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“How People Become Evangelists of Unbelief” or Leaving (Christ)ianity – An Evangelical Epidemic

I sat down with a young lady not too long ago and had a conversation. This was a conversation about faith—her faith. Better put, this was a conversation about a faith that once was and is no more. She was a very interesting and bright lady—inquisitive, well-read, and very suspicious. She began by telling me that she was a Christian (past tense) and had since left the faith. Christ was once a part of her confession, but, as she recounted to me, after a long voyage of not finding sufficient answers for her doubts, she believes that she had no choice but to follow her own integrity and renounce Christ all together. I asked her what her problems were and she became very emotional. It was like I represented Christianity and she was ready to take it all out on me.

Ignorance. Pity. Shame. These are all good descriptions of what she thought of Christianity. But the primary description that I felt coming from here was “betrayal.” She had been betrayed by the Church because they duped her into a belief not unlike that of the tooth fairy. When she discovered this “betrayal”, no one had a valid answer or excuse. So she left. She is now an unbeliever—a soon-to-be evangelistic unbeliever no doubt. She was at such a point in this process that no matter what I said, she was not open to listen.

One fascination, obsession, and focus (neurotic impulse?) I have in my life and ministry is with regard to those, like this young lady, who leave the faith. I’m sure you have noticed this. I have well over a dozen books giving autobiographical sketches of those who once proclaimed to be Christian and are now evangelistic atheists, agnostics, or skeptics, with their goal to convert or, rather, unconvert others. I have been in contact with many people who either have already left or are on the verge of leaving in the form of emails, phone calls and visits in person.

No, it is not a neurotic impulse. I believe that it is the recognition of an extremely serious issue that we are facing today. We are facing an epidemic in Christianity—an epidemic of unbelief among our own. Crowding our churches are those who are somewhere in the process of leaving. No, I am not talking about leaving a denomination. I am not talking about abandoning some institutionalized expression of Christianity. I am not talking about leaving the church (though related). And I am not even talking about renouncing religion. I am talking about those who are leaving Christ. (And this is coming from a Calvinist who does not believe that the truly elect will ever leave).

Over 31 million Americans are saying “check please” to the church, and are off to find answers elsewhere. Jeff Schadt, coordinator of Youth Transition Network, says thousands of youth fall away from the church when transitioning from high school to college. He and other youth leaders estimate that 65 to 94 percent of high school students stop attending church after graduating. From my studies and experience I find that leaving church is many times the first visible step in one’s pilgrimage away from Christ.

The question that we must ask is a very simple one: Why? Why are people leaving the faith at this epidemic and alarming rate? In my studies, I have found the two primary reasons people leave the faith are 1) intellectual challenges and 2) bad theology or misplaced beliefs.

First, I want to explain this transition process, focusing on the first: intellectual challenges. You might even find yourself somewhere on this journey.

Step one: Doubt
Step two: Discouragement
Step three: Disillusionment
Step four: Apathy
Step five: Departure

Step One: Doubt

Here is where the person begins to examine his or her faith more critically by asking questions, expressing concerns, and becoming transparent with their doubt. This doubt is not wholesale, but expresses an inner longing to have questions answered and the intellect satisfied to some degree. Normally this person will inquire of mentors in the faith, requesting an audience for their doubt. There are many reasons for the onset of this doubt. Here are the three that are primary:

Maturation: Much of the time it comes from simple maturation. People grow and begin to ask serious questions about their beliefs and that of their parents. It is the stage of intellectual maturation in which discernment becomes strong. 

Intellectual challenges: Often, the doubt comes from intellectual challenges. Challenges to the Bible’s reliability. Challenges from science. Challenges to the very need for a belief in God. Tonight, Bart Erhman is speaking at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma. I am sure that he will challenge many of the college students intellectually, causing some of them to question their faith in the Scriptures.

Experiential challenges: These type of challenges come from God’s actions (or lack thereof) in our lives. This is exemplified by prayers that don’t get answered, the apparent silence of God in a person’s experience, or (and related to the former) a tragedy out of which you or someone else was not rescued.

Any one of these (or all three together) can be the catalyst in someone’s journey away from Christianity.

