Autopsy of a Deconversion: A Letter to Rhett and Link

Rhett and Link,

After listening to #earbiscuits over the course of a week, I appreciate your honesty and candidness about the journey to where you’re at today. My family is most familiar with the Bentley Brothers routine in Sing through the Bible. Whatever you may think of the Bible now, my three kids (ages 5, 3 and 20 months) love to sing along to your lyrical creativity.

As a Baptist pastor, I heard about The Lost Years and Rhett and Link’s Spiritual Deconstruction from a family, whose son listened to the clips and resonated with your story. My apologetic impulse was to address your objections to evangelical Christianity, but you don’t know me, and trusted relationships are more convincing than arguments. Still, you made your desire to share clear, and I’ll respond for your sake and perhaps for others.

I’ve thought much about the reasons for your deconversion. A common thread, particularly in the first two podcasts, was the two of you expressing the underlying desire to be entertainers. The church, you noted, was the developmental context for this to happen, which, as you now understand, led to your true love. I encourage you to reexamine your motives to ascertain if entertainment was in fact, and still remains, an idol. You strongly defend your being genuine Christians at the time, and if that narrative remains in place, idolatry would be a serious stumbling block. It may in fact, be the reason you departed from the faith. Perhaps like many, you’ve come to disbelieve in a Jesus that doesn’t fulfill your dreams.

As for your careers, I affirm that comedy is an important aspect of being human, but in no culture is it the most important thing. At its best, comedy is “relief,” a backdrop to what people believe is real. When comedy goes beyond relief, it is simply a diversion from the harsh realities of life. Comedy can, however, be prophetic. It can be a vehicle for truth. Jesus himself used humor to draw attention to hypocrisy. But this was not humor for its own sake.

You lament the times in CRU where your comedy functioned as a bait-and-switch for evangelism. I agree with you that we shouldn’t trick people, but what does your present entertainment offer its viewers? And if, as I understand, your career has matured, then it is not solely entertainment, but a platform for communicating a new set of beliefs. In this sense, you’re back to where you started.

This brings me to another significant theme I heard in all four podcasts: your belief in human goodness apart from God’s freely-given grace. You mentioned an innate desire within humans to love themselves and others, of loving your spouse for her own sake, and not for fear of God or divine commands. Your new style of parenting focused on the effects of your kids’ behavior not the causes. More than once, you each condemned the doctrine of hell for people who, in Rhett’s words are “simply asking questions.”

In my humble opinion, this is the crux (cross) of the matter. The cross condemns and saves. It judges your refusal to accept who God is, and offers grace, so that you might know who you really are. Two points you have made clear: The God of the Bible is unjust, and people are good without any reference to him.

Your struggle is not a new one. John Calvin, commenting on 1 John 5:10 which says, “whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son,” wrote that the assertion that Jesus is the only way to God “seems inconsistent with reason,” but human reasoning has its limitations. Calvin conceded that the existence of good men and women throughout history who stand under God’s judgment is offensive. Nevertheless, he argues that,

…we are greatly mistaken if we think that whatever is eminent in our eyes is approved and esteemed by God; for, as it is said in Luke 16:15 “whatever is highly esteemed by men is an abomination in the sight of God.” For as the filthiness of the heart is hid from us, we are satisfied with the external appearance; but God sees that under this is concealed the foulest filth.

I have no doubt that you are good husbands, fathers, and co-workers. And it may be this very morality which blinds you to the magnitude of not believing. You articulated an understanding of the Christian gospel at several places, but I haven’t heard you connect unbelief with sin. Lest we forget, a man who meets Jesus in person still cries out, “help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Unbelief always lurks in the human heart and the cross is an afront to this unbelief. The cross communicates the message that God is found in frailty and weakness, and those who are likewise not ashamed to be broken. Furthermore, the cross reveals the heinousness of our unbelief—of your unbelief. Our sin brings death and Christ died for it. We face a dilemma. Naturally, we don’t believe anything is necessary for our salvation that we can’t do by our own power. The only way to believe is paradoxically, to admit that we don’t.

You expressed an openness, even a desire for revelation, yet God has already given precisely this. I am not talking about the cross as a mere historical fact, but a revelational event. Perhaps you know this. I pray (and have been praying) that God would give you a new revelation of himself. But more than that, I pray that you would not dismiss the revelation of the cross.

I’ll close with this from Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will (1525) in which Luther confesses his own anguish at the doctrine of an eternal hell when he writes,

It seems an iniquitous, cruel, intolerable thought to think [such] of God; and it is this that has been a stumbling block to so many great men down through the ages. And who would not stumble at it? I have stumbled at it myself more than once, down to the deepest pit of despair, so that I wished I had never been made a man. That was before I knew how health-giving that despair was, and how close to grace.

Only when we renunciate our notions of who we think God should be, do we discover God’s favor. The very moment you do this is the moment you’ll discover that Jesus Christ already endured hell for you, that your unbelief sent him there, and that faith in him alone will dispel all darkness.

 

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