That is the title of an NPR interview of Jon Ward in what I was sure would be a typical “deconversion” story, as they call it nowadays, especially given it’s leftwing mainstream media NPR. In case you haven’t noticed, corporate media despises, yea, loathes conservative Christianity of any stripe. So here, I thought, was yet another story of a Christian who abandoned his faith. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t, but there are some important takeaways from his story we can learn from, positive and negative.

The first comes from the title of the book he wrote and thus the interview, Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation. This paints with a brushstroke entirely too broad. He experienced one slice of this so-called movement, and to imply it represents the whole is not accurate. I’m sure he would admit as much, but in the interview he’s not clear about that, or if he was, I missed it. The title of the book, though, is unfortunate and adds to the secular culture’s desire to denigrate and discredit Christianity. I listen to a lot of testimonies, people who’ve embraced Christianity for many reasons, all of which they obviously find helpful. Did the “movement” fail them? I’ve been a Christian over 44 years, and the only thing that’s failed in all that time is me! The God of Christianity revealed in creation, Scripture, and Christ has most definitely never failed even though we, his children, often do. As the famous hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love.”

Having said this, what he experienced was real and I can relate to his aversion to it. It sounded like a narrow kind of Pentecostal Christianity that didn’t do well with questions or doubt. I know those kind of Christians and congregations exist, but to imply or insinuate that’s a feature of Evangelical Christianity and not a bug is inaccurate. I’m confident most conservative Christians and congregations are not at all like this because that’s been my experience over all these years, and I’m sure most Christians would attest to the same. I’m not saying, however, this isn’t a problem, only that it’s a narrower one, and most importantly not exclusively a Christian problem. It is a human nature problem because people are sinners. Dogmatic narrowness and an unwillingness to entertain questions is in fact a common human malady. We find it in people of every religious stripe, and even those who think they are not at all religious (of course they are). Can anyone say . . . .  woke? Who are the most dogmatically narrow people on earth in the 21st century? Wokesters! And if you dare question them you will be silenced! Talk about a movement that failed a generation.

Speaking specifically of Christians inflicted with this myopia, though, I’ve seen it in my fellow Reformed and Calvinist Christians, but also in Arminians, Pentecostals and Charismatics, Roman Catholics and Orthodox, Bible believing non-denominational types, and every permutation in between. The problem, and this is something Ward highlights in the interview and I’d guess in the book, is the need for people to feel or think they are right. I agree with him. This is something I learned through many years and many mistakes as God was slapping me around, or as Tim Keller used to say all the time, crushing me. Thankfully, he’s really good at putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. This is not to say we should not want to be right. Who really wants to be wrong? I would guess nobody. But the question, and Ward highlights this, is can we admit we might be wrong. Dogmatism, the prototypical know-it-all, is not a terribly attractive trait because that person could never admit he just might be wrong. Or if he, or she, did, it would only be grudgingly.

Speaking of Christians, I’m afraid too many of us put our faith in our rightness rather than in Christ. I know for many years I did, but as I grew up realized just how little I know. It’s a cliché, but the more we know the more we realize we don’t know, or should. I’ve also come to realize how little we know when we declare the meaning of certain passages of Scripture, specifically things we simply can’t know even though many people pontificate confidently on them. But details of what those might be aren’t important, but what is, is our attitude when we come to the revelation of God in Scripture. Need I say our knowing should be in humility? In that we could maybe, possibly, perchance be wrong? That’s what Ward kept saying, maybe I’m wrong. In his experience he said he didn’t encounter that much.

Some people, a la Descartes, believe absolute certainty is not only attainable for finite human beings, but a worthy goal. But think about it for one second and you’ll realize by definition the finite can never be absolute. Our knowledge is always limited, which is why as I grew older it turns out one of my favorite verses in the Bible is about just how little we really know, I Corinthians 8:2: “If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” Paul in context is not calling for skepticism, that we can’t know, but for epistemological humility. We can and should have strong convictions though we must hold them firmly but lightly. Unfortunately that appears to be a problem for many people.

Human nature is a funny, perplexing, and utterly predictable thing, and the latter trait goes back to the garden and what we call the fall. It’s fascinating to realize that man’s fall from a state of fellowship with his Creator comes down to epistemology, a la Satan’s temptation, “you will be like God knowing Good and evil.” So it’s not surprising that our knowing, or the limited nature thereof, is such a significant part of our fallen condition, creating conflict, doubt, arrogance, pride, as well as blessing. It all depends on the attitude of the knower, doesn’t it. I’ve come to realize that as much as I love knowing and growing in knowledge, it’s far more important that I am known, as Paul follows up the above verse with, “But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” And in Galatians 4:9 he writes, “now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God. . .” Because I don’t trust myself, I often pray a couple verses of a Psalm of David (139):

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

As we are reminded by Jeremiah (17:9), “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I heard Jordan Peterson, who has studied evil maybe more than any living human being, say something amazing about this deceitful heart of ours. Speaking of certain psychopaths, he said as they go down the labyrinth of depravity they are especially good at “the self-deception of their self-description.” As my father used say, people believe their own BS. He added, “You get to that lie by a thousand different micro-lies.” Might I remind all of us that we are all susceptible to “the self-deception of our own self-description,” and believing our own BS? Not to mention “micro-lies”? Which is why I pray the Psalm 139 verses so fervently and often because I don’t trust my deceitful heart, but I can trust our Savior God who in His almighty power in Christ by the Holy Spirit promises to “lead me in the way everlasting.”

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