basically says that “no one else is talking about the REAL stuff.” This is just flatly false. I just read today in a renown worship leader’s statement, “How could a God of love send people to hell? No one talks about it.” As if he is the first person to ask this? Brother, you are not that unique. The church has wrestled with this for 1500 years. Literally. Everybody talks about it. Children talk about it in Sunday school. There’s like a billion books written on the topic. Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with it. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.
And lastly, and most shocking imo, as these influencers disavow their faith, they always end their statements with their “new insight/new truth” that is basically a regurgitation of Jesus’s words?! It’s truly bizarre and ironic. They’ll say “I’m disavowing my faith but remember, love people, be generous, forgive others”. Ummm, why? That is actually not human nature. No child is ever born and says “I just want to love others before loving myself. I want to turn the other cheek. I want to give my money away to others in need”. Those are bible principles taught by a prophet/Priest/king of kings who wants us to live by a higher standard which is not an earthly standard, but rather the ‘Kingdom of God’ standard. Therefore if Jesus is not the truth and if the Word of God is not absolute, then by preaching Jesus’s teachings you are endorsing the words of a madman. A lunatic who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” He also said that he was alive before Abraham, and to see him was to see God because he was one with God. So why then would a disavowed christian leader promote that “generosity is good”? How would you know “what is good” without Jesus’s teachings? And will your ideas of what is “good” be different from year to year based on your experience, culture trends, poplular opinion etc and furthermore will you continue year by year to lead others into your idea of goodness even though it is not absolute? I’m amazed that so many Christians want the benefits of the kingdom of God, but with the caveat that they themselves will be the King.
It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.
Is it any wonder that some of our disavowed Christian leaders are letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible and subsequently their lives are falling apart? Further and further they are sinking in the sea all the while shouting “now I’ve found the truth! Follow me!!” Brothers and sisters in the faith all around the world, pastors, teachers, worship leaders, influencers…I implore you, please please in your search for relevancy for the gospel, let us NOT find creative ways to shape Gods word into the image of our culture by stifling inconvenient truths. But rather let us hold on even tighter to the anchor of the living Word of God. For He changes NOT. “The grass withers and the flowers fade away, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8)
I have to say one thing about this. The term “church influencers” makes my skin crawl. It’s so yuck. That’s not to take away from the important truth of what he is saying, but that term. It makes me cringe every time I read it because it’s just so wrong. It’s so marketing and social media and money-oriented. I just can’t stand it and the fact that it’s a “thing” explains so much about segments of the church.
Anyway, his statement otherwise is excellent. He absolutely nails it and good for him for doing so.
Kissing the Young, Restless and Reformed Goodbye
I also want to point to this because it came up in my research and it’s such an interesting article regarding not only Josh Harris, but the movement of which he was a prominent member. The Young, Restless and Reformed (YRR) crowd has been a disaster in many ways with leader after leader ending up disgraced, in error, in sin, etc. From Kissing Christianity Goodbye:
While Harris seems to be making a clean break with his past, the style of his apostasy announcement is oddly consistent with the evangelical Christianity he used to represent. He revealed he was leaving the faith with a social media post, which included a mood photograph of himself contemplating a beautiful lake. The earlier announcement of his divorce used the typical postmodern jargon of “journey” and “story.” And both posts were designed to play to the emotions rather than the mind. Life, it would seem, continues as performance art.
In a sense, that is exactly how and why the YRR was so successful: savvy harnessing of fashionable idioms and marketing strategies, exceptionally clever use of social media, large and well-organized conferences, and professional-grade websites—all fronted by attractive personalities and brilliant communicators. Orthodoxy as performance art, one might say. And Harris was both a product of and a player in the YRR project.
Many Christians were helped by all this. The YRR theology was at best a diluted form of Calvinism, but it had a largely positive influence in the pews.
But the movement’s leadership was often arrogant. In public, critics were derided and then ignored; in private, they were vilified and bullied. An extensive informal network of individuals, institutions, and organizations who wanted a slice of the YRR action was happy to oblige the padrini by keeping critics on the margins. And one by one big leaders fell from favor: Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, Tullian Tchividjian, C. J. Mahaney, now Josh Harris. On Friday the news broke that The Village Church, home of YRR megastar Matt Chandler, is being sued over alleged mishandling of sexual abuse.
But at no point has there been any apparent heart-searching, among those left in the movement, as to whether such falls indicate a problem in the very culture of the YRR—at best a lack of judgment in its choice of headline acts, at worst a fundamental lack of integrity. Sorry, as Elton John sang, seems to be the hardest word. Which is odd for a religion predicated on repentance.
