It’s been a few months since I’ve written here. Part of that is because my writing just hasn’t flowed and I don’t like to force it when it get stuck. Though I have had an opportunity to produce a couple of pieces for Reformation21–one regarding the incident involving David Platt’s prayer over Trump and most recently, a reflection about leaving the faith and hence the title of this post. But I’ll get to that in a minute. Another reason that I haven’t written much is because of some very interesting life changes with a new job serving a local nonprofit that is focused on celebrating the multiethnic diversity in Roanoke (as in internationally) and also a new ministry project that I’ll be sharing more about in the days to come.
Regarding my recent piece published over at Reformation21 (link here), it was a reflection of my own testimony in light of the public deconversion of Josh Harris where he announced in an IG post that he was no longer Christian. Since that time Marty Sampson of Hillsong fame also announced that he was having doubts and reconsidering Christianity (though he did later clarify it didn’t mean he was leaving the faith).
This resonated with me since I was a prodigal for 13 years (1986-1999). While I never denounced Christianity, I lived as though I had nothing to do with it. As I wrote in the Ref21 piece, the mindset was pretty much the same;
While I never denounced Christianity or indicated I was no longer a Christian, my line of thinking definitely echoed what I hear Harris and Sampson utter–there was a deconstruction, if you will. But really, it was flat out rebellion. I could not live within a Christian construct any longer, foolishly believing that it was freedom. I lived as one who did not believe, doing what was right in my own eyes, and making many foolish decisions along the way.
It was quite interesting watching the reaction to Josh’s turning away. For many in the Reformed camp, I hate to say but I noticed a kind of smug decisiveness regarding Josh’s spiritual condition and the fact that he must not have been saved to begin with. I get that impetus since we believe that regeneration by the Holy Spirit is a permanent work and the Lord will preserve his own. However, when I looked at my own story, it was kind of hard for me to lower the hammer so firmly since I’m a living testimony that God can turn any heart, even the ones that think they want nothing further to do with him. To be honest, I am surprised we are not more sobered by the fact that someone can be so adamantly entrenched in Christianity, profess to believe for many years, then walk away. I guess I’m a bit more sensitive about it since I know that there but for the grace of God go I.
Room did not allow me to fill in the holes of how I moved from the Charismatic, Word of Faith theology I embraced upon my return to becoming Presbyterian. You can read a little of that on my About page. There is something about being rescued from the muck and mire of the slop of sin that creates an earnest desire to not find yourself in the pig sty again. Bible reading, church fellowship, and confronting sin took on a whole new seriousness after my return. The problem was that I was moving in circles that used the Bible as a springboard for pet philosophies that were then imposed on disconnected pieces of Scripture.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’d know that I beat the drum of reading the Bible holistically. In fact, I started a series last year called The Bible in a Nutshell where my intention was to provide a framework for understanding how the 66 books weave together. I started the 8 part series but never completed it. Perhaps, I should get back to that (definitely a future goal.
This journey started for me in 2006 when someone I met began to challenge me in how I was reading the Bible. I was confronted with how I was ripping passages out of their context to support the Charismatic philosophies with an emerging dose of New Apostolic Reformation doctrine that were influencing my Scripture reading. With a sincere desire to embrace truth no matter the cost, my fresh eyes involved me running from the church I was in and landing at a small Bible church in Dartmouth, MA. There I was exposed to a much sounder exegesis and introduced to the discipline of theology through the church’s Bible institute. It was quite a refreshing time of learning, reorienting, and refreshing from the never-ending cycle of achievement oriented theology I had been under. But it also produced an increasing desire to help others learn as well and hence the seeds to seminary was planted. My pastor was a DTS grad (ThM ’83) and at the tail end of the his DMin program at DTS and most naturally, strongly encouraged me to apply to DTS. I took him seriously enough and with an ever growing conviction that seminary was something I should do, I applied and begun my seminary journey at DTS in Fall 2008.
The learning trek continued, on one that was continually asking more of the text with a mind to embrace its central theme of Christ-centered redemption. This prompted another change towards Reformed theology (in the true sense meaning Covenant Theology) around the same time I was wrestling with church frustrations. The move to the PCA in 2012 was initially motivated by my attraction to their ecclesiology. I found the church structure and basically, the way they did church, to be in line with what I found in the pages of Scripture. But it was also while I was in the throws of questionning much of the dispensationalism I had embraced that the move proved to catapult me square into the depths of the Reformed tradition.
But I have never forgotten where I’ve been. Nor have I been delusioned into thinking that the articulation of sound theology is sufficient to keep one from falling into the ugly ravages of sinful rebellion. No matter how well we can articulate the doctrines of the faith, what really keeps us is the Lord himself and our ability to hold onto him, an ability that comes from the sufficiency of his grace and power of the Holy Spirit. We can dot every “i” and cross every “t” (we Presbys are really good at that!) but it will insufficient without a heart transformation and orientation towards the love of Christ and trusting in his work, not ours.
No matter how well I can give you the theoretical paradigm of apostasy, I cannot tell you if I was ever truly a Christian or not before my departure. This whole episode of public departures have also reminded me of a paper I did in seminary in my Soteriology class entitled Deconversion and Dilemmas. In the first half of the paper I laid out the theological argument. But in the second half, I examined actual cases of people who for many years, were entrenched in the bowels of Christianity and professed to know him. I am still humbled by their stories to this day. I’ve been encouraged to share that paper, written in 2010. So here it is