Last night, I found out from an article posted on Facebook that two of my former colleagues in ministry, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neil, have abandoned the Christian faith.
I used to work closely with Rhett and Link when we were on staff with CRU together. We planned our annual winter conference together where Rhett and Link were the emcees and I led the worship music. They were hilarious. They were so creative and fun to work with. My CRU ministry in Louisville hosted them for a training on effective evangelism. It was a riot. I still remember the Lionel Richie jokes.
Once upon a time, I would have thought of Rhett and Link as friends. Over the years, it’s been exciting to see them become world famous internet celebrities. So many of us who know them celebrated their success, thinking, “what an incredible opportunity to spread the gospel!”
So the news of their apostasy hit close to home. It’s heartbreaking. I fear for their own souls, for their wives and their children, and for the souls of so many Christians who looked up to them.
I’d like to make two observations.
There’s No Such Thing as “Deconversion”
No one ever goes from belief to unbelief. Rather, they go from one type of unbelief to another type of unbelief. Cultural Christianity is a type of unbelief. It is unbelief that has dressed up in the clothing of Christianity. It looks like faith, but isn’t real faith. Second Timothy 3:5 says that this sort of unbelief has “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” Two verses later, it goes on to say that these people are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). In other words, some forms of unbelief can appear godly for a while, and even acquire great knowledge and learning in Christian things, but never truly embracing Christ in the heart.
In fact, every apparent deconversion is actually a reconversion. As deconversion stories have become more and more common, a familiar pattern is evident. They begin with some nagging question about God or Christianity that they can’t resolve. Then they seek answers from respected Christian thought leaders, but are unsatisfied with the answers. Then something in their personal lives forces a decision: “should I stay or should I go?”
Someone might say, “yeah, but I know them! They were sincere believers! They were Christian leaders! They even devoted years of their lives to teaching other people to share their faith. I know they were true believers.” But Paul says otherwise – none of those things are sufficient evidence of genuine faith. Their outward “form” seems godly, but there is no true spiritual life or “power” within (2 Tim 3:5). They may even continue learning more and more about Christianity, but there is no true “knowledge of the truth” within them (2 Tim 3:7). Deep within them, they even “oppose the truth” (2 Tim 3:8). In other words, what we see on the outside does not always match what’s going on on the inside. As 1 Sam 16:7 says, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
When we hear these stories of deconversion, they often sound like they’re simply quitting the team. “I used to be a Christian, but now I can no longer hold to these beliefs.” But that’s only half the story. No one simply walks away and becomes neutral. No one goes from playing on the team to sitting in the stands. He always joins the other team. A deconversion from Christianity always entails allegiance to a new master.
The LGBTQ Tipping Point
Sexuality is often the tipping point for cultural Christians. It’s the issue that brings about a personal crisis of faith. LGBTQ issues have become powerful “defeater” beliefs against Christianity. As the logic goes, a God who is not on board with the LGBTQ agenda is not a God worth serving. One article about Rhett and Link said, “they both felt a deep discomfort with biblical sexual ethics, which they perceived to oppress women and their LGBTQ+ friends.”
The LGBTQ agenda is the new master who takes no prisoners. The world is demanding total allegiance to the agenda, and there are penalties for non-compliance. Those who do not fully endorse this agenda are considered hate mongers and bigots. If they are prominent Christians, they are targeted for cancellation so an example can be made of them.
Of course, Jesus demands total allegiance to his agenda. Jesus said, “whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt 12:30). Jesus announced his agenda when he said, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He came to save people from their sins and give them new life through his death, burial, and resurrection. Christians are called to take up our crosses and follow him (Matt 16:24), which includes our sexuality (Matt 19:4-6).
A house divided cannot stand (Mark 3:25). The Bible’s teaching about sexuality is fundamentally irreconcilable with what the world is currently promoting. It has become the wedge issue that is forcing Christians everywhere to choose their allegiance. If following Jesus puts us at odds with the LGBTQ agenda, then following Jesus will make us unpopular, at the very least.
That’s the issue with cultural Christians. If someone is a cultural Christian, their outward expression of Christianity requires cultural support and approval. But when culture no longer supports and approves of Christians, it should not be surprising that Christians choose to reconvert to a culturally approved belief system. The new culturally approved belief system is the LGBTQ agenda, and it will continue to expose more and more cultural Christians.
My encouragement for those of us who are discouraged by these deconversions is to take heart. We can only see what’s on the outside, but Jesus can see what’s on the inside. Deconversions are not a new thing. Paul said “times of difficulty” like this would happen “in the lat days” (2 Tim 3:1). He goes on to give two examples, Demas (2 Tim 4:10) and Alexander the Coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14). These deconversions don’t mean something is wrong with the Christian faith, but rather the truth of scripture is confirmed.
Jesus himself experienced the worst reconversion of all, when one of his own followers, Judas Iscariot, betrayed him with a kiss. God was sovereignly able to us that deconversion to bring about salvation for everyone who would truly believe.