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A Musician Struggles With His Faith

August 26, 2019
A Musician Struggles With His Faith


Dr. Craig's heart goes out to a popular musician who is dealing with doubt.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, if you read the news you would get the impression that there is mass apostasy away from Christianity right now, but really it's only a couple of people. It's only two that have been in the news lately. What makes it very . . . is that these are prominent people.


KEVIN HARRIS: These are people who have sold over a million books in the case of one and then millions of records and downloads as it comes to the musician, Marty Sampson of Hillsong. We have been trying to follow this. Both of these gentlemen have come out publicly that they are losing their faith or are no longer Christian or are barely hanging on to their faith – just trying to figure some things out. Now, these happened almost at the same time, and so it does kind of give that impression.

DR. CRAIG: I think it does give the impression that there are droves of Christian leaders who are falling away from the faith, and we mustn't lose perspective and blow things out of proportion. Every person is important, of course, before God, but these are the rare exceptions.

KEVIN HARRIS: Another thing about social media these days is that everything is done in public. There's almost a new breed of young people who think that everything ought to be aired out in public – that honesty and transparency can be shared on social media. So we have real insight into what's going on with people. At the same time, they're called influencers and everybody wants to be an influencer. Some of this needs to be private perhaps, pastoral.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. And we don't really know how long these struggles have been going on privately before these persons eventually went public. At some point they do owe it to their listeners to tell them the truth about where they are, otherwise it would be a facade, hypocrisy. So at some point they do need to go public. Whether these revelations have come prematurely or not, I think we have no way of knowing.

KEVIN HARRIS: Here's what Marty Sampson said. Marty is a prolific worship music writer. He's known for his work with Hillsong Worship, Hillsong United, Delirious and Young and Free. He revealed that he's losing his faith and believes Christianity is “just another religion.” Here’s what he says on Instagram, and he's got several thousand Instagram followers.

Time for some real talk. I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.

This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.

I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.

All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. . . .

He has a litany here of things that we address on this podcast and that you've addressed in your work.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, I think that was perhaps the most remarkable thing about his list of questions. Over and over again he said nobody's talking about it. And as you and I know, people are talking about this all the time! These questions are commonly discussed. But I think what it illustrates is that within the circles that Marty Sampson runs in, nobody's talking about it. But outside of those circles of his personal acquaintances, these questions are discussed by Christian academics and scholars. The unfortunate thing is that the church is so largely unaware of that part of the body of Christ which is its thinkers and academics. So they get the impression that these questions are not being addressed whereas in fact there are scores of publications and lectures on these very sorts of questions. I saw that one of the interesting responses to Marty Sampson was from John Cooper, who I take it is a fellow musician.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yes, he is.

DR. CRAIG: He identifies the problem as the emotionalism of the subculture in which Marty Sampson runs, and that it doesn't value the truth – particularly the truth of the teaching of the Word of Scripture. And not recognizing the supremacy of the truth is the root of the problem here for Marty. I have a very different take on it than John Cooper. It seems to me that the problem is not that Marty isn't interested in and looking for the truth; on the contrary, I think that that is the source of his problem – that he is looking for the truth and he doesn't have answers. In the passage you read, he says, “I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth.” He wants objective truth. The difficulty is that he doesn't find it. So the problem here is not emotionalism over the intellect. The problem is lack of education. That's the source of the difficulty. Christians, by and large, are not educated in Christian doctrine and apologetics. In fact, they're unaware – they're ignorant – of the work of Christian academics on these questions. I want to assure Marty personally that these questions that he asks and that are troubling him are good questions which are being addressed at great length today if he will simply put himself in touch with persons who can point him to the resources.

