Jon Steingard is a pastor’s son and a musician, singer, and songwriter. He has been the lead singer for the Christian band Hawk Nelson since March 2012.
Now he has made an Instagram announcement that is generating headlines: “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life—I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”
He explained: “The process of getting to that sentence has been several years in the making. It’s more like pulling on the threads of a sweater, and one day discovering that there was no more sweater left.”
I am glad to report that several Christian musicians responded not with criticism or condemnation but with unconditional grace. Tenth Avenue North singer Mike Donehey wrote: “Man, I love that you shared this. You know I’m always around to talk about our belief in God or lack thereof. Love you and always will.” Another added: “To echo so many others here, I have nothing but love in my heart for [you], old friend.”
A foundational problem for the church in our culture
I don’t know any more about Jon Steingard’s faith story than I have read today. I don’t know what issues caused him to come to this decision, whether they are personal, rational, cultural, or relational. My purpose is not to criticize him in any way.
Instead, I’d like to think with you about his statement, “I no longer believe in God,” since it’s a sentiment many share today.
One of C. S. Lewis’s most profound essays was titled “God in the Dock.” (In the British court system, the accused stands in the “dock”; we might change the title to “God on Trial.”)
According to Lewis, “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.”
The declaration, “I no longer believe in God,” or its opposite, “I believe in God,” identifies God as the object to my subject. I have the right and capacity to choose whether or not I believe in him, just as I can decide whether or not I believe in the internet or marriage.
This kind of relationship describes many people who would disagree with Jon Steingard’s statement but agree with its subject-object assumptions.
This is a foundational problem for the church in our culture.
Why I believe in the internet
I believe in the internet, not because I can prove its existence on logical or scientific grounds (I don’t know enough about it to do so), but because I am experiencing it as I write this article on my Wi-Fi-connected computer. I believe in marriage not on logical grounds, but because I have experienced it for nearly forty years.
God does not seek to be an object in whom we choose to believe. He seeks to be a Father with whom we have a daily, transforming personal relationship.
Unfortunately, in our consumeristic, capitalistic culture, we have commodified this intimate relationship into a religion we can “buy” or “sell” as we wish. Inheriting Greco-Roman transactional religion, we have separated our souls from our bodies and Sunday from Monday.
As a result, too many of us see Jesus as our Savior but not as our friend (John 15:15). As we noted yesterday, he wants to lead us, empower us, and use us every moment of every day. But we must choose to be led, empowered, and used.
Your six-word mantra for today
If you are experiencing Jesus as a living, daily presence in your life, you know what I’m talking about. You don’t need to tell us that you “believe in God” any more than you would say you believe in your spouse, child, parent, or best friend. If you’re experiencing someone personally, of course you believe that they exist.
If you have asked Jesus to be your Savior but you’re not experiencing him in this way, know that he is more available to you than even your spouse, child, parent, or best friend. That’s because his Spirit lives in you (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Jesus knows your past (cf. John 4:17–18), present (cf. John 1:48–50), and future (cf. Acts 9:6). He knows your thoughts (cf. Matthew 9:4) and secrets (cf. Luke 12:2). He will speak intuitively to your spirit by his Spirit (cf. Romans 8:16; Acts 16:6–10), practically through your circumstances (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:9), and rationally through his word and your reason (cf. Luke 24:27).
However, as with any relationship, we need time with Jesus to experience him more personally and powerfully. Let me encourage you to make some time for him today. Enter his presence in praise (Psalm 100:4), confess your sins and claim his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9), then ask him to speak to you through his word and your world. Tell him about your problems and fears and ask him for his guidance and help.
Now take note of the thoughts that enter your mind and the circumstances that change in your day. Envision Jesus walking beside you as your shepherd, leading and providing for you (John 10:27). Ask him to make himself more real to you than you have ever known him to be.
Make these six words your mantra today: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10 NIV).
Why not right now?