On Prominent Christians Falling Away
By Dr. Jerry Newcombe
Recently, we have been hearing about some well-known professing Christians leaving the faith.
What causes a seemingly solid Christian to walk away from the faith? In some cases, it could be a temporary discouragement. In others, it could be a result of burnout. We all need breaks. Even Jesus even took time for rest. God has even built into the week one day off—the Sabbath. If we burn the candle from both ends, we can suffer the consequences of burnout.
In still other cases it can be the result of perhaps a terrible experience, like a brutal church split. I once experienced a church split—I told people this is as close to a divorce as I ever hope to get.
In some cases, those who fall away may have done so because they associate pain with the faith. Christian apologist Alex McFarland wrote a whole book, 10 Answers for Skeptics (Bethany House, 2011), where he dissects the unbelief of many modern-day skeptics and provides answers to their objections.
Alex told me, “In medicine, physicians sometimes speak of a patient’s ‘presenting problem,’ which may be different from their actual problem. Some diagnostic questions and a thorough examination help the doctor determine the true source of an illness. In apologetics and evangelism, this is also very much the case. The objection that a skeptic presents may not at all be the actual reason that they have rejected God, or have turned away from Christianity. “
For his books, McFarland spent a lot of time interviewing 34 professed atheists. He said to me, “Surprisingly, 28 of the atheists I interviewed were ex-Protestants. 100% of the people I interviewed answered affirmatively that they had or still do occasionally pray. In fact, immediately after a radio debate with one atheist (during which he had vehemently defended his unbelief), off-air he asked me to pray for his wife who had cancer.”
What are we to make of this? McFarland sheds further light: “For years I said, ‘emotional pain is often the starting point for intellectual skepticism.’ I now modify that to say, ‘The road to skepticism always begins with emotional pain.’ It is the default position of the human mind to believe in God. Atheism is a learned pathology. It is counter-intuitive on so many levels. However, many skeptics resolutely train themselves to see the world through the eyes of unbelief because of disappointment with God through some past experience.”
Finally, McFarland noted, “As I interviewed atheists, my heart went out to so many of them who tearfully told about their perception of unanswered prayers, loved ones who weren’t healed of terminal illnesses, toxic experiences in church, and respected ‘Christian leaders’ who in some way let them down.” Painful indeed.
Meanwhile, Christianity is based on some bedrock facts of history. And no amount of disbelief voids those facts of history.
In a different context, John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things.” The facts surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus are solid. He was crucified publicly in the Roman Empire, and then soon after reports popped up all over the place of Him appearing to various people—mostly His disciples. But in two cases, He appeared to skeptics, who became converted—Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the Apostle, and James, who later became the Bishop of Jerusalem.
The most important consideration is that even if millions of professing Christians fell away, it still would not undermine the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Luke was a first-century physician. He was a companion and fellow traveler with the Apostle Paul. Luke wrote one of the four Gospels, and he followed it up with the first chronicle of the early church, the Acts of the Apostles.
Early in that book, Dr. Luke states, “To these [the apostles] He [Jesus] also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3, NASB)
The original skeptics of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead were the apostles themselves. Jesus manifested Himself as alive over and over, providing them with “many convincing proofs.” Those apostles were so convinced they went out to the four corners of the earth (“Doubting Thomas” as far as south India) to proclaim Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead. Most of them were martyred for this proclamation.
There are solid historical reasons for believing that Christianity is true, and Alex McFarland has written many books demonstrating this.
It is tragic to see Christians fall away from the faith, but ultimately the loss is theirs. For the Bible notes, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Editor’s Note: Please consider 1 Peter 5:7-10 in relation to this article, particularly how verses 8 and 9 interact contextually.