Step Two: Discouragement

This is where the person becomes frustrated because they are not finding the answers. They ask questions but the answer (or lack thereof) causes them discouragement. Their church tells them that such questions are “unchristian.” Their Sunday school teacher says, “I don’t know. You just have to believe.” Others simply say, “That’s a good question, I have never thought of it before,” and then go on their way on their own leap-of-faith journey.

This causes great discouragement in the life of the person as they begin to see that their questions and concerns are legitimate enough not to have an answer among those who should. “Are others scared of these questions? If so, why?” are the thoughts of the doubter.

Step Three: Disillusionment

Now the person begins to become disillusioned with Christianity in general and proceeds to doubt much more deeply. They feel betrayed by those who made them believe the story about Christ and the Bible. They feel that much of their former faith was naive since not even their most trusted mentors could (or would) answer basic questions about the Bible, history, or faith. In their thinking the intellect has become legitimized and the church is therefore an illegitimate contender for their mind. Once the mind has been lost, the turn has been made. They may still be emotionally routing for their former faith, but it will soon pass as their intellect will talk them out of their emotional conviction. This is a very sad place for the leaver as they realize that they are truly leaving. They will go through a long period of depression and indecisiveness here.

Step Four: Apathy

At this point in the journey, the disillusioned Christian becomes apathetic to finding the answers, believing that the answers don’t exist. They are firmly on their way to atheism, agnosticism, or pure skepticism but don’t have the courage to admit it to themselves or others. Many times those in this stage live as closet unbelievers, believing it is not worth it to come clean about their departure from the faith. They want a peaceful existence in their unbelief without creating controversy. Therefore, they are content to remain closet unbelievers. For some, this helps them to deal with the depression that their loss of faith has afforded. If they are never honest with themselves or others about it, they don’t have to deal with it.

However, not everyone stays in the apathy stage.

Step Five: Departure

Here is where I meet this young lady I told you about. (Really, she was somewhere in-between apathy and departure.) At this stage the fact that they have left the faith has become real to them and they are willing to announce it to the world. Because of their sense of betrayal, they feel as if it is their duty to become evangelists for the cause of unbelief. Their goal and mission becomes to unconvert the converted.

This is the stage that Bart Erhman is in as he speaks tonight. His zeal is his sense of betrayal. Either he feels that he has to legitimize his departure by taking as many along with him as he can or he is truly attempting to help people quit living a lie out of true concern. Either way, his emotional commitment to Christianity is gone and reversed. He is now an Evangelist for unbelief.

“I don’t really even care what you have to say to me,” she told me that day. “I just don’t believe anymore and there is nothing anyone can do about it.” As I thought about this young lady, only one thing keeps coming to mind: how was she a part of the church for so long without the church ever engaging her on these issues. You see, her issues were numerous, but foundational. She doubted the resurrection of Christ, the inspiration, inerrancy, canon of Scripture, and the historicity of the Christian faith in general. If the church had legitimized her questions during the doubting phase and truly engaged her from an intellectual front I can’t help but think, from a human point of view, things might have been different. But once she reaches the point of apathy, this seems to be a point of no return.

Folks, we have a lot on our job description. But rooting people theologically by presenting the intellectual viability of the Evangelical faith must be top on the priority list and it must come early. While I understand this is not all there is to the Christian faith, it is an absolute vital part of discipleship and foundational to everything else.

Everyone will go through the doubt phase. Everyone should ask questions about the faith. If you have not asked the “How do you know . . .” questions about the message of the Gospel, this is not a good thing. We should be challenged to think through these questions early in the faith. The Church needs to rethink its education program. Expositional preaching, while very important, is not enough. Did you hear that? Expositional preaching is not enough. It does not provide the discipleship venue that is vital for us to prevent and overcome this epidemic. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that it does.

The church has been on an intellectual diet for the last century and we are suffering from theological atrophy. What else do you expect when we have replaced theological discipleship with a gluttonous promotion of entertainment, numbers, and fast-food Christianity that can produce nothing more than a veneer of faith seasoned for departure?

The solution: to reform our educational program in the church. To lay theological foundations through critical thinking. To understand that the great commission is to make disciples, not simply converts. And most importantly, we must pray that God will grant a revival of the mind knowing that without the power of the Holy Spirit, no amount of intellectual persuasion can change an antagonistic heart.

