A top news story in recent days has been that Jon Steingard, the band leader of popular Christian music group, Hawk Nelson, has made public his disbelief in God, and thus Christianity as a whole. If you don’t recognize the band name, many of you would recognize their music, such as “Drops in the Ocean” and “He Still Does (Miracles).” This has been a shock to many in the community due to their overtly Christian song lyrics. Jon wrote a detailed and genuinely transparent post on Instagram regarding his journey to disbelief. You can read it at the link below: https://www.instagram.com/p/CAbHm10lt7w/?igshid=1l3ym1tpzjrur
Jon’s experiences, doubts, and questions can lead to some excellent discussion, especially in regards to the importance of Christian apologetics (evidence in defense of the Christian worldview). The unanswered questions he has regarding God and faith are the same that many have, and over the next several articles, I will attempt to address each of them in a posted apologetics lesson. First, I would like to give five initial overarching points of perspective and teaching points specifically regarding his post:
- Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions about your faith. As you can see from Jon’s experience, these questions were lingering afterthoughts at first, which progressed to active doubt, which then led to a solidified point of view. As he says, this was several years in the making. Perhaps when these questions first arose in his heart, he pondered them privately, and they continued to balloon over time. Or perhaps he brought them to a church leader who discouraged the questions, saying he should just ‘have faith.’ What we do know is that he brought it up to friends who not only did not have the answers, but they compounded the doubt because they struggled with the same and weren’t reaching out to find the answers either. The primary take-away here is to ask the questions, and do not be deterred on your search for a person or book that can at least give a possible answer to it, so that it is not a barrier in your faith. The heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false. As my subsequent posts will hopefully show, at least possible answers regarding the toughest questions are out there should you take the time, make the effort, and have the willingness to find them.
- Christian apologetics is vital in the believer’s life today. ‘Apologetics’ comes from the Greek word ‘apologia’ meaning ‘defense’. It is used in 1 Peter 3:15 which tells us to ‘always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.’ This is knowing what you believe, why you believe it, and being able to explain it to people. This will make you more confident in your faith, especially in times of doubt; it will make you a more confident witness because you’ll know what you believe is objectively true (not just for you, but for everyone); and it will help clear away obstacles and objections that people have who are genuinely seeking Truth. As is evidenced in Jon’s post, having some powerful religious experiences, or growing up surrounded by a Christian family and church, is not enough to demonstrate the Truth of Christianity and arrive at Truth on a personal level. If we focus too much on entertainment and the emotions of our personal Christian experience, we’ll one day be a sitting duck for the doubts that creep in when difficult real-life events come up, or when a skeptic questions our faith, or when we are bombarded by one of the many secular relativistic humanistic philosophies that are out there. See Colossians 2:8.
- The ‘negative’ evidence must be weighed against the ‘positive’ evidence. Even if we consider Jon’s difficult questions about the Christian faith as evidence against the existence of God, he doesn’t consider the other side of the equation. He may not be familiar with the powerful scientific and philosophical evidence for belief in God. Many of us may have difficulty understanding the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the biblical God’s actions and sentiments. These questions and concerns may pile bricks of doubt on the scale weighing towards disbelief; however, I believe this ignores the elephant of objective evidence for the existence of God that comfortably weighs down the scale on the other side. Thus my subsequent posts need to not only attempt to answer Jon’s questions, but also offer some of the ‘positive’ evidence for the Christian worldview, at least in regards to belief in God.
- Christianity is bigger than one’s personal Christian experience. Many people decide what they believe based on their own personal experience with God, and especially the people around them who represent Christianity to them. As Jon says, he didn’t ‘feel’ anything when praying or worshipping God. He wasn’t comfortable with the fancy Christian lingo. He thought it was unsettling to be asked to “date Jesus” for a year. Many can identify with the cliché tropes of youth groups and church experiences growing up. For Jon, these things contributed to his disbelief. Though understandable, these can cause us to lose sight of the much, much bigger picture of Christianity as a whole and how God has worked in and through peoples’ lives throughout all of history. From the Christian perspective, when a person decides they no longer believe, they automatically make illegitimate the work of every career missionary who ever dedicated and sacrificed their lives to spreading the Gospel. Christian martyrs become absolute fools. All the lives that have been changed throughout all of history by the evangelism of the likes of Apostle Paul, Hudson Taylor, and Billy Graham are shams. In other words, some personal experiences during an obnoxious childhood youth group are heavily contributing to the personal claim that Christianity is the greatest and most evil hoax ever perpetuated upon the human race. One does not logically follow from the other. True story: A few days ago, I found a long spider leg in my overcooked Chinese food. Based on this, let’s say I thought that every Chinese restaurant in the world was careless and dirty, and everyone who liked Chinese food was objectively an idiot for eating it. No, I had a singular and legitimately terrible experience and no one could blame me for not returning to that restaurant. This restaurant has served 10s of 1000s of meals… perhaps this was a fluke or perhaps they are truly a bad Chinese restaurant, but it certainly doesn’t follow that Chinese food itself is objectively ‘bad’ simply because of my singular experience. People often have negative feelings toward Christianity because they associate it with a legitimately bad church experience or a hypocritical ‘Christian’ they met, but that very limited perspective shouldn’t automatically cause one to disbelieve in Christianity as a whole, and the very real impact it’s had on billions of people throughout history. Though it is the most common practice in the world, sadly we cannot logically determine the truth of a belief system based on the actions of its adherents.
