In the wake of yet another “celebrity” deconstruction story, the reactions are beginning to pour in from many across the Christian spectrum.
To this point I have to give Sean McDowell credit for what is I believe the most balanced and relatable response.
I was tempted not to write anything at all about the case of Hawk Nelson’s Jon Steingard; I’ve refrained from posting anything substantive regarding the other celebrity deconstructions in recent memory: Rhett and Link, Josh Harris, and Marty Sampson.
The reason I want to say something now is simple: It’s becoming trendy to publicly deconvert, and that is not good.
So rather than focus on the answers to his questions or speculate on whether he was truly saved, etc., I’d like to instead make three observations we ought to take away from the general trend.
Christian Public Influencers are (Usually) not Theologians
The first of these seems glaringly obvious upon a moment’s reflection, but this point almost never crossed my mind before becoming a critical thinker concerning matters of faith.
We get the idea that those who’ve been “so successful” as to be able to go public in their Christian witness must be extra-Christian or something.
But why do we think this? It’s not as tough Steingard, Harris, Rhett and Link, or Sampson were somehow vetted by the masses to hold such a standing.
Now it is true that Harris was a renowned author and Sampson a songwriter, and I believe Steingard was a songwriter as well. Doesn’t this help?
If you’ve ever walked through Sams Club, you know good and well that publicly calling yourself a Christian and writing books is not equal to good theology. Even Harris, a couple of years ago, retracted his own book on Purity Culture.
Also, we know that many Christian worship artists write music that is not theologically rich or precise to put it kindly, and some of it just plain wrong. So this association is just bunk.
The lesson is poignant. While some public Christian influencers are theologians, many simply are not; they merely strike it big. And what follows is a lot of pressure. Our kids need to know, in the wake of such things, that one’s celebrity status is not somehow commensurate with their ability to understand and articulate theology.
A Brokenhearted Response is Always Appropriate
With all the above said, it is never wrong to feel sad for these people. There is sadness in two senses for me.
First, a sadness that they either never had or have lost their relationship with Jesus. Knowing Jesus is something beyond description, and the emptiness which many deconverts admit feeling is very, very real.
And second, a sadness that there are real, substantive answers to their genuine questions. While some of the supposed problems that were raised by Steingard are theological “nothing burgers” and just based on simple misunderstandings, some of them were profound, substantive questions!
But it’s not like no one’s ever thought of them before.
The problem, in my view, is not that he had these questions. Rather, it is that he articulated them in such a way that betrays a failure to serious inquiry into them. So I’m brokenhearted that he did not seem to take the time to carefully consider these things, and if he did, he did not seem to come away with substantive enough reasons to abandon his faith.
Living Our Faith and Defending Our Faith is Equally Important
I admit without qualification that I have so much work to do of my own in this area. I am getting ready to read a book called Sticky Faith because, in the book reviews I’ve seen, the authors make some excellent points.
The idea is that kids are more likely to gain and retain the faith of their parents if they see it actively lived out. However, as is clear in the case of Steingard, one can devote all of their time to Christian ministry and Christian culture and come away with a swallow, at best, understanding of good theology and apologetics.
What we need, then, is balance. Time must be given to actively living the faith we preach. We must practice it in our daily living and show our kids that it really matters.
However, when the doubts and questions come, we cannot shy away. We must be ready (1 Peter 3:15). Our time spent studying God’s Word with and without our family should be devoted to both practical matters and theological learning.
I’ll leave you with this: prayer still works. In the day we live, we need prayer, our families need prayer, and our babies need prayer. The world has a tight grip on our souls; may we remember—and live as though—the grip of Jesus is stronger.