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A Pastor’s Son Becomes a Critic of Religion on TikTok

Melissa Stewart, another popular “exvangelical” personality on TikTok, grew up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist church in Minnesota. When she married at 18, her pastor used John Piper’s work in premarital counseling sessions. She also participated in a church group that studied his best-known book, “Desiring God,” which argues that joy is an essential piece of the Christian life.

Ms. Stewart is now divorced and in law school. On TikTok, where she has about 179,000 followers, she posts about feminism, sexuality and atheism. “To see someone who didn’t just come from that world but came from that family, who has clearly done the work to get out, and is so introspective and gentle and grounded” gives a lot of people hope, she said in an interview. “If John Piper’s son can deconstruct and get to this place, I can do this, too.”

For others, Mr. Piper’s pedigree is proof that ex-Christians should not be dismissed as people who were never really committed in the first place. “One of the common refrains is that these people were never Christian,” said Blake Chastain, who popularized the term “exvangelical” when he named his podcast in 2016. “But the people who leave over these issues are the people who took it seriously. They were the youth group kids who were on fire for God.”

Mr. Piper is one of a number of children of prominent conservative Christians who have publicly rejected elements of their parents’ teaching. Jay Bakker, the son of the televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, is an advocate for L.G.B.T.Q. acceptance in the church. The five children of the combative evangelist Rick Joyner recently told the Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that they vote Democratic.

Abraham Piper was excommunicated from his father’s church at age 19 after rejecting the faith. “At first I pretended that my reasoning was high-minded and philosophical,” he later wrote in a Christian magazine. “But really I just wanted to drink gallons of cheap sangria and sleep around.” Four years later, he returned to the faith, and was welcomed back at the church in what his father has described as a “beautiful restoration service.”

At some point after that, Mr. Piper departed again — this time, apparently, for good. In his videos, however, Mr. Piper talks only vaguely about growing up in and rejecting what he describes as fundamentalism. He never mentions his lineage, and he declined to participate in this article. John Piper, too, declined to comment.

In his videos, Abraham Piper repeatedly insists he is not trying to convince anyone of anything. “Do you know how boring and soul-sucking it is to base your whole life on making sure other people change to become more like you?” he asked his followers in February. It’s not that nothing matters, he added. “But you get to pick what. You decide what matters. Lighten up, get laid, go bowling.”

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