Over the past couple of years there has been several celebrity Christian leaders, including pastors and performing artists, who have walked away from Christ in what they call deconverting. They have offered various reasons for their deconversions, including – How could a good God allow evil and suffering in the world? The Bible cannot be inspired since science has disproven it. Why would God create people just to damn most of them to hell? Christianity is arrogant in claiming it is the only true religion! Sometimes these deconversions take years to come to the surface as these various doubts simmer and brew. Sometimes these deconversions are prompted by a tragedy. My guess is that being a ‘Christian celebrity’ also complicates things because the nature of celebrityness is often marked by social disconnection and loneliness where the opportunity to unburden a soul of its doubts isn’t freely available or welcome. This is why the stories of three Christian celebrities in particular is all the more remarkable.
But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. John 20:31
WHY JOHN COOPER DIDN’T DECONVERT
John Cooper is the lead singer of the heavy metal Christian band, Skillet, one of the most popular Christian rocks in the world. On the Skillet website it says, “Grammy-nominated and platinum selling rock band Skillet has sold more than 11 million albums and singles in the U.S., racked up more than 160 million YouTube views and amassed a diehard following whose members number more than five million on Facebook alone.”
John describes part of his story in his book, Awake and Alive To Truth. He refers to growing up in a home where he never got on with dad. He describes his mother though as someone who was passionate about Jesus. She taught John the Bible stories as he grew up and inspired him to love Christ. But then she got sick. As she was in her final moments of her cancer, she said to John that he should never blame God or be bitter toward God, because God was always good! After the passing of his mum, John’s relationship with his dad deteriorated even further. It reached a new level of hostility when his father remarried. John says that he even prayed to God that He would make his father try to hit him so that he could have a reason to physically hurt his father. John retreated into heavy rock music and was part of the formation of the Christian rock band Skillet which were widely popular among Christian and non-Christian music fans. But even though John was growing as a follower of Christ, he was a bitter and angry man and he was now a Christian celebrity. When he married Korey, he refused to allow his father to attend his wedding. (It would be years before the Lord led and enabled John and his father to be reconciled.)
As John rubbed shoulders with other Christian celebrities he became increasingly aware of how shallow their Christianity was and also how scant their theological knowledge was. He was grateful that his mother had not only read Scripture to him, but she had also introduced him to several Christian classics and works of theology. John recently stated that most his best mentors are “dead guys” — great Christian thinkers of the past whose books still speak. His breadth of biblical and theological knowledge is quite impressive. Which is why in contrast to other Christian celebrities who have deconverted for the reasons given above John is so puzzled since their stated reasons are so easily and reasonably responded to both biblically and theologically. His perplexity is compounded when most of these deconverters state that they are “walking away from Christianity but not Jesus” and that they are tired with Christianity’s restrictive code of ethics and from now on they are “going to love all people and be kind to everyone.” John recently told the former lead singer of the Christian Pop group ‘Zoe Girl’, Alisa Childers, that this was like saying, ‘From now on I’m not going to live as a Christian, instead I’m going to following Christ and do unto others as I would want them to do unto me!’ which he says sounds remarkably like Christianity. When Alisa interviewed John on her YouTube podcast she asked him why he hadn’t deconverted. [You can watch their discussion here.]
I greatly respect John Cooper. He’s a young man who has the burden of celebrity status who operates in a world were ‘cool’ is prized and truth is not.
WHY STEPHEN COLBERT DIDN’T DECONVERT
Stephen Colbert is not just one of the funniest men on the planet, he’s also one of the cleverest. Although possibly disagreeing with their view of human personhood, Colbert’s response to the inauguration of President Biden and VP Harris was a model of Christian statesmanship and charity. Like John Cooper, Stephen Colbert is a Christian celebrity who operates in a world where Christianity is viewed as repressive and out-of-step with the current moral proclivities. Yet Stephen Colbert doesn’t take a back-step when it comes to being challenged about his Christianity. This is despite him having plenty of reasons to deconvert. His Wikipedia entry notes, “On September 11, 1974, when Colbert was ten years old, his father and his two brothers nearest in age, Peter and Paul, died in the crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 212 while it was attempting to land in Charlotte, North Carolina.” In an article by the New York journalist, Jordan Zakarin, he noted –
Colbert was just 10 years old when he lost his father and brothers. “There’s this big break in the cable of my memory at their death. Everything before that has got an odd, ghostly tone,” Colbert toldAnderson Cooper in 2019. “I was personally shattered and then you reform yourself in this quiet, grieving world that was created in the house. My mother had me to take care of, which I think was sort of a gift for her, a sense of purpose at that point. But I also had her to take care of. It became a very quiet house, very dark, and ordinary concerns of childhood kind of disappeared.”
