At the outset of this piece, let me say that I know I will be accused of “slippery slope” argumentation. So let me explain my thought process this way: suppose that several students in a school came down with a vicious stomach bug – vomiting, diarrhea, the whole nine yards. And suppose that you observed that everybody who had been laid low by the sickness had partaken of the same chili-bean soup offered up by the school cafeteria. And let us further postulate that you do some investigation, and find that said chili-bean soup came from the same batch, all of which was expired. I believe that you would find yourself completely justified in rushing back into the cafeteria, arms waiving, and shouting to the kids in line “Whatever you do, don’t eat the chili-bean soup!”
And if any of the cafeteria ladies smugly accused you of “slippery slope” argumentation, you would kindly tell them to put a sock in it.
Now replace “vicious stomach bug” with “people abandoning Christianity”, and “expired chili-bean soup” with “leftist ideology”. This post is me yelling and waving my hands and shouting “don’t go there!”
I recently began making a mental list of people I know, or know of, who were once fervent believers, and who have now shed all, or nearly all, vestiges of Christianity. It was a depressing mental exercise. There were a lot of names from a broad spectrum of people – teens, adults, professionals, academics, Bible college grads, moms, dads pastors, big-name evangelicals, personal friends…the list goes on and on. And as I reflected on individual cases, a disturbing pattern emerged. For many of them, the path to perdition began with espousing one or more aspects of leftist thought.
Four Steps to the Left
It doesn’t begin with donning a Che Guevara t-shirt and distributing Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book” at airports. No, there is a sequence that I observe. Not everybody follows it exactly, of course, but enough do that I am often able to predict the next step in the trajectory. The sequence is as follows:
1. Reaction to inconsistencies. From the outside looking in, this is where it usually starts. The person in question begins to look for – and, unfortunately, has no trouble finding – people who live the Christian life in a way that does not match up to Christ’s teachings. And as they begin to look more closely they find many, many occasions where the Church as a whole has failed spectacularly to uphold Biblical truth.
At this point there are two options – the person in question can either embrace Christ all the more, or allow the failures of the Church and other believers to embitter them. The first option is the reaction of a person who has been redeemed by the Lamb, who has a firm grasp on the grace of God in their own life, and – most importantly – in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.
The second option is for someone who is looking for a fight.
2. Justice warrior. Those who choose option two above begin to see everything through the lens of the powerful versus the oppressed. And the Church (local and universal) falls squarely into the first category. They usually still claim to be Christians, and insist that they are trying to purify the church from within. But a casual stroll through the social media posts of these mini Martin Luthers reveals no love for the Bride of Christ, but rather constant criticism and subversiveness.
As they continue down this perilous path they find that there are plenty of other people out there who are angry at the Church, and begin to make common cause with them. This makes for some…shall we say…interesting bedfellows.
3. The enemy of my enemy. It’s at this stage of the game that you begin to see posts about “being pro-life, not pro-birth”, memes featuring the rainbow flag, and pronouns in the bio. They hold on to the Christian label, but openly advocate for ideas that are completely inconsistent with the Christian faith. People begin to notice, and believing friends and family start to worry.
This is when concerned parents come to me and say “will you please talk to my kid?” I often do. And I often find that it’s too late.
4. Hashtag Exevangelical. By this time, what began as a call to remove politics from the Church becomes a complete identification with leftist politics. “Helping the Church” morphs into abandoning the Church. Social media posts become profanity-laced attacks on Christianity, and believing family and friends are left wondering what happened.
I have necessarily painted with a broad brush here. The exact order and details will vary from case to case. However, the story arc is so consistent that I can predict, with depressing regularity, what the next step of a given individual will be – especially from step 3 to step 4.
So what is to be done?
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had numerous opportunities to interact with people on different levels of this trajectory. Here are some things I have learned.
1. There’s usually something going on underneath. Way back at step 1 there is often an underlying rebellion against some truth from the Word of God that leaves people open to doubt. Many times the “legitimate questions” that are raised are mere red herrings, meant to draw attention away from their real issues. And what looks on the outside like a political shift is really the outworking of a spiritual condition on the inside.
So perhaps my initial analogy should be modified somewhat. The expired chili-bean soup is sin. Leftist politics is the vomit that heaves out from an infected interior.
2. It’s not all bad news. I John 2:19 is very clear: when someone gets to step 4 it is because they were always unbelievers, no matter what they claimed at the beginning. And in one sense, this is a positive development. Before, when they were in the church, they were hypocritical unbelievers. Now, they are honest unbelievers. Progress! And, more importantly, now we know that they need to be evangelized, not discipled. My personal opinion is that we spend way too much time trying to disciple non-believers…but that is a post for another day.
3. It can happen in any family. Bringing up our children in the training and admonition of the Lord is very important, but there is no guarantee that our children will follow our lead when they are old enough to decide for themselves. (Note: I believe we have seriously misinterpreted Proverbs 22:6, but this post is already running quite long. Suffice it to say that, even if the standard interpretation is correct, the book of Proverbs often offers general cause-and-effect scenarios, not concrete promises.) It is helpful to remember that the guy who “kissed dating goodbye” has now kissed Christianity goodbye, and the son of the the guy who wrote Desiring God currently takes cheap shots at Christianity on TikTok. Did either of these two apostates lack for Biblical training? No, obviously not. Rather, their hearts rejected the message long before it became evident to the rest of us.
A final appeal to those who are reading this and find themselves in one of the steps I listed above. If you are on steps 1 through 3, stop and evaluate. What does Christ mean to you? Do you really love the Church? Where does the Gospel of Christ fit in to your worldview? Are the issues you are so passionate about the real issues, or are they cover for underlying rebellion?
And if you find yourself on step 4, well…repent, for it is appointed unto man once to die, but after that, the judgment.
*Post Script* I know I’m going to get this question…so here goes. Yes, there is a lot of idolatry and sin on the right as well as on the left. I am sure it’s possible that an adherence to right-wing politics can cause somebody to abandon the faith. Christian American Nationalism (as opposed to regular, run-of-the-mill patriotism) is real, and it’s not great. I know many Christians who probably fit into that category. But here’s the thing: when you remove the MAGA hat, strip away the Pledge of Allegiance and unwrap the American Flag from most of them, you find the Gospel at their core. They are not abandoning the Church. They are not denying the Faith. They love the Word of God and try to apply it to their lives. What’s more, I have never heard someone say “Well, so-and-so used to be a believer, but then he got involved in trickle-down economics, and now he just walks around quoting Ayn Rand.” I don’t doubt that it’s happened, but I have never seen it. I have seen it go the other way, a lot. Hence this post.
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