Red Flags in the Spiritual Deconstruction of My Old Friends Rhett and Link: UPDATED

We’re going into the entertainment industry. That’s what my friend Link Neal said to me on the phone in late summer/early fall of 2006. During the call, we were supposed to talk about our previous time together in the spring of ‘06, and how that was going to be a launching point for me to work intentionally with Rhett and Link the next year at a spring break evangelism conference Cru puts on called Big Break. I was (and still am) a full-time missionary with Cru, and so were they at the time.

Rhett and Link on Good Mythical Morning

But during my call with Link, all of the plans changed.

Rhett and Link left Cru staff that year and went on to become YouTube’s most famous comedy duo on the internet. They created a daily show called Good Mythical Morning that currently boasts 16.2 million subscribers. If you haven’t heard of them, chances are someone you know probably watches their show online multiple times per week.

After they left staff with Cru, I kept in touch with the guys for a few years. But time and life happened, and my communication with them faded. Every now and then I’d send a message, but both Rhett and Link stopped reciprocating. I figured they probably changed their numbers and email addresses, or had too many DM’s from fans to find my random messages saying hello. After all, they now regularly guest spot on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and host celebrities all the time on Good Mythical Morning. I thought they were just too big to respond.

That made sense to me, and I didn’t really think much of it until earlier in February this year when word got around that Rhett and Link were going to talk about their “lost years” and subsequent “anti-testimonies” of how each of them deconstructed their faith in Christianity.

My stomach turned at the thought and grew even more sour as I watched their four Ear Biscuit podcasts, chronicling their younger years, time post-college on staff with Cru, and personal spiritual deconstruction stories. It suddenly made a lot sense to me why I never heard back from them.

I’ve done a lot of thinking and praying about how (if at all) I should respond to their podcasts, and I then came to the conclusion that it’s probably wise to say a few pointed, helpful things since my main audience in ministry is 18-28 year olds (a large target demographic of Rhett and Link).

It’s my conviction that every King David needs a Prophet Nathan to call them out on obvious mistakes. I still love those guys and believe Jesus loves them too. But when people boldly make claims against Christ(ianity), I think it’s beneficial to respond with some clear bold claims too. That being said, here are a few observations to look at and some red flags that popped up along the way as I listened to Rhett and Link’s deconstruction journey.

1. Rhett and Link’s collective spiritual deconstruction isn’t ultimately a deconstruction of the Christian faith but of Christian subculture.

Both guys were raised in an environment that assumed Christianity as a part of the culture, and ultimately that did them a grave disservice. At one point, Rhett asked a very good question. He said, “If I don’t have to believe this, then why would I believe it?”

In all seriousness, this is an awesome question. It’s a question that seems to be damning because of the way Rhett asks it, but the truth is that Christianity can easily stand firm under the weight of it being asked.

For many years Rhett and Link “had to believe” in Christianity because of their family/culture, and I really think they would have greatly benefited from asking this question much earlier on in life. They both lived in an environment that did not put up with much outside of the common Christian experience, and consequently, each of them had very little interaction with biblical grace.

I’m reminded here of Link’s story from high school when he got drunk the night previous and upon Link’s confession to Rhett, Rhett stopped his car and said “get out.” His reaction was dripping with cultural Christian legalism, because my first thought was, “Jesus wouldn’t have demanded he get out of the car because of his failure, shaming him in the process. This isn’t the Christ I see in the Bible at all.”

All of the guilt Link felt over his younger years seemed to be as a result of what he thought about cultural Christianity, not the biblical Christ. Sure, both of them know all the Christian slang terms and clichés, but I didn’t really hear anything that made me think about their relationship with the Living God through Jesus Christ. It much more seemed like a “relationship” with southern, cultural Christianity that looks down its nose at sinners and spreads on the guilt rather thickly if you fall out of line.

2. Internet culture has made Rhett and Link professionals at protecting themselves.

Both of the guys (Rhett in particular) were incredible at dodging punches they knew would be thrown before ever publishing their podcasts. They’ve spent the last 12 years or so up to their eyeballs in the world of YouTube, and that world is vicious. I don’t have to have a popular YouTube channel to know that people’s words can be poisonous, especially when some random “fan” thinks there are no repercussions to their words as they type a response in the comment section to a video.

No doubt Rhett and Link have been ripped open over and over again by any and every little negative comment someone has posted over the years, and consequently that’s made them fairly agile when it comes to avoiding rebuttals.

“I know what some of you are going to say…,” and “I’ve already read all the arguments for this,” and “Don’t send us article links or book recommendations,” and “I know Christians think…,” and on and on it went for the entirety of their 4-part series. There was so much time spent closing the door on future push-back that it made it nearly impossible for anyone to engage in the conversation in a way that didn’t line up with their perspective.

On the surface, this makes them look smart because it gives the illusion that they can see all the angles, but in reality, this is a glaringly huge lack of teachability. Pretending to engage with the “whole audience” by adding the EarBiscuits hashtag isn’t really a dialogue—it’s a monologue from them that resonates in the echo chamber of people who agree with them and call them brave in the comment section.

