Marty Sampson recently announced his departure from the Christian faith in a widely-circulated Instagram post that’s now deleted:
This is a soapbox moment so here I go … 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 four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.
As James White ably pointed out on a recent Dividing Line episode, this claim that “no one talks about” these things isn’t true. Apparently Sampson’s former shallow circles didn’t talk about these things, but many others have, and in great depth.1
In Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman claimed that the Synoptic Gospels described a post-Passover crucifixion, while John’s gospel described a pre-Passover crucifixion. This is a common point of dispute, but in his A Harmony of the Gospels, A.T. Robertson gave a scholarly, satisfactory explanation for how John was actually describing a pre-Passover crucifixion that is in agreement with the clear narrative in the Synoptics. But if you only listened to Ehrman and didn’t give the other side a fair hearing, you might be tempted to think that Sampson was correct, that the Bible is full of contradictions, and that this is an example of one of them.
There are rational, coherent responses to the objections that Sampson raised. But it is wrong to think that if he just had more knowledgeable friends, and had gotten the answers he was looking for, he’d still have his faith. This is a dimension to the discussion that I wish James White had brought out more.
Ignorance didn’t cause Sampson’s apostasy. Unbelief did.
You don’t have to know A.T. Robertson’s explanation of the Passover in relation to the crucifixion to keep your faith. If you lived on an island with nothing but an English copy of a Bible and Misquoting Jesus, read Ehrman’s alleged contradiction in the gospels, and could think of no way to reconcile the accounts, that would not ultimately shake your faith in the truthfulness of the gospel if you were truly born again. Instead, you would recognize that your knowledge is limited and faulty and that one day you would understand it more clearly. In other words, the antidote to apostasy is not mere knowledge, as useful as that can be, but rather, God-given belief.
God’s people regularly face the hurdles that Sampson described in his Instagram post. Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been sowing seeds of doubt about God and the reliability of his word. Is God really good? Has he really revealed himself to us today in a trustworthy manner? These aren’t new questions. They’re as old as Lucifer and the first man and woman to breathe on this planet.
We don’t always have all the answers. We walk by faith, not by sight. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that we see through a mirror dimly, not face to face. We only “know in part” — that is, we only partially know. Our knowledge is incomplete. But with that partial knowledge, nothing incompatible should phase us. Paul told the Galatians that if an extraterrestrial creature were to come and reveal a gospel other than the one revealed in the Bible, such a creature would be accursed. In other words, we’re in the eye of a storm, and nothing should unsettle us or cause us to waver, regardless of what is swirling around us.
Keep a copy of Robertson’s book around — it’s useful. As Peter urged in his first letter, always be ready to give a rational, coherent defense for your hope in God to those around you. When the occasion merits and as you have knowledge, remove reasonable doubt in the veracity of seemingly contradictory passages in the Bible. But don’t mistakenly think that this is where the real battle ground lies. These objections that the world raises are smoke screens, interference. They’re excuses that mask the real issue: unbelief. People fail to believe, not because the truth claims of Christianity are unbelievable, but because their heart is set against them. This bondage and loyalty to the kingdom of darkness is the root of the matter.
On a note of encouragement, as we look at these manifestations of unbelief, they actually reveal to us more about God. In times like these, perhaps the best way for us to begin to understand the greatness of God is this: he’s more powerful than the unbelief that has Sampson so trapped that he’s convinced the God of the Bible can’t exist. That is power. That is a God worth worshipping. Next time you think about Marty Sampson and are tempted to be discouraged at these first-fruits of the tsunami of apostasy, remember this: God is more powerful than the unbelief that swallowed him whole. For those of us who have been shown God’s kingdom in rebirth, this is cause for fear and rejoicing. Fear, for this would be our fate if left to ourselves. Rejoicing, for by God’s free grace, he has shown us things as “infants” that he has kept from those who are “wise and intelligent” (Luke 10:21).
- It’s worth pointing out that Sampson was one Google search away from exploring each of these things he mentions. Sadly, he just wasn’t trying very hard. ↩︎