It cannot be denied that, in unprecedented numbers, Christians are leaving the faith. From well-known pastors and worship leaders, to Bible college professors and Christian rockers, we are experiencing a wave of apostasy. Are there specific reasons for this?
In Matthew 24:12, Jesus said that because iniquity would abound, the love of many would wax cold. Paul also spoke about a time of increased rebellion and apostasy (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3). Is this the time of which they spoke?
Personally, I do not believe we have reached that specific point in history. But I do believe that the words of Jesus still apply. This is a time when sinful temptations and worldly distractions are more available than at any point in human history. Little wonder that so many are losing their faith.
But that is only one reason for the increased defection that we are witnessing.
Another is mistrust in the Church, both in Church leadership and in the institution of the Church itself. It seems that whichever way we turn there is another scandal, some involving individuals and others involving movements or denominations.
On the Protestant side, one day it’s a beloved apologist accused of rape, and the next day it’s the president of a Christian university caught in a sex scandal. One day it’s a celebrity pastor accused of sexual abuse; then it’s that pastor’s related network of churches found alongside the allegations. On the Catholic side, one devastating report from France, with research dating back to the 1950s, documented 330,000 cases of ministry-related sex abuse. How many millions did this affect?
“If that’s Christianity,” many think to themselves (or, perhaps say out loud), “then I want nothing to do with it.”
To be clear, I do not write this to pour salt into the wounds of those who have sinned and fallen. The old saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I” has never been truer.
But we cannot deny reality. Our reputation as followers of Jesus has been stained.
We also live in a generation in which atheistic attacks on the Bible—in the past encountered by adult readers or college and university students—have trickled down to teens and pre-teens in the form of pithy memes and quotes. These kids may never have read a book by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. They may never have heard of Bart Ehrman. Yet it is his books which have become bestsellers, while the responses to his writings have had a more limited audience. The atheistic challenges to the existence of God (written by men like Dawkins and Hitchens) and the agnostic challenges to the truth of the Scriptures (written by men like Ehrman) have trickled down to the masses, including the younger generation.
In the case of the writings of Prof. Ehrman, nothing that he has written against the trustworthiness of the New Testament is new to biblical scholars. And those of us who teach at the college or seminary level are quite familiar with solid refutes to Ehrman’s questions. The good, Christian responses are still largely unknown to those same masses.
But young people who are not yet prepared to process some of these arguments have learned to repeat them and believe them. To them, the Bible is a Bronze Age book, and the God of the Bible is a mean-spirited, spiteful, even genocidal deity. They believe they can’t trust the Bible. Is it any surprise that Gen Z identifies as atheists at twice the rate of other Americans?
Another factor leading to this great apostasy is the politicizing of the gospel. Many of us have so fused the gospel with politics that we have become better known as supporters of a particular candidate than as followers of Jesus. This has turned off many, to the point that a pastor in New York City with a largely millennial congregation told me that he lost a significant percentage of his parishioners in the aftermath of the 2020 elections—something he had never witnessed before.
It’s one thing to vote for our candidate of choice. It’s another thing to become that candidate’s public defender. It’s one thing to believe in the importance of fair elections. It’s another thing to turn one’s social media page into a platform for every conspiracy theory under the sun. And when people have a hard time distinguishing between biblical truths and the latest Q-Anon info-drop, you know we are in trouble.
Yet another factor in the current apostasy is the success of LGBTQ+ activism on both a national and individual level, especially among young people. Sympathies have shifted dramatically, and if you are not perceived as being pro-gay and pro-trans, that makes you a hater and a bigot. And if your convictions are due to your religious beliefs, then your religion is hateful and your God is vengeful.
And since so many young people today have not experienced God for themselves (for the principle, see Joshua 24:31), their choice is an easy one. They’ll stand with their gay friend at school rather than with their parents’ toxic faith.
Finally, the message that has been sounded from pulpits across America (not to mention on the airwaves of Christian TV) has become a superficial one. We have preached a message that simply offers sinners a better and happier life, bypassing the cross and ignoring the call to repentance: Jesus as the key for a successful life. In doing so, we have added to the current crisis and produced a generation of consumers rather than disciples. Who needs a Savior from sin?
And what happens when things get tough? What happens during a time of testing? “I’m out of here! I didn’t sign up for this.”
Over 70 years ago, A. W. Tozer wrote his famous article on “The Old Cross and the New.” In it, he explains, “The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, ‘Come and assert yourself for Christ.’ To the egotist it says, ‘Come and do your boasting in the Lord.’ To the thrill seeker it says, ‘Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship.’ The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.”
The modern cross goes one step further. It does not redirect the sinner. It empowers the sinner. “Come to Jesus and become a bigger and better you!”
So, with decades of anemic gospel preaching, with a compromised Church, with a society that continues to be increasingly postmodern and post-Christian, and with all kinds of sinful temptations at our fingertips (literally), it is no wonder that so many are falling away.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.