Whereas Rhett’s turning away from faith began with intellectual doubts and inquiries, Link’s began with his lack of experience with God. Link’s spiritual deconstruction happened along two lines: emotional and intellectual. In this post, I’m not going to directly respond to Link’s specific objections or get into the intellectual questions, since they are very similar to Rhett’s. What I would like to do instead is to suggest a few important lessons that I think we can learn from Link’s “anti-testimony.”
Which God are You Teaching?
A running theme in Link’s story is his discouragement in trying to live a committed Christian life. He talks about how he wanted to please God but was always afraid of disappointing him. His journals were filled with his apologies to God for not being devoted enough. He felt like he was failing God and failing at the Christian life. Link describes how he felt like he was trying to pull himself up by his bootstraps—to do all the right Christian things. It wasn’t that he necessarily felt that God was disappointed in him, but rather that he was disappointed in himself.
Many Christians can relate. We have this constant feeling that no matter what we do, we can never quite make God happy. We become discouraged and dissatisfied with ourselves because we aren’t committed to God as much as we should be. We feel guilty because we know how much God has given us, and we feel like we owe him. We fail to read our Bibles regularly, we don’t feel a desire to pray; so, we think that we are disappointing God, and soon we begin to think that God must be disappointed with us. We think that Christianity is all about following a set of rules and guidelines, and if we don’t follow those rules perfectly, we are bad Christians.
The story that Link tells at the beginning of his anti-testimony is significant in this regard. He describes a revival service that he attended early on, in which he was scared into believing in Jesus. The narrative at the revival went something like this: You, by no choice of your own, were born into this world in a state of sin. God is angry with you about your sin and he has to take out his wrath on somebody if you fall short of his impossibly perfect standard. So, if you don’t trust Jesus, you will be tossed into a burning hell. Thankfully, Jesus got punished instead, so we don’t have to go to hell.
This narrative is well-known to many Christians. But is it the right narrative? Is this the Gospel? N. T. Wright once said that if we are not careful, we will teach people that “God so hated the world that he killed his only Son,” instead of the actual Gospel, which says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). These are very different ways of talking about the God of the Bible. I would argue that it is the former view—that God is angry and demanding, that he delights in punishing people who aren’t perfect—that leads us into a place of despair, guilt, and constant discouragement in our Christian life. And if you, like Link, become convinced that the Bible isn’t true, why not abandon this God?
Christians need to abandon this “God” as well, not because the Bible isn’t true, but because the Bible teaches about a different God. The truth is not that God is perpetually angry and wanting to take out his wrath on somebody, it is rather that God gives himself—in Jesus—to destroy the sin and death that plague and ruin our lives. He gives of himself, dying a brutal death because he loves us and because he hates the evil that corrupts our world and our lives.
When we truly believe in God’s great love-without-conditions, we can experience true freedom in the Christian life. We can know that we are God’s beloved sons and daughters, even while we know that God remembers that we are imperfect. He remembers that we are dust, and since he became a man, he knows how difficult life is. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about what we do, but it does mean that he is not sitting around waiting to punish us whenever we fail to do our quiet time. Because we were created by God, we can be confident that we are a good idea.
When we rest in God’s great love, no longer are we burdened by our failure to serve God perfectly, nor do we get caught up in a fruitless attempt to earn God’s favor. No longer are we crushed by doubt when we don’t feel like we’re experiencing God’s presence in the moment. Instead, the Christian life becomes one in which we get to know God more deeply—our service and devotion to God flows out of this knowledge of God and rest in his love. It is not something we muster up ourselves. And sometimes, resting in God’s love takes a long time.
The lesson here is this: be careful how you talk about God. If your God is constantly disappointed with people, angry, or vengeful, you may be preaching the wrong God. There is no doubt that in Scripture, God is a just God who will punish evil, but it doesn’t follow that he is petty and demanding. He doesn’t throw us a ladder and expect us to climb up to him. Instead, he reaches down in love. True love requires justice, but overwhelmingly, the God of the Bible is patient, loving, ready to forgive, and seriously gracious.
