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Leaving (Christ)ianity

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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 had been a Christian, but had since left the faith. Christ was once a part of her confession.  However, after a long voyage of not finding sufficient answers for her doubts, she came to the conclusion that she believes she has had no choice but to follow her own integrity and renounce Christ all together. That said, when I asked her to share with me what her particular problems were, she became very emotional. It was just as if I represented Christianity, and she was ready to take all of it out on me.

Ignorance. Pity. Shame. These are all word descriptions she associated with Christianity. However, through these superficial word descriptions, it was evident that the best root word to describe her feelings was “betrayal”.  She had been betrayed by the Church, because they duped her into a belief not unlike that of the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. When she discovered this “betrayal,” no one could provide a valid answer or excuse. So she left. She is now an unbeliever—a soon-to-be evangelistic unbeliever no doubt. I discussed the issue with her for quite a while.  However, she seemed to have come to the point in this process that she was no longer open to counsel, no matter what I said.

As many of you know, a part of my ministry is dealing with people who doubt their faith just like this young lady. I possess well over a dozen books containing a plethora of autobiographical sketches of people who once proclaimed to be Christians.  Yet, these same individuals are now professing evangelistic atheism, agnosticism, or skepticism.  They are “evangelistic” in that their avowed goal is to convert, or rather “unconvert”, others to their world view system of  unbelief. I have received e-mails, phone calls, and personal visits from numerous people who have either already, or are on the verge of leaving the Christian faith.  On a positive note, may I say that many of those individuals have been restored to a faith in Christ.

Leaving Christianity is one of the most serious issues facing the Church today. Right under our noses, an epidemic is confronting Christianity— the “disease” of unbelief spreading among our very own.  The ironic fact is that there is a great assembly of people in our churches who are somewhere in the process of leaving. No, I am not talking about them leaving one denomination, only to join another Christian group.  I am not talking about abandoning some institutionalized notion of Christianity.  I am not even talking about the explicit renunciation of their expressed beliefs. I am talking about those who are leaving Christ. (And this is coming from a Calvinist who does not believe that those who are 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 the church is, on many occasions, the first visible step in one’s pilgrimage away from Christ.

There are so many complicated reasons why people “leave Christ” and I don’t propose to do justice to them here. However, I do want to discuss the observations I have made of the steps that people take in leaving Christianity.

Step One: Doubt

This is the case when a person begins to examine his or her faith more critically by asking questions, expressing concerns, and becoming transparent with their doubt. One normally finds this step coming from teenagers, or those in the process of transitioning from adolescence to their teen years.  However, this step frequently applies to individuals included in demographics that reach much farther out than the teen years.  This step of doubt is not wholesale, but expresses an inner longing to have questions answered and the intellect satisfied, at least to some degree. Normally, a person experiencing this step will seek out mentors in the faith, someone he respects who will listen to his “doubt.”

While there are several diverse reasons that are responsible for the initiation of this doubt, three primary causes stand out:

Maturation: Much of the time, the cause is purely reflective of one’s age progression, a phase in life we like to call “simple maturation.”   As people grow older, they begin to ask more serious questions about their beliefs (and their parents’ beliefs as well).  During this stage of life, intellectual maturation, or at least what we perceive to be such, becomes a stronger motivator in our life.  We begin to grow in our critical thinking, and discernment skills grow stronger.

Intellectual challenges: Often, the doubt comes from intellectual challenges in the form of questions. “Is the Bible truly reliable?”  “Does science demonstrate that there is no proof of God?”  “Why do I even need to believe in God?”

Experiential challenges: These types of challenges come from God’s actions (or lack thereof) in our lives. This is exemplified through prayers that don’t get answered, the apparent silence of God in a person’s experience, or a tragedy from which the doubter or someone else was not rescued. These experiential challenges can be catalysts which ignite intellectual challenges.

Any one of these (or all three together) can fire the starting gun on the voyage away from Christianity.

