Why would a megachurch pastor leave his faith? What questions are raised through his journey that we need to address, and how can we better love people who deconstruct and ultimately deconvert? In this episode, Sean and Scott discuss a book called Goodbye Jesus by former megachurch pastor, now Humanist, Tim Sledge.

Episode Transcript

Sean: Why would a mega church pastor leave his faith? And what can we learn from a deconversion story about how to better love people around us who are doubting their faith or who have deconverted? Today, we're gonna look at a book from 2018. It's called “Goodbye, Jesus”, and it's from a former mega church pastor by the name of Tim Sledge. Scott, this is going to be an interesting conversation. This is a huge book. It's over 400 pages. You and I read it all the way through. I'm curious as we start, when you approach a book that you know is written by somebody who has left the faith, how does that shape the way you approach a book like this?

Scott: Yeah, this, I found, Sean, the whole story that Tim tells of his journey from, you know, being raised in a Christian home, to sensing a call to the pastorate, and then being very successful in the Southern Baptist Church in my hometown, where I grew up in Houston, to just sort of gradually becoming more and more disillusioned and eventually giving up, not only giving up his full-time pastorate, but also giving up his full-time faith. I found it incredibly sad because it was a perfect storm of factors I think that contributed to his ending up where he did, which we'll get into more of that as the discussion goes along.

The way I approached this from the start is to say, first of all, how can I empathize with this person's story? Because there's much more to the story than somebody just losing their faith.

Sean: That's right.

Scott:And what are what are the factors that contributed to that? Was it an intellectual thing? Was it primarily the way he was treated by the church, by fellow believers, or some combination of things? So I approach this more, you know, what what can I learn from this? And how can And how can I glean from this things that will help us prevent these kinds of things from taking place among people who are just starting out in the pastorate, for example, folks who have felt like they are called to pastor, you know, not to mention, you know, our kids and the next generation of folks coming along, following Jesus. Sean, how about you? I mean, you read a lot of stuff like this because you, I mean, you interact directly with a lot of these folks on your on your YouTube channel. So your approach may be a little different than mine.

Sean: Well, I do approach it empathetically. I don't pick up a book like this, believe it or not, and look for things to respond to apologetically and prove that it's wrong. That's not actually my angle. I want to hear somebody's story. So I can better understand this person, communicate with people who deconverted, communicate with people who don't believe help those who are questioning. So I approach it through that lens. I also am not as threatened to pick up a book like this as I used to be. I used to pick up books and feel like they're going to know something I don't know. They're going to unsettle my faith.

Scott: What if there's something that I can't answer?

Sean: Look, I've been doing this long enough to know that there's certain predictable things that are going to appear. Now that's not just unique to atheists leaving their faith. If you pick a book from somebody coming to Christ, you're going to find certain predictable patterns as well, but it really doesn't unsettle me. I pick it up with intrigue and with empathy like you did as well.

Scott: Yeah, and I think here the apologetic emphasis is, I think is more the caboose on the train rather than the engine that drives it. So, just for our listeners, it's a really long book. I don't expect our listeners to wade their way through it. Although I admit, the more I got into this, the more I sort of got hooked on the story. You know, I found it very, very interesting. But just for our viewers and our listeners on audio, just briefly summarize what's Pastor Tim's story here.

Sean: Yeah, he starts off on page one and says, I read the Bible from cover to cover at age nine, was called to be a minister at sixteen and eventually became a leader within my denomination. I led churches, wrote books, which were best-selling, and influenced thousands of people only to discover later in life that faith no longer worked for me. That's a summary. And it's a heartbreaking book. There's a lot of church abuse and division. He describes very frankly, two divorces that he goes through, questions that he encountered, rejection by people in the church, and then eventually just described himself as a humanist and feeling much happier today, seemingly than he did during this entire season.

