Photo of Paul Maxwell. Paul was a writer for Desiring God, a Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute. Recently announced that he was no longer a Christian.
The recent announcement of Paul Maxwell has created what would look like a panicked knee jerk reaction amongst Christians determined to prove it is not their fault or that the sky is falling. What announcement? Paul has announced that he is no longer a Christian. Yah, but what makes that such great news? Paul was a writing for Desiring God, a website ministry developed by the famous (infamous?) John Piper. Of course, this news things brings Abraham Piper to the picture and the fact that he is trending popular on TikTok right now. You know, Abraham, John Piper’s son? He no longer considers himself a Christian and uses his new platform to criticize the religion he grew up with. The juicy part is that if you despise John Piper, it is as if it is proof for your dislike of the man. They walked away; must be something wrong with John Piper, or so the reasoning would go.
Besides bashing John Piper because your theology is better than his or that he is just another Christian you want to hate, there is the shaking that is abuzz amongst Christian circles. Warnings of what we must do to stop this hemorrhaging and advocating to change this, that, or the other are all tied to the end of the Church itself if not immediately followed. If you have heard the term, “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste,” then you are now seeing the Christian version – or is it?
And what are some of the things thrown out to be done to counter these embarrassing events? The answers are legion, and they often depend on one’s political perspective (yah, it unfortunately comes down to that). One side says we should take the Bible seriously and get back to basics. Another wants to push for more “social justice” and to just look more appealing to others. Regardless of where you stand, both approaches are missing a few well-established points. Here is what needs to be considered in light of the sudden events.
First and foremost, Jesus and the Apostles predicted such things! Seriously, those who rightly propose taking the Bible seriously and getting back to basics, how did you miss this? Jesus tells us a parable of four types of dirt. One is hardened and will not hear at all. Another is initially excited by is shallow in natures and walks away when it gets hard. A similar soil sprouts up a growth that is choked out by the cares of this world. Finally, there is the good dirt that receives and brings forth a mature growth. According to Jesus, not everyone who hears will be saved. Not everyone who starts out on the path will stick with it. In other words, some ARE going to fall away. Both Paul and Peter talk about this happening, so why the sudden confusion when you see it actually happen. Let us also not forget the promise of a great falling away. For real, it is in your Bible.
Nor is this a new phenomenon. The old testament is full of constant examples of entire generations walking away and sons of God-fearing kings turning out godless. Demas was a “fellow worker” with the Apostle Paul yet abandons the faith for the world. Jesus Himself had Judas in the inner circle before he chose the world over Christ. In the past century, Charles Templeton was a public figure and associate of Billy Graham who walked from Christianity. Why do we act like this is a new occurrence just in our day?
That's right, no matter how hard you try to look appealing and “tolerant,” the world will still hate the Church.
What about those more concerned with social issues and think the Church must look and be “nicer” so people will not hate us? You do know that part where Jesus talks about the world hating you right? That's right, no matter how hard you try to look appealing and “tolerant,” the world will still hate the Church. Of course, the irony is that you can look and sound just like the world to the point where they do not even know you exist anymore. At some point you will contradict the world if you are following Jesus. You really do not have to try to be offensive; it will come naturally since the world first hated Jesus; they will naturally hate you.
So, in the end, people leaving Christianity is not proof about the evil of someone’s theology, nor that Christianity is evil. Some bad doctrine can certainly set up wrong scenarios, but someone leaving is not proof in and of itself, since people have left churches of ALL doctrines. Changing doctrines to appease the world in hopes they will like you and not have people leave is also misguided. Who should dictate how the Church should be, God or the world? The truth is that you can try to remove all complaints about your church that you may, and the world will still find a reason to hate and disregard your message – if you even have one left. Sinful man just will not have it.
Celebrate the faith and impact of the Billy Graham's, C.S. Lewis's, and Lee Strobel's rather than imagine defeat over the Charles Templeton's, Abraham Piper's, and Paul Maxwell's.
Finally, put everything into perspective. There are atheists and agnostics who accept Christianity. Men such as C. S. Lewis and Lee Strobel were critical of Christianity at one time, only to embrace it later. Is this proof that atheism and agnosticism needs to change their approach so that people do not leave their ranks? Hardly. It is the same for Christianity. There are people who left behind lives ruined by drugs and alcohol to follow Christ. There are those who left paganism and hedonism to follow Christ. People from other religions that they grew up in have now come to follow Christ. Celebrate the faith and impact of the Billy Graham's, C.S. Lewis's, and Lee Strobel's rather than imagine defeat over the Charles Templeton's, Abraham Piper's, and Paul Maxwell's. If someone walks away, it is according to their conscience and disposition. Let it grieve you, but In the end it is something we must accept as a possibility for creatures with the ability to think. The hardest thing for many to embrace right now is this: in the end, you do not have the power to force someone to think like you. They must come to it on their own, or it is simply forced and pretended. Stay faithful, the rest is in God’s hands.
Philip Sharp is a US Army Infantry Veteran of 20 years with 3 combat deployments, author of "Not in the Wind, Earthquake, or Fire," and host of the podcast “Rage of the Age: Politics, Religion, Economics & History With a Conservative Bend.” You can follow Philip Sharp on Twitter @RageoftheAgeNow.