Step Two: Discouragement

This follows doubt, as a person becomes frustrated because he is not finding the answers to his questions.  The answers (or lack thereof) cause his discouragement.  He becomes further discouraged because he has little or no hope that acceptable answers to his questions will ever be found.  His church tells him that merely raising said questions is “unchristian.” A Sunday school teacher may offer an ambivalent response such as, “I don’t know. You just have to believe.” Another might simply say, “That’s a good question, I have never thought of that before. . .” and then proceed on their own way, their own leap-of-faith journey, totally oblivious,  just as if the question had never been asked.

These experiences cause obvious and great discouragement in the life of the beginning doubter, who sees his questions and concerns as legitimate, and they deserve to be answered.  “Are others scared of these questions? If so, why?” are the doubter’s thoughts.

Step Three: Disillusionment

It is at this step that disillusionment sets in the mind of the doubter.   He becomes disillusioned with Christianity in general and proceeds to engage in more serious doubt.  He feels genuinely betrayed by those he had trusted most when he first believed.  He becomes skeptical not only of what is, in his mind, an unwarranted story about Christ and the Bible, but also of the very people who encouraged and influenced him to believe such an untrustworthy myth.   He is further disillusioned that the faith which he had been persuaded to believe was so saturated with naivete that not even his most trusted mentors could (or would) answer basic, elementary questions about the Bible, history, or faith. In his thinking, a person’s “legitimate” intellect was discarded out of hand, supplanted by the church becoming an “illegitimate” contender for the minds of gullible believers.  Once the mind of the “Disillusioned Doubter” has been lost, the turn has been made. He may still be emotionally rooting for his former faith, but this will soon pass as his “intellect” talks him out of his emotional conviction. What a very sad place this is for the doubting “leaver,” as he realizes for the first time that he is truly leaving Christ. It is at this point that he will likely go through an indefinite period of depression, despondency, and indecisiveness.

Step Four: Apathy

At this stage in his journey away from the Christian faith, the disillusioned “former Christian” becomes apathetic to finding answers, as he is convinced that the answers don’t exist. He is treading headlong down the path of skepticism, agnosticism, or all-out atheism,  but he doesn’t have the courage to admit it to himself or others.  An individual in this stage frequently lives as a “closet unbeliever.”  He is convinced that it is not worth the risk to come clean about his departure from the faith. He desires an uneventful and peaceful existence in his state of unbelief, without creating any controversy.  This may help him to cope with the depression that his loss of faith has brought about. If he isn’t honest with himself or others about it, he won’t have to deal with it. Surely, he may continue to hand out bulletins at church, sing in the choir, show up to socials, take a mission trip here and there, and even teach a Sunday School class, but he no longer believes. He is content, for now, to stay in the closet.

However, not everyone stays in the apathy stage.

Step Five: Departure

(This is where I met the young lady I introduced to you at the beginning of this post.  In actuality, she was somewhere in between apathy and departure.) At this stage in the process, the fact that one has left the faith has become real to him, and he is ready and willing to announce the fact to the world. Because of his sense of betrayal, he feels as if it is his duty to become an “evangelist of unbelief.” His goal and mission now becomes to “unconvert” the converted.

This is the stage where many former Christians, such as Bart Erhman, reside. In my opinion, Dr. Erhman is full of zeal due to his sense of betrayal. Either he feels that he has to legitimize his departure by taking with him as many 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 of 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, one thing kept 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, the issues she confronted 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 on an intellectual front, I can’t help but think things might have been different. But once one reaches the apathy stage, that seems to be that point of no return.

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

Everyone will go through the doubt phase. Everyone should ask questions about their 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 our faith walk. (Taking my own advice, I am reading this to my 14-year-old daughter right now. Why? She needs to hear it.) The Church needs to rethink its educational programs.  Expositional preaching, while very important, is not enough. Did you hear me? Expositional preaching is not enough. It is not the correct venue for the discipleship 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, instead prioritizing entertainment, numbers, and fast-food Christianity that can produce nothing more than a veneer of faith seasoned for departure?

