When Famous Christians Fall Away

By Mark A. Kellner
Posted August 19, 2019

Christians are not often surprised when the media reports negative things about the faith. The 24/7 news cycle usually ignores but also largely scoffs at those who profess a belief in Jesus. But when a well-known Christian announces that he or she no longer believes, it can be front-page news.

Consider the case of Joshua Harris, a 44-year-old “superstar” in some Christian circles. Author, at age 21, of the bestselling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, in which he argued for parent-involved courtship of young adults, Harris went on to pastor a suburban Maryland “megachurch” before dropping out to go to seminary. (Yes, that’s kind of a reverse-path for a minister, but it’s what Harris chose.)

A few years back, Harris repented of his dating and courtship advice, apologizing to readers and anyone who might have been “affected” by his emphasis on “purity culture” before marriage. It appears that some may have gone too far in implementing Harris’ teachings.


Is it possible to lose one's salvation?


Harris: “I Am Not a Christian”

Recently, though, Harris has attracted more notice for his declaration that, by the Bible’s standards, he’s no longer a believer. “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus,” Harris wrote on Instagram. “The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

Earlier, Harris announced the end of his long-term marriage. In the post announcing his departure from the church, Harris also issued an apology to the “LGBTQ+ community,” saying, “I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry.”

Shortly after Harris’ stunning announcement, news came that Marty Sampson, a writer of several popular contemporary Christian worship songs and a worship leader at Hillsong Church in Australia, had also left the faith. Not true, according to Sampson, but he also said that his belief was on “incredibly shaky ground.”

Sampson, according to media reports, now wrestles with the “hard questions” of faith: he is “struggling with many parts of the belief system that seem so incoherent with common human morality,” he said. “If most of humankind had a choice, would we not rid the world of the scourge of cancer? Or sickness and disease? Why doesn’t God do such a thing? Of course, there is an answer to this question, but the majority of a typical Christian’s life is not spent considering these things. Questions such as these remain in the too hard basket.”

Even within the Christian music scene, the news about Harris and Sampson stirred strong reactions. John L. Cooper, a drummer with the Christian band Skillet, blasted the reliance some place on such “leaders” as a source of inspiration: “We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or ‘relevant’ people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years (and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20-year-old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word."


How do you know if you have true faith?


A Marketing Gambit?

Evangelist Franklin Graham, who succeeded his father Billy Graham as the head of a worldwide evangelistic organization, gave a stern warning about those who depart: “[God] warns churches that turn their back on him and these young men who have renounced their faith have made it so public. Why did they make it so public? I think they just wanted publicity. Otherwise, why didn’t they just leave their faith and just be quiet about it?”

Such departures are not news, and Franklin Graham would know this well: In his youth, Franklin rebelled against his family’s religion, and after returning to faith, he undoubtedly had spoken with his parents about Charles Templeton—an early preaching associate of Billy Graham’s who eventually abandoned faith altogether and lived the last fifty years of his life as an atheist.

Or did Templeton do this? In a 1998 interview with author Lee Strobel, Templeton sobbed relentlessly after saying he “missed” the Jesus he once knew. “Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus,” Templeton conceded. “In my view, he is the most important human being who has ever existed. And if I may put it this way, I ... miss ... him!”


If we have backslidden, is it possible to regain our salvation?


Now What?

What’s a Christian to make of all this? For one thing, Jesus anticipated departures from the faith: “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” was His question in Luke 18:8. Though the immediate circumstance related to prayer, surely Jesus’ question has a larger meaning.

For another, the apostle John noted that those who were against Christ, or “antichrists,” would arise from within the community: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19).

And when the final shaking of the end time comes, when being one of those who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12) has a cost attached to it, there will be those who depart, accepting the mark of the beast and even persecuting their former associates in faith.

One of the best antidotes to such possibilities is a preventative one: staying in faith and being ready to accept God’s direction and will for our lives. Pastor Doug Batchelor put it this way: “We need to be ready to go straight as soon as God tells us to go, without hesitation. Because as soon as the devil can get you to hesitate and start looking over your shoulder, that's when we get into trouble. We need to be able to go when He tells us to go.”

And as we’ve seen from the declarations of Josh Harris and, years earlier, Charles Templeton, a saved person can choose to forego their salvation. Can a Saved Man Choose to Be Lost? was the question Pastor Joe Crews once asked. The answers in this online book will help you guard your heart and stay on God’s path!

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