I want to respond to a tweet thread by a fellow named Dave Gass. It’s a heart-tearing lamentation explaining why he left Christ and can no longer call himself a Christian. He was once a lead pastor at a megachurch in Missouri and also was involved in starting church plants. Mr. Gass locked his account (understandably) so I can’t link to the actual thread, but thankfully, I copied it before it went dark.
“Deconversion” testimonies are ubiquitous across social media. They generally follow a set pattern and share many of the same themes and tropes. Person X abandons the faith because X reason(s) like haunting doubts regarding some problem with God, or he/she couldn’t find an answer for some nagging Bible question, or an overwhelming, calamitous event happens in his/her life, or a falling out with hypocritical leadership/members. Honestly, though, many times the main reason comes down to the person choosing sinful behavior. Generally it involves cheating on a spouse or the pursuit of what is believed to be some other sexually liberating deviancy.
Mr. Gass, however, provides us with a few statements that should cause us to ponder. I think they are instructive lessons for when we encounter other individuals who claim to have loved Christ but walk away from the faith. What can we say to those people? How can we help them see the error of their ways? That is what I’d like to briefly explore.
Before we begin, I recognize that Mr. Gass’s apostasy exposes the fact that he was never genuinely saved to begin with. The apostle John says as much in his first epistle, 1 John 2:19. Now I am sure Mr. Gass would demur at my insistence that he was a false convert. He was, by his own admission a devout follower of Jesus for 40 years, with half that time spent as an evangelical pastor. In a later tweet in his thread, he says he maybe missed 12 Sundays in the 40 years he was a Christian, he had completely memorized 18 books of the Bible, and he was reading through the Bible for the 24th time when he finally decided to toss it all away. On top of all of that, he was a part of the woke movement within the SBC. According to this article at VOX, at the 2017 SBC convention, then Pastor Gass was a key supporter of Dwight McKissic’s resolution condemning the alt-right and other forms of racism among members of the SBC.
But the Scriptures are clear. Jesus Himself said there would be many people who would come to Him who would testify of all the many years they were fully devoted to Him, even to the point of working signs and wonders in His name. Yet in the end, Jesus tells them the horrifying truth that He never knew them, (Matthew 7:21-23).
That is a curious comment. I read Greek mythology as a young teen as well. I mean the biggest movies ever when I was a kid were those wonderful stop-motion Ray Harryhausen creature features like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. In all of my movie watching and myth reading, never once did I think the historical accounts recorded in Scripture were anything like the Greek myths, or any mythology. My kids are familiar with those stories as well and they all can tell the difference.
Mr. Gass tweets several remarks about his “hyper-fundamentalist” upbringing. It is clear that his early experiences with Christianity was membership within congregations that focused upon a legalistic, performance based spirituality. He boasts of traveling on speaking teams, planting churches, developing curriculum, teaching workshops, etc, etc. In all, Mr. Gass was an extremely busy man. If one’s perspective of pleasing God is endless activity within a hyperfundamentalist background that has a wildly off-balanced view of spirituality I expect lots of work piled on top of a wonky view of the Gospel.
I sympathize with the ex-pastor. In my high school days, my family attended a soul crushing, legalistic Free Will Baptist Church. Boys who truly loved Jesus sang in the choir and cut their hair to look like Wally Cleaver. At the Free Baptist Bible college in Nashville, the girls basketball team wore warm ups as their uniforms so as to be modest. I was “exhorted” to abide by all kinds of oppressive regulations.
Thankfully, God saved me out of that mire; but even when I was chaffing under the burdensome legalism, I was never bitter. I never believed the rules I was obligated to keep were a means to please God showing Him how much I loved Him or manipulated Him to bless me. Reading these tweets, however, that’s the impression I am getting. That only continues to affirm my suspicions that his understanding of salvation and Christianity began at the wrong point.
In those two tweets, the former pastor claims he devoured loads of apologetic books, but they were trite, dismissive, and full of pseudo-science. From beginning to end he had many problems with Scripture. I just marvel at such statements. Really? What sort of apologetic books did he read? By who exactly? There are lots of apologetics books out there in seminary libraries. Is he saying ALL of them are trite and filled with pseudo-science? There is more than two thousand years worth of church history where Christians have wrestled with apologetic matters and provided sound, biblical answers to objections. Is he concluding that the people who wrote them are all hacks? And there was no one in his personal circle of friends who he could bounce his questions off of? Or discuss his concerns?
Take for example his comment about inerrancy. One of the first books thrust into my hands the day I started seminary was a 500 plus page collection of essays defending the doctrine of inerrancy. None of the chapters are trite, and the men who wrote them are hardly the purveyors of pseudo-science. Out of all of his reasons for leaving the faith, the idea that there were no good apologetic books is just laughable.
He never witnessed a single supernatural event in all the years of ministry? What exactly was he looking out for? Yet here lies the rotten fruit of continuationism. Christians who are taught that they should witness God performing the same kinds of signs and wonders today that are recorded in Scripture, will quickly become jaded when God doesn’t meet those expectations.
On the contrary, while I have never seen signs and wonders and cancer victims healed instantaneously, I have witnessed many, many supernatural works of God. Every Sunday when my church does baptisms and I hear testimony of men and women whose sinful lives were changed from selfish, mean-spirited Christ-haters to spirit-filled lovers of Jesus. People who are suffering the ravages of cancer bear up under their trial with God’s grace with sweetness of attitude of one who has been saved eternally. Their resolute humble trust in God’s sovereignty in such challenging difficulties is a shining example of a supernatural work.
For a person who claims to have read the Bible 24 times through, led workshops, developed biblical based curriculum, and weekly taught and preached Scripture to scores of people, he has an extremely insufficient grasp of Adam’s fall and the sin of man in the world.
What exactly was he promised that his marriage would be? He doesn’t really elaborate. But, that tweet reveals the heart of the matter. According to at least one member of his church, Mr. Gass was involved in a hidden affair for nearly a year, was caught, and he now continues to live in unrepentant adultery with a woman not his wife.
As soon as I read the initial thread and watched skeptical cranks and chortling atheists spread it far and wide on social media as proof of God being fake and religion a joke, I thought to myself there is some unspoken, gross sin involved. Sure enough, I was proven right. Unironically, the skeptic-atheist community would be the first ones pointing out the pastor’s sin. In this day and age of Me Too, individuals who otherwise claim there are no moral absolutes would absolutely condemn his immoral abuse of power with grooming a woman to sexually abuse her. Certainly the survivor bloggers are outraged by his abuse of that poor woman?
Three take aways I wish to highlight from ex-pastor Gass’s thread.
First. what appears to be zealous “spiritual” activity doesn’t necessarily mean there is genuine spiritual life. The two are not the same. Just because one spent all his life in church, read the Bible 24 times, led countless Bible studies, and preached numerous sermons, does not mean the person is genuinely saved. It is like the seed cast upon shallow soil that took root, sprung up, but then withered away quickly, Matthew 13.
Second. Theology matters. What one believes about God and the Scripture plays heavily upon how he may respond to trials, difficulties, think through problems, and live out his Christian life. God never promised supernatural healing, or a life of hearts and flowers free of trial, sickness, and calamity. He did promise, though, that he will be faithful and just to forgive our sins and will work all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.
Third. Christians should never isolate themselves. I don’t know ex-pastor Gass, so I can’t speak to how he handled his struggles and doubts and his bad marriage, but all Christians should seek out close trustworthy friends to confide in. Friends that will listen faithfully to their difficulties, offer counsel from the word of God, pray for them. The Body of Christ is made up of many members, and none of them should think they are alone.