The solution:  We must reform our educational programs in the church. We must lay theological foundations through critical thinking. We must 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 and the spirit, knowing that without the power of the Holy Spirit, no amount of intellectual persuasion can change an antagonistic heart.

Absent these solutions, the epidemic of leaving Christ will only worsen. We will (if we don’t already) have more evangelists of unbelief than we do the Gospel.

355 Responses to “Leaving (Christ)ianity”

  1. I have gone through times of great pain and doubt. There was a time where I was screaming out to God if I had lost my salvation.

    However.. when I was converted, I was soundly converted , not only in my mind, but deeply in my inner being, where there I encountered God- and I knew at that time I was forgiven and saved.

    While I have suffered pain and doubt of my salvation in the past – (The story of which some will know here ) I never doubted the existence of God or Christ, nor the Holy Spirit.

    I was recently reading Tozer who said something I think speaks into this area of concern. He said our minds are carnal and dead in sin – but it is our inner man who is made alive in Christ – through experiencing God’s love within. You cannot reason anyone into faith, for then their faith will be only an intellectual exercise and not one of deep inner conversion.

    Therefore we need today the experience of the Holy Spirit and the foundation of the word to cement our faith together. Is it any wonder that we find Paul praying for the Ephesians.. I pray that you will know the Love of God within your inner being…

  2. What was the essence and basis for her sense of betrayal?

  3. Craig @1, well said (always like Tozer).

    I was raised going to Sunday School and church, VBS and Christian camp but when I got into my teens I went the way of the world, the flesh and the devil. I came to the point described in the post where I just didn’t believe anymore. I see now I looked at God like Luther did – as a strict Judge – and I didn’t like Him very much.

    When I did come back to the Lord I expected Him to pound me up but instead He saved me. I believe I went from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. It was not an intellectual transformation per se but one in the deepest part of my being. The intellect followed but the primary change was to my dead and darkened heart.

    I believe the intellect needs to be addressed, not only because there are answers, but at least to take that weapon away from the enemy. Paul said our fight was spiritual, not physical, and that we are to take every thought captive to obedience of Christ. We are to study and to accurately handle the word of truth. Like Paul said, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

    As I re-evaluate my own life I can’t help but wonder where personal discipleship and pursuit of Christ is in the life described. Paul and the writer to Hebrews both mention people who are called saints but also “carnal” and immature. Paul reminds Timothy that those opposing him are snared by the enemy “held captive to do his will.” The good news is that repentance will lead them to the knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses. If that does not happen, won’t the final chapter sound a lot like what we have described above? Isn’t this what apostasy looks like?

  4. Starting out as an agnostic and coming to follow Christ in later life, I am convinced that we need to deal with the issue of a viable intellectual basis for Christianity. But I think part of the problem is there are those who grew up in the church who are afraid to deal with the issues or help others deal with the issues for fear of finding out Christianity does not stack up intellectually so they tell people don’t question just believe. And the irony of this is there is a solid basis for belief, if we look for the answers. But by refusing to examine the issues for themselves these people convince others there are no answers.

  5. My dad was the Sunday school teacher for the young adult class at my childhood church. He was solid in his faith. From that class one student became a Mormon, another bought in to the philosophy of the Masons, another became a left wing anti war believer. All of my 4 siblings are solid believers as I am. I don’t understand why this is but it must have something to do with election!

  6. The great Parable of the Sower, Matt. 13: 18, Mk. 4:3, Lk. 8:5 comes to mind! But only one soil was “good soil”, and bore “fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
    “And If any man has ears to hear, let him hear. And take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Mk. 23-25)

    Grace is always only God’s to give, but indeed how and in what way do we receive it? There is great mystery here!

