The lead singer for the Christian rock bank Hawk Nelson became an atheist. After reading his letter on Instagram this post looks at some of the issues raised in evangelical culture and wants to provide some commentary on doubt and evangelicalism.
“Crisis is what suppressed pain looks like; it always comes to the surface. It shakes you into reflection and healing.”
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15 ESV
Radio City Music Hall in New York City
From Recovering From Religion.
The lead singer from the Christian rock band Hawk Nelson has come out and through a long post on Instagram wrote about how he no longer believes in God. This is an issue that keeps popping up and happening frequently. One of the first posts written at this blog in 2015 was to George Perdikis who was the lead singer for the Newsboys. He came out as an atheist and I wrote him an open letter. You can read that in, “An Open Letter to George Perdikis of the Newsboys.” In 2016 the leader of a Christian Metal Core Band Shannon Lowe from The Order of Elijah also became an atheist. You can read this in, “Order of Elijah’s Shannon Low De-Converts from the Christian Faith: When it Becomes Necessary to Leave.” By the way I have screen shots members from the band shared that post I wrote and people discussed it. They actually thought I would be cool to hang out with. I am always open to meeting people (when the pandemic is done.) Then there was the faith crisis of Marty Sampson who is a worship leader at Hillsong in Australia. This blog wrote about that as well in “Hillsong Worship Leader Marty Sampson and Considering Evangelical Christian Culture and Doubt.”
So let’s step back and consider what Jon Steingard has said. First I am going to ask you to read his letter which you can do so in, “Christian Rock Artist Jon Steingard Has De-Converted From Christianity And No Longer Believes in God: Preserving His Letter Explaining His Journey.” Next I am going to ask you to grab a coffee or something to drink. There is much that needs to be said and honestly I know some of this is going to make people uncomfortable but these discussions need to take place. Jon Steingard wants to have a discussion about doubt and de-conversion. That is why a blog like this exists. This blog is very different in that it camps at the edges. Likewise there is much in that later that I read that I can identify with. Recently I wrote about how I have pushed away from evangelicalism so this hits a nerve with me. You can read that in, “Reflecting on My Decision to Reject Evangelical Christianity. Its Too Corrupt, Political and Intellectually Shallow.”
But after reading Jon Steingard’s letter on Instagram there are a number of themes from evangelicalism that need to be scrutinized. I understand that for some people this may be upsetting. I am at a different place than many others and doubt is a hard topic to consider. When you go from a world that is black and white and plunge into gray that is hard and your thinking shifts. Many people are going to misunderstand you. You will be dismissed and you will be looked at in a different way. So from my perspective the following issues need to be considerations and discussed from Steingard’s letter.
One Can’t Run From Doubt and The Importance of Coming Clean and Being Honest
Here is the problem with doubt. Doubt is not something you can bottle up or suppress. It festers and grows with time. Doubt can not be hidden or ignored. In the end it will come up in some shape or form. Doubt happens in many forms over many issues. From Jon Steingard it appears as if the problem of evil and Old Testament genocide loom large. The way to deal with doubt is to be open and honest. That is why I admire Joe Steingard for starting this conversation. In the end the issue needs to be discussed. Now where the problem lies is not with the doubt, but evangelical culture. In evangelical culture doubt is criticized or viewed as being unhealthy. In evangelical culture faith is always all in at 100%. There can be no compromise. Its often an all or nothing scenario. Not only does this guarantee faith crisis but it also sets up people for failure. This is why evangelical culture can be problematic. I compare evangelicalism to eating junk food. Yes you can get that sugar high but then down the road you are more exhausted that when you started and have nothing to show for it.
What Years of Evangelical Culture Can Do To You
Living inside evangelicalism is like siting on a powder keg waiting to explode. Just try and submit and go along and eventually it blows up. What is toxic? Years of being told what is Biblical and Godly. Years of being made to sit through Bible studies and seeing problems with what is being said but staying silent. Years of emotional worship that is really no different than looking at internet pornography. Years of emphasis on purity and how to date where sexuality is criminalized and people feel guilty. Years of being told to submit to church leadership of the pastor. You can’t think for yourself, ask varying questions or more. Years of being told to give money to the church when you still have needs and work hard for your money. Years of trying to fit into the mold so you can have friendships and acquaintances and being part of an inside group. Years of going to church or Bible studies not because you want to be there but because you feel pressured to be in attendance. All of this is toxic for people and its why evangelicalism leaves a wasteland of destroyed lives and created atheists in its wake.
