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An open letter to the Hillsong worship leader who is "losing his faith"

The Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson has announced he's "losing his faith". In an Instagram post, Sampson said, "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 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don't believe? No one talks about it." 48 hours later, Sampson deleted the post. He then posted a collection of photographs of well known Christian apologists including William Lane Craig and John Lennox, explaining "I don’t know these men personally, but I do watch them regularly and listen to their arguments." Here, David Robertson responds by penning an open letter to Marty Sampson 

Dear Marty,

I am so sorry to read your Instagram post about how you are ‘losing your faith’.  I suspect you know this already but be prepared for the reaction. There will be those who laud your "courage and openness" and others who lament your "backsliding and apostasy". 

Forgive me for writing this but your post sparked so many emotions and questions…

Firstly there is a deep sorrow that someone who once sang "for endless days we will sing your praise" has now decided to walk away from Jesus. You no longer see "his wounds, his hands, his feet, my Saviour on that cursed tree". ('O Praise the Name'). As someone who loves and follows Jesus and knows what life without him is like, I cannot help but feel a deep sorrow for you, and also for those whom you have served with.

Hillsong are not every Christian’s cup of tea and I’m afraid that your public renunciation of your faith will do harm to them, and to the wider body of Christ. I can already feel the schadenfreude of those who dislike Hillsong – "see we told you that they were shallow and not ‘real’ Christians". They conveniently forget that Christians from every tribe have fallen and left the faith. The joy of atheists who hate the God they don’t believe will also fill the web. 

But I’m also somewhat disturbed and perplexed at what kind of faith you actually had. Your post said that "no one" talks about how many preachers fall, how many miracles happen, why the Bible is full of contradictions, how can a God of love send people to hell. You seem to have been living in some kind of sheltered cocoon. In the Christian world I inhabit people never stop talking about these things! Was your faith or your church background really so superficial and shallow that these questions were never discussed? Little wonder that your faith collapsed like a house of sand, if it was built on such flimsy foundations and was never tested! 

I wrestle with these questions every day – and most Christians I know do as well. Let’s take your claim that the Bible is "full of contradictions". That’s the kind of statement I often hear from those who have never read the Bible, but as a Christian songwriter that cannot be your situation. When did you become aware of these apparent contradictions? I have been reading and studying the Bible for the past 40 years and I have yet to come across any substantive or real contradiction. It would be helpful if you could share some of these contradictions that you claim the Bible is full of.

Some of your other statements are stunning. 

You are "so happy now, so at peace with the world”. You have, like John Lennon, imagined that there is no heaven and suddenly you are transported into secular paradise. This kind of peace is not new. Jeremiah spoke of it "peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14)

You say you want genuine truth. Again I think of Lennon. “I’m sick and tired of reading things by neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians, all I want is the truth, please gimme some truth” ('Gimme Some Truth'). And I also think of a politician who asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:37) - not knowing that the answer to his question was standing in front of him. “I am the truth” (John 14:6). Ironically having stated that you only want truth, you have turned your back on it and walked into darkness and falsehood.

You say you don’t believe. Again that is so like Lennon who in his song 'God' listed the things he did not believe in – and ended up saying “I believe in me”.  I love U2’s reply - “Don’t Believe the Devil, Don’t believe his book, but the truth is not the same without the lies he made up" ('God – Part Two').

You say, "Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion”. I’m not sure where you picked up that old modernist myth but it is one that has been thoroughly debunked in the 21st Century. I suggest you read John Lennox’s God’s Undertaker that is helpfully subtitled 'Has Science buried God?'

You say, “Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point”. As someone who seeks after absolute truth I’m sure you won’t want to judge that truth by what it ‘seems’ to you, or where you ‘are’ at, at any particular point. Study the different religions and you will see a phenomenal difference between idolatry and real faith. I remember one Chinese atheist turning to me in tears and explaining that she was crying because "Jesus is just so beautiful, so beautiful". Remember how you used to write and sing about your gaze being "transfixed" on his face?  What caused you to turn away so much that you have ended up believing the lie that Jesus is just another religion?

You complain about the attitude of some Christians. Many of us can understand that disillusionment. But we still follow Christ. I am reminded of Bonheoffer’s statement: “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great sense of disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves”.  (Cited by Rebecca McLaughlin in Confronting Christianity). It appears from your post that you have not been ‘fortunate’ in the way Bonheoffer describes. Incidentally if you are truly interested in truth I would highly recommend McLaughlin’s book – which deals with precisely the issues you raise. You would be better to confront real Christianity, rather than walk away from the caricature you describe.

Your Instagram post was a picture of Samson bringing down the temple. It’s an apt metaphor, not because this particular Sampson is going to bring down the temple, but because it reminds us how Samson went blind when he turned away from God, and how God used him when he was restored!

Your post reminded me of yet another Lennon song - "You can go to church and sing a hymn….you can live a lie until you die, but one thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside” ('Crippled Inside')

You are a songwriter. I have cited to you another songwriter who flirted with Christianity but is best known for a song that rejects it. It may help you to read the songs that Jesus sang. The Psalmist knew what it was to doubt and question – but he also knew where the ultimate truth lies. Try Psalm 73, Psalm 22 and don’t forget Psalm 14! 

Like many other followers of Jesus, I pray for you. But if you want more than that and your questions are for real, then, if you still live in Sydney, why not give me a shout and we can chat….?

Yours,

David

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