  7. Surely the doctrine of God’s grace and perseverance comes right to the fore here!

  8. And, sadly the problem and loss here is with this person and woman herself, not God..his Word or His servants! Apostasy is very real! (1 John 2: 19) Not “regenerate” and thus elect believers, but those who will apostatize! Note in 2 Peter 1: 10, WE…”Wherefore rather BROTHERS (Brethren), be you diligent to make and confirm your calling and choice firm, for these things DOING.. by no means you will fail, ever!” (literal translation)

  9. Robert.. that is a terrible thing you just said.. making it the womans fault. I tried to click dislike on your post, but instead it made it a like.. :(

    It seems that Michael clearly said she was wounded and hurting. I once ministered to a dear soul whose son died through suicide. The pastor of the church she and family attended stood up that Sunday and preached on why those who suicide go to hell. – Her husband took her and daughter by the hand and led them out of the church service.. and they were blackbanned from the church as being back slidden.

    12 years later I held a memorial service for those bereaved by suicide, and spoke to her over a cup of tea. She said, Craig, you have given me the faith and hope to once again get involved in a church again. I have never lost belief in God / Jesus – but the church -deeply it has hurt us.

    There are times when the body of Christ has to do some serious navel gazing on how its shoots, kicks, stabs and spits on its wounded. – Shame on you Robert! Shame!

  10. Pavel Mosko (Addai) February 22, 2013 at 12:23 am

    I’ve been interested in this topic myself, having left Christianity and the church for a few years after going away to college.

    The one thing I would really point out to such a person is how they take Christianity for granted as far as their value system, ethics etc. (Such people often believe in things like “The Golden Rule”, that a person should be a Good Samaritan. We should help the helpless, help the handicapped etc. Such things really don’t fit well if you believe in Atheism, Evolution, and the survival of the fittest. Some people like Dawkins have tried to explain them with the cooperative behavior of animals but in the end it is only stretching because animals altruistic behavior tends to be limited to those that are in their social group and not towards those who are outside it. It’s really the unique contribution of the Judea-Chrisitan heritage why society at large wants to help the handicapped, the developmentally disabled, the poor etc. Because in previous pagan cultures such people were left die as infants. And of course there is social Darwinism. Many atheists want to help the poor, but if you do such a thing how can you have any “evolutionary progress” if the unfit are allowed to survive, breed, and prosper?

  11. Michael,
    Is there some reason you won’t answer the question that I asked yesterday? “What was the essence and basis for her sense of betrayal?” I would like to know more about the thought processes and experiences of one who has come to such a position in life. Did she feel betrayed by her pastor, personal friends, church teachings, her understanding of scripture, God….what?

  12. I don’t know the answer to that. Sorry.

  13. Good article. I agree whole heartily in this plan of approach when it comes to doubt and questions. However with that said one componant that the writer has left out is the possibility that the doubt and questions can often times be brought on by insesent sin in the persons life. When you are repeating sinful patterns it can often force us to alter our own theological presuppositions. Think of how prevelent it is for young Christians to be engaged in pre-marital sexual activity or an ongoing pornography addiction. Can’t activities that we have become so enslave us that we begin to doubt the sexual morals that we assumed before. Especially when everyone else around us are engaged in the same behavior. It is this kind of thing that can help to make doubts more convenient for our lives. Now I am not saying that this is always the case but I think that it is a possibility that we must always consider when interacting with a person’s doubts.

  14. I love this prescriptive scripture summation for ourselves and on others behalf: build up faith; keep on; pray; wait; have mercy; have fear; snatch others out; rest assured; worship and glory God!

    “beloved, building ourselves up on our most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep ourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:20-25

  15. Michael, this an excellent article that needs broad dissemination. I’ll do my little part on Facebook in a minute. I would encourage you to unpack another reason for disillusionment to which you gave brief reference…the church makes many pronouncements about “relationship with God,” and our “worship” at times seems composed of nothing else. But in our heart of hearts, there are those (I am one) who cannot honestly characterize our experience as ever having “met” or engaged in any two-way interchange with God. It’s easy to wonder whether we’ve been sold a bill of goods, or whether everyone around us is under a mass delusion.

