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Yet Another Christian “Explains” Why Believers Lose Their Faith

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How Evangelicals Respond When People Share Their Deconversion Stories

Another day, another explanation for “why” believers lose their faith by yet another Christian who refuses to accept deconversion stories at face value. Just today, Daniel Mann had this to say about people who walk/run away from Jesus:

It leaves us stunned that some seemingly mature Christian leaders eventually disown the faith. We wonder, “What did they see or learn that made them turn away? Will that happen to me as I learn more?”   Christian writer and theologian, Michael Brown, has confronted this question. He admits that he had been confronted by the same questions and perplexities as others had, who had disowned the faith. However, these doubts had led him to seek deeper. As a result, his faith had been strengthened.   However, this leads us to the question, “Why do two similar “believers” take opposite paths – one away from the Path and the other to a deeper embrace of the Path?” Brown correctly answered:

The Scriptures say repeatedly that God rewards those who diligently seek Him, who search for Him and His truth more than a miner searches for gold and silver (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:13; Proverbs 3:13-18; Luke 18:1-8; Hebrews 11:6). We are to seek Him with heart and mind, spirit and intellect. However, there must be more to the answer than this. Is it primarily a matter of our effort and determination that we remain in the Faith? Wouldn’t this provide grounds for boasting and arrogance? Instead, it seems that our God is ultimately responsible for keeping us:

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5; Philippians 1:6)  

Well, why didn’t our Lord keep others who had ministered the Gospel? This question is difficult to answer, or perhaps it isn’t difficult. Perhaps it is very simple, as Jesus had assured us:

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:28–29; Romans 8:38-39)

Perhaps instead, we feel uncomfortable with the answer. It suggests that salvation is a gift of God, and along with this gift, we are also given the gift to persevere in the Faith.   The Apostle John needed to answer this very question, since many within the Church had turned their back on the Faith creating shock-waves among the faithful:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)

John reassured them that this wouldn’t happen to them as they grew in their faith:

But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (1 John 2:20)

Both sets of churchgoers had the Scriptures, but only those remained had the “anointing.” They had the Spirit, who illuminated the Scriptures for them. The other set never had the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:10-18).

But why not? Scripture claims that any who call upon God will be saved (Romans 10:12-13), right? Had those who departed never called upon God in truth? This sounds so harsh, even judgmental, but this seems to be the judgment of the Scriptures, perhaps even of those who had departed. Many of these had later admitted that they had never believed (or had “believed” in an unscriptural way). Perhaps we need to take them at their word.

Several things stand out to me in Mann’s explanation for why people deconvert. In the very first sentence of his post, Mann states: “It leaves us stunned that some seemingly mature Christian leaders eventually disown the faith.” Note his use of the word “seemingly” when referencing the spiritual maturity of those who lose their faith. These Christians-turned-unbelievers outwardly “seemed” mature in the faith once delivered to the saints. However, as Mann makes clear later in his post, they weren’t really “mature.” How does he know this? Why, if they were “mature” Christians they would never have deconverted. If only we had read more, studied more, and prayed more we would still be Christians.

Mann rightly recognizes this line of thinking is problematic, making salvation conditional on good works, not faith. After all, as Mann notes, isn’t salvation the provenance of Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith? Doesn’t the Bible say we are saved by grace through faith and not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9)? Not wanting to be guilty of preaching salvation by works, Mann goes in a different direction to “explain” the Bruce Gerencsers of the world.

According to Mann, Christians-turned-unbelievers never had the Spirit; never called on God in “truth” (whatever the hell that means). Mann provides no evidence for his claims other than he just thinks that how it is. Unable to square the lives of former Christians with his peculiar theology, Mann concludes that former believers were, in some way, spiritually defective. How could it be otherwise?

The answer to the question “how could it be otherwise?” is found in the stories of those who left Christianity. I have spent fourteen years answering the Why? question on this blog. Yet, no matter how many words I write explaining how and why I deconverted, countless Evangelicals refuse to accept what I say at face value. Unable to make my story “fit” in their theological and experiential box, they dismiss my explanations and manufacture — as in pulling them out of their asses — their own.