Colbert’s struggle with grief only grew. He told Rolling Stone magazine –
I needed to be medicated when I was younger to deal with my anxiety that I had thrown my life away by attempting to do something that so few people actually get away with, or succeed at … Xanax was just lovely. Y’know, for a while. And then I realized that the gears were still smoking. I just couldn’t hear them anymore. But I could feel them, I could feel the gearbox heating up and smoke pouring out of me … I stopped the Xanax after, like, nine days. I went, ‘This isn’t helping.’ So I just suffered through it. I’d sometimes hold the bottle, to go like, ‘I could stop this feeling if I wanted, but I’m not going to. Because I know if I stop the feeling, somehow I’m not working through it, like I have got to go through the tunnel with the spiders in it.’
Colbert found great comfort and help in the writings of Tolkien and other Catholic philosophers. He completed a degree in philosophy at Hampden–Sydney College in Virginia. Rather than allowing the tragedy of the loss of his father and brothers to drive him away from God, it led him to seek and find God. He has often said that his journey of suffering and loss has actually helped him to empathise with those who are going through their own suffering from loss and tragedy.
JONI EARECKSON TADA DID NOT DECONVERT
Joni (pronounced ‘Johny’) was the daughter of an Olympic wrestling champion. Their family was very sporty and active. One day in 1967 Joni and some friends went down to Chesapeake Bay for a swim. Joni dived in head first but hadn’t noticed that what she thought was a metre-and-a-half of water was only half-a-metre of water. That was the fateful day that Joni became a quadriplegic. After her accident there was months spent in hospital undergoing rehabilitation to no avail. Realising that her injury was permanent and that she had movement from her shoulders down, she went into depression and became suicidal. Through the grace of God and the patience of friends and family she came to a point of surrender to God’s will.
In 1974 she appeared on the Today Show and gained national notoriety in the United States. By this time she had learned to use her mouth to paint, sketch and write. Her first book, the story of her journey to that point, including her injury, her battle with depression and her suicideation were included, along with her surrender to Christ, came out in 1976 and was instant international best-seller. It was translated into 38 languages and sold over five million copies. In 1979, a movie about her life was released and in that year it was estimated that 250,000 people placed their hope in Christ.
Through the 1980s Joni formed the ministry Joni and Friends which worked to provide aid and practical support to those with disabilities. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the National Council on Disabilities. Joni advocated for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act which was signed into law by President George Bush Snr. in 1990. In 1994 she launched Wheels For The World which used incarcerated prisoners to renovate used donated wheelchairs which were distributed to those with disabilities in the Third World. In 2000, Joni flew to Australia to be the Olympic Chaplain to the athletes competing in the Para-Olympics. In 2001, Joni began campaigning against euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
All the while that God was using Joni and her story to touch the lives of millions of people around the world, there was also much happening in Joni. She has said that in the early years of her quadriplegia, she hated her wheelchair. As the Lord continued to challenge her to trust Him, she said that she came to place in her soul where she thanked God that she was in a wheelchair! Over the years her chronic pain has intensified. Then in 2010 she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. This led to her having a double mastectomy. After five years of treatment she declared cancer-free in 2015. Then in November 2018 she was diagnosed with a malignant nodule on her chest near the wall of where she had had the previous cancer removed. In December 2020, the 71-year-old Joni was diagnosed with COVID-19! If anyone had reasons to deconvert on the criteria offered by the handful of celebrity Christian deconverters, Joni did!
Tada wrote for Christianity Today about how her paralysis and desire for healing has changed her view of heaven, saying, “Physical affliction and emotional pain are, frankly, part of my daily routine. But these hardships are God’s way of helping me to get my mind on the hereafter.”
Joni now says that in the midst of her increasing pain and difficulties in breathing and swallowing, she has found that Christ is her comfort and Redeemer. Rather than shaking her fist at God in anger for all her difficulties, she has learned to “lift her hand” (although not literally) to God in worship and surrendering prayer.
WHY ROMANS 8 SHOULD STOP ANY CHRISTIAN FROM DECONVERTING
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is considered to be his finest exposition of what the Christian gospel is all about. In Romans 8 he discusses disappointments. The Christian is not exempt from disappointments, the apostle states. In Romans 8:20, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he writes-
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope. Romans 8:20
“Futility” sums up all of our disappointments. Cancer, death, tragedy, loss, divorce, quadriplegia, and covid — are all expressions of futility. But far from being grounds for deconverting, the apostle Paul, who would spend a good deal of his latter life in chronic pain and discomfort, imprisoned, and then finally led to his death by beheading at the decree of Caesar Nero, could write these words (again) under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit-
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Romans 8:28, 35
THEREFORE, HERE’S HOW WE HANDLE FUTILITY
Firstly, when we experience any futility, it is not necessarily (and probably isn’t) an attack from Satan. Rather than getting angry at the forces of evil, lift your hands to heaven and worship God. Don’t let your futility be a distraction from you beholding Christ.
