The absence of Jesus from his confession must mean something. We all have implicit faith in something. Steingard has placed his implicit faith somewhere other than Jesus (one suspects that he locates it now in himself) and so Christ is absent from his account. God the Son became incarnate. He was born of the Virgin. He healed the lame and raised the dead. He challenged the powers of this age and suffered at their hands. The Gospels tell us that he was beaten, crucified, dead, buried, raised, and ascended and yet Steingard never mentions him.
Jon Steingard is lead singer of the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) band, Hawk Nelson. My CCM days are mostly behind me so I confess that I am not familiar with his music but I do recognize that he is a significant figure to a generation. He has 27,000 “followers” on Instagram, which is symbol of a certain degree of influence. Recently on Instagram, he posted a letter (in a series of images) explaining why he feels compelled to declare his apostasy from the Christian faith. Just as he used to give his testimony as a part of the evangelical liturgy, so now he gives his testimony as an new atheist, with the same sort of sweaty, overwrought, enthusiasm one associates with evangelical revival meetings. In view of his influence it is worth asking about the significance of yet another evangelical “deconversion.”
According to his letter he grew up as a pastor’s kid doing what a lot of PKs do, singing in a Christian band, leading worship, and living in the Christian bubble. He testifies that he has been having private conversations with friends, who like Steingard, also harbor deep (but apparently not very well investigated) doubts about the Christian faith. He likens his faith to a sweater. He says that he has been pulling threads on the sweater and no there is no sweater left. His faith is gone because it could not stand up to scrutiny. His faith, he says, was really the product of a shared belief, that he has long had doubts that he suppressed until he could suppress them no more. What are those faith-killing questions?
- If God is all loving, why is there evil in the world? (Free will does not answer these, he says) since some evils are simply acts of God.
- The Bible did not answer his questions but only intensified them.
- The God of the Old Testament is angry frequently but the New Testament God is suddenly loving. This seems incoherent.
- The Bible contains a lot of contradictions. It turns out that the Bible was written by people as flawed as he.
- The responses he received from some, who sought to help, were problematic (e.g., appealing to the difficulties in the King James Version) but the original Greek (which he does not read) is also flawed and human.
- There are passages in 1 Timothy that seem oppressive of women.
- He has been struggling with depression.
In my experience #7 is perhaps the greatest problem. Almost always, appeals to intellectual difficulties mask a deep emotional, psychological, or spiritual problem. The intellectual “problems” are a cover for what is really happening. Sometimes people are involved in gross sin and prefer it to obedience. Men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19). Sometimes there are profound emotional and psychological problems that have not been addressed or have been addressed badly.
The way to respond to such issues is to pray. Human beings are not capable of doing the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who hovered over the face of the deep. He was poured out at Pentecost. He is the “Lord and giver of life” (Nicene Creed). He softens hearts and opens eyes. He gives new life to the spiritually dead (John 3 [all]).
We should also remember that there are always two kinds of people in the visible church, those who will come to faith and those who profess faith but who do not come to faith. Ordinarily it is not for us to know who is and is not elect. We should hope that Steingard has been a member of a congregation that will take seriously its duty to discipline him. We should pray that God the Spirit will use that process to convict him of his sin, to teach him the greatness of his sin and misery, and of his need for the Savior. We should pray that God the Spirit will use the law to convict him and the gospel to draw him to Christ.
This is not to say that we should not address issues 1–6. I truly believe that they are not the real problem but we should address them as a symbol of our love for and commitment to those who have apostatized and to help those who might be similarly tempted.