Mann concludes his post by saying: “many of these [Christians-turned-unbelievers] . . . later admitted that they had never believed (or had “believed” in an unscriptural way). Really? I don’t know of any Evangelicals-turned-atheists who say that they “never believed” or “believed in an unscriptural way” (whatever the hell that means). In fact, most of them speak of their love, commitment, and devotion to Jesus and the Church. They speak of their deep immersion in the teachings of Christ, following the lamb whithersoever he goeth (Revelation 14:4). In every way, these unbelievers were, at one time, True Christians®.

Mann says “perhaps we need to take [former believers] at their word.” Good advice. Unfortunately, Mann didn’t follow it, choosing instead to put words in the mouths of Christians-turned-unbelievers or dismiss their words out of hand and make up reasons for their loss of faith. Let me give Mann a bit of advice straight from the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God: Answering before listening
is both stupid and rude
(Proverbs 18:13). James 1:19 says that Christians should be quick to hear and slow to speak. As Mann makes clear, he’s long on “speaking” about unbelievers, but slowing on “hearing” or deaf when it comes to why they no longer believe.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Matilda

    Not infrequently atheists, recounting their deconversion say they gave their whole lives to their beloved church, but once they left, no one contacted them. I’d guess Mann is in this category, he doesn’t actually KNOW any former x-tians. Furthermore, I suggest he doesn’t want to either. Deep down, maybe, he has a secret fear, that the basis of his x-tian faith is shaky and these deconverts might well have better rational arguments for unbelief, so it’s best not to engage with them or to listen. If he prised open his own closed mind to the possibility that he himself might be wrong about the bible, jesus etc etc, he’d realise it’s his house that’s built on the sand and not the rock. I realised, after years of fundy-ism that, secretly, I found personal evangelism difficult for a similar reason. My god promised to turn up and give me amazing, incontrovertable reasons for believing, but he was conspicuous by his absence. I too worried that the heathen I was jesusing to, might well have better arguments for unbelief than I did for my faith so I avoided them wherever possible.

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Blah blah blah, another Christian who doesn’t want to acknowledge that some of us were believers, then we had a journey of examination, and now we are not believers any longer. While the journey in the middle can and does vary by individual, there are thousands and thousands of us who were firmly believers, and later we were not. No, it isn’t because we weren’t True Scotsmen – we owned the plaid, ate the haggis, brandished the sword, and were committed to the clan.

  3. Avatar
    Astreja

    The very fact that Christians are trying to explain non-belief means that it’s a problem.

    For them, not for the non-believers. 😀

  4. Avatar
    Ozymandias

    One of the last adult Sunday School series I developed was on Experiential Theology. Its thesis was that theology is fine but it has to be understood in light of our own experience. Consider the story of Job and his 3 friends. The friends had solid theological reasons to claim that Job must be a terrible sinner. The only thing Job had to counter was his own experience. And yet God was pleased with Job, not the friends.

    Similarly, in the Gospels, Jesus always trumped people over rules. Except for one time, and then the Syro-Phonecian woman called him out on it and he backed down.

    (I don’t preach but I can still teach.) This is how you bring the Michael Mock rule (It just doesn’t make sense) into theology.

  5. Avatar
    JW

    I’ve heard that same sermon many times, including in my own church. This is why I do not share the struggles I have with my faith with my pastor or my devout Christian friends. I do not expect help, I only expect judgement.

    At least the Calvinism is consistent. Only God can grant saving faith, but it’s your/my fault for not having that faith. Though I wonder, how does the Calvinist rest secure in their faith, like Mann apparently does, knowing that they can’t be sure they’re really saved until they have persevered to end (i.e.: died with their faith true and intact)?

    It seems very cruel for God to allow the non-elect to deceive themselves into thinking they believed, for decades in many cases, and then take it away. It’s almost like God doesn’t care, or isn’t there at all.

    • Avatar
      Kel

      Someone on the internet once said that, faced with the accusation that God is a j*rk, only the Calvinists, amongst all Christians, are brave enough to say, “He is! LOL.”

    • Avatar
      ... Zoe ~

      I spent a great deal of time around Calvinists and though they preached security they never possessed it. They claimed “faith” but were not secure in it. One moment they are saved/the elect. The next moment, meh, not so sure. Half the church lived in this mix and the other half lived in the once saved always saved mix. Toxic soup.

