News & Politics

Skillet Lead Singer Asks Important Questions About Christian 'Influencer' Defections

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In the olden days at church camp we used to sing a little song.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness-

And all these things shall be added unto you…”

And we’d finish it off with an “allelujah.” It’s a nice tune with a slowly strumming guitar to carry it along. It’s based on Matthew 6:33. I probably remember that so clearly because we sang it so often. Music can be a very good way to learn real truth. If I had to, I could probably sit at my kit and hammer out Dave Crowder’s “No One Like You” like 10 years haven’t passed since the last time.

Music and pop culture trappings can also be a good way to get distracted or water truth down, and we see a lot of that.

This past couple of weeks we’ve seen some high-profile defections from the church, first anti-dating author Josh Harris, then Hillsong leader Marty Sampson.

I’m not here to bash either one of these guys. Fact is, neither one ever influenced me and until this past week, I couldn’t have picked either one out of a police lineup. Harris came along after my dating days were done and I’d spent half the ’90s overseas. I’ve never gotten into Hillsong, though I’ve been in church bands that played some of their stuff. That’s not to say I don’t have my own Christian influencers; I did and do. I just had different ones than these guys. And mine have turned out to have feet made of the same clay mine are made of too. Frankly, some of them have shocked me that I ever found them influential at all, but younger me did. Current me has seen and been through enough and is harder to influence.

Harris and Sampson have evidently influenced many, and their defections are causing more than a stir.

Skillet is a Christian metal band. They’re great for workout tracks or dealing with the awful Austin traffic. “Feel Invincible” is a great little anthem, I pulled it up on YouTube as I’m writing this. Now it’s on “Awake and Alive,” and “Monster” cruised by.

Frontman John L. Cooper is eloquently distressed by what he sees going on with these defections, and poured his thoughts out on Facebook.

Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?)as they announce that they are leaving the faith.

He goes on at length and it’s all worth reading, but those opening sentences raise an important question: Why are Harris and Sampson being so bold about shucking off the faith they have spent their lives and careers in? One supposes they might find making a public statement cathartic in some way, but what if the truth is simply this — that the influence remains just as important to them today as ever? As Cooper asks, to what end? Shouldn’t the influencer role have been the means to an end?

In other words, did they put the influencer role ahead of Who they were supposedly influencing for and in the name of?  Harris’ and Sampson’s actions both suggest an answer that should give them both and many others pause. Were they influencers first, and the faith part merely incidental — a vehicle?

Did they ever hear, and more importantly understand and live, Matthew 6:33?

That verse means you don’t seek wealth, though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with becoming wealthy off your labors and innovation. It’s just not your prime directive. That verse means you don’t seek your own way, and you don’t elevate yourself. Put God’s will ahead of your own. Pretty simple.

I ask that last question in sadness. Faith is hard. As Flannery O’Connor wrote and Steve Taylor later sang (name-checking two of my quirkier influencers and carbon dating myself), it’s often “harder to believe than not to.” We’re supposed to believe a Jewish carpenter’s death at the hands of the Roman Empire centuries ago somehow has something profound to do with us. It’s pretty weird. Yet we believe. Yet we also all doubt. He promised us a pretty tough road, yet we follow His unbelievable story anyway.

Dark nights of the soul are more common than any of us want to admit. We don’t typically celebrate them and drag innocent bystanders along into the inky void.

It takes a monster to revel in that.