What has made apostasy such an attractive option these days? It’s like a social contagion. Or a social media contagion at least.
Christians wringing their hands about where it all went wrong as yet another celebrity Christian leader (a descriptor I have been unable to source in the original Greek) hits the dirt in a shower of Instagram pix and Twitter glitter.
Not that they call it apostasy. They call it things like “freedom”, “repentance”, “being true to myself – finally”. All sorts of stuff. All types of salvation words to describe what is, essentially, turning one’s back on salvation.
And the question is, why the sudden rush? Is there a discount offer on? A buy-one-get-one-free? There’s certainly a rush for the door, and that’s just the visible celebs. There’s plenty of common, garden variety apostasy going on among common, garden variety soon-to-be ex-Christians.
Something has changed in these past two decades. And that something is the increase in pull factors that accompany the push factors. And churches are going to have to navigate this “push-pull” at an increasing rate in the coming decades.
You know what I mean by push and pull factors, don’t you? Push and pull factors are central to a theory of migration. So, for example, a push factor for someone to leave their country is the lack of work opportunities in their home land. They are pushed away from their land.
But for the push to be given true impetus, there must be am equal and opposite pull factor. After all, there’s not much point in leaving a land of no opportunity for another land of no opportunity. Something in that other land – in this instance, the chance of finding a job -, must be better!
And that’s exactly what we have with apostasy. The push factors have always existed, but the pull factors have increased exponentially in the secular age.
Push factors? Always there> Read the New Testament letters. It’s not all beer and skittles. Hence if you read the tweets and the Instagram and the blogs of those who leave the faith it’s all push factor, to begin with at least
There’s the way the church deals with X; or the manner in which the church has ignored Y; or the frustration of the church over Z. All push factors. And I am under no illusions about the nature of those push factors, the real frustrations, and the credibility gap for many people struggling with church. Don’t hear me saying otherwise. These need to be addressed.
Yet at the same time I’m convinced it’s the pull factors that have combined with these push factors that have tipped this over the edge in recent years. My reading of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age has convinced me of how much the conditions for unbelief (and belief) have changed. Simply put, there’s never been a better time to be an apostate.
To move from believer to unbeliever in past centuries was bracing, sobering, cold, and often lonely. It was the unbeliever as outcast. As one against the world. As a way of thinking that did not align with reality. Brave it may have been, but foolhardy and isolating it certainly would be.
But today? There’s another social salvation story, another faith, another bunch of saints to turn to when one turns away from the old bunch. And that pull factor has made all the difference.
Simply put, the push factor becomes all the more compelling when there’s an equal and opposite pull factor that offers the migrant a better opportunity on the other side. A new story to imbibe and a new community that will embrace you.
That’s why we get an Instragram picture such as this from Josh Harris:
The push factors Harris laid out in his previous Instagram post about the malaise of the church is countered by the pull factor of a post-Christian sexular age that will reward those whose eyes have been open to their previous blindness.
They will be welcomed with open arms like the prodigals they are. Come to think of it; the prodigal narrative is all push and pull.
The push factor of “he would have eaten the husks that were fed to the pigs“, is complemented by the pull factor of “my father’s hired help eats better than this“. Sure enough, the father runs to meet him. So too with Josh Harris. In his take on it, he fed on the stale bread of unreconstructed evangelicalism for so many years. Now it’s rainbow donuts all the way.
This is all another way of saying this thing hasn’t bottomed out. There could well be an unprecedented level of falling away over the coming decades, as many within the church are compelled by the pull factors of the Sexular Age and its salvation narrative, ably illustrated and promulgated by the likes of Harris who, ironically, continues to be a social influencer, except in the opposite direction.
If I were cynical I would say that being too old to dig and too proud to beg, he is being welcomed into the friendship circle of Mammon with open arms. There’s probably a million-best-seller somewhere in this too. One that will only increase the pull factor for those who are feeling pushed already.