Jon Steingard, Christian rock band Hawk Nelson’s lead vocalist who declared last month he was no longer a believer, had a conversation about doubts and questions about Christianity with professor of apologetics and author Sean McDowell on a radio show Friday.
Steingard and McDowell joined the U.K.-based Premier Christian Radio’s podcast, “Unbelievable?” with host Justin Bradley, who asked the Canadian musician to talk about his Instagram post in which he declared he was no longer a Christian.
“When you become the singer of a Christian band, all of a sudden you’re put in this role that almost has a pastoral element, and there’s an expectation that you’re going to have something worthwhile to say,” Steingard shared. “That was a season of me digging in a little more and going like, ‘Oh, I really need to be able to say things that are meaningful and to write songs that are meaningful to people.’”
That’s when he began asking more questions about who God is and about the Christian faith and the traditions he had been raised in.
Whenever he had a doubt or a question while being with Hawk Nelson, he said, “I was so terrified of it because it threatened my livelihood and my social relationships and my family relationships.”
He felt as if he had “stuffed those questions and doubts down for a long time” to be able to sing on stage and said he “didn’t let myself think about it.”
But after he had another career and his livelihood no longer depended on the band as much, “I didn’t have to be a Christian to make a living anymore.”
One day, he said, a thought hit him, “If I don’t have to believe in God, do I?” And “I did not know what to do with that question,” he added.
Steingard, a pastor’s son, said he spent a year-and-a-half reading and thinking, which “led me to a place where eventually I felt I had to be publicly honest about how I was feeling.”
The host, Bradley, said some of the songs written by Steingard declare a bold faith and asked how does he revisit those songs?
“I feel super conflicted now,” the singer and guitarist responded. “I don’t find myself regretting it because I felt like I was in a position where my job was to create anthems of faith for believers.” He added he had some seeds of doubt at the time, but he “wanted to believe.”
McDowell, associate professor of apologetics at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University who had responded to Steingard’s renouncing of faith on his blog, said when he read the Instagram post, he could relate to it as he, too, was raised in a Christian home with the father in full-time professional ministry. But there’s one difference, he explained.
McDowell said his father, Josh McDowell, has been a Christian apologist for 50 years, and one of the narratives that he pushed to him was, “Son, question things, always look at both sides, doubt is OK.”
When Sean McDowell was 19 years old, he told his dad he wasn’t sure he believed “this Christian stuff.”
McDowell said his dad “simply encouraged me to seek truth and wanted to be sure I knew his love for me was unconditional. He didn’t freak out. He wasn’t threatened. He simply gave me space to work through my doubts.”
“Follow truth wherever it leads,” McDowell was told. “Guard your heart with your mind, and not your mind with your heart.”
McDowell said whenever he has doubts or questions after he sees some horrible things happening in the world, he asks himself why is he a Christian. “And for me, it’s because I really believe it’s true that Jesus rose from the grave.”
Steingard said he agrees that there are many benefits of the Christian faith, including the community it builds, but “asking if it’s beneficial and asking if it’s true are not the same question.”
McDowell responded by noting that apostles “put themselves in harm’s way not for something they're going to benefit from on this earth, but because they think the story is really true.”
Asked how his fellow band members and family and friends responded to his Instagram post, Steingard said he’s been amazed by “how loving and kind pretty much everyone has been. … I have received a lot of grace and kindness.”
Responding to Steingard’s post, McDowell earlier wrote there were “lessons for the church moving forward. I hope we can all pause, reflect on his story, and do better as a result.”
He continued: “Jon describes being ‘terrified’ at expressing his loss of belief and what it would mean for him professionally and personally. If I read his story correctly, he seemed never to feel the freedom to raise doubts about his faith except for in a few private conversations. And when he did, he has experienced ‘absolute shock that [his doubts] are shared by nearly every close friend [his] age who also grew up in the church.’ If this is true, then there may be many more people struggling with doubt in the church. How can we ignore this?”
McDowell also wrote that he, too, had church experiences that rubbed him the wrong way.
“But here is one difference in our experience,” he wrote. “These experiences never made me question my faith. My faith was not––and is not––in the church. I am a Christian because I believe it is true. My dad once told me that if Christianity were not true, I should give it up (see 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).
“If we socialize people into believing in God through church, without offering bigger reasons for the truth of Christianity, then should we be surprised when they start to doubt at experiencing failures in the church?”
Steingard made the announcement last month, saying his loss of faith in God “didn’t happen overnight.”
“This is not a post I ever thought that I would write, but now I feel like I really need to,” he wrote. “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life — I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”
The musician listed some questions he had been struggling with: “Why does he (God) say not to kill, but then instruct Israel to turn around and kill men women and children to take the promised land?” and “Why does Jesus have to die for our sins (more killing again)?”
Steingard ultimately came to his own conclusion that the Bible can’t be trusted because he felt in the end it's “human, flawed and imperfect.” He also admitted that he and his wife didn’t enjoy going to church, reading the Bible, praying or worshipping.
Steingard’s announcement has drawn thousands of reactions, including from Christian music peers.
The band Seventh Day Slumber responded by saying, “We love you and hope you will continue seeking. Life can hit us hard sometimes. Just know we are always available for you bro!”