(RNS) — Irreverent, funny, honest, edgy, truth-teller, risk-taker, vulnerable, a person who asked real questions about real life.
Those are a few of the things being said about Canadian radio host Drew Marshall, who will end his 16-year run on "The Drew Marshall Show" on June 29.
“What kept me listening was Drew’s irreverence, his humor and his acceptance of all faiths,” said Laura Filippetto, a listener from Toronto who calls herself “a very lapsed Catholic.”
“He rightly reserved judgment for the most dogmatic crowd who were also responsible for my questioning of faith. In a sense we were fighting the same battle.”
“Drew has always been a risk taker,” said William Paul Young, author of the novel "The Shack" and a guest on the show.
“Add to that his deep and innate draw toward truth-telling and you had something special that would allow those who were struggling to hear something helpful, find a place to simply listen, laugh and learn,” said Young.
“His show had a great impact on Christianity because Drew didn’t mind asking the tough questions and taking on sensitive questions. Drew didn’t mind getting raw and real and I liked that,” said Ted DiBiase, a former wrestler and now a minister in Clinton, Miss., another guest on the show.
For much of the past 16 years, the show has been a mammoth success on Joy AM, a Christian station that reaches some 6 million listeners in southern Ontario. Listeners in 175 other countries access the show through the internet.
Marshall commonly claimed more than 100,000 listeners per quarter-hour, according to the station’s metrics. Most were evangelical Christians in the show’s early days, but his audience broadened as word spread of his willingness to take risks.
For Marshall, 52, “it’s the right time” to bring an end to the weekly show.
The decision coincides with the restoration of his marriage.
In 2017, he and his wife, Beverly, split up after 28 years — something he freely shared with listeners.
Talking about the breakup “made me more relatable,” he said, adding “I really believe I’m not the only one out there who is struggling with stuff. We’re all struggling with the same things.”
During the separation, he did a lot of soul-searching. “I recognized there were numerous fractured relationships in my life, and I was the common denominator,” he said.
After two years of separation, the couple reunited, renewing their vows in March of this year.
“I was sure it was totally not going to happen,” said Bev of the decision, adding she was happy with her new life.
But somehow “he wormed his way back in.”
The renewal of their marriage felt like a good impetus to end the show.
“She said if I ever thought of ending the show, this was a good time, when we were starting anew,” he said, adding “I’ve always wanted to write. This is a perfect time to do it."
It’s also a time for him to do more to help Bev, owner of the Higher Ground café in Belfountain, about an hour's drive from Toronto.
“I want to put more focus on the marriage, on Bev and her life,” he said.
He admits it’s a little scary after 16 intense years of creating the show. But it’s also a great opportunity.
“I know myself,” he said. “I grow after I let go without knowing where the next trapeze bar is.”
Looking back, Marshall hopes the show made a difference in the lives of listeners.
“The people who found us are outsiders. They have a feeling they don’t fit in the church, especially in evangelical Christianity,” he said.
He sees himself the same way. “I never fit, so I stopped going to church many years ago,” he said.
He traces his struggles with faith to when he returned to Canada from Australia in 2003, where he had been a pastor for five years.
“On the flight back, I realized that there was no way that I should be in any form of spiritual leadership,” he said.
Shortly after returning to Canada, he woke at 3 a.m. with an idea for a radio show. He called Joy AM, and the station invited him down for a tryout. After a couple weeks of on-air announcing and doing some "thoughts of the day," he started interviewing people. "The Drew Marshall Show" took off from there.
He kept his struggles with faith to himself until 2010, when he “came out” on air about not being sure if there was a God.
The reaction was swift, with many people assuming he had become an atheist. But that wasn’t the case.
“I left the tribe of certainty," he said.
For many Christians, it wasn’t a big deal. “But it was for evangelicals,” he stated.
Although some evangelicals criticized his decision, others admitted they also weren’t sure about faith.
“My show gave people permission to acknowledge they had doubts,” he said, adding some ministry leaders told him they “wished they could be so honest, but their salaries depended on them being certain about faith.”
During the show’s run, he was also accused of “rattling chains” and “poking the sore spots” in Christianity. He doesn’t apologize.
“I didn’t rattle chains for the sake of rattling chains,” he stated. “But when something stinks you look at where stink is coming from. You don’t ignore it. You don’t pretend it doesn’t exist.”
One thing that rankles him is the state of U.S. evangelicalism, where “the world of celebrity and money are colliding, plus wrapping faith in the American flag.”
He doesn’t just blame evangelical leaders for what’s happening, but also those “who put them on pedestals.”
One day he might write a book about it, he said, adding he already has a potential title: “Megachurches, Money and Morons.”
As for his own churchgoing, he and Bev aren’t part of a worshipping community.
“Sunday is a busy day at the café,” he said.
That said, they aren’t ruling it out. “I hope we can find a church in the future,” he shared.
Speaking of the future, he plans on getting rid of his bike and his cell phone.
“I’m going to go off the grid. I’ll bike to the café, have coffee, mow the lawn, do some gardening, read books,” he said.
He’ll also do some writing. “I’ll write a bit about what I know, my story,” he said.
As for where he is at in his faith right now, he describes himself as a “skeptic on an irreverent search for the sacred.”
“I’m a hoper, not a believer,” he said, explaining that he “hopes there is a Creator.”
Whatever he writes, he knows one thing for sure: “I don’t want to come across like someone who knows all the freaking answers. My book will be like my show, a safe haven for those who are struggling, not those who are certain.”
But all that’s ahead of him. Right now he and Bev are looking forward to building a new life together, working in the café and spending time with their three grandchildren.
One thing won’t change: Marshall expects to keep searching.
“I spent 16 years asking questions,” he said of what he enjoyed most about his time on the show.
“For me, there’s something more magical about the questions than the answers. And I wanted to have some fun. After all, we’re talking about the pursuit of something invisible. How can you not see the hilarity in that?”
(This story has been updated.)