Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

2 Betrayals Which Fuel anti-Christian Cynicism

If cynicism were a rock, it would be a volcanic rock formed from lava. Now cooled off and hardened, the dull, porous rock looks nothing like the explosive river of fire it was formed in. So, what is the raging river of emotional fire which forms cynicism? More often than not, the now cooled off and hardened cynicism was formed in the fires of betrayal.

We are not born cynical but trusting. Even the most abusive of parents start out with kids who assume the best of them. It’s that wide-eyed trust which, when violated, can eventually harden into a cynicism determined and fortified not to be duped—and hurt—again.

So, why do people leave Christianity and even become atheists? Often, the cynicism toward God and the church which many atheists possess started out as a trust which was betrayed.

Intellectual Betrayal

Sometimes ex-believers feel betrayed intellectually. They were told things by their spiritual authorities which turned out not to be true.

Once that happened, they tried to suppress a natural follow-up fear: “What else have they told me that wasn’t true?”


“What else have they told me that wasn’t true?”


There are numerous ways to get a short-term win by bypassing the difficult questions of faith or by answering these questions simplistically and even dishonestly. My friend Jonathan Lichtenwalter wrote a Renew.org article called “Astros: A Cautionary Tale,” in which he describes some of the short-term wins—but long-term disasters—which Christian leaders can settle for. He writes,

We may not allow the younger generation to address questions and doubts so that they can build any intellectual depth. In this way, we over-shelter them and they are not able to address the questions that come when they are on their own. We may never acknowledge any of the objections Christianity faces. This is a shortcut that will cause more harm than good when young Christians finally do get these questions thrown at them and are totally unprepared. Young Christians without that depth become the “rocky soil.”

Jonathan then concludes, “When Christians cut corners . . . they are setting a time bomb for themselves.”

Moral Betrayal

Sometimes ex-believers feel betrayed morally. Christianity is a religion which places faith at its core. This isn’t Buddhism which often stresses the centrality of spiritual technique. This isn’t Islam which places our obedience at the core. Yes, Christianity offers us techniques and calls us to obedience, but Christianity puts faith in a faithful God as its centerpiece, from which flows the obedient life. Believers in Jesus are encouraged to grow in faith, to open wide their eager expectations to receive God’s presence and goodness. As one worship song puts it, “I leave behind the cynic in my soul.”

I’m convinced that the God of the Bible is indeed that trustworthy. But, unfortunately, God’s earthly representatives are often not.

People with trusting hearts place a childlike trust in Christian leaders who can betray them. These can be dark moral failings that come out into the light where they putrefy and cause us all to cover our faces. Or they can be the mundane, but persistent, sense that a person’s church is full of actors and actresses who look put together but whose personal lives are falling apart.


“People with trusting hearts place a childlike trust in Christian leaders who can betray them.”


People can feel betrayed by churches and church leaders which look more like what Jesus called “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27) than the “household of God,” the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). This disillusionment can lead to the kind of cynicism a lot of ex-Christians just couldn’t shake.

A Couple Short Sentences

Either intellectual or moral betrayal is hard to recover from, especially when it’s from people you deeply trust on eternal matters. However, betrayal doesn’t have to be the main takeaway from a church whose leaders stumble. In order to prevent the devastation of betrayal, there are a couple short sentences that prove incredibly powerful to hear—especially when faith is young and receptive. These sentences may hurt to say, but the fallout from them going unsaid is far more hurtful in the long run.

Here they are, and I hope you and I as followers of Jesus have humility to say them as often as they apply: First is, “I don’t know.” Second is, “I’m sorry.”


First is, “I don’t know.” Second is, “I’m sorry.”


When you hear a tough question about the faith, then acknowledge that it’s a tough question. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” We don’t want to bluff our way through questions we haven’t figured out, any more than we want to dodge our way through questions we have good answers for. Intellectual betrayal is a time bomb.

In the same way, when you have done something evil, then it’s not time to slosh another coat of white paint over the tomb. Rather, it’s time to dig the sin up, confess it, and say, “I’m sorry.” As in, confess it today. Humbling yourself today is infinitely better than betraying a young believer’s future.

Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

You Might Also Like

2024 National RENEW.org Gathering

2024 National RENEW.org Gathering

CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS I am the lead guy at both discipleship.org and renew.org. Both organizations champion Jesus-style disciple making. Discipleship.org focuses on Jesus’ disciple making method. Renew.org focuses on Jesus’ teachings and method. Discipleship.org is broader, for a larger Evangelical audience. I am committed to it because I am called to champion Jesus-style disciple […]

More
Does Science Put God out of a Job?

Does Science Put God out of a Job?

One of my favorite movies is Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black as a Mexican monk who becomes a champion wrestler. Although Nacho is a devout Catholic, his wrestling partner “Esqueleto” is a skeptic. Before a wrestling match against an intimidating duo, Nacho tells Esqueleto, “Pray to the Lord for strength,” to which Esqueleto responds, “I […]

More
Depending on Jesus

Depending on Jesus

“Man–despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments–owes his existence to a six- inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.” —Paul Harvey Do you ever find yourself caught in a tug of war between dependence on God and self-sufficiency? Maybe you’re there now. You know it is God who has […]

More