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Tag: Why People Become Atheists

Pastor Mike Dunn “Explains” Why People Walk Away From Evangelical Christianity

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Mike Dunn is the pastor of South Evart Free Methodist Church in Evart, Michigan. The Free Methodist sect is the Fundamentalist wing of Methodism. Several months ago, Dunn wrote an article for the Herald Review titled, Walking Away From Jesus, But Where?

In 1995, there was a popular contemporary Christian song entitled “Jesus Freak.” Its topic was commitment to Jesus, even at great personal cost. The song, written and performed by DC Talk, included a stanza about John the Baptist and how he was beheaded by King Herod because John refused to compromise when it came to telling the truth.

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There ain’t no disguising in the truth.

The lyrics came back to me recently when I read that Kevin Max, one of the band members who wrote and performed that song, announced he is an “ex-evangelical.”

The news was stunning, and I felt quite grieved inside.

How could this man, who was a very devoted Christian, at least by the evidence of the songs he helped to write and sing, now declare publicly that he has left the faith he once defended? On a broader scale, how could anyone who has had genuine fellowship with Jesus choose to reject the gospel and walk away from Him?

It’s hard to fathom, but sadly it happens. And even more sadly, it seems to be happening more frequently in our day.

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Not surprisingly, there is a common theme among these defections from Christianity. They view the gospel message as being too narrow and, in doing so, reject the biblical doctrine regarding sin. They have come to the conclusion it is too harsh.

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Those who choose to walk away from Christianity do so to embrace a philosophy that is contrary to the Bible but is more palatable to us as fallen sinners. They desire a different Jesus than the One revealed in scripture.

Simply put, they desire a Jesus who does not judge sin. They desire a Jesus (or a Jesus-like Messiah) who offers heaven to all without regard to the penalty of sin. Kevin Max even sings about a “universal Christ” in his songs these days. But this Jesus does not exist.

Sadly, the decisions we live with today we die with tomorrow. And then what for those who have rejected Jesus as their Savior?

This is how it is stated in John 3:17-18: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the Name of God’s one and only Son.”

The choice belongs to us.

According to Dunn, people deconstruct/deconvert for the following reasons:

  • They view the gospel as too narrow
  • They reject the Biblical doctrine of sin
  • They embrace a philosophy contrary to the Bible
  • They desire a Jesus different from the one revealed in the Bible
  • They desire a Jesus that does not judge sin
  • They desire a Jesus who offers Heaven to everyone

Readers know what I am going to say next: sigh. Why is it that Evangelical preachers think it is their duty to ‘splain why people leave their churches? Dunn gives six reasons people deconstruct/deconvert; six reasons that not one former Evangelical would say were the primary motivators for their loss of faith. It’s evident that Dunn hasn’t spent much if any time actually talking to former Evangelicals, reading their blogs, or listening to their podcasts. Seek and ye shall find, Pastor Dunn.

Dunn admits that an increasing number of people are walking (running) away from Evangelicalism. And not just church members, either. Pastors, evangelists, missionaries, worship leaders, musicians, professors — men and women trained in theology — are deconstructing/deconverting in record numbers.

Dunn says:

How could anyone who has had genuine fellowship with Jesus choose to reject the gospel and walk away from Him? It’s hard to fathom, but sadly it happens. And even more sadly, it seems to be happening more frequently in our day.

Dunn wonders how could anyone walk away from Jesus. The good pastor fails to see or understand that Jesus isn’t the problem. The church is the problem, not Jesus. The Bible is the problem, not Jesus. Evangelicalism’s lusty embrace of the modern culture war and Donald Trump is the problem, not Jesus. Jesus has never been the problem for most former Evangelicals. When I look at Evangelical Christianity, I see a sect committed to white Christian nationalism; a sect that rejects science, reason, and skepticism; a sect awash in political extremism and conspiracy theories; a sect known for hating LGBTQ people, atheists, liberals, and everyone else “different” from them; a sect rife with sex abuse scandals and other criminal behavior by supposed men of Gawd. (Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)

I deliberately paint with a broad brush, knowing that what I wrote above does not describe all Evangelicals. However, Evangelicalism has become a trash can filled with rotting garbage. Sure, there’s a fresh, shiny Red Delicious Apple buried in the garbage, but its deliciousness is hidden by the stinking garbage all around it. While I doubt there’s anything that could convince me of the truthfulness of Christianity (please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense), I might become an admirer again if the apples became the norm instead of the exception.