KEVIN HARRIS: A lot of my friends in apologetics on Facebook complain about the church that Hillsong United comes from – this church system – as being just almost all emotional, not very intellectual, and all about feeling. More along the lines of a Charismatic, Pentecostal tradition. Very emotional. He's the leader here of their worship team with reach all over the world. The complaint is we need to equip our leaders to know these things.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, exactly. As long as he stayed within the emotional subculture he would have been just fine. His difficulty is that he began to search for truth, and when you start doing that all sorts of difficult questions arise and expose the inadequacy of that emotionally driven subculture. I remember years ago when I was doing my doctoral studies in Germany, we met Ann Kiemel who was at that time one of the most popular Christian women speakers in the entire world. She and her new husband came through Berlin where Jan and I were. I was preparing for my oral exams in theology in Munich. Ann Kiemel was one of these people they really broke the mold when God made her because she's extremely emotional. She would tell little ditties and stories, little poems that she would make up and share with people. And it would just melt their hearts, and they would come to Christ as a result. She was incredibly effective. She could have an entire audience of thousands of women reduced to tears in minutes just by these stories and ditties she would relate. We were sitting around the table one evening in our apartment in Berlin, and I thought, Well, she's had an awful lot of experience in ministry. I'll try to ask her some questions. So I said, Ann, how do you go about preparing for your messages? And she said, Oh, I don't prepare. And I said, You don't prepare?! She said, No. I said, Well then what do you do? And she said, Oh, I just share my struggles. And I thought, Here I am spending years in preparation in doctoral studies and seminary for years of ministry that lie ahead, and she doesn't prepare! And yet there was no denying her effectiveness. She won thousands of people to Christ. That was, for me, a real moment of truth. I thought, Why am I doing this if all I need to do is just get up and share my struggles? When we returned to the United States that fall I was on sabbatical at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I shared with one of my philosophy friends there my conversation with Ann and how it just put a question mark behind everything I was doing. And my friend gave me a very wise piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since. He said to me, Bill, someday those people that Ann Kiemel has won to the Lord are going to need what you have to offer. I think he was absolutely right. Emotions will only carry you so far, and then you're going to need substance. What's happened to Marty is he's come to the end of that emotional tether and now he needs something more. He needs substance, but unfortunately in the subculture that he's running in he's unaware of the resources and where to get them and so he finds himself losing his faith tragically.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. There are a lot of things I suspect as well that I'll just add to what you're saying, and that is the pressure is on worship leaders. Pressure is on Hillsong and others to evoke this response to God from the audience, from the worshipers. The pressure is on to generate this emotion. There’s nothing really wrong with that. I mean, we can get emotional in our faith. In fact, I went over to listen to some more Hillsong when I was studying for this podcast (I'm vaguely familiar with them). I said, Let me hear with these guys are saying. I listened to one song and I started crying! [laughter] I actually did have a sense of worship there at that point because music has that power. I'm sure that Marty probably wants to maybe go beyond in his songwriting and musicianship just having this pressure that he's got to get this reaction out of the worshipers or they'll feel like they haven't worshiped. So I find it's also interesting that Mike Licona – Mike and Debbie – have spoken, I think just through social media, to Marty, and Marty has responded to them. He says, I love these two people. I have never met them. This is an example to me of kindness, of genuine concern, of not being threatened. I have watched many of Mike's debates in short form videos on YouTube over the past six months, wrestling with my faith or lack of it. William Lane Craig. Ravi Zacharias who has graciously also reached out to me personally. Frank Turek and others. All I have to say is thank you. So grateful for you. I love you.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, wow. That really shows where his heart is. I would like to, if we may, address some of the questions that he says no one's talking about and try to direct Marty perhaps to some resources.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. Let’s do it.

DR. CRAIG: He asks, How many miracles happen? Not many. No one talks about it. Well, I wonder if he's had a chance yet to look at Craig Keener's massive two-volume work on contemporary miracles. This is a voluminous study of miracle claims around the world. It turns out that miracle claims are much, much more common than one might think. Now, that's not to endorse them all and to say that these are genuine. They need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. But nevertheless the idea that miracles don't happen, I think, is just to ignore the evidence that miracles happen. On a more popular level, Lee Strobel has written a book called The Case for Miracles where he also looks into some of the contemporary claims as well as biblical miracles. So people are talking about this, and if Marty's interested he could take a look at Keener’s work.