      • Avatar
        Kel

        Spot on, Zoe. Someone once told me that an argument can be made to support a Calvinist pastor’s not hammering down on the doctrine of election every single time in his sermon.

        Such emphasis would only lead the “true elect”, who are deeply aware of their depravity, to question their salvation, whereas the “reprobates” would not heed the warning anyway for their hearts been hardened.
        There is probably some truth to this, in that decent (?) people who strive to do their best would constantly get guilted, whereas those who actually need more self-introspection would not care anyway.
        (Again, the Calvinist version of being decent can be very questionable at times).

        In the end, nobody wins, and it’s always your – the general your – fault.

  6. Avatar
    Melvin Bausinger

    It’s a disconnect most are unwilling to face honestly, so they twist scripture into knots to support their dishonest ideas. I am a believer, but I can see the validity of why some choose unbelief. So many Christian theologies exist to explain it away because so many are dishonest in their base assumptions.
    Some people choose not to believe in God, even after a life of belief. Your faith was real now it being gone is real, there is no disconnect or conflict, no need to explain it away. Faith only exists where there is possibility for challenge and disbelief.

    My times of disbelief, and there have been many, have made my returns to faith more precious to me. I can wish the same for others, but God respects every human’s decision to believe in God, or not. How can I do less and retain integrity in my faith?

    • Avatar
      Astreja

      Melvin, belief isn’t a choice. It’s a conclusion.

      And non-belief can’t magically be converted back into belief by exerting some weird sort of spiritual willpower. When belief is overwritten by non-belief, it’s a bell that can’t be un-rung unless new and compelling information comes in.

      • Avatar
        Melvin Bausinger

        Faith is the “substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen”. A conclusion is based on fact (typically). Belief is chosen in spite of, likely in defiance of, fact. It is a choice based in hope, which may or may not rely on fact. It’s a bit murky, and I see your point. I thought I should clarify based on your reply.

        • Avatar
          Michael Mock

          Did you choose to become a Christian, or was it something you did because it made sense to you and felt right for you? Because I will tell you right now that I did not choose to leave the Christian faith; I was raised in it, and in my youth it seemed obvious. Water was wet, the sky was blue, and Jesus died for our sins. I “left” the faith, “chose” disbelief, because as I got older and started trying to fit things together I… couldn’t. The teachings of Christianity didn’t seem to reflect the world around me; they didn’t seem to illuminate my understanding of human nature. They didn’t match what I saw in my life. And so I “concluded” that either the Christian view of the world wasn’t accurate, or that I just couldn’t see the world that way… and as a practical, personal matter, it made no difference which one was actually the case.

          But I didn’t decide first and then believe or disbelieve; I looked at what I was being told and compared it against my own experience of the world, and concluded that the world I saw around me made a lot more sense as the result of impersonal natural processes than it did as the deliberate, volitional creation of an all-knowing, all-powerful being.

    • Avatar
      John Arthur

      Hi Melvin,
      Is it a dishonest base assumption in 1 Samuel ch.15 to conclude that Samuel was a false prophet who told Saul to butcher Amalekite little children and babies to death for what their anscestors did to the Israelites about 400 years earlier.

      What responsibilty did any of these people have from what happened 400 years earlier. Its all bull. The bible is full of bull. This is the work of ancient, ignorant and violent savages, not the word of any god.

      • Avatar
        Melvin Bausinger

        I can’t speak to Samuel’s validity as a prophet, I only have a secondhand account written by the victor of a war and colored by time, translation, and transcription.
        To your point, you’re omitting the provision in other genocides for keeping the virgin girls as prizes. I’m not sure what was worse, total destruction or that level of depravity.
        If it’s any consolation, I see zero provision for genocide in Jesus’ teachings. I see provision for genocide in Calvin’s teachings, but not Jesus’.

        You may have guessed, but I am not one of those who believe scripture is inerrant.

  7. Avatar
    TO

    All that blah blah blah in his email to you, and he complete ignored the reason people like me are turning our backs on our faith. When evangelicals fell down and worshiped Trump despite his immorality and lies, I woke up to the fact they’re full of BS. Their lies relative to covid further confirmed that. Once I realized they lie with impunity, I started reconsidering everything I had been thought and believed for 50+ years.

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Bruce Gerencser