Scott: Yeah, it sounds like it has a lot in common with the journey of Tony Campolo's son, Bart, who calls himself a humanist today. Although Bart did not start out with the same sort of pastoral background. Now, there are a number of things, a number of times that the phrase “exceptions to faith” occurs in italics. And every, I mean, almost every time there's some event that's disillusioning to Tim, or some sort of inconsistency that he sees. It’s a “what's wrong with this picture moment…”

Sean: Right, right.

Scott: that he calls an exception to faith. He never really spells it out what he means. So what do you think he's trying to get across? But it's obviously something that's very meaningful. It was very influential in his journey. What do you think he means by that. And what are some of those examples of those exceptions?

Sean: Yeah, this is like a drumbeat that goes to the book very quickly. And he wrote in italics, this is an exception to faith, you get the idea that these are going to all come to fruition at the end and sense lead to the collapse of his faith come crashing down. So some of these exceptions, and there's dozens of them, are things like a Bible teacher who sexually abuses a young girl and then takes his own life. Like, that's jarring. The story of his father who was in many ways are related to my father's story through this, whose father was a drunk, but then has a radical conversion story, but was not completely converted. Some of that behavior maintains. So it's kind of like, can Jesus really change a life? There are examples of ways that non-Christians treated him better than Christians did. And these are all exceptions to his faith. And you feel the weight of it as you go through the book. You feel like over and over again, there's these things that didn't fit in the theology that he believed. Then on page 53, he really captures it. He said, “Whenever I saw or experienced something, anything I couldn't explain, and that might be a cause for doubting my beliefs, I filed it away like a legal brief containing evidence that needed to be disproved. I placed in the back of my mind mental storage spots for exceptions to the rule of faith.” And this is something we'll get into. But when you let doubt go on and on and on, it is going to build and fester like a cancer. And you see it take place in his story.

Scott: So what what what's the lesson then for, you know, for pastors, for professors, for parents, in helping people work through their doubts?

Sean: Yeah, that's a great question. So I think one lesson is just more important than necessarily giving an answer for a doubt is giving space to express that doubt. So our friend Kara Powell has done some great work at Fuller Theological Seminary at the Institute. And she talks about in “Sticky Faith” that it's not just doubt that really hijacks faith. It's unexpressed doubt. When you don't feel the freedom to raise questions and doubt certain things, it builds up and wreck of faith. So more than anything, in our families, in our classrooms, in our churches, do we give people space to ask questions? So he writes this on page twenty-four. He says “These were rock solid truths and questioning any one of them would be considered an act of rebellious arrogance about the Bible being true, about the death of Jesus, new life in Christ, the reality of Satan.” I thought, oh man, that is just a recipe for disaster. When you say this is absolutely true, don't ask questions. And this is before the internet. When people could get online and atheists and skeptics could ask good questions. That's just a recipe to shipwreck somebody's faith.

Scott: Well, and that happened too when he was young and when he's still impressionable, still being formed in his faith. I think that's especially important for people to be able to give rise to their doubts, to be able to express them, and to know that the people who you trust in your life as mentors and sort of spiritual figures in your life aren't threatened by those doubts.

Sean: That’s right.

Scott: I mean, I can't tell you how many parents, it's this white knuckle moment when their kids express doubts for the first time. And one thing I've learned, and I had a very insightful friend who told me this, he said, for many of us who came to faith in a previous generation, our coming to faith was the way we separated ourselves from our parents and formed our own individual unique identity. And those of us who have tried our best to raise our kids in distinctly Christian homes, our kids don't have that opportunity to separate from the parents and nurture their faith at the same time. And so, what I learned from that is, I just tried really hard not to freak out when my kids expressed doubts and had questions. And I realized that being raised in a Christian home, they had to do something different. They had to push back against something different to establish their own separate identity, separate from mom and dad. And for us, you know, that was coming to faith. My folks, they didn't know what to do with my brother and sister and I when we came. They thought we'd gone completely off the deep end. And it was a very effective way as teenagers of separating ourselves, becoming our own distinct person, which is something we don't, we don't leave space for our kids to do that today or for our students to do that today. I think as much as it is, that was true a generation or so ago.

