Honest talk about honest questions (amended)August 13, 2019
(This post is being amended as Marty Sampson has now clarified that he is not renouncing the faith, just expressing openly his doubts and questions. I, for one, am thankful!)
Prior to Marty Sampson’s clarification, I had written in response to first announcement:
For the second time in as many weeks a high profile professional Christian used social media to broadcast his departure from the faith. Marty Sampson, worship leader, singer and songwriter for Hillsong, shared on Instagram (in a post which has since been deleted):
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.
How are we to hear this? A person who once espoused faith in Jesus Christ – and lead others to worship Christ – now says faith is lost. If we take him at his word (and I have no reason not to) here is a very public confession of a person who once believed, but now believes differently. Or, actually, by his own confession, believes there is nothing to believe in. That is classical nihilism and it is the logical conclusion of a worldview where God is not.
Where I find myself confused is that he also says he is not bothered by the loss of his faith nor the consequences it may have for others. He describes himself as “happy now” and “at peace with the world.” What does that mean? Are not happiness and peace both superficial unless they are grounded in the substantial enduring reality of the God who is? When he says of his own deconstructed faith that “it’s crazy,” I concur.
His post continued:
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.
This one paragraph serves as evidence that this individual is unfamiliar with the entire apologetics worldview conversation happening continually across all sectors of the Church. How could he possibly have missed the very intentional engagement of the very questions he says “no one talks about it?” We literally talk about these questions ALL THE TIME. But the last sentence of the paragraph is the window into the heart of the matter: “it’s not for me.”
What is the “it” to which he is referring? If the “it” is Christianity as a religious institutional system, then I get it. But if the “it” is the Gospel, if the “it” is the Cross and Christ, if the “it” is the redemptive plan of God for the salvation of the world and the rejection of God’s grace – then let us grieve Marty Sampson’s rejection of “it.”
The last word of the sentence (me) becomes the clear theme in the next paragraph. Listen to the spirit of the age, autonomy:
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.
Can you hear Sampson talking himself into, rationalizing and seeking to justify his denial of the Way and the Truth and the Life? He leads by saying “I am not in any more.” He clearly identifies as one who was in and is now out; one who understands and once acknowledged as true the truth claim made and now rejects it.
His turn to scientism is in the spirit of the age as his appeal to religious pluralism and self help. But the real evidence that this individual is wholly out of relationship with God is in his relegation of God to a “version.” The invitation to “unfollow if you want,” should be heeded by any and all who once followed this individual as he is now leading down a path that leads away from God and light and life. I find it piercing that he says to his own followers, “I’ve never been about living my life for others.” Wow. Just wow. We may find the honesty of that statement refreshing, but consider what that means coming from a person who has made his living as a professional Christian.
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.
We need to deal with this final paragraph sentence by sentence.
“All I know is what’s true to me right now,
Notice again the subject of the sentence: I. Remember Paul’s teaching about the difference between knowledge and wisdom? What does it mean to know God? What does it mean to long to know God more and more? If all you know is right now and all you know right now is literally “what’s true to me right now,” you are seeing things through from a very small place of limited perspective and utter i-centered-ness. Consider the epistemology of the statement: all I know – the full scope of my knowledge – is what’s true to me – just me – right now – in this very moment. Where God seeks to share an eternal, cosmic perspective, this individual has so shuttered off God that he knows only his own transitory temporal experience to be true. That is very unstable ground upon which to seek to build a life.
and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point.”
This is not surprising. If I were to reduce and constrict my knowledge base to my experiential sensual inputs in this very moment, I too might have a moment – a point in time – when it all seemed irrational, unreasonable, unbelievable, and utterly foolish. So, how do you know what you know of God? I know because I have read and I know because others have born testimony and I know because I have experienced and I know because I fellowship with Him. I know of God from others, I know about God from His Word, and I know God through worship and fellowship with Him. As I abide in Christ, Christ abides in me. I am possessed of His Holy Spirit. I am being conformed to His likeness through moment by moment submission to His active work in my life. I am being used by Him for His name’s sake. I could go on and on about all the ways I know Christianity is not like any other religion because it’s not a religion at all. But I won’t. That’s actually the next sentence in the paragraph we’re discussing:
“I could go on, but I won’t.”
