Sunday, March 1, 2020

Good Mythical Morning: Not Christian Programming

Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, creators of Good Mythical Morning.
Original photo by King of Mars - Own work. Text added. CC BY-SA 4.0


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Introduction


I first heard of Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal some thirteen years ago. As YouTube launched and revolutionized the way content was presented and consumed online, Rhett and Link emerged as elite crafters of comedy. I have never forgotten their fast food folk song and it still regularly enters my mind when I go to Taco Bell. They're very likable and very funny.

One of the first things I learned about this duo was that they were Christians (as you can see explained here, preserved in the Wayback Machine). Around the time I discovered them, I had just become a Christian myself, so I was quite intrigued. Their videos never really touched on explicitly Christian themes (except for the time they did some work for VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer), but their videos did seem like good, clean fun. I thought it was great that committed Christians had a presence on YouTube.
In the years following, I often wondered why they weren't explicit about their faith in the content they produced. It would be unfair to expect every video that every Christian makes be explicitly evangelistic; however, when a Christian's entire career is built on broadcasting a show (over which he/she has full control), it is reasonable to expect the Christian to talk about Jesus at some point. Yet, Rhett and Link never used their personal YouTube channels to promote Christianity in any way.

As their followers have come to find out in recent days, the duo was never passionate about creating Christian content because they were never regenerate. They were associated with Christianity quite closely for some time, but they never considered God to be the ultimate authority in their lives. They were not motivated by His reality to reach the world for Christ because they did not actually know Christ through the gospel.

My goal in this article is to share some thoughts about what I've heard these two say on their podcast over the last few weeks. I am not writing this to Rhett and Link, but rather to the Christian community that is processing their stories. I've spent much time listening through the series and if you'd like to hear them in their own words, you can do so by checking out the episodes below.



Revealing Priorities


Rhett and Link have been very successful as businessmen in the entertainment industry. Their company is Mythical Entertainment, a name derived from their hit daily show, Good Mythical Morning. The "Mythical" part comes from their childhood imaginations, not from adherence to actual systems of mythology. They have multiple streams of content across the internet, and their media is consumed by millions of people worldwide. One of their projects is Ear Biscuits, a podcast. You can listen to it on Spotify or watch the videos of their conversations on YouTube.

On January 20 of this year, an Ear Biscuits episode premiered entitled, "Our Lost Years." This was the first episode of a four-part series that walked through the time in their lives when they became a part of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) in college, eventually becoming supported missionaries with the organization. Though they both earned college degrees in engineering, yet at that time they considered the work with Cru to be more important; so they pursued that ministry full-time instead.

For me, this part of their lives has always been an elephant in the room of sorts. I remembered reading their biographies years ago where they discussed their Christianity and time with Cru, information that had long since been scrubbed from the internet. Thus, I was eager to hear what was going on in their spiritual lives, though my fear was that they had rejected the faith altogether. That, of course, would turn out to be the case, but their story of arriving at that conclusion is one worth examining.

The two explained that while working for Cru, their supreme focus was to be entertainers. They admitted repeatedly in these conversations that their goal was never to provide any real teaching with biblical substance, but rather to facilitate events where others would do that work. They were focused on making people laugh and leading people in song.

It was in the middle of their recounting of these years that it became painfully obvious to me (and surely to any others listening from a Christian perspective) that these two men had never experienced being united to Christ by faith. Consider the conversation they had in the second episode. Speaking to the need to proclaim the gospel so that sinners might be saved from the wrath of God they deserve, Rhett said, "We were embarrassed about it." Link added that "It didn't sit right." Their priority, therefore, became to entertain people in such a way that everyone could laugh without being offended.

What does that story reveal? It makes plain that Rhett and Link were never fully committed to the gospel message. They always remained in a seat of judgment over it, declaring it to be embarrassing and not right.

As they went on in the story to share about their time at Cru, they described their ministry as creating events that Cru students in the South would attend in order to be equipped to talk to others about Jesus.

