Do you recognize this song?
How about this one?
These are just two of the many, many songs that have impacted the church in the last couple of decades that were written or co-written by a man named Marty Sampson. Lately, however, it has not been his beautiful lyrics or his talent for singing that has brought Marty Sampson to everyone’s attention. It is an Instagram post he sent out to the world 6 days ago. It looked something like this:
Such a post by such a visible figure in the Evangelical world obviously has taken the social media world by storm. There are plenty of people out there who have jumped into the “He was obviously never really saved” nonsense. I think they are missing the point. There have been others who have tackled some of his “no one talks about it” points to show how disingenuous he sounds. Again, I think they are missing the point. I do not think Marty Sampson is actually ignorant of the many, many books and youtube videos and articles and such that do address these issues. I am sure he is well aware of all that. I think what he was getting at was more the culture that shuns or looks down on anyone who comes to these issues from a place of sincere doubt and questioning. I know that when I went through a season of genuine doubt on many of the core issues of Evangelical Christianity it wasn’t that there were no other people out there talking about or writing about these issues. It was that it did not feel safe for me to talk about it.
Probably the best article I have seen in response to Marty Sampson’s Instagram post was written by John Cooper, the lead singer for another Christian group called Skillet. You can find his response here.
To be honest, when I first saw the hullabaloo around Marty Sampson’s post, my mind went to another author and worship leader who also went through a time of sincere questioning. In Psalm 73 the worship leader openly confesses, “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped. I had nearly lost my foothold.” He continues on listing things he has seen that caused him to question the justice of God. He thinks, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence” and also, “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply”. Clearly, this is a man who was in a similar situation to what MS is going through. It should be fair to point out here that Marty Sampson has said in follow up posts that he has not abandoned Christianity but that it is on “incredibly shaky ground”. He has also sent a list of five solid Christian apologists that he recommends.
I applaud Marty Sampson. I thank God that he is being brave enough to seriously look these very real doubts and questions in the eye and to strive to find a way through them. Anselm called it “faith seeking understanding”. A popular modern author calls it “Doubting Towards Faith”. I strongly believe that it is something each and every one of us needs to do. I sincerely question the depth (not validity) of anyone’s faith who has not seriously wrestled with such questions and come away with at least slightly different answers than they entered that season with.
What I do not applaud is the forum and the means through which Marty Sampson is doing his struggle. I don’t really blame him. He is simply a product of the voyeuristic culture that we live in today. Modern social media has made us all a bunch of narcissists to a degree previous generations would not even begin to be able to comprehend. We have this overbearing need to post every single facet of our lives (carefully crafted, of course) to all the world and find our validation in the number of “likes” and comments those posts receive. I am saying “we” not “you all” because I am just as guilty as the rest. I can’t tell you how many times a day I find myself crafting the next “tweet” or Facebook post in my head even with regards to the most minuscule detail of my life that I know I will never truly send out there. It is an addiction, and we are all hooked.
The author of Psalms 73 did not send out his BC style “social media” post out for all the world to see until after he had worked his way through the struggle. What I wish Marty Sampson would do, and what I pray that you or I will do in our own dry seasons is to follow the path the Psalmist walked through before us. Find someone or even a group of someones with whom you can be real. Then be real. Tell your pastor, your friend, or your small group, “Listen, I have been struggling with some real questions. How on earth could…” God is bigger than our doubts and our questions. Christianity, the true real genuine article, not the whitewashed shallow version the world often sees, is valid enough to handle some real tough critical questions. In fact, it is made better and deeper and richer because of them. So bring out those questions.
And then, once you have worked through them, trumpet it out for all the world to see. When you go trumpeting it out there before the whole world before you have worked your way through the process, then you probably aren’t really seeking answers. It is more likely that you are simply seeking validation for your questions. Deconstruction is only a truly good and valid thing when it leads to the building of something stronger and better on the far side. So Marty Sampson, and all of you who might be struggling with some very real and serious and valid questions, I pray that you find the community and come to a deeper and richer understanding of the God who will help you build something even more beautiful on the far side of those doubts.