Another Prominent Christian Musician Walks Away from the Faith
Cultural Christianity claims another victim
According to Steingard: “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life — I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”
He is not alone.
According to research by Barna, Nearly two-thirds of U.S. 18–29-year-olds who grew up in church withdraw from church involvement as an adult after having been active as a child or teen.
Still, it is always a shocking thing when someone in the public eye steps away from the faith. I love Hawk Nelson’s music. So, I found myself troubled when I heard of Steingard’s recantation of his Christian faith. When I got around to reading the lengthy Instagram post in which he made his public announcement, I was even more troubled.
While I have nothing but compassion for Steingard’s position, I am vexed about how a person could grow up in the faith, attending church week-in and week-out, and, at the end of the day, still find nothing to hang his ‘faith hat’ on. How is that possible?
On a second reading of Steingard’s Instagram post, I noted that the issues that lead him to his current position are sadly, all too typical in church circles. Here are some of the things that lead Steingard — and many others — away from their faith in God:
Glib Answers to Tough Questions
It is clear from Steingard’s announcement that he had genuine questions and doubts about the Christian faith. Steingard says:
If God is all loving and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Can he not do anything about it? Does he choose not to? If God is loving, why does he send people to Hell?
These are questions that everyone asks in their head, but not as many ask out loud. The church often dismisses them with glib, religious catch phrases like, “Just have for faith,” or “God works in mysterious ways.”
Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s unhealthy to discuss these difficult questions. We worry that, exposed to the light, our faith will fade away. If it’s tested it may just shatter. But, if our faith is that fragile, it probably was never true. If our God is so easily defeated, he is probably not really the true God. Whether we have built castles of doctrine on flimsy foundations or have, metaphorically curled ourselves up into a ball around the fundamentals of the gospel, avoiding the tough questions, is never going to lead to any kind of real answers.
The church MUST engage with people’s doubts — not simply dismiss them.
The Problem of the Bible
“The Bible says so,” is one of the most spiritually and intellectual lazy things that a Christian can say. Steingard says:
“My whole life, people always said. “You have to go back to the Bible.” I found that consulting and discussing the Bible didn’t answer my questions. It only amplified them.
Steingard recalls that he was taught that the Bible is the irrefutable, inspired word of God. However, he continued to have nagging doubts that were never addressed in any meaningful way.
“Why does God seem so pissed off in the in most of the Old Testament, and then, all of a sudden he’s a loving father in the New Testament?”
My observation is that Steingard was never given permission to entertain the idea that his faith need not be dependent on holding to a literal view of Scripture. Let’s be honest here, it is difficult at times, to take the Bible as literal, historic truth. Was Jonah actually swallowed by a real whale? It’s hard to accept this as fact, isn’t it? While I do believe that to actually be a Christian requires a faith agreement with certain things that seem implausible — such as the resurrection of Christ — it does not require you to take every part of the Bible literally.
Further, when viewed through a twenty-first century worldview, some of the events and actions in the Bible seem morally reprehensible. This was certainly Steingard’s observation. Stoning people to death? Genocide? Rape? It’s all in the Bible. However, does its presence in the Bible indicate God’s agreement with the practice?
Telling a person to simple trust the word of God, or take look at the original Greek, or try a different version, doesn’t allay these doubts about the Bible.
The Church must allow people to have and express reasonable doubts about the Bible and recognize that faith is possible without ever looking at one.
Inability to be Authentic
From Steingard’s Instagram post, it is clear that he has been having significant doubts for many decades but has largely kept these doubts to himself. This is the great tragedy of cultural Christianity.
We ought to be able to express our doubts to each other without fear of reprisal or judgement, but too often this is not the case. A real church community, should allow us to be authentic about our struggles, our sins and our pain. Too often though, we feel like we must check all these thing out at the door of the church, put on a big smile and a thin veneer of niceness, before we process into a church building. It’s a sham.
The word hypocrite — in the first instance — actually was the word for “actor” or “one who wears a mask.” What a pity the church is full of actors, performing for God and each other, when all God wants is authenticity.
The Church must become a place of emotional safety where people are free to be vulnerable and real.
According to Steingard, as a young person he attended a youth conference where every teenager was encouraged to sign a pledge that they would ‘date Jesus’ for a year. He found himself unsettled by this and didn’t sign the pledge.
Good for him.
These kind of pledges and commitments that heap emotional pressure, particularly in large groups, amounts to nothing more than emotional manipulation. If the church needs the threat of hell to win a convert, then the product it is selling mustn’t be that alluring on its own. If we can’t convince anyone that God is good without smoke machines, soft lighting and keyboard pad, then maybe our God is not so interesting.
The Church ought to ditch the manipulative sales-pitch tactics that it uses to get people to “sign up” for Christianity. Let God speak for himself.
Steingard says he always had the feeling that he wasn’t doing enough of the things Christians were supposed. He says of himself and his wife:
“We didn’t enjoy going to church. We didn’t enjoy reading the Bible. We didn’t enjoy praying. We didn’t enjoy worship. It all felt like obligation.”
I’m not surprised.
Churches load Christians up with so much religious activity — much of it done out of duty — that it became downright exhausting. The effort required to drag myself out of bed on a Sunday morning, put on a brave face and try to get three reluctant children ready for a church service that were mildly opposed to attending anyway, was disproportionate the potential reward.
When I did attend church, I would often look around the room at the other people present and what I observed was that people seemed overwhelmingly bored — especially during the hour-long oration from the so-called expert in the pulpit. So, I stopped attending church, now I’m closer to God.
I would hate to see anyone come to believe that Christianity consists of Bible reading, prayer and singing worship songs. Because Christianity is — first and foremost — about being, not doing. If one ever feels like they are not “doing” what good Christians are supposed to do, it sounds alarm bells for me. None of my children are my children because of what they do for me and neither would I say to them, “You are not my children anymore because you didn’t do your chores.” Preposterous!
The Church ought to quit loading people up with meaningless religious activity.
Time to Wake Up
It’s time for the church to wake up! Cultural Christianity doesn’t produce life-long Christians. Give me a church where we can be real with each other. Give me a church where ‘being’ is more important that ‘doing.’ Give me a church where I can express my doubts without being condemned. Give me a church where it is emotionally safe to share. Give me a church where manipulation is not needed because the real Christ is far too compelling to need a sales pitch. Give me a church for Jon Steingard.
Oh, how I feel for Jon Steingard.
Many of the reasons that he left the faith, are the same reasons that I left the Church. Unlike Steingard, I have not given up my faith because, free from the constraint of organized religion, I have found it personally life-giving and existentially satisfying. Perhaps Steingard was unable to separate his faith from his religious activity, as much as I hate to suggest it. His dislike of one, lead him to forsake the other. I can only hope that God finds Jon Steingard again as he journeys through his spiritual wilderness.