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.