Earlier this week, Truett Foster McKeehan — who performed as Shiloh, truDog, and TRU — died suddenly of cardiac arrest at the age of 21. Kevin Michael McKeehan, better known as TobyMac, shared a heart-wrenching statement after the sudden death of his son, along with the moving last text messages between them. TobyMac stood by his faith in God despite this tragedy.
As prominent Christian leaders have publicly renounced their faith in recent months — most notably Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye — TobyMac’s response stands as a beacon of light.
“My wife and I would want the world to know this… We don’t follow God because we have some sort of under-the-table deal with Him, like, we’ll follow you if you bless us,” TobyMac wrote in the midst of this senseless tragedy. “We follow God because we love Him. It’s our honor. He is the God of the hills and the valleys. And He is beautiful above all things.”
Many former Christians have rejected their faith amid “deconstruction” and the popular LGBT movement. Harris announced his departure from Christianity this summer, endorsing same-sex marriage and saying that he had “fallen away” and could no longer accept the basic teachings of the faith — most importantly the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Harris has struggled with complaints that he mislead thousands who read his book. While the book has serious theological problems, it appears he responded to harsh criticism by throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
As PJ Media’s Paula Bolyard pointed out, Harris was not the first public figure to fall away from Christianity, and he is also unlikely to be the last. Many celebrity pastors and Christian leaders have denied central teachings of scripture or flirted with unbiblical teachings. Josh Harris was just honest about his falling away, and given the strong reaction against his book, his apostasy makes a perverse kind of sense.
It would also make sense if bereaved father TobyMac would go through a similar crisis of faith. He had an extremely close relationship with his son.
“Truett Foster McKeehan had joy that took the room when he entered. He was a magnetic son and brother and friend. If you met him, you knew him, you remembered him,” the bereaved father wrote. “He had an untamable grand personality and dreams to match.”
TobyMac called his son “a true artist,” and he did not mean those words lightly. “His first show was a week ago, and it was nothing short of electric. Everyone felt it, everyone knew it. He could’ve easily taken the easy route and put music out when he was 12, 14, 16, even 18, but he always said he wanted to live some life and have something to say before he did it. He didn’t want to be a child star, he wanted to be a man with scars and a story to tell. I always admired, respected and encouraged that stand.”
TobyMac also spoke about his son’s faith: “The Bible moved him. His heart was warm to the things of his King. He was by no means a cookie-cutter Christian but give me a believer who fights to keep believing. Give me a broken man who recognizes his need for a Savior every time. That’s who Truett was and how he should be remembered.”
The 21-year-old man’s last text message to his father moved me to tears. After the concert, TobyMac told his son just how proud he was of the young man. Truett responded, “Love you dad. Thank you so much. You have always believed in me. Make me feel like a superhero.”
TobyMac lost his son, and it would make all the sense in the world for him to be angry at God, to rage at the Creator of the universe for letting his little boy die so suddenly, so young. As Theoden says in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, “No parent should have to bury their child.” There’s a deep tragedy and injustice to it.
But TobyMac wrote this very powerful sentence: “We don’t follow God because we have some sort of under-the-table deal with Him, like, we’ll follow you if you bless us.”
This sentence really hit the mark. The God of Christianity is not some cosmic vending machine where you put in prayers and devotion and it spits out a miracle or good fortune. That’s the “prosperity gospel,” and the Bible contradicts it.
Jesus promises His followers that they will face persecution (John 15:20); He urges His followers to pick up their crosses — an instrument of torture, humiliation, and death — and follow Him (Mark 8:34-38); and He tells His disciples to give money to the poor to have treasure in heaven that will not be stolen or destroyed (Luke 12:33-34).
Christianity does promise something far better than health, wealth, and prosperity — it promises eternal life to those who believe in Jesus and follow Him as His disciples. Discipleship is a hard path, but the Holy Spirit empowers Christians to follow it. Discipleship entails loving your enemies, forgiving those who wrong you, and making God King over your life. “Be ye perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
TobyMac showed that kind of discipleship on Thursday. He didn’t reject God amid this horrific tragedy. He didn’t deny that it was a horrific tragedy. He merely pledged that he would still follow God even in the hard times.
Christianity threads the needle between two different worldly approaches to suffering. If suffering is the gap between a man’s desire and its fulfillment, there are two basic approaches to escape it: you can push the fulfillment up to the level of desire as in the Western consumerist culture or you can push the desire back as in the Buddhist path toward Nirvana.
Christianity does neither. Instead, Jesus Christ — God Himself — enters the pain with us. He makes human pain meaningful, and uses it to save the entire world. Ultimately, every tear will be wiped away. But when Christians go through hardship, we can remember the ultimate sufferings of Jesus — God Himself, ripped away from His Father, tortured, humiliated, stripped naked, pierced, and executed. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Even in that, Jesus was obedient — and for that reason, He is exalted. “And being found in human flesh, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted Him, giving Him the name that is above all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11).
TobyMac showed a version of that radical obedience at a time when so many are disillusioned with religion.
Josh Harris’s apostasy hit me like a ton of bricks, but TobyMac’s response to this tragedy inspires me. Like many of my generation, I grew up reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye. But I also grew up listening to TobyMac — and I remember truDog breaking in with his rap interludes. “For shizzle.”
Back in 2004, TobyMac released the album Welcome to Diverse City. That album had some great lyrics: “It’s the Christ on the cross, it’s humanity’s shot. It’s a worldwide call to everything that we’re not.”
TobyMac’s discipleship in tragedy is a shining example of what that song was getting at.
Truett Foster Mckeehan had joy that took the room when he entered. He was a magnetic son and brother and friend. If you…
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.