Without these, the epidemic of leaving Christ will only worsen. We will have more evangelists of unbelief than we do the Gospel.

189 Responses to ““How People Become Evangelists of Unbelief” or Leaving (Christ)ianity – An Evangelical Epidemic”

  1. I’m not sure if CMP will tell me off, but…

    eric: Craig’s position on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is on his website: you may decide for yourself whether Ken has summarised it fairly. Michael T. is correct that this does not affect the validity of the other arguments Craig uses. But it might affect whether you considered Craig’s statements alone as good evidence: if you know this is his position, you should be checking the facts and the logic of what he says quite carefully, it seems to me.

    On hearing his statement that nothing should shift him, someone debating with him might attempt to question whether beliefs that nothing should shift are a good idea, but if Craig will not be moved on that, what’s the point of trying to change his mind? If you take his own description of his position in good faith, you must admit that you cannot change his mind and shake the dust off your feet. (In the particular case of Craig, there’s an argument that, in a public debate, his other listeners that would benefit from counter-arguments, even if Craig won’t, but you should still acknowledge that Craig’s locked in, so your arguments should be to the audience, who aren’t).

  2. To be fair to Craig what he is ultimately espousing has to do with Reformed Epistemology (the brain-child of Alvin Plantinga). In order to fully understand this position (which I think is actually reasonable, though certainly disconcerting for someone with a evidentialist epistemology – again it’s a worldview issue) one would actually have read 3 books by Alvin Plantinga. Warrant: The Current Debate, Warrant and Proper Function, and Warranted Christian Belief (none of which have I personally read btw since I can’t even begin to decipher them in their raw form – only overviews and Cliff notes so to speak).

    Ultimately though what is going on in this forum is an issue about what warrants a belief. I humbly submit that if God chose to only speak directly to a few individuals those individuals who heard His voice would be warranted in their belief in God even if it was externally unverifiable. Furthermore, one could not expect them to live as if they never had that experience, or expect that they wouldn’t seek to convince others of what they had heard and seen. To believe otherwise is simply to state that one is never warranted in believing in God unless said God behaved the way they want Him to (which is a shocking reversal of roles btw if there were a God).

  3. Michael T,

    Actually Craig does not follow the Reformed Epistemology of Alvin Platinga. In the book Five Views on Apologetics, Craig defends the “classical” approach and Kelly Clark defends the “Reformed Epistemology” approach. Plantinga and the RE say that belief in God is “properly basic.” IOW, it is warranted without evidence. He follows John Calvin’s idea of the Sensus Divinitatis (sense of the divine). Calvin is following Paul who says in Romans 1 that every man has the knowledge of God.

    Craig, on the other hand, follows the classical approach which makes use of philosophical arguments such as the cosmological argument to “prove” the existence of God. What I was pointing out about Craig is that he says, he knows Christianity is true because of the inner witness of the Spirit but he shows Christianity is true through arguments and evidence. The arguments and evidence at best provide a strong probability for God but the inner witness of the Spirit provides certainty, according to Craig. He then says that if the evidence contradicted the inner witness, he would assume that he is misinterpreting the evidence. Thus, as I said before, his mind is closed and no evidence can trump his subjective feeling which he calls the inner witnessof the Spirit (which I see as no different than the Mormon’s burning in the bosom).

  4. Hmm it seems to me then that Craig is a hybrid of sorts. He seems to largely rely on classical arguments in the public realm because in most of the debates I’ve seen these are what he spends the majority of his time focused on. However, when it comes to personal epistemology and faith he seems to believe that his faith is warranted in what at least to me appears to be a manner similar to the properly basic belief of Reformed Epistemology.

    I think the important thing is to realize here that “He” is saying “He” would still believe based upon his experiences. This doesn’t seem to be out in left field to me. I don’t think he is stating here that he would expect others to believe based upon his experiences. For that he relies on classical apologetics. I think ultimately this goes to the example of God choosing for whatever reason to only speak to a few select individuals. If this occurred those individuals would be warranted in believing in God and trying to convince others of what they had heard and seen. If Craig honestly believes that God has spoken directly to him I don’t see any way to say that he isn’t warranted in believing in God.