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.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Yet Another Evangelical Pastor Explains “Why” People Deconvert

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Recently, The Gospel Coalition’s website featured an article titled 4 Causes of Deconstruction. Written by Joshua Ryan Butler, co-lead pastor of Redemption Church in Tempe, Arizona, the article purports to explain “why” Evangelicals deconstruct/deconvert. As you shall see, Butler trots out the same worn-out tropes used by other Evangelical preachers to “explain” why congregants are walking away from their churches.

Butler gives four causes of deconstruction (deconversion):

Church Hurt

Many who deconstruct have been wounded by abusive or manipulative church leaders, or generally unhealthy church cultures. Often these relationships were intimate and formative: the pastor you grew up with, the mentor you trusted. For others, the relationships are more distant. You grew up under the influence of leaders like Ravi Zacharias, Carl Lentz, or Mark Driscoll—whose teaching and charisma powerfully inspired you and formatively shaped you—but then the curtain got pulled back. The betrayal can make the whole thing look like a sham. The pain can be excruciating and disorienting.

It’s easier to throw the baby out with the bathwater when you feel like you’ve been drowning.

Church hurt is real. But deconstruction is a false cure.

Poor Teaching

Some Christians have been led to believe they must choose between faith and science, because of poor teaching on Genesis 1. Others have been led to believe God is a vindictive sadist, from a popular caricature of hell. Best abandon Christian faith entirely on account of some dubious or sloppy teaching, right?

Desire to Sin

Some deconstruct out of a desire to justify their sin. Many friends in ministry have suddenly had “big questions about God”—then proceeded to quickly deconstruct their faith. So many times, it later comes out they’d been having an affair that started well before their deconstruction began.

Street Cred

Doubt is hip. The desire to fit in with the cultural ethos of our moment is strong. That’s why so many deconversion stories sound like everyone’s reading off the same script—its well-worn clichés signaling conformity to accepted norms.

Celebrities are leading the charge. There’s influence to be had, platforms to be built, and money to be made. It gets Rob Bell on Oprah, bolsters Glennon Doyle’s book sales, and lets Rhett & Link host Nacho Libre and Harry Potter on their popular YouTube channel.

A wave of #exvangelical podcasters and TikTok stars are following in the wake, with a whole cottage industry to welcome and cheer them on. There’s clout in distancing oneself from “outdated” views of sex and gender, an “obscure” Bible with talking snakes and forbidden shellfish, and “offensive” doctrines like wrath and hell.

I’m not claiming to know the heart of such influencers. Motivations other than street cred can be powerfully at play. I’m simply observing that social pressure is a powerful carrot on the stick—and not just for celebrities.

The cultural hostility is real. Whether in progressive urban centers (like my hometown of Portland), or university environments (like where I currently live), Christians are decidedly not the cool kids. It’s hard to be the awkward one sitting alone at lunch. Many of us feel the social pressure—and the release valve is a simple Instagram post away.

My first response is sigh. Really? People deconvert because:

  • They were hurt by their churches/pastors
  • They were poorly taught
  • They secretly wanted to fuck their neighor
  • They wanted to be hip or cool

Ask one-hundred former Evangelicals why they deconverted, and few, if any, will list the causes above. Sure, bad church experiences play a part when people deconvert, but typically the worst of those experiences happened as we were leaving or after we left Evangelicalism. Most of the former Evangelicals I have interacted with since 2007 left Christianity for theological, social, or political reasons. Most left for intellectual reasons (though certainly their emotions played a part in their deconversions).

Count me as plumb tired (and irritated) with preachers such as Butler ‘splaining why former Evangelicals left Christianity. How about actually talking to former Evangelicals and finding out the REAL reasons they deconverted? How about reading their blogs, listening to their podcasts, or talking to them face to face? How about accepting their stories at face value?

How does Butler explain the increasing number of college-trained, experienced preachers deconverting? I have interacted with hundreds of former Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, worship leaders, youth leaders, and professors over the years. Such people do not fit neatly in Butler’s four corner box. Perhaps the real problem is Evangelicalism itself. Look in the mirror, Pastor Butler, you and your fellow Bible thumpers are the problem. Clergymen and congregants alike are fleeing Evangelical churches. Many of them move on to kinder, friendlier, more inclusive churches. Others, upon learning Evangelicalism is a house of cards built on a faulty foundation (inerrancy of the Bible), deconvert. Instead of recognizing the foundational causes that are driving people away, Butler and his fellows at The Gospel Coalition blame the people who left. Hurt. Ignorant. Lustful. Anything but open, honest, and introspective.