KEVIN HARRIS: Craig Keener really goes after this as a scholar. I mean, he doesn't just recount something somebody's told him. He has included what he thinks can be best verified. He's very rigorous is what I'm trying to say.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. The next question he asked is: Why is the Bible full of contradictions? And here I would commend him the work of Michael Licona on Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What Mike shows is that most of these alleged contradictions are the result of compositional devices that were common among ancient historians like telescoping a narrative (to tell a shortened or abbreviated version of it, rather than the longer version) and other methods of writing ancient history that were common at that time. These are found also in the Gospels. So Mike Licona’s work on Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? I think would be of great help to him. People certainly are talking about this. With respect to his question: How can God be love and yet send four billion people to a place all because they don't believe. Nobody talks about it, he says. Well, I've written extensively on this question. He might look, for example, at my book Hard Questions, Real Answers where it has a chapter on hell, or in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview that I co-authored with J. P. Moreland. I think that the question as Marty words it is prejudicial. As I read the New Testament, God is not willing that any should perish. God's will is that all persons be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. So God's will for every person is the salvation of that person. From that it follows that the only reason that anyone would fail to be saved would be because people freely reject God's offer of forgiveness and separate themselves from him irrevocably. So the question is not: How can God send people to hell? Rather, the question is: Why is it that people irrevocably and freely separate themselves from the grace and forgiveness of an all-loving God who is doing everything he can to win their salvation? I think that is the mystery of free will and of iniquity – that people will prefer their own way rather than bow the knee to God. But the way the question is worded, I think, is fatally prejudicial and doesn't accurately represent biblical teaching on this.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He says that science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.

DR. CRAIG: Now that – I'd love to hear more about this because that connects with my recent work over the last year on the historical Adam and the first eleven chapters of Genesis. I'm not aware of gross scientific inaccuracies or contradictions in the rest of the Scripture. If there are any, it would be in Genesis 1 to 11, and to think that these are pierced by science is to tacitly assume that these stories are to be taken literally and historically. I would say that when you do an analysis of the genre, or literary type, that Genesis 1 to 11 is, that this belongs to a literary type that is not necessarily to be taken literally. This describes historical events but clothed in imagery and in figurative language of ancient mythology. So it's aptly been called, I think, mytho-history. These are events that occurred but are described in figurative and metaphorical language. This would be analogous to the last book of the Bible – the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is Jewish apocalyptic literature, a very different kind of literature, a different genre of literature, but also a genre that is not to be interpreted literally. The book of Revelation is full of symbols. When it says that there's going to be a red dragon arise out of the sea to take over the Earth and its tail will sweep away a third of the stars, this is not meant to be taken astronomically or literally. This is a symbol. The beast in the book of Revelation is a human being, not something like from Beauty and the Beast. So it would be a gross misunderstanding of the book of Revelation to interpret this with a kind of wooden literalism. I'm persuaded that the same is true of Genesis 1 to 11. And if I'm right about that – if this is of the genre that isn't meant to be scientific and literal – then the contradiction with science evaporates.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. You know, I noticed when he said “Christians can be some of the most judgmental people on the planet, they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people.” He's gotten a lot of pushback. I'm sure people have flamed him through social media and said, well, you never were a Christian or what's the matter with you and things like that. Not only does Marty perhaps have some questions, but we don't know what's going on with him in his personal life. What has caused him to start to look? But over the last six months he started to delve into the intellectual foundations of the Christian faith, and then people are taking him to task, Why haven't you already done this?

DR. CRAIG: I think that is true. I think, unfortunately, folks who are raised in this, as you say, charismatic emotional kind of Christianity are setting themselves up for a fall. But now is not the time for condemnation and criticism. Now is the time to say here are some resources that can help you in your search and I’ll come along side you and help you as I can.[1]


[1]           Total Running Time: 23:38 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)