  5. Michael T.,

    But my Mormon friends tell me the same thing, they call it the “burning in the bosom,” though instead of the “inner witness of the Spirit.” If they are correct and Mormonism is true; then Craig’s evangelical Christianity is not.

  6. Bill Craig must have been anticipating the comments in this thread, ’cause he just came out with this book:

    http://christianbookreviews.net/?p=809#more-809

    On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig
    David C. Cook (March 2010)

    More details about the content can be found in the Reader reviews for the book at Amazon.com.

  7. Ken and Michael,
    Sorry to jump in at this late stage. I think Michael is right on in his lastest post (#157). Basically W L Craig is being honest about what brought him to and sustains him in his Christian faith. It is the inner witness of the Spirit. Should the balance of the evidence turn against his faith, he is willing to ignore the evidence on the basis of that inner witness of the Spirit. This does not mean he would dishonestly manipulate the evidence or twist it or otherwise handle it inappropriately to support his pre-conceived notions. On the contrary, it implies that he would recognize and admit that the weight of the evidence was indeed stacked against him even while he persisted in his belief for reasons admittedly unrelated to any external evidence.

    This admission suggests Craig is not interested in, nor in any need of, manipulating the facts to buttress his faith, as perhaps those who pretend to follow an evidentialist epistemology would feel compelled to do. Craig seems perfectly willing to admit reality if the evidence turned against him, while still maintaining an intellectualy unpalatable position.

    Happily for Craig, the weight of the evidence at the present time is not in fact stacked in such a manner against Christian belief, so Craig marshals that evidence to show others, through classical arguments, what he already knows through the inner witness of the Spirit. He does not pretend that the inner witness he experiences is an actual argument that would persuade others.

  8. Ken,
    While obviously Mormon’s are right or Christians are right (or they’re both wrong). We are not right at this moment discussing what might convince others as to who is right (at least I wasn’t), rather we were discussing what would warrant someone personally in their belief. Simply because a belief is warranted given a certain set of experiences doesn’t necessarily mean that the view is true in the sense that it reflects ultimate reality. I think that there are many non-Christians of various faith (or non-faith) persuasions who are warranted in their belief even though I believe that they are wrong for numerous reasons.

    Now that being said I don’t know if I personally would take things as far as Craig does. If I were to believe something as big as believing in God purely based on a experience wholly apart from reason, evidence, etc. it would have to be something huge. The day to day guidance I believe exists (as I am a Christian) and that I feel from the Holy Spirit would not (at this point) be enough to convince me in and of itself that God exists and Christianity is right.

  9. Joel

    The lack of “meaningful involvement” you mentioned is what I was thinking might be another reason that people eventually decide to turn away. The flow of money out of pocket into the church seems to me to go along with this as you mentioned. I wonder too if the society we find ourselves in encourages both the turning away and the problem with money and the love of money that seems evident here, at least it seems evident to me.

    I attend a church in which there is a large percentage of the congregation involved in ministry of some kind. The pastor has a ministry weekend that highlights the various ministries and offers newcomers the opportunity to become engaged in ministry of some kind. There are many. I believe this helps, though is likely not the answer for all who decide to leave.

  10. I wonder if people who “turn away” are only doing so for a season, or if they were never “there” in the first place. It would seem to me as though one or the other has to be true, since I don’t believe that one who is saved can become unsaved. So we’re left with the choice of someone who is going through a time of rebellion and separation, who will someday (perhaps through our efforts) be restored, or a person who was not ever saved. Would this possibly be the “being deceived” in 2 Timothy 3:13?

    In either situation, they are needful of our prayers, in the hopes that they may repent and re-integrate with the body of believers, or that they may be (truly) saved.

  11. For those of you who are referring to the possibility that these people were not saved to begin with: It is certainly possible that these people were never really Christians. In fact, looking at it from a theological standpoint and being a Calvinist, if those who turn from the faith, die in their unbelief, I would most certainly conclude that they were never true believer.

    As well, looking at if from a purely biblical point of view, the same can (should) be concluded. Notice what John says:

    “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” (1Jo 2:19)

    However, we must be careful here. Looking to transcendent reasoning for the problem offers us no practical look at what you and I can do as we are called to make disciples. I have engaged so many of these people and from their testimony, it is often hard to see any “holes.” From their point of view, they truly believed. It would be hard to tell a difference from their faith and ours. And we need to deal with it under this microscope as well, not just leaving it in the transcendent (as important as that is).