Please also note that virtually every man on that list still believes he is qualified to lead a church and either has relaunched or is planning on relaunching after taking an extended time (of like four weeks) to review his mistakes.
This look at the New Calvinism (YRR) movement from 2009 seems especially insightful given what has transpired: New Calvinism – The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness.
Do Not Believe the False Narrative
So that was a lot of heavy stuff.
But here’s the good thing.
I want to encourage you to not believe the false narrative out there that Christianity is failing and people are leaving the faith in droves because it isn’t true.
Yes, Josh Harris turned his back on Christianity and seems intent on flaunting his deconstructing to the world on social media. The media will cover it endlessly, as they did Rachel Held Evans, because it advances the narrative they want you to believe. But will they tell you about the two men who survived the shooting at The Pulse Nightclub and gave their life to Christ?
No, they won’t because it doesn’t fit the multiple narratives they want everyone to believe.
I’ve shared this article before, but want to do so again. In New Harvard Research Says U.S. Christianity Is Not Shrinking, But Growing Stronger from The Federalist:
“Meanwhile, a widespread decline in churchgoing and religious affiliation had contributed to a growing anxiety among conservative believers.” Statements like this are uttered with such confidence and frequency that most Americans accept them as uncontested truisms. This one emerged just this month in an exceedingly silly article in The Atlantic on Vice President Mike Pence.
Religious faith in America is going the way of the Yellow Pages and travel maps, we keep hearing. It’s just a matter of time until Christianity’s total and happy extinction, chortle our cultural elites. Is this true? Is churchgoing and religious adherence really in “widespread decline” so much so that conservative believers should suffer “growing anxiety”?
Two words: Absolutely not.
New research published late last year by scholars at Harvard University and Indiana University Bloomington is just the latest to reveal the myth. This research questioned the “secularization thesis,” which holds that the United States is following most advanced industrial nations in the death of their once vibrant faith culture. Churches becoming mere landmarks, dance halls, boutique hotels, museums, and all that.
Not only did their examination find no support for this secularization in terms of actual practice and belief, the researchers proclaim that religion continues to enjoy “persistent and exceptional intensity” in America. These researchers hold our nation “remains an exceptional outlier and potential counter example to the secularization thesis.”
I encourage you to read the entire thing and bookmark it for future reference.
Truth and Love, Brutality and Hypocrisy
In closing, I’m going to bring this back to Wiersbe and Evans. A well-known Warren Wiersbe quote is this:
“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”
Progressive Christians like Rachel Held Evans like to point out the failing of Bible-believing conservative Christians to love well. It is a constant refrain from Progressive Christians like Evans that other Christians are too full of legalistic rules and hate. Too much focus on sin and not enough love. Well, we do fail to love consistently. I’ve been on the receiving end of some massive failures to love by churches, church leaders, and other Christians. I’ve failed people as well. But it’s not as bad as Evans wanted us to believe. And it certainly doesn’t mean I walk away from Jesus. Humans will always fail us. The truth of the faith will not. A Christian or church failing to love well will never be a valid excuse for anyone choosing to reject Christ.
But loving without truth? Is it right for Christians to “love” people and not tell them the truth? Wiersbe called it hypocrisy. If you love someone, you will tell them the truth. This is what troubles me about Evans. She thought she was loving everyone, but I’m not convinced she told them the truth. Reading the tributes to her by atheist publications and reading tweets about how Evans basically freed people to continue to live unrepentant lives or even live confidently completely without Christ is deeply troubling. Will I call her a hypocrite? No, because I think her intentions were good. But I think she was wrong. If she was wrong, she was dead wrong in terms of failing to preach biblical repentance to her followers and leading them away from a true saving knowledge of Christ.
If I’m going to pattern my life after someone, it will be Wiersbe – loving Christ, loving people, and teaching people the amazing message of freedom from sin and redemption in Christ found in God’s Word.
- How Not to Fall Away
- Natasha Crain’s Most Popular Posts page is a goldmine of helpful information including Progressive Christianity is as Much of a Threat to Your Kids’ Faith as Atheism
- Apologetics Amid Waves of Apostasy
- Is “Progressive Christianity” Christian?
- Skillet’s John Cooper on Apostasy Among Young Christian Leaders
- Reaching out to a Hillsong leader who is renouncing his faith
This is an interview Alisa Childers did with Dr. Michael Kruger about the same topics in Jen Hatmaker and the Power of the Deconversion Story. Excellent!
May the Lord give you courage and wisdom as you follow Him.