Butler says that some people deconvert because it’s cool. Sure, preacher man. It’s cool making yourself a target of Evangelical zealots. Personal attacks. Death threats. Hateful, nasty emails and social media comments (many of which come from Evangelical preachers themselves). What a “cool” life, right? I suspect that Butler knows that former Evangelicals telling their stories is having a meaningful impact on doubting, questioning believers. Instead of listening to stock bullshit answers peddled by Butler and his fellow preachers, these doubting Thomases find people who are willing to listen to them, willing to give voice to their own experiences.

Let me offer up some Biblical advice to Butler and his fellow Evangelical Calvinists at The Gospel Coalition: Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. (Proverbs 18:13)

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.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Bruce, Why Did You Become an Atheist?

i have a question

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Chris asked:

I would like to know how you became an atheist after practicing Christian authoritarianism? What is it that makes people embrace systematic mythologies? Is it fear of death, a wish for immortality?

I have been asked many times by atheists and Christians alike why I became an atheist. Some questioners want to know more about the “how” of my deconversion. I usually point people to the WHY page. The posts of this page usually answer the “why” and “how” questions of my journey from Evangelical Christianity to atheism.

The WHY page includes:

My Baptist Salvation Experience

From Evangelicalism to Atheism Series

Why I Stopped Believing

Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing

16 Reasons I am Not a Christian

Why I Hate Jesus

The Danger of Being in a Box and Why It Makes Sense When you Are in It

What I Found When I Left the Box

The short answer to the question, Bruce, Why Did You Become an Atheist? is this: I thoroughly (and painfully) examined the central claims of Christianity and concluded they were not true. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense) While my story is much more complicated than that, the bottom line is that I don’t believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God; and I don’t believe the claims made within its pages about God, Jesus, and the human condition are true. Once I realized that what I had believed for fifty years was false, I concluded I could no longer call myself a Christian. In November 2008, I walked out the doors of the church (Ney United Methodist Church) for the last time. In 2009, I wrote Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and sent it to numerous friends, family members, ministerial colleagues, and former parishioners. From that point forward, I have proudly worn the atheist moniker.

Chris also asks, “What is it that makes people embrace systematic mythologies? Is it fear of death, a wish for immortality?” He asks if people embrace religions such as Christianity because they fear death or wish that there is life after death? The short answer is yes, but as with most questions concerning religion, the answers are far more complex.

Many atheists choose to call Christians stupid sheep who can’t think for themselves. If only Christians thought for themselves, why they would all be atheists! May I say, oh so kindly, that only stupid goats (atheists) think this way. Why people have religious beliefs is a complex issue; one rooted in biology, sociology, and geography, along with cultural, tribal, and familial beliefs and practices. Sure, people fear death and want to do go Heaven when they die. I am not too fond of the idea death myself, and life after death, at times, does appeal to me. The reasons, however, that lead to people to embrace religious beliefs are more varied and complex than just that they want to live forever.

Is it any surprise that I was a Christian? I was born to Christian parents, lived in a Christian nation, and was indoctrinated in Christian beliefs for the first fifty years of my life. There was no chance that I would “choose” any other religion but Evangelical Christianity. So it is for billions of people across the world — their beliefs are shaped by the beginnings of their lives. Once we understand how deeply immersed people are in religious faith, it should lead us to be more sympathetic to people who haven’t yet “seen the light.” Calling them stupid accomplishes nothing. The only way to reach Christians with the humanist gospel is to gently challenge their sincerely held beliefs; to cause them to question and doubt that which they hold dear. This is why I recommend the books of Dr. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar at the University of North Carolina:

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

Ehrman does a good job challenging the foundation of Evangelical Christianity — the Bible. Cause Evangelicals to doubt the authority and veracity of the Bible, and they are well on their way out the proverbial door. Now, that doesn’t mean they will all become atheists. They won’t. However, any move away from Fundamentalism is a good one. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Sure, I think atheism is the right response to the questions asked and answered by Dr. Ehrman. However, I also know that many people NEED the social connections faith communities offer. I have no desire to rob people of the things that help them get through this life, even if I think, in the end, we all end up in the same place — the grave.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Bruce Gerencser