    Put another way, it’s not only intellect, but also intellectually-honest examination of emotions and experience, that can lead one to question the validity of the whole show.

  16. Thanks, Michael! I am a big believer in teaching apologetics to anyone who will listen, churched and unchurched alike. I struggle with the tension between good old preaching of the Word and addressing the intellectual barriers to faith. In our post modern world, I believe both are necessary. I would love to see more pastors incorporate apologetics into the teaching and preaching of the Church.

  17. Michael in the OP: {{In their thinking the intellect has become legitimized and the church is therefore an illegitimate contender for their mind.}}

    I’ll suppose based on the rest of your article that what you meant was that, in their thinking, since the church has (to them, however this came about) never legitimized the intellect, and since now they realize the intellect is legitimate, therefore the church is an illegitimate contender for their mind. If the church had taught them that the intellect is legitimate, the church could have been a legitimate contender.

    So for example,

    Michael in the OP: {{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. […] 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. […] [R]outing people theologically by presenting the intellectual viability of the Evangelical faith must be top on the priority list… The solution: to reform our educational program in the church. To lay theological foundations through critical thinking. […] Without these, the epidemic of leaving Christ will only worsen.}}

    But as you note in the article, some people in the church would say instead that the intellect is not sufficiently legitimate to seriously question church teaching and reach answers pro or con; thus contributing to the problem this young lady and others have experienced.

    Michael in the comments to another post on accepting Calvinist soteriology even though Michael himself doesn’t see how it logically adds up: {{Again, think Trinity and you will see what I mean. Can you rationally understand the Trinity? If you can, you have just entered heresy. […]We will redefine neither divine election nor human freedom to make them fit a more rational or logical system.}}

    For example.

  18. If you yourself teach people to disregard commonly legitimate signs that a mistake is being made somewhere, then who exactly is contributing to the problem that people in the church are being taught to disregard intellectual challenges, leaving them vulnerable to frustration because they are not finding the answers?

    In one post you tell people in regard to Calvinistic salvation doctrines, “I don’t know. You just have to believe.” And then when people answer saying, wait a minute, why do we have to accept it’s true despite apparent logical problems, why can’t we go with something that doesn’t seem to have logical problems, your answer is that such questions are in effect unchristian: it’s heresy (you think and teach) to rationally understand the Trinity, so readers should by that example see what you mean about doubting Calv salvation logic.

    This causes great discouragement in the life of the person as they begin to see that their questions and concerns are either illegitimate or are legitimate enough not to have an answer among those who should. 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 now (technically) unwarranted story about trinitarian theology and salvation (technically unwarranted because teachers deny warrant by not providing it and shutting down inquiry into providing coherent warrant). In their thinking the intellect has become legitimized — which you seem to agree is actually proper — but intellectual challenge is denied legitimacy (as you yourself do on some important doctrinal topics), therefore the church is an illegitimate contender for their mind.

    Such people will either look for answers elsewhere (perhaps finding different answers along the way that what they’ve been taught they should and must accept), or become apathetic to finding the answers, believing the answers don’t exist.

  19. A very important article, I’m glad you wrote.

    It is implied that no conversation had occurred between the woman and her fellow church-goers. Maybe she directly stated that in your conversation, maybe just implied it. It would have been a shame if she kept her concerns to herself and not reached out for answers that may have been addressed at an early stage and possibly nipped them in the bud. But a greater shame if, having been confronted with questions, the church couldn’t have found one wise soul to listen with patience to the concerns and responded without judgement but with gentle guidance as Jesus would have done, realizing that it would not be up to him to bring her full fellowship with Christ but the power of the Spirit that is capable through him. I’ve seen too many ham handed approaches by “pastors” that have the opposite intended effect. If Shepherds just let God work through them as they would want Him to instead of their own pride they might find themselves more effective, and perhaps more of these “leavers” would stay.