When people are involved in a highly stressful religious system that is controlling well it brings harm. People are not designed to live life in such ways and they often and frequently act out. I recall reading at SGM Survivors once a man who was dealing with accountability and sharing his life in a community men’s group who only later learned that people in his small group were having affairs and engaging in illicit activity. And this doesn’t just apply to evangelicalism but all forms of controlling religion. Once when I was in college I was flying through Salt Lake City, Utah and I read an interesting article in the Salt Lake Tribune. The Tribune was profiling how Mormons in Utah were helping to drive the brothel industry in Nevada. They needed escape from the controlling and conservative culture of Mormonism and found it inside brothels across the border in Nevada. The Mormon Church was embarrassed and criticized the Salt Lake Tribune at the time for reporting on that issue.
But getting back to traditional evangelicalism, this blog believes that evangelicalism can leads to stunted lives and people who have self esteem issues and challenges. This needs to be considered and remembered when talking about the issues within evangelical culture.
Fear About Losing Everything is Real
When you run afoul of evangelicalism often what it means is that you suffer in silence and do so alone. Opening up and taking about these issues can lead to a loss of marriages, family and more. This blog had an interesting situation several years ago that was an eye opener for me. About four years ago I had a discussion by email with a guy who lost his faith and he had a major predicament. “Peter” (pseudonym) was a person who once took faith seriously. He was involved in a well known evangelical para-church ministry. If you think along the lines of Campus Crusade, Navigators or Intervarsity Christian Fellowship you would be correct. Peter led Bible study, did long devotions of scripture and was deeply involved in his faith. He met the person who would become his wife and they got married. It was an event in his ministry and involved a lot of people. This individual and his wife relocated and he began to teach when he was in his late twenties. What had happened is that he began to deal with doubt and his faith was not living up to what he was taught or told. It was a long, drawn out de-conversion into becoming nothing spiritually. The process lasted a few years and he tried hard to keep his faith. This is from one of his emails and this is how he described it to me.
“It began to seem to me that to a great extent Christian spirituality is a game where, whenever anything good happens, God gets the credit for it, and whenever anything bad happens you have to blame yourself. (Some variation here for traditions within Christianity that are really into the demonic.) I began to be suspicious because no matter what data is put in to the equation, the same outcome pops out (God is perfect and you are unworthy). Another reason I have not shared this story very much is I do not want to hear these answers from God’s indefatigable defenders. I should have had more faith, more patience, trusted God’s Word more, or whatever. But I’m just a finite person. It began to seem to me that Christian theology places infinite responsibility on finite creatures while making infinite excuses for an allegedly all-wise and all-powerful deity.
I kept praying, a lot, even though I was increasingly doubtful that anyone was listening. At that point I didn’t pray for specific things anymore except perseverance in the faith. I prayed and meditated a lot on Mark 9:24, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” This didn’t work. My main image for the second year was the poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold. The Sea of Faith, once at high tide, recedes irresistibly with “a melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.” You can’t really stand on the beach and will the tide not to go out, this is faintly comical. The progressive withdrawal of faith I experienced as involuntary and very much unwanted; it was a terrifying disaster because it was the removal of the thing I had built my life around since I was 19. It was the most upsetting and most painful experience of my life. The last stage of my prayer life centered on Isaiah 42:3, “A bruised reed he will not break; a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” That was a big one for me towards the end, I cried a lot over that one.”
When he lost his faith which is not what he wanted to do it was terrifying. He was also afraid of what would happen when his family found out. What would his wife do? What would his parents do? What would his in-laws do? Would his wife leave him when she found out? Would the idea of being married to an apostate who no longer believed in God became an issue? After all what about raising the kids on Sunday School and Bible stories? Peter in this case was fortunate as his wife also had a faith crisis and went through a de-conversion process as well. When she learned it was almost as if it was a relief as they were both on the same side of the issue. Since neither believed now they could stop going to church. The next issue is what about parents and other family? For some people losing faith can mean a loss of a marriage, or in some cases even a job. What do you do if you get a job through someone in your congregation and you have a faith crisis and lose your faith in God. Then what? While faith based discrimination is illegal it still happens in the United States. But some people who lose their faith can lose everything.