Acquiescence is an Unhelpful Strategy
Link cites the treatment of the LGBTQ community by the church as a major reason for his walking away from the faith. While acknowledging that many churches are very loving toward the LGBTQ community (including the one that he occasionally attends), Link still sees it as a problem that the church will not condone same-sex marriages. Link says that giving up Christianity made him more loving to everyone, especially the LGBTQ community. But he makes no allowance for the fact that love excludes or discourages certain types of behavior.
If we are alienating the LGBTQ community in our churches, we are in grave error. The Bible does not categorize same-sex attraction as a sin. According to Scripture, it is a disordered desire, just like lustful heterosexual desire. What the Bible does exclude is same-sex behavior. But this is not the unforgivable sin. So, we have no business excluding people who are attracted to the same sex.
However, the church excludes certain kinds of behavior, not because it hates the people who practice that behavior, but because it believes that certain behaviors are destructive and outside of God’s design. This is an unpopular truth. No one is forced to join the Christian community. But if one does, there are certain expectations and parameters—just as there are in nearly every other group. This doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect to be part of a church. The church ought to be a place where we can honestly wrestle with our sin and seek help in overcoming it. However, a true commitment to Jesus means that we yield our sinful desires to him, no matter what those sinful desires are. Giving up sinful desires will often take time, but we can trust that our identity is secure in God’s love for us.
There are two things that we can learn from Link’s complaints in this regard. First, “if we are actively seeking to love those in the LGBTQ community, that doesn’t mean the church can (or should) change the definition of marriage, which is given by God.”¹ Second, acquiescing to the culture will not necessarily satisfy everyone. Even though Rhett and Link know they could go to a church that does fully condone same-sex marriage, they still say they wouldn’t attend. Churches need to think very carefully about how they handle this issue, making sure that they are sensitive and showing God’s love, but they don’t need to cave on Scriptural principles just because some people are unhappy about them. Rhett and Link aren’t going to church either way.
It’s not the End of the World
When public figures walk away from the faith, a lot of Christians panic; but really, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to trivialize this. I’m not saying that Rhett and Link walking away from the faith isn’t a big deal. It is. It is a huge decision that has huge implications for them and their families. The point I want to make here is that our faith doesn’t need to be rocked when famous Christians walk away from God. Yes, it is disappointing. Yes, it is sad. Yes, it is confusing. But our faith does not rest in or on Rhett or Link.
We’re not Christians because it’s hip or because our favorite people are. We are Christians because of what Jesus has done for us. We believe and trust in him, not blindly, but with confidence, knowing that Christian truth is backed by solid reason and evidence. But we know that reason and evidence aren’t everything either. We know that we are finite and that we don’t have all the answers. However, we are confident that God does. Faith and reason work together in true Christian faith.
Christianity has been carried on throughout the centuries in the faithful witness of millions of unknown Christians who keep walking the difficult road, day in and day out, even when things don’t make sense or God doesn’t seem to be doing anything.
Our call is to faithfulness to Jesus. We are allowed to doubt on this journey, to wrestle with God, to be angry, to be discouraged, to be upset, and to be confused by what God is doing (or does not seem to be doing). This is all part of the journey (see the biblical books of Psalms, Job, or Jeremiah). Many biblical characters wrestled with God and came out the other side, even when they weren’t experiencing God’s presence or were seriously failing to love God.
If your faith is in Rhett and Link, then there isn’t much left to hold onto when they walk away. But if your faith is in Jesus, then despite what they say, there are still good reasons to believe. We should be actively exploring our questions and doubts about Christianity while growing in the knowledge of God. What we can learn from all of this is that it is ok to doubt, it is ok to ask questions, and it’s ok to be unsure, confused, or discouraged. You won’t always feel God’s presence, sometimes for long stretches, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing something in or with your life.
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