Secondly, God’s grace is sufficient for you in the moment you need it. Whatever your futility, God’s grace will be sufficient for you to deal with it.
Thirdly, not all of your good desires will be satisfied in this life and our futilities should remind us of that. In the Resurrection we will have bodies that will never experience sadness, sorrow, pain, sin, shame, grief, sickness, rejection, or humiliation.
If you’re a world famous Christian celebrity reading this, you have an almost unbearable burden to bear. You are also subject to more attacks than any of us could ever imagine. And you are also subject to doubts and temptations. For each of the reasons I listed in the opening paragraph, I have written responses over at Finding Truth Matters. We, the ordinary, work-a-day Christians of the world, need you to represent us and Christ well. You have our prayers. But I hope that I have given you good reasons and encouragement to never doubt God’s goodness or succumb to the temptation to deconvert because of the futility you see in the world. As it happens, I have just recently returned from Hobart where I heard Tim Costello, the former CEO of World Vision, talk about the plight of the poor, the impoverished sick, and the oppressed of the world, who have, since the inception of Christianity, been the subject of Christian aid, care, support, and relief — and continue to be. As Christians we don’t turn our back on God because of futility, we lift up our faces toward heaven and ask God to enable us to be His hands and feet wherever He might use us to minister His grace to those whom we can who are affected by the futility that shall one day be done away with altogether!
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
I believe in prophecy and I believe in prophets. But based on what I know from Scripture both are rarer than many would have us believe. I suspect though that there are a lot of Christians who used to share my acceptance of the validity of prophecy and prophets — who no longer do due to the events of 2020.
One of the many reasons I believe in prophecy and prophets is the teaching of Scripture. I will use one particular two-verse passage to bookend this week’s pastor’s desk to make my case.
Prophecy is predicting or foretelling. It is not like a good guess or a mere hunch. It is what happens when the Spirit of God comes upon a person and they speak on behalf of God. For the most part, the only ones who prophesied in the Old Covenant era were prophets. There were occasions when people experienced the Holy Spirit coming upon them in which people wondered whether these people were now prophets. But each of these instances were temporary and the prophetic utterances that resulted were forth-telling rather than foretelling. That is, rather than predicting the future (foretelling), these temporary prophecies were more like declaring God’s praises. Here are some examples-
Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. Numbers 11:25
And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” First Samuel 10:11-12
It was a grave thing to claim to be a prophet. ‘Grave’ because the consequences of claiming to be a prophet when you were not included shaming and a painful death (Deut. 18:20-22). Little wonder then that several of the Old Testament prophets were hesitant to accept God’s call to be a prophet.
¶ “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” ¶ Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” Jeremiah 1:5-6
Anyone who claimed to be a prophet but taught falsehood, was not to be listened to. This required that there was a standard of truth by which the prophet’s words could be evaluated. This is why the written Word of God became increasingly important. Over time, the role of the prophet broadened beyond foretelling to reminding God’s people of His Word, reminding them of the covenant their forefathers had established with God by retelling them their history (the prophet Jeremiah was one of the authors of First and Second Kings for example), and fulfilling the role of an intercessor. In Isaiah 36 we see the prophet Isaiah fulfilling each of these prophetic aspects after King Hezekiah sent messengers to Isaiah pleading for him to intercede on their behalf –
It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’” ¶ When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumour and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’” Isaiah 37:4-7
PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
It has been said that the calling of the prophet is the only Old Covenant ministry to be carried over into the New Covenant. Jesus Christ stated that He would be sending prophets, but just like the prophets of old, they too would be mistreated.
Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town Matthew 23:34
And the apostle Paul tells us that when Christ ascended He gave of people to the church which included prophets.
He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers Ephesians 4:10-11
Just as we briefly saw from our glimpse of what the Old Testament said about the distinction between the ministry of the prophet and those who received a temporary Spirit-enabled ability to prophesy about the glories of God, so too the New Testament makes a distinction between the gift of the prophet to the church, and the gift of [edifying] prophecy to the believer. Through the Book of Acts we see the unfolding role of the New Testament prophet. In the Old Testament, prophets prophesied to the regents of Israel and their national neighbours. Elijah’s prophetic ministry marked the beginning of the Age of the Prophet. John the Baptist was the last Old Covenant prophet and he marks the end of the Age of the Prophet. After Christ ascended and He gave gifts of people to the church as summarised in Ephesians 4:11, we see in Acts three important indicators about how the understanding New Testament prophet developed.