Sean: I think it's true exponentially more. Sometimes the testimony of our faith is just saying, I believe, but I have questions and it's okay. And you see the sense in this book of like, he's looking for certainty, 100%. I think that's another recipe for just setting yourself up with the standard way too high. So I agree.

Scott: So he, I think a big factor in his sort of deconstructing his own faith was the experience that he had in the primary church that he pastored. He invested so many years of life. In fact, I think he made a good case that he actually burned out several times…

Sean: Yeah, he says that.

Scott: in the midst of that, which he openly admits. Yeah. But he was summarily dismissed from that church as well. How would you describe the pain that he experienced and the mistreatment that he experienced in his role as the senior pastor of this mega church and how that sort of shaped the trajectory of where he ended up?

Sean: So I highlighted a few passages I want to read because I want to make sure that our viewers don't miss how how harrowing some of this story is.

Scott: And I think we should, to be fair too, I suspect the church might have another side to this story.

Sean: Absolutely.

Scott: And so we don't wanna minimize that, but we only have access to one side here.

Sean: Agreed. And this is a very, he names a lot of people, you and I know that are rock stars in the evangelical world. I'm sure there's another side to this, fair enough. But we're just getting interactive as he describes his own story publicly. He says things like, "Behind the scenes, I saw repeated examples of how churches claiming theological purity were subject to the same human failings and limitations as any other organization, including incidents of sexual misconduct, ranging from inappropriate touching to extramarital marital and homosexual affairs. And when it happened in their own realm, they typically guarded their image and kept it quiet.” And honestly, you and I have talked about that on this podcast, spiritual abuse. When someone claims to be representing God, speaking for God, and then doesn't care about helping people who are hurting and the truth getting out, that's damaging. And he describes this spiritual abuse. So he doesn't use that term just weighing on him over and over and over again. I hear that a lot from skeptics who have left their faith. That's one piece he brings in. Another one I’ll read, he talks about hypocrisy is. Let me track this one down. I mean, this is just his honesty here. He says, “When all the people that represent the church in your life suddenly no longer represent the things you were so absolutely sure that they did, you are forced to question all your beliefs.” That that's the reality when the people failed him in that way. Another one.

Scott: I think I think actually his exceptions to faith, I think are they're just a running list of those hypocrisies.

Sean: That's essentially what it is. And this one, I mean, I pause and I share this with my wife. It was hard to take, but he describes going to another pastor, trying to reconcile at this point, I believe in the story he had stepped down, had been divorced, had made some mistakes, goes to the pastor and tries from his perspective to reconcile. And this pastor communicates to him that he is permanently broken.

Scott: That's heartbreaking

Sean: That he's beyond being fixed. And I just thought, what on earth? How could you communicate such a lack of grace to somebody who's coming to you feeling broken, hadn't left the faith yet, and you just get the feeling he feels again. He's telling his story. This hypocrisy, this hurt, this failure just beat, beat, beat down. And then it comes to fruition. I'll just read one more because I don't want our our viewers to miss this. But he describes, he says, “I slipped away from my Christian family and they, for the most part, responded by acting as if I no longer existed. Your value to other Christians diminishes when you leave.” I mean, that's…

Scott: Quite the contrast to the parable of the prodigal son.

Sean: Yes, there's a definite contrast in, in the lack of grace that's there. That's fair. Last one. I'll just read to make this point. And he says, “For me, the straw that broke the camel's back was being unable to find a place for spiritual healing when I was most broken.” So he left the church that you talked about, the mega church, 1985 to 1995 in Houston that got up to 15,000 members plus. Then he said he finally had his own pastor after leaving that church for the first time. And then at 69 years old, that pastor shot and killed himself. I mean, just the brokenness and the hurt and his experience is really the story behind this, that if anything, it should make the church say, are we agents of grace? Are we kindness? We need to make some shifts.

