MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday the 28th of February, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: Culture Friday.
BASHAM: It feels like it’s becoming a trend. A disturbing one.
Well-known Christian figures not just leaving the faith, but making apostasy part of their public platform. First there was Josh Harris, former pastor and author of Christian books.
If you’re not familiar with Rhett and Link, your kids or grandkids likely are. Their channel has 15 million subscribers and their videos have over 5 billion views.
EICHER: What you really need to know though is that Rhett and Link are former youth group leaders and missionaries. After college they volunteered with Campus Crusade, making funny videos.
Those videos are what lead to their eventually earning many millions of dollars an “intertainers.” Internet entertainers. It’s also why Christian kids make up a huge portion of their audience.
Here’s a bit of Rhett telling that audience, though, why he doesn’t believe anymore.
RHETT: The deeper I have dug into Christianity with a thirst for the truth, the more difficult it has become to have faith. In fact, for me it, has become impossible. And that was kind of the reckoning for me. That was jumping ship.
I kind of saw Christianity as this boat in a very stormy sea. It’s stable; there’s a lot of other people on it. It’s got a destination. You’re going to get through this. And it gives you something to hold onto. It gives you stability. It gives you direction, and it gives you community. And when I jumped ship, I didn’t jump to another boat. I jumped into the water and I pulled my wife and children in with me.
John Stonestreet joins us now for Culture Friday. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
John, good morning.
JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning!
EICHER: So John, it’s almost like these guys are giving their version of testimonies or as they’re being called deconstruction stories.
But since February third, the duo have devoted something like eight hours to their deconstruction stories.
So what it seems to me is that it’s really a kind of evangelism, except instead of bringing good news, they’re saying basically your faith is futile.
So it’s more, I think, than just a courteous heads-up, we’re not who you think we are. But it seems they’re trying to make converts. Well, de-converts. Is that how it strikes you?
STONESTREET: Oh, I think either that or it’s a good way to make money and stay relevant. It’s a pretty common thing where kind of deconversion stories from either evangelicalism itself or from an evangelical point of view on something.
Look, I’ve been around enough youth events and youth pastors to know that the line that, “well, you know, we were on the inside and we just can’t believe it anymore” doesn’t necessarily mean they had really good reasons for why they believe what they believe. So much youth group is a competition to kind of entertain and so on that it doesn’t really get to a level of depth. Very often it’s those who are hired because—and they’re hired not because they have a remarkably deep understanding of the faith, it’s because they’re young and cool and they can attract people and they’re really great and kids really like them and so on.
I was talking about this the other day, Nick and Megan, is that being a pastor is—I don’t know of another job like a pastor or a youth pastor where your success is measured against the one thing that you’re not trained to do. I don’t know if that makes sense. Your job as a pastor or youth pastor is to make disciples and we almost universally measure their success by numbers. In other words, think about if that were your daily job. Like, I want you to do this job but I’m going to measure you on completely different categories. And then we have a media or an ethos in which—kind of a media way of communicating that turn their stories, like this, into stories that for some reason should interest the rest of us. But I’m not really sure why.
EICHER: I mean, really, it’s kind of like journalism versus clickbait.
BASHAM: John, something that struck me over the course of those videos–and I’ll confess I didn’t listen to all eight hours because after about three I felt like I had a pretty good handle on their arguments–was their description of what sounded like a fairly typical journey to wokeness.
They made some jokes about finding a more comfortable home in “California Christianity.” That was how they described urban coastal churches that keep Jesus but nix the Biblical sexual morality. They talked about how damaging evangelical churches are for women because they believe men and women have different roles. That was a little ironic because Rhett and Link led their wives out of the faith.
And they really just disparaged the evangelical church as an “oppressive environment” They said the main reason they didn’t feel that way when they were younger is because they’re “straight white dudes.”
Any lessons we should take from that?
STONESTREET: Yeah, I mean, it kind of underscores my point. It might be that the reason they changed their minds is because they’re straight white dudes and they just realized that. But that’s not the reason to be an evangelical. That’s not the reason not to be an evangelical. And that’s the one thing.
The second thing that I think is a really hard lesson is one that the evangelical church should have been learning for a long time, which is this idea that the quickest way to empty your church is to agree with the culture. That liberal mindset is so non-distinct from the larger culture that church becomes irrelevant. So the attempt to make the church relevant to the ideas predominant in the culture actually ends up making the church non-distinct. And why should I get up and go to hear a sermon—even if it’s really cool and there’s a rock band and a smoke machine—on a Sunday morning when I can just listen to NPR. You know? It’s like it stops having any relevance. And I think the perpetual search for relevance by the evangelical church has always been its undoing in so many ways.
BASHAM: Before we turn from this topic, I want to ask one more thing that’s really preying on my mind as a mom of an almost-middle schooler who likes to watch some of these Christian entertainers on YouTube. And she’s starting to come to me with some pretty tough theological questions.
I actually thought Rhett made a couple of good points. He talked about how he first let go of the idea of a literal Adam and Eve and other stories in the Old Testament. Then he realized that you can’t make sense of Jesus if you don’t believe those things.
So overall, what I heard was someone who seemed to be actively feeding his disbelief. But at the same time, I believe we can bring our questions and doubts to the Lord and His Word. But would you say there’s a difference between feeding faith and feeding doubt in ourselves and in our kids?
STONESTREET: Well, I wouldn’t make the distinction between faith and doubt because I think doubt is very often an ingredient or a part of faith. And doubting is part of the human experience. It’s part of the way God made us. And I think a much more important question is not am I doubting, but am I doubting well? The Biblical distinction that I think is made maybe more clearly is the difference between a seeker and a mocker. Proverbs really talks about those who seek truth and the Psalms are filled with people who if you read the statements in any other context you would think it’s a doubt. But the inability to take hard, fast stances on things leads to kind of an ethos where the cool kid is not the seeker but the mocker. The one who assumes upfront that truth is never going to be found, so he mocks the search himself, even while he’s on the journey.
And a mocker has given up any ability to recognize truth if he actually ever stumbled upon it or it fell out a window and hit him on the head. And I think the book of Proverbs gives us some really good stuff there.
EICHER: Well we don’t want to leave on this down note because there are also some things to celebrate when it comes to entertainers and faith. And, man, I have to say, this one really surprised me!
First it was Kanye, now Justin Bieber!
Last week Justin Bieber gave an interview to Apple Music about how his faith in Christ has really been rekindled.
In it, he described being a lukewarm believer for a long time.
BIEBER: I really took a deep dive in my faith, to be honest. I believed in Jesus but I never really, like, you know, when it says following Jesus is actually turning away from sin … what it talks about it in the Bible is that there’s no faith without obedience. So I had faith like I believe Jesus died on the cross for me but I never really implemented it into my life. I was never, like, I’m going to be obedient.
BASHAM: After that Bieber went on at some length about his new understanding of the Holy Spirit has helped him turn from drug use and other sins.
Now, John, I don’t want to suggest that it’s any more important when a celebrity who was lost is found. But nor is it any less important. Hearing Bieber talk about sin and grace, using some really sound doctrine, had me cheering! So what do you think, should we see if we can book a group rate to the Kanye-Bieber concert tour I hope is coming?
STONESTREET: Ah, I think I’m busy that night, but I will say talking about sin and things as sin is remarkably refreshing and Biblically orthodox.
EICHER: Well, John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
John, thanks so much.
STONESTREET: Thank you!