And yet, you do. And I’m glad you do, because in the going on you reveal the residue of the faith you say you reject.
“Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good absolutely.”
Here I want to ask Marty: what is this love of which you speak? How do you know love? What is love? And this forgiveness? What is that and how do you know of it? You speak these words in the imperative – love and forgive – but out of what reservoir would you have us draw? How can we do for others what we have not experienced existentially for ourselves and who is in a position to love and forgive those who are unlovable for things unforgivable? And this kindness and generosity of which you speak? What are these? From whom do we learn such attributes and by what motivation are we kind and generous in a world governed only by Darwin’s survival instinct or the selfish ambition of more? And what good? What is good? Who is good? By what standard do you measure these and how do you know good when it see it? Is good only good by your finite defining of it from your personal perspective in a given moment and if so, how can I know that which is limited to what you can know where you are right now? You have defined everything as subject to you and yet you say imperatively to everyone else that we should love, forgive, be kind, generous and do good absolutely. Absolutely based on what? By who or what are we to measure that which is absolute when you have just declared there is no absolute basis, no absolute truth, no absolutes?
“Some things are good no matter what you believe.”
Now wait just a minute! You can’t have it both ways! You can’t have my relative personal truth AND absolute – not matter what you believe – Good on the other! This is where I see cracks in the armor of a hardened heart. This is where I see evidence of the residue of a belief in objective goodness, beauty and truth. Those pesky transcendental virtues that bear witness to God even when we’re actively seeking to reject Him.
“Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”
Here I set my hope that Marty yet knows the reality of God who indeed established the rhythm of the sun’s rise and the redemptive narrative of the Son rise to reveal Himself and His goodness and grace that even those who lose their faith may be found and restored and reconciled again.
Oh, and for those who have questions of the kind Marty thinks Christians today are not willing to talk. Welcome to the conversation where no question is off limits.
(Amended post after reading Leah MarieAnn Klett’s reporting in the ChristianPost🙂
As I read Sampson’s clarification wherein he admits he’s “struggling with many parts of the belief system that seem so incoherent with common human morality,” I felt simultaneously grateful to God and hopeful for this brother in Christ who is striving for the faith. His questions are real and raw and not unusual:
“If most of humankind had a choice, would we not rid the world of the scourge of cancer? Or sickness and disease? Why doesn’t God do such a thing? Of course there is an answer to this question, but the majority of a typical Christian’s life is not spent considering these things,” he wrote. “Questions such as these remain in the too hard basket.”
Not too hard. Complex, yes, but not too hard.
I was encouraged to hear this clear acknowledgement: “If the truth is true, it will remain so regardless of my understanding of it. If I search it out, surely it will become even more clearly seen as the truth that it is. Examining a diamond more closer reveals the quality of the diamond. As I am still breathing, I am still learning.”
That’s the humble posture of a disciple. Not unlike Thomas or Philip or Peter, Marty has his questions of the Savior. Points where his lived experience and his human hopes are challenged by the reality of God’s unsearchable mysteries and humanity’s idolatrous heart.
Here are a couple of points where I hope Marty – and others like Marty – will continue to engage:
- propositional apologetics may not provide the kind of conversational give and take necessary to respond moment by moment to the concerns raised. We need a different kind of apologetics and different kinds of apologists for the questions Marty asks.
- Marty has both an expansive circle of conversation partners (including evangelistic atheists) and a a narrow circle (Hillsong). He may need to limit the former and expand the latter as he presses into the Truth.
- His concern to have “well-educated opinions” is a red flag. We’re either pursuing the Truth or this is all just a huge waste of time and talent and resources. Either Jesus rose from the dead and everything hangs on the hinge of who He is and what He has done or, as Paul acknowledges, “we are fools most to be pitied.” The pursuit of more information toward the goal of well-educated opinions is insufficient to carry the freight of the faith.
I want Marty Sampson to have far more than well-educated opinions, I want him to have and to hold Jesus – I want Marty to find his identity, belonging and purpose in the Grace of God which comes in the person of Jesus Christ and to live, moment by moment, day by day, breath by breath, step by step in and with the Spirit of the living God! I want Marty Sampson to get all his questions answered because he knows the God who is. For this I pray.