    Therefore, this post is not attempting to give a quick easy answer that will make everyone comfortable. This is real life folk. It is something that the Church needs to quick giving pat answers for and begin to see what it is that we might be doing wrong.

  12. I think I understand what you are getting at , Michael, and I have two variant thoughts. 1) I think that some who ‘believe’ ….’really believe’ , have possibly never come to a point of true conviction over their sin. I don’t believe that it’s possible for a person to self-manufacture this conviction required by God in order to come to Him in complete humility as He requires. I would say that it is this which my husband lacked which caused him to be a false-convert for so many years. He had never felt any true remorse or conviction over his sin. Once God’s Spirit brought that conviction my husband was finally able to come to God on God’s terms. He had not been lacking belief.
    2)I had a conversation with a girl at church today who surprised me with many things she is doubting and confused about. I have known her for years (as a fellow church attender and SS teacher) and yet she seems to be questioning some very basic things. She said, “I think that we should be allowed to doubt and question things here (at church). I remembered your words on this post, Michael, so I was quick to affirm her in that, and agree that it was OK, and good to ask questions. Eventually she told me about her 16 year old son who is suicidal and that he is all she can think about right now. It makes me think that maybe her faith is being severely tested right now…..but I could definitely see how she might benefit from the sort of teaching you do Michael. She does need to know that there are answers. Maybe I will refer her to this ministry.

  13. All relationships take work. In marraige if one leaves that person has given up on the relationship.

    Now we know that Christ never leaves nor gives up on us but yes we can walk away not forever though if there has been a genuine conversion.

    Those who once professed Christ even on posts here will return. Watch and see. When it will happen who knows. It could be some kind of cognitive disorder and psychiatry might bring some insight as to what is going on.

  14. Thank you Michael for this post. I have been in step 3 in my Christian life and while I have dealt with the “weightier” issues, those on the periphery still cause me mental problems. With each passing year the things I hold in a closed hand get to be fewer and fewer. I have wrestled with and settled on only 3 things 1) God exists 2) Jesus is His Son 3) Jesus died and rose from the dead for my sin. I have great sympathy and empathy for those who struggle with faith and I am doing all I can by God’s grace in my current ministry to help people in those struggles. Thanks again.

  15. Truth Unites... and Divides April 1, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Daniel J. Phillips has written a post titled: “The Atheist “I Have Honest Questions” Dodge” that Evangelists of Unbelief might find interesting:

    Challenge: “You’re a Christian? Oho. So give me a convincing argument as to why God…?”

    Response A: “I’ll be happy to respond, but please answer mine first. How do you convince someone to accept a true, accurate and sufficient answer that he is unwilling to accept?”

    Response B: “I’ll be happy to, but please answer mine first. How does one persuade an arrogant blowhard who is unwilling to acknowledge his own biases, presuppositions and errors, and who is unwilling to answer even this question directly, to accept even a completely true and irrefutable answer that he refuses to accept?

    NEXT!

    (Proverbs 21:22)

  16. Seems to me that you theologians fail to see the simple answer..

    Myself being an ex-christian, know exactly the reasons I am an ex-christian..

    Myabe, just maybe, christianity isn’t real, and one way or another, some of use figured that fact out..

  17. As Vox Day detailed in his book The Irrational Atheist most of the “arguments” put forwards by the new atheists are simply logically fallacious.

    We see some of the same above, such as the claim that Christianity cannot be true because Christians do bad things. When it is pointed out that atheists have not only done equally bad, but even worse things, the special pleading is made that Christians ought to be better because they have the holy spirit inside them.

    Arguments such as Craig’s Kalam formulation are dismissed because Craig would remain faithful even if the evidence was against him. Of course the logical implication of that is that Craig hasn’t found the evidence inadequate yet. Moreover Kalam is a logical argument, P1, P2, and C1, so an attempt to refute it cannot revolve around discrediting the source. That’s ad hominem.

