This past week was filled with headlines about Jon Steingard. The vocalist of the Christian rock band “Hawk Nelson,” no longer believes in God. Steingard posted a long Instagram post not unlike Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson last year. Conveniently, the news about Steingard came out right when Drew and I released a podcast about this kind of “deconstruction.” I thought it might be good to spend a bit of time with this specific story though. I’m not a huge “Hawk Nelson” fanboy, but I’ve been listening to the band since I was about 10-years-old. Many statements and responses have already been written, but there are a takeaways I wanted to touch on.
Even the Confident Need Apologetics
We tend to talk about apologetics as something we need to equip ourselves or our kids with before going to college or “into the world.” The reality is that people in the church have doubts and questions too. Just because someone sings for the worship team and knows how to speak the Christian lingo does not mean they aren’t wrestling with serious questions.
The questions Steingard is raising are neither new, nor rare. Dealing with the problem of evil and suffering, Hell, and Biblical contradictions are some of the most common topics in Christian apologetics. I don’t want to insult a guy who seems to be asking the questions and seeking answers. I do find it concerning though when these basic topics are treated as if they have no answers. It could be he found answers and did not find them satisfying. If that is true, it changes the conversation he seems to be seeking. I hope he did more than ask a few close friends about it, since apparently they also were not confident. Either way, these topics need to be introduced early and continue to be taught in churches.
Christian Celebrity Culture
Christians have an awkward relationship with celebrity culture. We simultaneously recognize that humans are broken and sinful, and yet we still like to put them up on pedestals. Whenever we see this kind of story, I am always hesitant to blame the person. In many cases they didn’t ask to become a Christian icon and be subjected to the many pressures that go along with that. Much like Joshua Harris, Steinberg was a 20-year-old in the right place at the right time and was suddenly thrust into a position of influence.
There is a reason pastors typically go through years of training and education before leading a church. Christian leadership can be brutal and entail immense pressure even for the well educated. If people are not prepared and trained for that, it is not surprising to me that cracks will form. James said “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
Steingard talks about the transition in the band. Hawk Nelson’s original lead singer, Jason Dunn, left in 2012, leading to guitarist and backup vocalist Jon Steingard stepping up to fill the role. When he did, there was a noticeable shift in the band’s style. Many of their early hits like “The Show” or “Friend Like That,” while fun and still show up on some of my Spotify playlists, are, quite frankly, fluffy and shallow. Once Steingard stepped up, we started getting much more heartfelt and thoughtful lyrics with songs like “Words” and “Drops in the Ocean.” Their new content was nothing unheard of, but it was much more direct and hard-hitting in a way that I appreciated. That’s the weird part though. It’s when the guy who is wrestling with doubts and later renounces his faith steps up that we get deeper Christian lyrics.
Steingard says that this was not coincidence. “Our music wasn’t overtly “Christian, but as time went on we became more outspoken about our faith in our music. To be fair, I was one of the loudest voices pushing for that shift, because I believed it would lead to more success in the Christian music world.” The Christian music industry has had no shortage of criticisms over the years, many of them fair. I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard of someone incorporating better theology for commercial reasons. This is somewhat concerning to me. It makes me go back to some of these songs with a more cynical and commercialized lens. None of this should surprise us, given what we know about human nature. It’s interesting though that still hold onto that shred of idealism, thinking that maybe Christians can be better.
Love and Pray
As always with these stories, we need to respond with Christ-like love. My immediate reaction is always to roll my eyes, “Oh boy. Another one bites the dust.” But this is not a time for snark and cynicism. This is a sad moment, one which demands love and empathy. I hope and pray that Jon finds the truth, and the hope that is in it.
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