Scott: Well, I think it turned out that the church turned out not to be, even though the interesting irony in this is that one of the, I think one of the really positive things that Tim did for this church was to make it a haven for people who were broken and looking for redemption. All the emphasis he made on small groups, on recovery, all those things. The church became what I would call a mass unit. I mean, it's an equipping station, but it's also a mass unit for the broken. And he cites several places throughout the book, and it was verified by an outside consultant that he had two congregations that he was ministering to. He called them Congregation One and Congregation Two. And the one was the traditionalists who didn't want anything to do do with all these broken people coming into the church. And Tim, I think, had cast his lot with the people who were broken. And I think he did something profoundly right in that. And the conflict between those two congregations, and I think the inability of them to sort of see their challenges together and come on the same page, I think was a big factor in why he was, in his view, sort of summarily dismissed without really sufficient reason, in his view.

Sean: Yeah, I think so. One of the interesting debates that he talks about in here, and you can see this in the evangelical world, is all we need Jesus in the sense of pray, read the Bible, go to church for our deepest emotional hurt. Or do we need tools from psychology? Do we need tools from other disciplines? And I tend to actually side with the way he depicted in here that the Bible says, we need one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, confess our sins to one another, carry one another's burdens. Sometimes we make things too formulaic and simplistic in the church. So theologically in that debate, I actually tend to decide with him, but you're right, it divided his church.

Scott: And our, I think theologically, our view of general revelation, you know, that all truth is God's truth and common grace, you know, that God bestows His common grace, non-saving grace on everybody, which means that we have something to learn from virtually everyone. And, you know, the idea that we would just sort of rule out psychology or any other healing profound, I mean, he's talked about, there's a lot of of skepticism in his church about mental health medications. And you know, when some people, they're just, their brain chemistry just needs repair and it needs chemical repair. Those, I think those kinds of things, you know, I think we would say it really fits theologically for us to have resources outside of the scripture. The scripture is sufficient as an authority for us. But the Bible never claims to be sufficient as a source of knowledge for us. The Bible opens the door for other various sources of knowledge that we can draw from profitably for our spiritual lives. And there's a difference, I think, between if all mental health questions were the result of someone's individual sin, then you might have a point that repentance…

Sean: Sure.

Scott: and prayer is all that's needed. But most people's mental health issues come from being sinned against, not their own personal sin. And so sometimes people, I mean, and then God bless him, Tim was sinned against in a lot of things he described. And sometimes that creates walls that are so thick and so strong that, you know, sometimes, you know, we need professional help to help dismantle those walls that have been built up because of pain that's been inflicted on us. Now, he admits, he's really careful to admit, some of the things that he suffered from were self-inflicted.

Sean: Yeah, he does own that.

Scott: He's very clear about some of the choices he made that were not great. But I think a considerable amount of the pain that he felt was from being sinned against. And that's in a little different category. So, I mean, he seems really bothered by the fact that faith doesn't work. Now, I mean, and he says that directly, but he cites it over and over again from the experience of his father, who never really got on top of his alcoholism, to the way he was treated, I mean, there are all sorts of things that describe that. But he says, you know, “The driving reason for my rejection of Christian faith was simple. They're not people who have been supernaturally changed, and this new birth doesn't work.” Okay. What would you say to that? What's some of the evidence that he cites for Christian faith not working? And do you think he's held the standard? Is the bar too high for what he's describing.

Sean: So I do think it's super interesting when he says the driving reason that gets my attention is that Christians are not people supernaturally changed and the new birth doesn't work. Clearly that's his experience and he's speaking from it, whether in his life or in the lives of others around him. So my first thought, of course I want to defend, because I'm a Christian, I'm an apologist. My first thought is like, wow, there's probably some truth that an awful lot of Christians are not living within the power of the Holy Spirit and really are no different than the world. Now, whether they're really Christians not living in the power of the Spirit or not Christians is a separate issue. But before we point back, we ought to look into the church and say, alright, let's get our house in order first. Because if our house is not in order, it's not going to matter what we say to anybody else. But I had a few thoughts as I read this. Number one, it's interesting that Paul writes to the church in Corinth and points out some egregious evils that they're doing just as bad as the culture outside. He's like, stop suing each other, stop the sexual immorality, which probably included one guy with his…

Scott: Stop bragging about incest in your midst.