The Bible Has Issues and the Way Evangelicals Use it Exacerbates Its Problems
The Bible has some issues and its long past time to discuss them. One of the legacies of the Scopes trial is that many fundamentalists doubled down into the Bible. For me the line between evangelical and fundamentalist can often be blurred. Evangelical can be a hodge podge of beliefs and people move back and forth between the two movements and often do not realize it. The reason why is because the defining issues are being re-defined. The old days of fundamentalist would be King James Bible version only and a hyper conservative policies on dress, etc… Today fundamentalism means something different. Thanks to people like Mark Driscoll being a fundamentalist means beating your chest, enforcing a strict version of complementarianism, ESV Bible only and demanding your wife give you that “Gospel Centered” blow job so you can define your masculinity. As culture changes evangelicals double down. The key to being an evangelical in this blog’s view if that you must be insecure. You can’t deal with change, doubts, science or new ideas.
But let’s get back to the Bible. Many evangelicals have doubled down on the Bible. As issues change they cling to it harder and make discussions difficult if not impossible because for many evangelicals their faith is not in God but in that Bible which they often use as a prop. Can you have discussions on Old Testament genocide? Nope. Can you discuss why the Old Testament and the New Testament are appear to be in conflict with each other. Nope. Can you discuss how the Bible has verses and interpretations that can support both Calvinists and Armenians. Can you have in depth discussions on the problems of the Book of Job and why God would take a bet and make a person suffer? Often times what happens is that one can’t have these discussions. For many evangelicals the Bible can be a weapon. Its a way to control, shut down discussion, intimidate and more. And its evangelical culture. That approach exacerbates the Bible and the different translations create additional problems. In the view if this blog different denominations use different Bibles for different reasons and tribalism. Old school fundamentalists use the King James Version. The New-Calvinists use the ESV not because they say its the best version but because D.A. Carson was involved in creating it and many Calvinists have deified D.A. Carson.
Losing Faith is Like Experiencing Death
Losing faith is hard to describe unless you have gone through it. I went through a faith crisis that was hell and while I know evangelicalism is not the answer I don’t know a way ahead. I really liked what Jon Steingard said about pulling on a thread from a sweater. That is a good description of a faith crisis and losing faith. Maybe for me this blog is just that – pulling apart a sweater one thread at a time. Losing one’s faith is not an easy process. There are many people in the atheist or secular community that did not want to leave the faith. It just happened and they felt they had to respond accordingly. However many have also accepted it as well. But when I went through my faith crisis from 2009 until 2013 I felt like I processes out of Christianity. I was angry. It was not what I wanted to go through. I was angry that other people seemed to have it all together and I did not. Why was I dealing with these doubts and not others? All of those questions were going through my mind at the time.
Today after losing and burying both my parents I would state that losing faith is like going through a death. Today I have that experience and sadly that is what I think of when I reflect on this issue. My parents were still around and I had no experienced a death of my parents yet. But when I think back and reflect on the faith crisis I had from 2009 until 2013 and what I went through the deaths of my parents in 2017 and 2018 its similar. Its a death and its painful. Losing faith is like experiencing a death and you will grieve the loss of the faith you had. In my situation not only did I have that faith crisis and process out of faith for a while but then I also had to deal with that mess from that leader of former Sovereign Grace Redeemer Arlington. It leaves me to ask myself how did I even get here?
Evangelicals Can Be Cruel and Jon Will Experience Their Hatred
Now that Jon Steingard considers himself an atheist The next part for him is going to be hard. He is going to face character assassination, and ridicule. Evangelicals will mock him and say he never was a Christian to begin with. Jon’s new life is just starting what is he going to hear? This is a sample of some of what evangelicals will say.
- Jon Steingard wanted to live in sin and he left the faith so he can be free to sin.
- Jon Steingard was deceived by Satan and he is one of those people who fell away.
- Jon Steingard was never a Christian. The wheat are separated from the chaffe and he never was a Christian to begin with.
People will reject him, they will throw away his music and he will be attacked. The things people will say on social media will be cruel beyond belief. And what this blog will convey to Jon is to carry on and be the better man than most evangelicals. You will not be in that situation and your honesty is to be commended. This blog understands the issues and problems of evangelicalism and sympathizes. Also this blog is delighted to be a part of that conversation you wanted to have, and hopes that articles like this contribute to that discussion. Meanwhile if our paths ever cross in the Washington, D.C. area after the pandemic is over this blog would be happy to meet and discuss these issues. Unitl then be yourself, stay true and be honest. Your honesty is to be commended and you have much more honesty than many evangelicals would in a similar situation. This blog wishes you well.