    The first proposition is unassailable, simply because if we don’t assume causality then all discussion ceases, it is the second proposition that is the weak point in the argument, because while we currently assume that the universe has a beginning, we cannot prove it. Craig’s arguments against an infinity reached by successive addition doesn’t take into consideration set theory where a set can contain an infinite number of values (for example all real numbers) without achieving that point by cumulative addition. Incidentally the person who introduced me to that criticism was a biblical creationist. However if proposition 1 is true, and we must assume that it is, and proposition 2 is probably true, which at the moment we generally assume it is, then the conclusion, that the universe had a first cause, is also probably true.

    We can construct similar arguments based around morality, or teleology, which make it reasonable to infer a moral intelligence behind life.

  18. Whilst showing that it is reasonable to propose a moral intelligence that created the universe, that doesn’t automatically lead to Christianity.

    What we then have to ask is what religious tradition deals with a creator god and specific historical events?

    A creator god is necessary because of the first step. Obviously a god who is the universe cannot logically be the creator of that universe. That leaves out all pantheistic religions like Hinduism, as well as godless religions like Buddhism and atheism. The classical religions like those of the Greeks and Romans must go too. In their mythology the gods were born from Khronus and he in turn came into being at the moment of creation, hence he could not be the first cause.

    We’re now down to a relatively short list of theistic religions with transcendent deities. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I will treat Judaism and Christianity as two parts of the same tradition, although I’m sure most Jews would disagree with me.

    Specific historical interventions are lacking in what I see of Zoroastrianism, that is Ahura Mazda doesn’t seem to do very much. Whilst Zoroaster seems to have had many valuable insights, he doesn’t appear to have the same miracle working power as Moses and Jesus.

    In Judaism, whilst God doesn’t act capriciously, the Biblical writers testify to specific actions and predictions attributed to YHWH. Where we are able to test them (and that is a limitation in any historical work) they seem to hold up well.

    Christianity is rooted in the historical evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and the theological interpretations placed on that evidence by Jesus and his apostles. Again within the limitations of historical inquiry the evidence seems to hold up well.

  19. Islam is rooted in the revelation of Allah to Mohammed. However he makes specific claims about Jesus that are contrary to those recorded in the Bible. Since the historical evidence about Jesus goes back to the late first century and early second century, whilst Mohammed was writing in the seventh, this leaves me somewhat sceptical of his claims.

    Since Mohammed did not claim to be writing his own recollections, but rather what Allah was dictating, this would lead me to regard his claims of authority as somewhat dubious.

    Based on this brief assessment I would have to say that Judeo-Christianity has the best claim to be objectively true. If it is not then another form of theism, possibly one not revealed to humanity, is the next most likely.

  20. I could’ve been that girl…
    Instead of being an evangelical of atheism (maybe not quite that far…) I am now an evangelical of questioning the bible and authoritative interpretations of it. I am still a skeptic and currently agnostic towards the Christian perspective of God. The difference is I am less hostile now. This emotional indifference allows me to be open to the possibility that Christianity is true. I am objectively examining the evidence and remaining open to wherever it may lead me.

    I have faith that a just God won’t condemn me forever for embracing the gift of rationality that he gave me and/or not yet finding the answers to my genuine questions… that is my version of “faith”… and it doesn’t require me to place blind faith above rationality. I genuinely believe God and I are “good”. And if we are not… well, that is not a God I would want anyways and I will gladly accept the alternative.

  21. Truth Unites... and Divides April 2, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Kelly Roe: “I genuinely believe God and I are “good”. And if we are not… well, that is not a God I would want anyways and I will gladly accept the alternative.”

    Kelly Roe,

    When you say that you genuinely believe that you are “good”, what do you mean when you say that you are “good”?

    Or asked in a slightly different way, do you believe that you sin, and that you sin because you are a sinner?

  22. Kelly, I’ll ask a different question – do other people think you are good?

    Example – I know a guy, call him Jim, who ran off with another guy’s wife. Well call him Joe. Jim thinks he found love, and views himself as a pretty good guy, and he is a nice guy – I honestly like him.

    Joe and his kids have a very different opinion and for pretty good reason. Now those kids are being shuffled from home to home as per visitation rulings and even the grandparents are affected.

    So is Jim as good a guy as he thinks he is? Or does he just excuse or ignore his own bad behavior?

    My point is this – we all have skeletons in our closets. But it’s like we think they don’t matter just because we get used to them over time.