1. The Leadership team at Antioch
In Acts 13 we are introduced to the church at Antioch (which was the Apostle Paul’s home church) which was comprised of prophets and teachers.
¶ Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. Acts 13:1
In his commentary on this passage John Calvin argues that prophets and teachers in this sense basically amounts to the same thing – people who could teach and interpret God’s Word. But it seems that later in Calvin’s life he came to recognise that they were distinct ministries and functions1. Calvin acknowledges in his commentary on Ephesians 4 and First Corinthians 12 that there is a similar distinction in the New Testament to the ministry of the prophet and the occasional gift of prophecy.
Through Acts we notice that others become identified as prophets (Acts 11:27; 15:32). But there is one in particular I would like to point out.
Agabus appears in Acts 11 as one of the pioneers of the church at Antioch. His ministry is truly weird. While it might be popular among conservative scholars to assume that only the Old Testament prophets were foretellers, Agabus makes this assumption untenable.
And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). Acts 11:28
The next time we meet Agabus is in Acts 21. By this time we see that Agabus had a long track record of being an authentic prophet. The prophecy that he delivers in Acts 21 highlights the difference between the gift of prophecy as one of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, and the ministry of the prophet. (People whom the Holy Spirit graces with occasional gifts of prophecy for the edifying of the church are not necessarily prophets.)
While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:10-13
Prior to Agabus delivering this prophecy to Paul, the disciples at Tyre, where Paul’s ship had landed, were “through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). What we see when Agabus prophesied is that Paul listens, accepts, and acknowledges what he has said. We note that Agabus did not direct Paul to do anything. Paul may have chosen to heed the Tyrian and Agabus’ prophetic warnings about going to Jerusalem, but he accepted that what they were prophesying to him agreed with what he knew was God’s will was. This should stand as a warning for those who ever have people “give them a word from God” that is directive (that is, ‘God wants you to…’). Be very careful if someone claims to have a word from God for you telling you to do something that takes you by complete surprise.
3. The Daughters of Philip
Among some Christians there remains some controversy about the role of women within the church. For those who claim that it is against God’s will for a woman to preach/teach/prophesy in a church, Philip’s four daughters present a problem.
On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. Acts 21:8-9
There can be little doubt that women prophesied in the early church (1Cor. 11:5). This should not be surprising either because even in the Old Testament times God called women to be prophets – Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2Kings 22:14), Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3), and Anna (Luke 2:36).
DISCERNMENT AND PROPHECY
Twenty-twenty will be a memorable year for most us but sadly it will probably be recorded by church historians as the year of discredited prophets and prophecy. I’m not aware any prophet who foretold of the global pandemic, and most of the high-profile American ‘prophets’ unanimously prophesied the President Donald Trump would be re-elected.
I dared to respond to one of these ‘prophets’ with a Youtube video challenging his prophecy that Bill Gates was going to infuse a nano-chip into a coronavirus vaccine which would lead to him being revealed as the prophesied Antichrist. I’ve had around 700 people call me a ‘false prophet’ and condemn me to hell for daring to challenge this ‘prophet’. But this example of modern prophecy serves to illustrate the principle found in our bookend biblical passage.
Based on this text of Scripture, whenever someone prophesies something, we test what they say. This testing should include:
Does it correspond to the teaching of Scripture?
Is it conditional? (Most Biblical prophecies were unconditional.)
Does it have a time-frame? That is, does it declare that it will be fulfilled by a certain date? This makes it easy to test.
Does the person prophesying have a credible prophetic track-record?
Last Sunday (January 17th 2021), someone in our church received a word from the Lord. They wrote it down and gave it to me through the week. This is what it says-
“God is calling His church—individual people to seek Him deeper for a more personal relationship with Him. This will cause people to grow—and lead to church numbers (attendance) to grow. So the church needs to prepare for growth. Be aware that in the past, such calling for knowing God deeper is often associated with upheaval.”
What do we do with a prophecy like this? We should do as First Thessalonians 5:20-21 teaches us. We should test it. Is it contrary to Scripture? No. Is it conditional? Perhaps. But it is an exhortation to draw near to God. Does it have a time-frame deadline? No. Does it come from a credible source? Yes. And it is my pastoral hope that if someone gives you a prophecy, or tells you of a prophecy that will supposedly effect you, you too will apply these tests to their prophecy. Even though recent high profile ‘prophetic’ ministries have brought enormous discredit to the genuinely God ordained prophetic, we should not despise prophecy, but we should test all claims and hold onto that which good.
¶ “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets. Amos 3:7