"We didn't want to go around doing outreaches," Rhett said. Later, describing their work at Cru offices, Link stated that they were developing themselves as "entertainers." And this became the priority: getting Christians and non-Christians together in the same room for the purpose of entertainment.

There was no real ministry, as biblically defined. There was no real conviction, as the Holy Spirit would bring it about. As they discuss their former priorities now, it is quite clear that they never reckoned with the Lordship of Christ and its implications for their lives.


Stepping Stones


Rhett's "deconstruction" testimony was largely based upon a skeptical worldview. His father is a lawyer in North Carolina, and it's possible that his influence shaped his approach to religion. I do not know what his father believes or teaches, but it's apparent that Rhett takes a lawyer-like approach to evaluating religion. Early on in his story, he makes it clear that demands for evidence and conformity to secular science and reasoning was at the heart of his abandonment of Christianity.

The elements of Rhett's apostasy testimony are not unique to Rhett. His progression of abandoning doctrines is actually quite common among people who turn from God to embrace secularism. Below is a basic sketch of how his not-uncommon deconstruction played out, line upon line.

  1. Creation comes to be considered a myth because we can scientifically know that the earth is incredibly old and evolution happened.
  2. Since creation isn't true, it naturally follows that the rest of the Old Testament is questionable and no set of doctrines should be founded on it.
  3. Since the first two-thirds of the Bible is reckoned as questionable at best, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy must be rejected.
  4. Since the Bible is erroneous, it should no longer be considered an authority concerning morality, meaning that popular forms of immorality (LGBT issues, abortion, etc.) can and should be embraced.
  5. Once the Bible and its morality have been dismissed, it is then time to rethink the person of Jesus altogether and consider what life could be like without any ties to Christ whatsoever.

And that's where both Rhett and Link find themselves today. (Note: I won't go into great detail regarding Link's story, as much of his story is following Rhett's lead, though he tends to be much more abstract in his considerations.)

Of course, this progression doesn't take place all in one day, one week, or one year. For some, these changes occur over the course of decades. Since Rhett and Link were relatively deep into religiosity, having learned "Christianese" and the culture, it took them years to complete their pilgrimage to secularism. 

Rhett explains that his first step toward evolution came through Francis Collins' book The Language of God. (Tim Challies reviewed the book once upon a time.) Collins is a geneticist who claims to be a Christian evolutionist. He's not the first to hold to this position and it's a stance that has been popularized through the years. Edgar Andrews has succinctly explained the problem with Collins' Evolutionist Christianity:
"[Collins] implies that even life itself originated by a purely natural ‘mechanism’ rather than a creative act of God, and he confirms this view elsewhere. I don’t think this can be reconciled with the biblical account of creation — it undermines the very basis of the biblical understanding of God’s relationship to the created world."

Rhett, who was never regenerate, followed Collins' lead and eventually embraced evolution completely. He had learned many evangelical criticisms of evolution, but decided that those arguments were no longer valid in light of the overwhelming amount of evidence he accepted from secular scientists. Yet, his plan was to continue to hold on to a form of Christianity through it all.

As he entered into the theistic evolutionary world, he began to realize that most of the people in those groups are in faith crises. He saw that their views and opinions were very diverse as they sought to justify foundational Christian doctrines, while regarding secular science as a higher authority than Scripture. This bothered Rhett, and he started to drift away from the faith more quickly.

During this time in his personal philosophical evolution, his grappling with the issues took place privately. He struggled even to talk to his wife about his difficulties. Interestingly, he still led a Bible study for his church and appeared to be in good standing there. He did not talk through these issues with church leaders or those God had given him as counselors. It's important to make a note of that. As their former friend Shelby Abbott has summarized:
They were afraid if they shared their doubts with other Christians, they’d be labeled as “someone’s project” or “that person” in church. This makes it clear to me that fear more than intellect got in their way of having a relationship with God.
It wasn't long after giving up on the Old Testament that the rest of the system began to crumble. Rhett even stated that the judgments he was making regarding the Bible's truthfulness were a "linchpin" and he had to decide whether to be all-in or all-out. His intellectual commitments wouldn't allow for a religion that was purely emotional. So, he was all-out.