    So are you good? Really? Everyone agrees? Have you ever “sinned” against anyone?

  23. Of course I have sinned against people…and I will in the future. But when I do I feel genuine remorse, apologize, and do what I can to rectify the mistake. I try to be altruistic… I want nothing for myself that everyone can’t have. I am a vegetarian. I love humanity. My core belief is that interaction among beings must be mutually beneficial. In business and in relationships. I pray to God and tell him… I can’t choose what I believe. A belief is a belief, it’s non-negotiable. But I question a lot… I am learning about physics and non-locality and that time is really non-linear. Couldn’t someone from the future have gone to the past to plant the bible? I believe in rationality and empiricism… I don’t yet know how to put it into clear english how these relate but they are an interactive process.

    I pray to God to give me “a sound mind and a pure heart in a healthy body.” I also pray to him to give me the strength and skills to stay behind… so that I can help humanity during the rapture if there is one.

    The theory I currently find the most likely is pantheism. I am trying to figure out how Christianity and pantheism can fit into a philosophical belief system together.

    A further note about me sinning… the person I sin the most against is myself. I need to develop self discipline. My two greatest sins are gluttony and sloth. The sloth comes after the gluttony. I truly believe that had I had a moral and intellectual companion… even one person throughout my process of losing my religion I would have avoided years of frustration and pain and causing pain to other people. I have a mother with the borderline personality disorder “the witch”. I am almost certain. And she is the one that raised me Christian so yes she was a discouraging example. Also, no one else in the church could answer my questions. Thanks to internet evangelist like you guys I might reconvert… but only if it is a logical decision. I am just discovering this sight,…

  24. Edward T. Babinski April 9, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Speaking for myself rather than having Michael put words in my mouth, I was not “betrayed.”

    I studied and debated with a few leavers to try and get them back into the fold.

    And I also grew increasingly aware of all the difficulties of my own theological viewpoints and beliefs, just as you mentioned in your own post not long ago, Michael.

    I have no bad memories of church. I loved to play guitar, write and sing Jesus songs. I was elected president of my campus Christian organization. I prayed and sang in English and in tongues. I loved Christian music. And loved the Bible.

    But one day I also realized that I love people too, not just as souls in need of saving, but simply as people. Nice people. That realization shook me. I began to see a universality to humor in the world’s religions, in humanity in general. And a universality to love. And I realized I was like a lot of other people of other religions or even of no religion at all. I began to see a spectrum of beliefs even among Christians, from conservative to moderate to liberal.

    There were plenty of intellectual questions too.

    But “betrayal?” No. Simple dissatisfaction and questions that I no longer felt answering with the nostrum, “I have faith.” I couldn’t honestly say that any longer. There are things I know and others I don’t know. But “faith” doesn’t answer questions. Today I might pray and ask for all good things for all the world, and seek that which is pure and good, true and loving. Do I believe I have thereby answered all my questions? No, but verbal prayer along with silent mediation at times, along with wonderful music helps. Maybe our brains just need to hear us tell ourselves such things, because our minds and senses function on a constant feedback principle. But there’s nothing about not knowing that means I must stop doing such things, and I don’t blame people who get along without doing such things.

  25. I fluctuate between step 3 and step 4. I have been in step 1 most of my life, transition into step 2 this year, and would be interested in your advice as to how to avoid step 5. Although I will tell you in advance that hyperCalvinism really bothers me.

  26. Hypercalvinism bothers us Calvinists too ;-)

    Question (like a child): Have you ever come to a point in your life where you have really come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit about your sin….I mean felt really ‘crushed’ and guilty before our holy God?

    If so, did you at that point come before him in total humility, aware of your unworthiness before Him…realizing that you never done a single ‘good’ thing worthy of His consideration which might gain His favor?
    And in that very crushed and humbled state did you beg for His mercy and forgiveness recognizing that you really deserve His punishment?

    “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

  27. People today do not realize how many preachers carry doctrines of doubt. The bible tells us if they have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof, from such turn away.