As nearly any respected older person could tell you, humble teachability is the road to wisdom, and that road is painful, not comfortable.

3. Rhett and Link both said that whatever the cost, they’re seeking the truth—and I don’t believe them.

As much as people in their Twitter comments might agree with them that their personally ascribed label of “hopeful agnostic” is fantastic, unfortunately it really doesn’t mean anything. Saying you’re a hopeful agnostic is tantamount to saying, “I have no clue.” And if someone has no clue, why should I listen to him or align myself with his worldview?

Neither of them is replacing truth with truth. Like a defense lawyer, all they’ve done is poke some holes in the case for the Christian faith…but they haven’t replaced it with another solid thing to to grab hold of. They’re replacing truth (Christianity) with essentially nothing (hopeful agnostic). 

Truth is uncomfortable and often inconvenient. It’s messy and tough. It makes people angry. Consequently, it’s easy to turn our backs on it and “just hope” things fall into place.

Let’s be honest: Rhett and Link’s spiritual deconstruction isn’t a fact-finding mission; it’s just plain old-fashioned rebellion. Rebellion against southern cultural Christianity, rebellion against the Christian narrative, rebellion against the narrow belief system that Christ is the only way to God, rebellion against the unified agreement of the 2,000 year-old biblical sexual ethic, et cetera.

Hopeful agnosticism isn’t anything more than a made up phrase like “will it taco?” This makes me frustrated because of the amount of influence they’re having on a generation of bright young people—men and women who will never find meaning in anything they’re saying. It’s quite easy to call yourself a hopeful agnostic when you have over 16 million subscribers and an online store that sells Good Mythical Morning coffee mugs, t-shirts, kitchen towels, sleep masks, and doggie hoodies (for real).

But for a generation steeped in depression, anxiety, porn addiction, and loneliness—they need something rock solid they can build their lives on, not the emptiness of “hopeful agnosticism.”

They said that they were just following the facts, and then drew the conclusion that all the facts were in…but were they? Rhett’s strong recommendations were a pair of 2-Chromosome pages on Wikipedia. Really?

Wikipedia is infamous for footnoting nearly all of their information, but the footnotes routinely get it wrong because they require online article postings as the basis for “factual information” and those reference articles themselves are frequently guilty of publishing straight-up opinion or misinformation.

Why should I trust Wikipedia pages over the entirety of work by life-long apologists like Josh McDowell or Tim Keller (names they both mentioned and thereby threw under the bus as unreliable)?

Tim Keller has been a pastor in New York City for over twenty years and written nearly twenty books on the Christian faith and what it means to believe in Jesus Christ as God. Josh McDowell wrote Evidence that Demands a Verdict (another book Rhett mentioned with tongue-in-cheek) in 1972, before Rhett and Link were born. McDowell and Keller both went to university and seminary, have taught on these kinds of topics for decades, and debated on university campuses since before Rhett and Link were in diapers. Doesn’t it make more sense to put stock in collective works like theirs than in a few footnoted collections of sentences on Wikipedia?

Follow the facts? Sure! But don’t ever pretend there’s no bias in the search. Everyone is biased, and the bias Rhett and Link have to “seek the truth” seems rather thick to me. I’m sorry to say that their perspective in seeking the truth is more an immature pursuit of rebellion than an actual quest for facts.

4. All of this “coming out” as former Christians seems rather safe on this side of their success. 

I always wondered why Rhett and Link never talked about their faith in front of the camera or even during any kind of interview. My assumption before these podcasts was that they were communicating their faith “behind the scenes” with others they rubbed shoulders with in North Carolina and Los Angeles. By their own admission though, they never really bought what they were selling when they were on staff with Cru. Both taught and trained students in the ways of evangelism, but then said on the podcast that at the time, they never really shared their faith. Link said he led worship for his church for a time, but never really worshipped himself because he couldn’t “feel it.”

All in all, I don’t believe they ever really put much stock in their faith to begin with. To them, faith in Jesus was being a good kid and not listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and consequently, they now view it like it was a sham. The way both of them spoke about “having a faith in the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ” carried the sarcastic undertone of a belief they’re clearly now embarrassed by…and it’s easy to be embarrassed when there’s not much on the line on this side of success.

When you’re trying to make it in Hollywood and become “successful,” claiming Christ is expensive. You can’t get marginalized before you’ve made it, because marginalization means you’ll never “live your dream.” Consequently, authentic Christianity is risky to ascribe to, and easier not to talk about, which essentially means you start to live a double life.

No, a believer doesn’t need to wear a button that says Hug me if you love Jesus!, but an authentic Christian shouldn’t ever shy away from questions that approach our spiritual life because he or she is afraid. Rhett and Link said they wanted to connect with an audience—but what is the value of a connection when there isn’t authenticity? Inevitably, you start to choose which face you show to people, but if you aren’t careful, one of those faces ceases to exist.

And that is exactly what happened to Rhett and Link.

