1. Public figures leaving the faith highlights discipleship problems in the Church in America
In 2019, two prominent Christian figures generated a national conversation about whether there is a discipleship problem in the Church after one officially renounced his Christian faith and another publicly admitted that he is beginning to question it.
Former Maryland megachurch pastor and author Joshua Harris generated headlines nationwide in July when he announced that he can no longer call himself a Christian.
Harris served at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg from 2004 until his resignation in 2015, when he left to pursue graduate studies at Regent College in British Columbia.
He is the author of the popular 1997 book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which called modern dating a “training ground for divorce.”
Harris posted on Instagram that he had undergone a “massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus.”
“The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away,’” Harris wrote. “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”
In the post, Harris explained that he had “lived in repentance for the past several years,” repenting of what he called his own self-righteousness, the teachings in his books, and his views on women and sexuality. He called it a “fear-based approach to life.”
“I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality,” he wrote. “I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming [the LGBT community] and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.”
After announcing his departure from the faith, Harris marched in an LGBT pride parade in August.
Following Harris’ announcement, prolific worship music writer Marty Sampson, known for his work with Hillsong Worship and other ministries, publicly admitted in August that he is “genuinely” losing his faith.” He even said: “it doesn’t bother me.”
“How many preachers fall? Many,” Sampson wrote in a since-deleted post on Instagram. “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.”
Sampson later clarified that he did not renounce Christianity entirely but that his faith was on “incredibly shaky ground.”
“I have and continue to analyze the arguments of prominent Christian apologists and biblical scholars, and am open-minded enough to consider the arguments of atheist debaters and debaters from other religions,” Sampson wrote in a Facebook comment responding to a CP op-ed.
“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.”
The announcements from high-profile Christians such as Harris and Sampson drew responses from various Christian leaders with their own take what they meant in terms of problems with discipleship in the Church.
“The fact is, too many churches sell Christianity with feelings,” opined John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. “We’re told how interested God is in our own happiness, our own meaning, and our own sense of purpose. But our feelings cannot determine whether or not something is actually true.”
Even before the announcements from Harris and Sampson, it’s been well documented that Christianity in America is on the decline while the percentage of those who identify as “religiously unaffiliated” or “nones” have been steadily rising.
In 2019, The Christian Post published an eight-part feature series titled “Leaving Christianity.”
The series explored reasons why many Americans are rejecting the faith they grew up with. The series features testimonies and looks at trends, church failures and how Christians can respond to those who are questioning their beliefs.
CP’s series “Leaving Christianity” can be read here.
Samuel Smith contributed to this report.