  28. Great post. The steps are reminiscent of the phases of mourning the death of a loved one. I’m sure there’s a reason for that. I was here for about two years. I had a lot of hard questions, and no answers. I was in a fundamentalist funk with discrepancies I found within their eschatology. This led to me questioning a lot of their teachings, as doctrines in this area bleed over into a ton of other areas.
    I was basically a freak to them. There was no discussion, and if Larkin didn’t write about it, it ain’t true. This reaction and unwillingness to listen led me to question other things, this time without even bothering to go to anyone else. It all snowballed until I spent two years outside of church completely. I was well on my way to becoming an evangelical agnostic, from feeling called into teaching scripture. Luckily, I was willing to maintain an open mind and have returned to the faith, feeling like a fool, but returned nonetheless. Hopefully the Spirit of God will work on this lady. Thanks for sharing this, as it helped me feel like less of a total wretch.

    Mike

  29. (Apologies if a two-month delay comment is frowned upon.)

    So then…having hopefully understood and agreed to the point made in this post about the need…Where should believers turn? What do they need to learn, as far as the methodology of thinking to approach intellectual and experiential challenges goes?

    Perhaps that’s a little too specific, I think the point was mainly an appeal to reform inside/outside church, but I just wonder if there’s an answer ready for this kind of a question, too…Haha, or maybe it’s one of those things that doesn’t have a pat answer, but needs to be wrestled with? (…”How do you wrestle?” is kind of what I’m trying to think on…)

  30. Your either a child of God or not, no amount of answered questions will convince someone that will not humble themselves first.

  31. I was one who left the faith because my questions were not answered. It started personal, emotional: why aren’t my prayers answered, for example. Then if they aren’t is there any truth to this Christ’s stuff….Unfortunately at the time I left the faith 1984, there were but a few apologist’s in Christianity , I guess ,because I knew of not one. But there were good sources others should have studied, those others were my mentors…they had no answers. Michael you are so right, the church needs to get real, get to critical thinking and fast. Like I tell so many of my fellowship brothers, it has come to the need to have the reasons for the beliefs, belief for beliefs sake is not enough….the demons also believe! We need to know why we believe, we need to give reasons to our young people, the reasons that are going to sustain them against the onslaught of higher education. It is sad but all I see in churches are sermons and bible studies that still won’t (emphasis mine) answer the questions. When was the last time you heard a Dr. in Divinity preach or teach his or hers PHD thesis? I mean they had to come up with something awesome to get their PHD, why aren’t they sharing it? The only answer I can think of is :because they don’t want to….theological envy, a sin I believe!

  32. I love this and your other posts about doubt and leaving. After bad experiences with fundamentalism, my college years were dark. I left the church for a time, and was probably at least stage 3, as you would classify it. I would have left for good. And the depression was quite serious at times, and at least once I was suicidal.

    But God brought me back. It’s a long story – I’ll have to write about it someday. I got help later from pastoral and professional counseling (it would’ve been nice if someone could have intervened earlier, though). Nonetheless, God later delivered me, and I have a strong testimony of how God healed and restored me afterwards.

    As I’ve looked back and reflected on what God has done, I’ve started to take an interest in cases of those who’ve left the church, those who’ve become atheists, and I would like to somehow help those who have left or who are thinking of leaving, as I can easily relate to them.

  33. Francis Nickle April 23, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    My faith-spiritual growth has been enlighteningly helped by reading Marcus Borg, THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY,and the classics including Paul Tillich, Paul Tournier, C.S. Lewis and more recently Lee Strobel all with humility and prayer. FEN

  34. Speaking as someone who hardly seems to know what they believe anymore, I can say that it was all emotional doubt that led me down this road. I was convinced that I was unforgiven because I thought horrible things about God. Then I kept thinking them, and I kept praying, and nothing seemed to go right. I also became horribly depressed. I would keep praying, and I would feel better for a while, and then it would come back. God didn’t seem to be able to help me, or at least not long enough to actually do anything about it. But the more God didn’t show up, the more I got angry at him for not showing up, and the more bad things I thought, and it’s all just a downward spiral. I’d put myself somewhere at around 3 or 4 on your list. But its all an emotional thing. You could throw every sophisticated theological argument there is at me right now, and it wouldn’t work. Not when the heavens are silent.

  35. “no man ever spoke the way this man does…” people have to see that we are all Nazis. If a person is not confronted with their own evil first, they cannot truly believe. We Christians have to wake up and preach about evil. And call it that.

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