Slanted Representations


As Rhett and Link started to share their personal stories, they urged the listening audience not to reduce them to theological footnotes, but rather to seek to understand their experiences and reasoning. They understand full well that the Bible teaches the eternal security of the elect, meaning that those whom God has saved will remain saved throughout eternity. So, when guys like me hear of people walking away from the faith, the immediate reaction is, "Those people were never a part of the faith to begin with." Therefore, to get ahead of those retorts, listeners were urged to forsake what the Bible says in order to believe the Rhett and Link story.

This defensive posture led to a very strange and glaring contradiction in the deconstruction narrative, though, when Rhett tried to defend the former reality of his faith. He said Jesus was as real to him as he possibly could be without physically being there and that he had a "very real relationship" with God. To that, of course, I say "Liar, Liar, Pants on fire." This is the reaction they have sought to guard against.

Yet at a different point in the story, Rhett said the most reasonable view of the gospels is that they "appear to be a mix of religious propaganda as well as actual history." Stated plainly: Jesus wasn't and isn't God in Rhett's view.

So could Rhett truly say that he ever had a relationship with Jesus? It's impossible that he could have if the gospels were religious propaganda meant to elevate a person to mythological deity. I'm sure that given a moment to think about it, he'd agree with me. Rhett should be on my side in saying that he never had a relationship with God.

Another point that was brought up by both men in their testimonies was that the Christian worldview is full of unanswerable questions. Their presentation of the secular worldview is one where things make much more sense, that they can now seek honest answers to the world's most difficult questions, and their relationships are stronger than ever. However, they fail to explain to their audience basic truths pertaining to where life comes from, how they are able to trust the logic they use, and why truth matters at all. They exchanged the truth about the most important questions of life for scientific theories that leave them with no actual purpose in life.

In a separate moment, Rhett made a reference to Bart Ehrman and labeled him as "even-handed" regarding his explanations of the New Testament. He also spoke of Christian apologists, claiming that many are smart and earnest, yet blind to truth because of their ideological commitments. This statement is as condescending as anything I could write in response to their stories. But I urge you, reader: Rather than merely taking offense at this gross misrepresentation of competing philosophies, watch Bart Ehrman's debates with James White and Daniel Wallace and see for yourself if Rhett's judgment holds water.

There's a smorgasbord of other contradictory statements that came up in the 5.5+ hours of spiritual conversation these episodes comprised. For the moment, it's sufficient to note that these men did not escape a life of contradiction, as they claim. Instead, they've found themselves in a world of new contradictions that they absolutely will not be able to escape.

In the end, Rhett stated that he is now a hopeful agnostic. Link says he's an agnostic that wants to be hopeful.


Processing and Learning


What is a Christian to think about all of this? I have three takeaways for you to consider.


1. God is the Judge and you are not.


This may seem like a basic truth that shouldn't necessarily be highlighted here. However, this concept was never embraced by Rhett and Link and I'm afraid it's lost on the majority of Evangelicalism. When most people consider God as Judge, it's likely that their minds jump to the throne room of heaven where God alone reigns supreme. That Revelation 4 vision is beautiful and important, but it is not the only concept of God-as-Judge that we have.


In Romans 9, after teaching a very hard doctrine about God's sovereignty in human affairs, the apostle declares, "You will say to me then, 'Why does He (God) still find fault? For who resists His will?' On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" (vv. 19-20, emphasis added). Rhett wrestled with this concept and ultimately chose to find fault with God.

This led Rhett to believe that faith is something that exists despite reason. In reality, he needs to understand that God exists; therefore, we can reason.

Throughout this life man has no grounds to judge God in any way. God exists, all people know it, and it is to Him that we are all to submit. God, the Author of life and all creation, has given us His inspired revelation that we might know all things pertaining to life and godliness. This means that all men everywhere should repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ as Lord, that they might receive knowledge of the truth.