But now that they’ve “made it” and are basically immune from marginalization or lack of “success” as a comedy duo that has a net worth of $23 million, coming out as hopeful agnostics is easy. Now it’s painless if you make all the Christian fans mad because there’s really nothing that can hurt them. Rhett and Link said they were never comfortable talking about their faith in Jesus back then, but they’re very comfortable talking about how they’re not followers of Jesus now? What’s that tell someone like me?

Simple: to talk about what they believed before wasn’t safe, but to talk about what they believe now is safe. On one side, they were afraid to out themselves to the media as Christians in their early years, but they also didn’t want to talk about their wrestling with doubts to other believers for fear of being marginalized there too.

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.

Papering over their history and saying they didn’t want to talk about it because it wasn’t a “good soundbite” seems unlikely. No—to talk about your faith journey doesn’t sell when you’re trying to climb the Hollywood ladder, and that’s easy to see now because they’re famous.

Fame and money are extremely good insulation…which is why every Oscars speech is riddled with polarizing political snobbery. It’s easy to say whatever they want when they’re on this side of success—it’s a shame they couldn’t extend the Son of God the same respect twelve years ago.

5. It seems clear from the first two podcasts that Rhett and Link experienced an attraction to crowds/limelight/celebrity-status that was incredibly seductive.

Rhett and Link wanted to entertain and feel the buzz from an audience. It was super, super important to them. We gotta get on that stage! was what they were thinking in youth group.

I’m reminded here of the second podcast. I literally lost count of how many times they mentioned the word “audience” while they were talking about their younger years and time on staff. By their own admission, being on staff with Cru was about entertaining and gaining an audience. Belief? Sure, they believed in Jesus…but it was really about more of an interest in an audience.

It’s clear that they were already in the entertainment industry even as they were in Cru. Contrast that with someone who considers Hollywood their mission field. That person might say of the same opportunity, “I’m going into the mission field of Hollywood as an entertainer.” The slight difference here makes all the difference—whose glory rests at the heart of your work? Why are you doing it? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

This is probably the most sad point for me concerning Rhett and Link. A Christian’s relationship with God is never supposed to be a means to an end, and serving him as a full-time missionary should never be considered a springboard to “something better.” Using God to get what you really want is something nearly every believer wrestles with at some point, especially when suffering comes along. Suffering is often the catalyst for discovering what’s really going on in our sinful hearts, and the good news for us is that God is gracious enough to help us see what’s really going on as we suffer…if we’re willing to trust him in the process.

But suffering equals pain…and not many in our current culture choose to put up with pain for any amount of time. For Rhett and Link, the audience was where the rush came from, and as a speaker and emcee myself, I know what it feels like to jones for another hit of applause or laughter from a crowd. When that’s what someone primarily craves, suffering as a fool for Christ won’t be tolerated.

* * *

In one way, Rhett and Link are now a success…but in a more important way, they’re not. When Elizabeth Elliot was once (distastefully) asked if her late missionary husband Jim Elliot was a success because he was killed by the Aucas before getting the opportunity to lead them to Christ, she confidently answered, “Of course he was a success—he was obedient.”

Success in life is obedience to Christ. I know they’ll probably think this is super condescending, but I’m terribly sad for both of them, their wives Christy and Jessie, and their kids. I literally cried when I thought about their families and all the kids out there who watch and listen to them and are now in the throes of doubt about Christ. Kids trust them. A lot of people watch them every day, and as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

They’ve squandered their responsibility, and I’m sad. I’ve been mourning for the last few weeks, and praying for both of them and their families. Sure, it’s tempting to be envious of their lives and net worth, but I’m grateful for the paths the Lord has led me down.

We must all consider the value of Rhett and Link’s successes in light of eternity. No, there’s no airtight argument for Christianity, but there’s certainly an airtight person. Jesus is the final definitive statement, and I’m praying my old friends will see that again one day.

Their ultimate success depends on it.

_______ UPDATE: 3/5/20 _______

After talking with a few trusted friends and some Cru staff, I’d like to add a couple of thoughts.

  1. When this article gained a further reach than I foresaw, it came to my attention that some people interpreted my piece to be the official Cru response, which it wasn’t. I didn’t intend for it to be perceived that way, and honestly never thought many people would even read it.
  1. In the spirit of humility and repentance, I realize that I made a few assumptions that may or may not be entirely accurate. At one point, I wrote that Rhett and Link “both lived in an environment that did not put up with much outside of the common Christian experience, and consequently, each of them had very little interaction with biblical grace.” Truth be told, I have no idea if this was accurate. I made the assumption based on the information they presented in their podcasts that they were not raised in an environment of gracious biblical Christianity, when in reality, my assumption could have been (and probably was) completely wrong. I wasn’t their friend when they were in grade school, and I didn’t know them when they were in college. I knew the guys when they were on staff, and even then only spent one full week with them face-to-face at the Big Break conference in Panama City Beach, FL. I was in no position to conclude that they never experienced authentic Christian community or godly grace from their families, church, or friends.

I apologize and ask forgiveness from Rhett, Link, and their families and anyone else whom these comments may have hurt or confused.

_______ UPDATE: 3/29/21 _______

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