Sean: Yeah, these kinds of claims. And then of course, the sins he lists out first 1 Corinthians chapter 6, that doesn't make Paul stop believing in the power of the Spirit and that supernaturally lives can be changed. He just recognizes there's such a temptation for Christians to fall back and not live within that. So I think there's a way, like Paul, to recognize the Spirit is real and it changed people and Paul experienced that and see that an awful lot of Christians are not living differently. Second, I would say it's interesting that I think Christianity does tend to invite people who are especially broken. Because you have to recognize…

Scott: Look at the people Jesus hung out with.

Sean: Well, exactly who hung out with, but wherever somebody is coming from to become a Christian is to recognize my brokenness, my need for God, it's going to take a genuine level of humility and brokenness to get there. So it's supposed to be like a hospital for people. No wonder you're going to find people who are sick and who are broken there. That's not to explain it away, but I think that helps me understand some of it. Third is my experience is just different than his experience. I mean, I've seen the radical transformation in my father. I won't walk through the ways he should be in jail or should be dead or dysfunctional. The way God changed him. Just yesterday I was interviewing a psychic telling me stories of things she saw and she knew that could not have been explained by coincidence and God transforming her. I've just seen the power of God amidst a lot of the brokenness that is there. And so I come to a different conclusion than he does.

Scott: I think we want to resist the, I think the popular apologetic response to this is say, "Well, don't look at the church. Look at Jesus as the model." And I think to a point, yes, I want to save my final assessment for Jesus. But I don't think we can ignore the kinds of hypocrisies that Pastor Tim is pointing out. You know, they seem, I mean, assuming what he's describing is accurate, that goes a long way, I think, toward helping us see why he was so disillusioned and why he concluded that Christian faith didn't work. Now, I think he was also raised in a predominantly legalistic, rigid home, where even the definition of faith working was for the most part following rules and checking boxes.

Sean: Yeah.

Scott: And that's, you know, nobody's transformed by either of those things.

Sean: I think that's right. I see this with former worship leaders, former pastors consistently, a real fundamentalist rigid background is often a piece of it. But keep in mind what our friend Os Guinness has said on this show, he has said he thinks hypocrisy is the biggest issue that turns people away from the faith. And I think he's probably right.

Scott: Now, there were there were a couple of significant, really significant issues that I think sort of got Tim started, you know, on a on a trajectory that ended up with him losing his faith. You know, I think for the sake of time, we'll just focus on one of those, which is his understanding of Hell. How do you account for that? And what would you say to Tim in response to that?

Sean: Well, this is a common question that comes up, understandably. I see it a lot in people who deconvert and a lot of skeptics with a different background. Now, as an apologist, I would say a couple of things, actually not even as an apologist. I don't like the idea of Hell. It bothers me. I can't fully wrap my mind around it. So I have a lot of empathy for somebody who looks at Hell and is like, I just have a hard time believing this is legitimate. I get that. Now, there's things we could say apologetically to respond to it. I think, for example, like C.S. Lewis says, God doesn't send people to Hell. There's two kind of people in the end, those who say, “Thy will be done” or you basically say to God, either I'll follow your will, or I'm living out my will, and God says, "Thy will be done," which would be Hell. People choose it is his argument. We talk about cosmic justice. If there's no Hell, people like Hitler basically get away with what they did.

Scott: Some things cry out for hell.

Sean: Yeah, I mean, that's an argument that could be made. But to me, ultimately, when I talk on Hell, one of the things I come back to is I say, ultimately, if Jesus believed in Hell and we have his words recorded accurately, that's good enough for me. I mean, if I was going to run a NFL quarterback, how to become an NFL quarterback clinic, nobody should show up. I've got nothing on that. But if Mahomes or Brady shows up, they have the authority to speak on this and we should listen. Well, who has the most authority to speak on judgment? Well, it's the virgin born, sinless, miracle working, resurrected savior by the name of Jesus. Here's really where it gets down to. He says this and this jumped out to me. He said, ”If we accept the teachings of the four gospels, Jesus believed in Hell and used it as a warning system. Hell was the ultimate fate for those who didn't believe in Him.” In other words, he's comfortable saying, yeah, the gospels report this, Jesus believed it. In a sense, I know better than Jesus.