Furthermore, this means that there is no amount of evidence that you deserve. This point is critical. Much of Rhett's story involved evidential apologetics, that is, a mode of defending beliefs based on empirical evidence. He used to be a Christian because he read apologists who provided him with evidence, which, in his estimation, validated Christianity. He is now an agnostic because he read scientists who provided him with evidence that he believes discredits Christianity.

Rhett is not the judge. You are not the judge. God is not on trial. We are not to evaluate the evidence in order to determine whether or not God exists. We are to interpret the physical world in light of the reality of God.

God is, and He is Judge. If we don't start there, we're unable to make sense of anything in this world.


2. The authority of Scripture is foundational to Christian belief and practice.


If you listen through the deconstruction narratives as I have, something you will not hear is an explanation of the role of Scripture in a Christian's life. Sure, the Bible is mentioned several times and judgment against it is certainly expressed; yet, at no point is it explained how it governs the lives of those who believe in Christ. The doctrines of inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture are never constructed that they might then be deconstructed.


It seems quite reasonable to conclude that these two men never approached holy Scripture with reverence and awe. There's no doubt that they studied it, memorized sections of it, and understood its narrative quite well. But God's truth certainly never took root in their hearts, leading to fruits of righteousness. The authority of the Bible was never a major part of their worldview. They remained in the judgment seat and Scripture was allowed to hang around as long as they permitted it.

Christian: The Bible is your authority. Sola Scriptura. Submit to it!


3. Rhett and Link are blasphemers.

This is a sobering point, but it's one we must reckon with.

God is, and He has revealed Himself. In light of that truth, what Rhett and Link are now doing is blaspheming the name of the one, true and holy God. Consider these examples.

Rhett said that his story ultimately led to the moment when he finally opened himself up to the possibility that he had been wrong about everything in his life. When he arrived at that point, he wrote the following questions in his journal.

  • "If I don't have to believe that God ordered His chosen people to slaughter men, women, and children by the thousands, then why would I?"
  • "If I don't want to believe that every religious experience of any person who is not a Christian is ultimately illegitimate, then why would I?"
  • "If I don't have to believe that anyone who doesn't have a relationship with Jesus (i.e., the majority of people who have ever lived) are going to spend eternity being literally tortured in a fire, experiencing never-ending pain and suffering, then why (no pun intended) in the hell would I believe that?"
In a separate interview about the backlash they have faced since these episodes, the two stated that it's the culture's responsibility to correct God's church about things God's word clearly teaches, particularly on the subject of perverse sexuality. In other words, God is wrong and man is right.

Friends, this is blasphemy. God takes blasphemy very seriously and so should we.


A Brief Final Thought


Our starting points matter. Those points determine where we land. If we believe God is to be judged by our conclusions based on evidence, we will never truly worship Him as Master. We will never reckon ourselves as servants. We will never understand the gospel.

I hope Rhett and Link are broken to the point of repentance. They need God to grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. They've never known saving faith, and this will need to be God's doing.

But you, Christian, consider this story and my points above as you not only process the Rhett and Link situation, but also the many cases we will hear of Christians "falling away." Many people we know will walk away from the faith. Some of our children will forsake Jesus. We must think biblically about these things.

God is God and we are not. Let us worship Him in spirit and in truth.

25 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed your application of Romans 9. Good read

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  2. Wow - this article really helped me understand how a dear friend of mine "fell away" from the faith. We grew up together, going to the same church and listening to the same sermons. However, as we parted lives in college, he began to question everything he grew up with. He literally hit every step you detailed in numbers 1 through 5 above. He claims he is an atheist, yet he hates God for the pain and suffering in the world. I remember trying to reason with him, but he kept laughing at me and I couldn't help but think, "pearls before swine." I pray for him often, yet have neglected to reach out to him. I care for his soul. It hurts me to see him in that state. I think I should send him a text message...

