In shock news, Judas Iscariot, one of the insiders of the nascent Jesus movement has walked away from the faith.
The other disciples, who were those closest to him, didn’t pick it at the time, but noted afterwards that there were signs Judas was concerned about the direction Jesus was taking.
Sounds kinda silly writing it, but when we open up Christianity Today online or one of the other major Christian publications and we read about Christian celebs or academics walking away from the gospel and feeling “more liberated than ever”, or “the happiest I have ever been in my life”, we tend to lament and wonder “Who next?”
Perhaps we just all need to calm down a bit and realise that the only reason it seems that so many Christians who are well known are walking away from faith is because we know them well! Or we think we do. We do live in a social media work after all.
The latest of course (though I have never heard of him), is Desiring God writer and academic, Paul Maxwell, who has announced that he is no longer desiring God. He says he has more joy than ever in his life, which kinda makes sense because desire doesn’t go away when we no longer desire God. No, we merely redirect that desire towards other seemingly more tangible things, including our autonomy – a real biggie in our day.
But when i read the headlines and register the shock, (plus the usual anti-evangelical types who are convinced finally that this is proving the death of evangelicalism is merely around the corner and we’ve got to get more with where the culture is at, etc, etc), I do wonder why all the handwringing.
Could it be any worse than reading this?
For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica (2 Tim 4:10)
You can imagine the dismay on Timothy’s face when he reads that. “Surely not Demas? I thought he …”
Maxwell and Demas have that in common – as do so many who fall away from the gospel once delivered to the saints. They love this present world. That’s not to say that there are offences among Christians that push some away from the faith, but by and large, if people are honest, it’s because there’s something else that pulls them, an allure, a sense of missing out. And hey, why not, it’s not as if the world does not have plenty of pleasurable things to draw us away with.
Which reminds us of course, of the parable of the soils. Jesus was a realist. He was batting 25 per cent. And one of the primary causes of falling away in Jesus’ own words are the lure of wealth and the desire for other things. That produces fruitlessness. And according to the grand sweep of the biblical narrative, there is no “fruitless” option for the follower of God. In fact the worst of judgement is reserved for fruitless Israel in the Old Testament, to say nothing of Jesus’ own cursing of the fig tree.
The lure of wealth is an oldie but a goodie, and it’s instructive that when Pilgrim meets Demas in Bunyon’s classic tale, Demas is attempting to lure him off to a silver mine.
I would suggest in our own generation, apart from wealth though including it, the primary narrative among the Christian celebs who turn away is less to do with money and more to do with the lure of finding “their true selves” – which in our own secular culture of authenticity receives its own rewards in the form of praise from the world.
I would also suggest that we’re shocked by those who turn away because we don’t have a big enough view of human sinfulness itself. We don’t realise the horror of what we have been rescued from. We forget so easily that Jesus said that those who endure to the end will be saved. We’ve never lived through times of deep persecution and seen confessing Christians sign off recanting their faith. There just isn’t enough “horror'” in the thought of falling away, and what it means for someone eternally.
But surely we’ve all had “no-name” friends and family members who have fallen away and for whom we harbour quiet grief that will never make the headlines of the Christian journals. I can list three members of my immediate family. Perhaps you can list more than that in your own.
To sum it, falling away from Jesus is not so much an aberration that is somehow peculiar to a late-stage evangelicalism that is on the ropes due to whatever perceived inadequacy it has. Deal with those inadequacies separately. Just as many people have stayed true to Jesus in the midst of terribly inadequate evangelical settings (I’m full bottle on this this past two years), and I’ve heard great stories of grace in the midst of terrible traumas and abuse.
No. falling away is a thing. We’ve all seen it enough. It’s been a thing since Adam and Eve were deceived, and it was a constant in the Old Testament, we’ve seen it in the New Testament, and Church History abounds with it. The Bible is not shocked by it – goodness knows there are enough warnings about it, primarily due to its distinct possibility. It’s not as if we read “Let the one who stands take heed lest they fall (1Cor10:12) and are left wondering what the hidden message is in all of that. It’s plain as day!
Paul Maxwell said this:
And I think it’s important to say that I’m just not a Christian anymore, and it feels really good. I’m really happy.
And I’m sure he is.