Scott: I don't like this. Therefore, it can’t be true.

Sean: I'm not willing to say that that. To me that highlighted a big difference. Will, I go with my intuitions, my sense of justice or what Jesus says, and I get it. But that's one of the biggest reasons I believe in Hell is because, like he said, Jesus taught it. And I think he has the authority and the moral clarity to speak that into our lives.

Scott: Now, you know, toward the end of the book, you know, we get more toward the intellectual side of his leaving his faith. And I think he's, you know, I think what's interesting to me is that the initial trajectory was not set by any particular intellectual issue. Except maybe the one you just mentioned. But that I think came later. Most of what came earlier, I think, is what set him on this trajectory. Some of the hypocrisy, the mistreatment, the rigidity, the legalism, the no space for doubt. I mean, that's sort of a perfect storm. But I think he raises a really interesting question that came to him after the days of 9/11. He said, we often used the notion that the apostles were willing to die for their faith and why, only a fool would die for something that they know is a lie. But the 9/11 hijackers all die for their faith. Radical Muslim terrorists die for their faith almost every day around the world. So there doesn't seem to be anything magical about somebody being willing to die for their faith. So what would you say to his making that parallel between radical Muslims and the early church.

Sean: So first off, you're right. The vast majority of apologetic issues come at the end of the book, which means they're downstream, kind of the caboose…

Scott: That’s right.

Sean: not primarily driving this for him. On this issue, that jumped out to me because I did my doctoral dissertation and have published on the apostles.

Scott: And that's that's why asked.

Sean: I figured that. Well, the claim that's often made by apologists, and frankly, years ago, before I was as careful as I could be, I probably made claims similar to this. The apostles were willing to suffer and die for their belief that Jesus was risen. None of them recanted, therefore the resurrection happened. Christianity is true. That was kind of the argument. So he's responding against this. Now that I've done this doctoral work about a decade ago, I realized, wait a minute, that's not a very careful or accurate argument because a lot of people are willing to die for what they believe. But here's the key difference. Those who died as terrorists on 9/11 are what? 1300, 1400 years removed from the time of Muhammad. It's been passed on to someone else and passed on to them for centuries and centuries. The apostles were the ones who lived and ministered with Jesus and who were there and said, we've seen the risen Jesus. They're willing to suffer and die for that. Now that doesn't mean Christianity is true. That's where I think we've made a bad argument, but I think it shows they're not liars. They're not making this up to get themselves intentionally put in harm's way. So this is just one piece of a larger argument for the resurrection that we've often overstated and misstated. So part of that, I look back to this and I say, I don't blame Tim for responding to that, cause that's how apologists probably myself included, made a bad argument years ago and have needed to correct. So we got to make the right argument and do it well.

Scott: Yeah. And I think it's, you know, no, nobody presumes that the 9/11 hijackers died for something that they knew was a lie. So, I mean, they died believing firmly that they were seeking the truth. So I think that, you know, we need to be careful that we get the premise right…

Sean: That's right.

Scott: Before we draw any conclusions on that. There's a couple other things that he points out apologetically toward the end that seemed to be, or maybe became significant stumbling blocks for him. One is the discrepancies in the Gospels. And he cites several examples of this. You know, for example, Jesus prior to his arrest, you know, in the synoptics is troubled, but in John is not. And, you know, a lot of the sayings of Jesus contain discrepancies. You know, he cites several of those.

Sean: He does.

Scott: I mean, they're not unusual apologetic issues. And I think he's taking a lot of his cues from a couple of particular sources that we've had conversations with.