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    1. If you actually cared about your friend, you would still be his friend whether he is "saved" or not. If religion was the only reason you were friends then you were never friends in the first place. Sorry to use your own logic against you. People aren't projects. Listen to people and love people.

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    2. "Listen to people and love people."

      According to what standard? By God's standard, yes that is true. But what is your objective moral standard?

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  3. To be honest, my first thought when I hear a deconversion story is I want to hear more about the person's life. Were they sleeping with someone or wanted to? Do they want to conform to the world?

    I think often people latch onto intellectual objections because they want to.

    You could just as easily work backwards. I know the Resurrection is true therefore the Old Testament is trustworthy.

    I would say as an Old-Earth Creationist who thinks Darwinism is false and Adam and Eve are historical, if you make the age of the Earth the lynch pin on which everything can fall apart if you don't believe in that, you are asking for trouble.

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    1. I'm anon. from above.

      My friend's deconversion story started when he visited the Creation Museum and could not grapple that God simply created the world in 7 days and then man brought sin to the world. Then, he went off to the Navy and spent time reading Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," along with Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins. He continues to say that "it's not fair to spend eternity in Hell" and that God's judgment is unjust.

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    2. Understood. We need a healthy dose of God's Law so we understand what's actually fair and just.

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    3. People reject it because it's not real. It's as simple as that. Community and family are valuable, but we don't need mythology to support it. We're growing out of that phase of humanity where we had to lie to ourselves to keep going and face death.

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  4. It's interesting they came from a CC background which lends itself to producing false converts. The first of the "Spiritual Laws", "God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life" simply isn't Biblical. What if my life is already wonderful? What if I try this Christianity and I still suffer? The scriptures are full of true converts who suffered but realized they "were aliens and strangers in this world" not living in a wonderful world.

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    1. You’re right about that not being biblical however God does have a wonderful plan for our eternal life and it should be re-worded as such!

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    2. Yes, Sister, thankfully He does!

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  5. Haha this article did exactly what the GMM thought it would. Instead of truly listening to their stories, the author here jumps out of his boots to assert they were never truly Christians. Do you not think there is a possibility that young children can be led to believe in a false gospel? That's exactly what happened for them. And now they are being vulnerable and open to thinking of the gospel in new ways -- even though it may not fit YOUR systematic theology.

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    1. "thinking of the gospel in new ways"

      That's certainly a new way to phrase "secular humanism". It seems that you're the one asserting things without backing anything up.

      The only thing Rhett & Link realized was that they wanted to both trade God in for secularism, and not have actual Christians wisely discern their fruit. They (and really all people) can't have it both ways.

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  6. As a fellow blasphemer, let me introduce you to a concept you've likely never considered: the Christian God, by default, does not exist. It is up to believers to make a claim that demonstrates sufficiently that he indeed does exist. Alvin Plantinga does this philosophically. William Lane Craig attempts to do this cosmologically. You attempted to do this dogmatically. Wildly asserting that God exists and quoting your own supporting Bible to do so is circular, and idiotic. The Quran states Allah exists. The Vega "prove" the existence of Hindu gods. You have to do better than assertions. And you know what's better than faith based assertions? Evidence. And in this article, you present none.

    To your second pseudo-point, you may want to read some Biblical scholars who aren't paid to actually believe the stuff they research. I'm sure you'd explain away all of the silly contradictions in the gospels (differing geneologies, birth narratives, death narratives, Jesus's disposition, death narratives, resurrection narratives, etc.) but that really wouldn't even scratch the surface of the problems with the Bible. The only people who can't seem to admit there are problems are people like you who somehow come to the nonsense conclusion that they're inerrant. You're gonna need more than just faith to convince anyone (who is intellectually honest and cares that about being right) of that bold claim.

    Third, yes, they're blasphemers. And you, the loving, kind, merciful Christian who claims the authority of the savior Jesus meek and mild, just said they should be stoned for what they say. Nothing makes me less willing to be a Christian or have "faith" like a naive child than quoting violent, unjustifiable Stone Age propaganda.

