Have you noticed the growing popularity of former American "Christians" who now claim to have rejected the faith? The numbers of such doubters seem to be an increasing trend. Some are rather "famous" people like:
- Joshua Harris (former pastor and best-selling author)
- Marty Sampson (Hillsong Worship Leader and songwriter)
- Frankie Schaeffer (son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer), who describes himself as a "Christian Atheist"
- Rhett and Link (Comedians and former CCC missionaries who have a YouTube following of 17 million subscribers)
Others are simply disenchanted former evangelicals who find more relief in doubt than in maintaining a facade of devotion to God. Although I suspect the truth of such deconversion (also called deconstruction) has always been a societal reality, I think it is getting far greater media attention today than in the past. And such attention often creates its own trend ... like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Below is a YouTube video featuring my dear friend, Shelby Abbott, being interviewed by Alisa Childers regarding the deconversion of Rhett and Link. It's 50 minutes long, so you may want to return to this another time, after finishing this article.
I want to explore yet another deconversion -- but first, a disclaimer. I believe, in fact, there is no real thing as deconversion ... merely insufficient conversion. What I mean is that, regardless of how pious and religious a person may appear, the act of deconverting simply establishes that they never really understood and embraced the Gospel of Jesus and the Bible in the first place. They are not unbecoming. They never actually became.
Nor do I mean to suggest that such deconversions are the final chapter in people's stories. Yet, I admit I don't know anyone who once professed faith in Christ, publicly repudiated that faith, then subsequently "returned" to Christ. Not a single name comes to mind. Which is why it is very troubling to see individuals who formerly identified as Christians and were in the public eye, now reject Christianity outright. I'll never say never, but my hopefulness for them isn't high.
Another Heart-Rending Example
Having said that, let's proceed. Last time, I shared the sovereign story of my intersection with John Piper at a very early period in my walk with Christ. I say "sovereign story" because I don't think it was an accident. I think God allowed or created that occurrence for my development with Him.
But even for the faithful, there is no guarantee that children will walk in the ways of their parents. Parents can pray and model a passion for Christ, but each child will one day be an adult with agency to make his or her own decisions. We only hope that the Christian milieu in which our kids find themselves will be authentic, true to the Scriptures, and filled with non-hypocrisy. As Arnold Toynbee, the famous historian, coined decades ago: "Most men don't reject Christianity, but a poor caricature of it." Amen.
Which leads to Abraham Piper, son of John and Noel. Sadly, it appears Abraham has left the faith of his mother and father. Years ago, Abraham renounced the faith, was excommunicated by his church, returned to the faith ... only to seemingly now reject the faith again.
This morning I read a news report that Abraham has become a celebrity on TikTok, with over 900,000 followers of his deconversion messaging. He's done videos maligning the Bible, Christian schooling, etc. He has called evangelical Christianity "a destructive, narrow-minded worldview" and thinks it absurd that Christian parents make their children read a Bible. He is now another poster-child of the ex-vangelical movement.
What are we to make of this? First, my heart breaks for the Piper's. Can you imagine their pain? Of all the passions of their hearts, love for Jesus would seem to be #1. Second would quite probably be their love for their children. But to have a child who rejects their first love must be agonizing, because they know that Jesus is the #1 thing in life worth living for. He loves and gives meaning. To cut oneself off from Him is to choose death.
I'm afraid that, at least for a pocket of time (and perhaps for the duration), this is the American church's future. I suspect we'll continue to see a wave of deconversion stories, like Abraham. Paula and I talk often about our American society, where it is leading us, and what impact is it having on our children and grandchildren. They certainly are not growing up in the world we grew up in.
Though I want to be an optimist (and ultimately I am, because optimism focuses on the long-term, and in the long-term, Jesus' Kingdom wins), it seems not merely unhelpful but disobedient to be a "pie-in-the-sky" optimist while our Titanic is sinking. America is truly lost. Where American Christianity is surviving, it is often a temporary mirage created by throwing more money at things.
To borrow an OT image, I think the Shekinah Glory has left the 'temple of America,' and we haven't yet noticed.
Then the (Shekinah) glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. While I watched, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. – Ezekiel 10:18-19
I'm not being overly dramatic to say these are dark days. I suggest we all strap ourselves in for the ride, because it'll probably be the ride of our lives.
Finally, let me end with two words of great hope.
- The early church apologist, Justin Martyr, once said, "You can kill us (Christians), but you cannot hurt us." No matter what threats may lie ahead of us, they cannot really hurt us. Even death itself is quite a temporary condition. May we stand with Christ, faithful to the end, knowing we shall stand again with him on this earth.
- Finally, this scene from Lord of the Rings captures the great victory ahead, when King Jesus rides in on his white horse (Revelation 19:11-21), and grabs victory from the clutches of defeat. Enjoy this glorious clip!