Sean: Sure.

From Bart Ehrman, for example…

Sean: Sure.

Scott: who, you know, if I were going to resolve apologetic issues, that's probably not the first place I would go. But, anyway, be that as it may, how would you help him have worked through the discrepancies in the Gospel, maybe in a different way than Ehrman did, by just sort of out and out saying that they're, you know, they're just different, they're different accounts, they're contradictory, and they just show that the Gospels can't be trusted.

Sean: So he goes through the book and he says there's kind of four key areas that he found discrepancies, the resurrection account and others. He starts with this account. This is the first one where he says this picture of Jesus in the synoptics when he's praying and he's in the garden is very different than in John. In the synoptics, he's praying and he's suffering, God, take this cup from me. And yet in the Gospel of John, you don't see that He seems confident within His deity. And he says, are we even talking about the same account? Well, I guess I'd say a few things on the surface. Yeah, there's a tension there. Of course there is, but there's a couple of different ways to read this. Number one, if that tension is there, clearly they're at least minimally independent testimony to the same kind of event that historically counts for something. They also give us a fuller picture. So you could look at that and say, well, they contradict their scribes, or he could say, oh, we have different accounts. Like in a car crash, they're going to give us a fuller picture. But there seems to be this sense of like, either Jesus is confident in his deity or Jesus is suffering in his humanity is kind of how it's appeared. And I think even though you and I are not God men, obviously in the same way, I live with the same kind of tension. I know this example is not the same, but I think about times where I've been like most stressed in high school, when I would play basketball, I took it so seriously. I would get a stomach ache sometimes I would bring Pepto Bismol before the game, I’d get so amped. So in one sense,

Scott: I thought only parents did that.

Sean: I know, like I just, in some sense, like if I told my mom, she'd be like, and she talked to the family, she'd be like, Sean is so nervous. He's so worried, you know, et cetera. But if I told my team, it's like, I'd march out there. I didn't show any of this. I look confident. Now, both of those are true because we're complex. I think, you know, to the nth degree, I think this can be true with Jesus. So really, it's how we look at the text. Are we going to read it charitably? Are we going to look for discrepancies? And really to overturn a contradiction. All you have to give is a possible way that they can be reconciled. Because a contradiction, you know, with your background in philosophy when you affirm and you deny the same truth in the same way at the same time. Well, if you give a possible way to reconcile, there's no contradiction. So he lists more in the book that we won't go into, but I think there's very plausible ways to make sense of these. And by the way, even if discrepancies were there, it wouldn't prove that Jesus didn't rise from the grave. You and I would have to rethink what we mean by the Bible being inspired and inerrant, but it wouldn't overturn Christianity to me, even though I think there's good responses to these.

Scott: Yeah, and I think, you know, maybe the Red Letter Bible has been a little bit misleading for us because the Gospels don't claim to give us the exact words of Jesus as though the disciples held out, you know, smartphones to record, and then transcribed it. They purport to give us faithful renderings of what Jesus said. And so it would not be surprising that we have somewhat different accounts of the same events. Yeah, and some emphasize different details than others. But even in the words of Jesus, they can differ because the gospels don't purport to be an audio recording of it. And the quotation marks to signify exact quotes, for the most part, didn't exist in the ancient world. That just wasn't a part of the tradition of the writing of history. So I think to make sure that we have the right expectations of the Gospel accounts, and that's not to say that they're not inspired or inerrant.

Sean: Sure.

Scott: It's just we can't put 21st century standards of accuracy onto writers who wrote in the first century.

Sean: Agreed. I think that's well said.

Scott: All right. Any areas where, in particular, we haven't mentioned that you might push back on some of the conclusions that Tim has drawn?

