by Shane Scott
This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:18-20).
I want to think with you about two recent news stories involving professed Christians, and what they teach us about making shipwreck of the faith.
The first story involves Hannah Brown. She is the star of this season’s The Bachelorette. It isn’t a show I’m familiar with, although I understand the basic premise is that a single woman will try to find true love out of a bunch of dudes who are total strangers. What could possibly go wrong?
The reason Hannah Brown made the news during the course of this season is that she is a professed Christian. On her social media profile she claims to love Jesus with her “whole heart”. And in an early episode, the show apparently made a big deal about her faith, with the cameras catching her praying: “Lord, bring me your goodness and your love… Help me feel worthy. Help me feel smart.”
But the particular reason her professed Christian beliefs made the news is because she has no problem engaging in sexual relations as a single person. Here’s the quote various news outlets picked up: “I have had sex, and, honestly, Jesus still loves me.”
Now of course, on one level, that is true. Jesus loves all of us, even when we are sinners. That’s why he came to die for all of us – he loves us and wants to save us from our sins.
But clearly, that is not what she meant. What she meant is that how she handles her personal life, including its most intimate details, doesn’t matter to Jesus – he is going to approve of her, regardless.
And she is hardly alone. Most people who call themselves “born again” agree with her. Last year Barna Research published the results of a survey which asked self-proclaimed “born again” believers what their views were on certain moral issues, and then compared them with what those who don’t claim to be born again believed.
On sexual relations between unmarried adults, 51% of “born again” believers said that was morally acceptable or no big deal. So Hannah Brown simply reflects the spirit of our age which has so downgraded basic standards of Christian morality that it sees nothing wrong with defying what God says about physical intimacy between men and women (as in Hebrews 13:4).
That was story number one. Story number two involves a well-known evangelical preacher.
Did any of you read or hear about the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye when it came out about 20 years ago? It sparked a movement sometimes called the “courtship” movement. Basically, it urged young Christians to avoid dating and to instead return to the old practice of courting, where rather than going out on dates you would spend time with your sweetheart’s families.
The author of this book is Josh Harris. He was very young when he wrote it, and since that time he married and became a minister at a well-known large evangelical church. A few years ago, Harris announced that he had changed his mind about courtship and asked that his publisher pull the book from circulation. But that wasn’t the most astonishing change.
Just a few days ago, he and his wife announced on social media that they were separating. And a couple of days after that, he explained that:
I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.
He also made it a point to specifically apologize to the LGBTQ+ community and said: “I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality.”
And he is hardly alone is losing his faith. Younger Americans are trending away from their childhood religion, and a significant portion (31% of millennials, according to one study) say that LGBT issues are a major factor why.
So two stories, one about a person who claims to hold to the faith while living contrary to its teachings; the other about a preacher who decided he disagreed with those teachings and abandoned faith altogether.
I’d like to think about both stories in light of the passage in 1 Timothy 1:18-20.
Shipwrecking the Faith
Paul knew a lot about shipwrecks, right? You remember the one at the end of Acts, when they sailed into a bad storm and “neither sun nor star appeared many days,” a storm which eventually grounded the ship.
That’s what faith is like without a good conscience. The conscience is the pilot, the navigation system. When it is compromised, the ship of faith wrecks.
And some don’t simply have a broken navigation system. Paul says they have “rejected” it in 1:19. This expression describes a violent, willful rejection (like Israel rejected Moses in the wilderness). That’s why Paul is so insistent that Timothy keep faith AND a good conscience. Otherwise, he faces a spiritual shipwreck, like the men named in verse 20.
The two news stories I shared represent two different ways to shipwreck your faith.
One way is to claim that you have faith in God, when in reality, you just do what makes you happy. That’s the person who says, “I love Jesus with my whole heart,” and at the same time says, “I can do whatever I want and Jesus still loves me.” How does that happen? The conscience, the navigating system, has gone bad. Rather than following the guidance of God, the will of God, they are living by their own will, and driving the ship straight into the rocks. That’s one way to shipwreck your faith – substitute your will for God’s while claiming to follow him.
And then there’s the other way, reflected by the second story I shared. It is to abandon faith altogether, to jump ship, like the minister. And in a certain sense, I have more respect for him than the girl on The Bachelorette, because he at least has enough integrity to say, I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. Part of me would rather someone not even pretend to be a Christian than claim Christ but just do what they want anyway.
Except, it seems as if he has made decisions about the truthfulness of Christianity based on what he prefers to believe about certain moral issues. That’s like determining what you believe about good nutrition based on how much you like junk food! It is hard to eat right, it requires self-denial. But that’s the only way to have good health. And yes, it is hard to accept the invitation of Christ, to deny self and take up the cross and follow him. But it doesn’t matter how hard I think it is, or how strict I think Christ’s will is, or how narrow-minded it is. If I want eternal life, that’s what Jesus has called me to do.
It is possible for a sincere believer to develop intellectual doubts about the truth of Christianity, but more often than not, the choice to shipwreck the faith is not an intellectual one; it is a moral one. Adam and Eve didn’t sin because the questioned God’s existence. They sinned because they questioned God’s authority when it came into conflict with what they wanted to do.
In the case of Josh Harris, he openly acknowledges that he can’t square his faith with what he wants to believe. In the case of the Bachelorette, she has deceived herself into thinking she’s living by faith when in reality she’s living by her own desires.
But in both cases, these believers have made shipwreck of their faith.
To avoid this disaster, hold onto to faith and a good conscience, and you will navigate your way through the treacherous waters of our modern age. And never forget that while we are in a desperate battle, it is a war that Jesus has already won, and with that encouragement, “fight the good fight of the faith, take hold of eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12).