    Lastly, it seems in the many churches of my experience there was less time for for God talk as there was for people talk. So it isn’t too surprising she got too the point of departure.

  20. To clarify I’m very much a gung-ho hyper-orthodox trinitarian Christian apologist. But if I don’t recognize the principle right of other people to reject what I’m teaching if they think I’m making a mistake in my data and/or logic somewhere, then my apologetics are not a legitimate contender for their mind, because I would not be allowing a fundamental respect for truth over ideology. People must be free to respect the truth more than to respect my ideology, and so to reject me where they think they see me in error, even if they happen to be the ones who are wrong. (And after all, I might really be making the mistake, which they’re rightly perceiving!)

  21. Going back to that prior post as the example again:

    You (Michael) were at the point where you agreed that the Bible clearly teaches:

    1.) God has the capability of successfully saving whomever He intends to save from sin;

    and

    2.) God has the intention (as a factor of His love for all persons for example) to save all sinners from sin;

    It should have been time then to:

    a.) re-examine just how clearly the Bible teaches that some sinners will never be saved by God from their sins;

    b.) re-examine just how clearly the Bible teaches one of the other two positions;

    c.) re-examine if the Bible is falsely muddled when it comes to soteriology.

    Sceptics go with (c) (or become sceptics thereby, about soteriology at least).

    Christian universalists (like myself) find (a) faulty on closer examination, and even find the opposite testified: God successfully saves all sinners eventually from sin. (Not necessarily from punishment first, but from sin.)

    Arminians find (b) faulty and reject (1) (by denying God’s competency) or (2) (by denying God persists in this intention, choosing to drop His intention to save sinners after some point even though He could in principle continue to success. Or perhaps He stops trying for everyone after a point, leaving success or failure entirely up to His servants and/or natural coincidence).

    Calvinists also find (b) faulty and reject (2), although in a different way than (2)-rejecting Arminians do. Calvs may (or may not) affirm that God still somehow loves those whom He chooses not to even try to save from sin, but He didn’t love them THAT much and in any case never even intended to try.

    “Punting to mystery”, as you called your deferment in the other thread, in a fashion that shut down any further inquiry to resolving the problem later (it can’t be rationally resolved and it’s heretical to even try), is exactly the kind of discouraging behavior you’re criticizing for leading people like your young woman out of the church.

  22. The issue is that many in church leadership are hypocrites. Moreover, the most recent reformed movement has produced a set of church leaders who abuse their “power” and lord over people by writing them off as non-believers or not educated enough in doctrine if people have questions or don’t agree with what they say. I was gearing up with others to go plant a church and leave my position as a biochemist here at the university when I had a few logistical questions and the pastor and elder overseeing it all went off. Now months removed and upon logical review of the situation I realize that what we are dealing with is people who claim to be educated or “called” to church leadership who are just power hungry and in it to find a pathetic way to raise money through “support” raising. You see the issue is there isnt a litmus test for the church leaders, there is no way to accurately judge who should and shouldn’t be. If there was someone please explain then how the current state of the church is so decrepit? The church likes to put itself in a special category that isnt compared to other businesses or organizations. i.e. In any business if the failure rate or return on investment was as low as it is in the church people would be fired. Instead what we see in the church are tyrant pastors and elders who are prideful looking to settle scores and push agendas that have no logical lineage of thought. Thus, the majority of young people are leaving the church because leaders are not held accountable and cannot be questioned. The only argument, even the one made in this article, is that if you leave depression and indecisiveness follows. As if that threat is enough to keep people around. Sad, very sad and pitiful counterargument. People who question will never be accepted into the church because its leaders are not capable enough to handle the questions. As a result of the next 20 to 10 years the church as you know it will cease to exist.