- Going through the motions of Christianity without an actual relationship with Christ will always cause internal resentment. The conversation changes somewhat based on whether Jon was ever truly a Christian. This is certainly not for us to judge, and there’s no way to know for sure, but there are indicators that he never accepted Christ in the first place. There is lack of a specific salvation experience in his story, and this in addition to his general discomfort and resentment toward prayer and worship from the very beginning. He disliked going to church and reading the Bible; Christian obligation seems to have always been a burden to him. He actually even says that looking back, perhaps he never believed in the first place. This very much seems to imply that Jesus never truly resided in Jon’s heart, as he never felt compelled internally to do any of these things. Going through the motions of Christianity because of family, friends, or general expectations will always eventually cause resentment. Without right internal motivation, and without understanding the ‘why’ behind these actions, they will always only be a weight on one’s shoulders. This weight becomes heavier as time goes on, and as soon as one is free of that environment of expectation, it becomes very attractive to consider dropping it from the shoulders completely. When one finally does, as Jon did, it can feel freeing, as he describes. However, if one truly accepts Jesus into their heart as Lord and Savior, these actions are no longer simply obligations; they are outpourings of love, humility, and deep appreciation of the grace and mercy that God gave us through his Son. This is where true freedom is found. See John 8:32.
Once again, I would like to reiterate my respect for Jon’s post, along with its honesty and transparency. As I conclude this initial post, let’s sum up his questions about the Christian faith into categories to tackle each of them in a future post. All of these posts are currently available except for the one on Biblical Inerrancy, which is yet to be written:
- Selected Arguments for the Existence of God
- The Question of Evil and Suffering
- Why would an all-loving, all-powerful God allow evil in the world?
- Does He not have the power to do anything about it or does He choose not to?
- Is evil and suffering a result of free will?
- What about the suffering caused by natural disaster where free will seems not to be at fault?
- Why would a loving God send people to hell?
- The God of the Old Testament vs. God of the New Testament
- Why does God seem angry in the OT, but a loving father in the NT?
- How do we understand His commandment not to murder in light of His instruction for Israel to kill all the Canaanite men, women, and children in the Promised Land?
- Did God allow Job to suffer in order to win a bet with Satan?
- Why does God tell Abraham to sacrifice his son (which seems certainly like murder), and then retract the command at the last minute?
- Women in the Bible
- Why does the Bible seem oppressive of women (see 1 Timothy)? Why do biblical instructions seem to treat women more like property than equals? Why would a loving God seem to condone this treatment in the NT?
- Are the instructions regarding women in the Bible supposed to be applicable today or do they simply reflect the culture of the time?
- Substitutionary Atonement
- Why did Jesus have to die for our sins? Why can’t God forgive humans without someone being killed (Jesus in this case)?
- If God requires human sacrifice (a perfect human in this case) in order to forgive sins, how come we humans can forgive someone without human sacrifice?
- Biblical Inerrancy
- What about the seeming contradictions throughout the Bible? Does this not indicate that the writers were flawed and imperfect, and thus their writings would reflect the same?
- Can our current English translations be trusted having been passed down and copied throughout history?
- Can the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts be trusted? Can we really take their writing as the flawless inerrant Word of God? If so, why? And why were certain writings chosen to be included as part of the perfect Word of God, the Bible, and some were not? (I added that one)
Some of these questions are tougher than others. Some have strong, clear answers, and others have possible answers which hopefully will at least serve to remove the barrier to belief in Christianity. Some I have struggled with personally as well. Regardless, they are all questions worth asking. As mentioned, in addition to these questions, I believe it will be important to share some of the strongest evidence to support a basic belief in God (the God of Christianity). As I tackle these questions in subsequent articles, I pray that you will not be afraid to wrestle with your faith as well, asking the tough questions, and going to Scripture and trusted spiritual leaders to discuss them.