Sean: Yeah. Let me draw out a couple here that I think was interesting. Here's this question that he asks on page 391. He says, "Wouldn't it have saved a lot of trouble to start with the Heaven plan and skip the garden of Eden, the cross, and generations of human suffering caused by sin?" And I have to admit when I read that it was a little jarring from a former pastor because I feel like a pastor should have an answer to that. The question assumes that God just could create us in lasting relationship in Heaven with Him and skip over this step to get there. I'm not sure that's possible, given that God is making human beings with choice and that choice is, are we going to go our own way, or are we going to humble ourselves before a Creator and choose to be with that Creator? I think that choice of obedience and humility, which results in the Holy Spirit coming inside of us, making us a new creation, you get to Heaven and you're completely transformed from the inside. External temptation is gone. We've chosen to be there. That's what it takes for human beings to be in relationship with an infinite God. So I think that kind of question coming from a pastor, I kind of pause. I was like, there were a few times in this where I just saw how important good theology is. And a few things he said, I thought, well, where's that theology coming from? I don't think that's from Scripture. Not comes from his tradition comes from what he was taught. I get that. But having good theology, understanding the heart of the Christian story is really, really important.

Scott: Yeah, I think the notion that our salvation is actually for the life of the world, not just for our own personal fire insurance, I think is a really important concept that was missed in this. And I think, I think probably was missed in the way he was raised, spiritually speaking.

Sean: I think it probably was. So that was one thing jumped out, but I get to the very end and he's got like these last chapters. And about five pages before this, he rejects maybe 20 pages before he rejects the existence of the soul and thus life after death. And he's right. If there's no soul that seems to call into question life after death. But then he has this list of certain things that he values in life and I don't see how these fit consistently within humanism. So he says, I choose to live a value driven life. I thought, well, that's interesting. If you get rid of the soul, there is no choice. It's chemicals in motion, it's physical processes, it's laws of nature.

Scott: And there are no moral properties either.

Sean: Well, and then he says, value driven life, where do more properties come from? And he says, I want to help make the world a better place. That assumes that there's design and purpose and a standard by which a better life looks. He says, my new sense of purpose and meaning, even it says the searching for deepest truths. Well, without God, truth has an instrumental value. But with God, I think it has intrinsic value. So finally, when we get to the end, I'm happy for him that he's moved beyond a lot of the pain and the hurt that he has, that's a positive thing. But they're still left over all these things it feels like he's borrowing from his worldview in the past that are not at home in a non-theistic, humanist worldview.

Scott: Yeah, that's a really good insight. I think, you know, our friend Os Guinness has called this a cut flower life, where you're trying to have blossoms that bloom, but being cut off from the roots that actually give them life. Okay. One last question.

Sean: Yep.

Scott: Biggest takeaways from this?

Sean: Biggest takeaway, number one, I think Christians, we need to lead with huge empathy towards people. If we launch into apologetic responses, dismiss people who've left their faith, they're not going to feel heard, loved, and healed. And that sets a lot of people on the trajectory.

Scott: I mean, they're not going to be argued back into their faith?

Sean: Yeah, exactly. Especially when it's downstream. So apologetics is important, obviously, but we've got to have a lot of empathy with people. We've got to deal with doubt better in ways we've talked about, not set up standards of certainty. And also, before we look in the outside and try to fix our culture, I think we ought to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, am I living a life reflected of the power of the Holy Spirit in my own life? And I think if the church really did that, a lot of the other stuff would take care of itself.

Scott: A big takeaway for me is that you treat people with the value that they deserve by virtue of being made in the image of God. I think a lot of people in Tim's life forgot that he was also an intrinsically highly valued person made in the image of God. In spite of his, you know, of the mistakes he made, in spite of his sin, in spite of his journey, he never stopped being a loved individual made in the image of God.

Sean: Amen.

Scott: And I think if the folks who had been in his life, you know, who knows what would have changed the trajectory. But that's really what stood out to me the most. And it just, that's why I think the story is so sad.

Sean: It's heartbreaking. It really is.

Scott: And then you think, gosh, surely we can do better.

Sean: Well, amen to that. Thanks for joining us on the Think Biblically podcast. Make sure you hit subscribe. And our thanks to Tim for writing a provocative book and giving us the chance to talk about these timely issues. We'll see you next time.