    You may be able to believe things without evidence and you may even consider that a virtue, but I refuse. This article has given me even further reason to doubt; the best thing you could've done would've been to actually refute the arguments and evidence they present with your own. Instead you responded with dogma and judgment. Thank you for once again convincing me that life outside the guilt-ridden, "faith"-based, irrational, and happily violent cult is intellectually, morally, and honestly superior.

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    1. Why do you hate the God you don't believe in?

      And what evidence could anyone give you to believe in the God that says you have enough evidence to believe in Him?

      Unless of course, God does exist and has given you sufficient evidence to repent and believe in Him (Romans 1:18-22)

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    2. Nothing he/she said showed "hate." That seems an odd rebuttal.

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  7. Christians are cannibals. They eat their wounded.

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    1. How true. "Relatively deep into religiosity" is how the author dismissively describes them. I think time and time again Rhett made the comment that this was a relationship, and was fundamental to his worldview. But in that phrase, this is dismissed. I think the writer, and many commenters here, would say that God's opinion of Rhett is "I never knew thee," that Rhett wasn't a 'true Christian.' Some even seem to suggest in the comments that he and Link wanted to "sow their wild oats." Which is also something they refute. But I would fully agree--eating the wounded is exactly what this whole letter/discussion is about.

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  8. This was lovingly and wonderfully written, thank you for sharing it.

    The only other thing I would add for your readers is this:

    "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us."

    - 1 John 2:19

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    1. It's not loving to call someone who doesn't believe in your fairy tale a "blasphemer." It's negative and is the dark side of mythology.

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  9. Great article...thank you. I'm left wondering how these guys could be on staff with Cru. Has that organization gone so downhill that they have people on staff that really aren't Christians?

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  10. I think a lot of times that we Christians can sometimes misinterpret or forget what God truly is to us. God is our Father in Heaven. As any father would to their child, He LOVES us. That is what is most important. No matter what Rhett and Link did, He will still love them. And that also applies to anybody who reads this and everybody who doesn't. We don't have to sit here arguing about what they did wrong. What we can and should discuss is what we can do to prevent such things from ever happening again, and how can we get so many of His lost sheep, His children, our spiritual brothers and sisters, back to His fold.

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  11. Why do people think that preempting a response means defeating the aforementioned response?

    If I say, “I bet the police will arrest me if I steal something from that store,” and subsequently follow through with the theft, that does not make the police wrong for arresting me. I can’t say, “see... I told you they would arrest me,” as if that somehow demonizes them for following through with a judgment that is ordered and perpetuated by a particular worldview.

    Yet, since Rhett and Link have preempted what the Christian community would say about their eternal salvation, atheists and agnostics find their, (Rhett and Link’s), comments to sit in authority over the Christian worldview, as if their prediction of the response somehow makes the response immoral or false.

    The logic does not follow.

    Additionally, it is hard to claim that you “had a relationship” with a God who you now believe does not exist. We always hear, “Jesus was real to me,” from those who apostatize, but their present state clarified that what they have experienced and continue to experience is not the same as what other Christians have.

    There is a line in the sand. Rhett even said he had to reconcile that what he believed was wrong, but if that’s the case, he also must be honest about the fact that what he thought was a relationship, was never really a relationship.

    For instance, my grandmother has passed away, I no longer experience her, but we did have a relationship. My experience proves her existence, it doesn’t disprove it.

    If I choose to deny that my grandmother has ever existed, I choose to overlook that relationship, yet the relationship, (however deep or shallow), is what proved her existence.

    Rhett cannot say he had a relationship with Jesus without proving His, (Jesus’s), existence, yet if he now says the relationship was all a figment of his imagination, he proves the author of this blog right. In that case, Rhett never had a relationship with Jesus, he just thought he did.

    In the latter case, he has not disproved God by his experience, he has only validated what the Bible says about those among us who leave the faith... they were never really “of” us.

    1 John 2:19

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