  23. OP: Over 31 million Americans are saying “check please” to the church and are off to find answers elsewhere.

    I think this is key. I can understand their doubts and disillusionment with Christianity but too often I don’t think they have considered the alternatives to Christianity. They will either find they end up out of the frying pan into the fire or bury their heads in the sand and not think about what they actually believe. In my opinion there are no rational alternatives to Christianity. When I teach Sunday schools to kids and adult but especially the kids, I train them to ask questions and even questions they are afraid to ask because they think it might be inappropriate. You are right, part of the problem with so many leaving the faith is because no one has confronted them and help them think through these hard questions.

  24. Truth Unites... and Divides February 22, 2013 at 11:54 am

    (1) How much of this young woman’s rejection a head thing, and how much of it is a heart thing? Frequently, what people say is a matter of a lack of Christian intellect is oftentimes a mask for a hardened heart.

    (2) When I was examining the foundations and underpinnings of the Christian faith (which was before the age of the internet) there was a wealth of resources (apologetics and theological) available for me. I had a brain and I could read.

    I didn’t restrict myself to talking to Christians who didn’t know very much, nor did I make sweeping statements about “the Church.”

    Thanks CMP for talking with this woman, and praying for her or with her.

  25. “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 and Santa Claus. ”

    This is exactly what happened to a friend of mine. I think he first started moving away from the faith because of shame and embarrassment he felt among his non-believing friends. He would frequently complain about how other Christians acted that insulted or embarrassed him. I lost touch with him shortly after this for several years, so I’m unclear exactly how he lost his faith, but I know he began reading a lot of material that was skeptical of the Christian faith.

    When we finally reconnected many years later, he was very bitter… and that seemed to be his primary complaint — that he was duped. That the church brainwashed him into believing a fairy tale. And he would frequently post anti-religious stuff on Facebook… not just “liking” articles, etc. . . but very antagonistic status updates. He eventually stopped. . . partially because I think he realized that many of us old Christian friends who reconnected with him, weren’t befriending him simply to try to re-convert him.

  26. Thank you for great article. This re-affirmed what I already agreed to this statement:

    “We do not exclude anyone because of any matter of honest theological disagreement among members of the Church. Our church body is not connected because we all have same theological views. We align ourselves with a common vision and mission to expand the Kingdom of God.”

    Unfortunately, the leadership of that church has twisted that statement from “Honest theological disagreement among members” to “honest theological disagreement in areas of important or peripheral beliefs.” That means I would be forced to agree to their core beliefs of that church.

    That means the church would not allow me to express differing thoughts and I am being honest, that made me want to leave that church.

    Again, thank you for the post!

  27. Maybe she has doubts because she examined Christianity and found it wanting. Many Christians actually believe that all the animials we have on earth now came from thos that were on an Ark. Many don’t believe in a form of evolution and are still quoting very poor theories to dispute evolution. Many Christians still think that the Bible is without error. Maybe this young lady decided to read a little and think on her own. I am a Christian but the things many Christians teach are just antiquated. And then there is the whole how are you saved thing. Are you saved by God for some unkown reason or is it by faith? The whole system we call Christianity needs an overhaul. It is not truth that is changing just the way we interpret the truth. An outrageous claim? Read the history of Bible interpretation.

  28. I find the reference to heretical thought quite illuminating in an above comment. When honest intellectual questioning is shut down under the umbrella of “heresy,” then avenues to truth are cut off, and the social fear of excommunication and shunning kicks in. If all avenues were left open, the emotional, social aspects would not figure so prominently. However, I think that strict intellectual inquiry along scientific lines must inevitably lead to disbelief in the material reality of Deity, since such a concept can’t be proven materially under strict scientific preconditions.

    In my view, the Church errs in trying to compete in the scientific and material realms, as its entire basis is nonmaterial and based in spiritual and ethical concerns. One branch of apologetics that particularly irritates me is presuppositionalism, which inserts the necessity for God as a precondition for rational thought. There is no legitimate reason to do this beyond a need to create legitimacy from whole cloth for nonmaterial deity in the material realm.

  29. Intense! I heard of Christ in the 80’s. One thing I found hard to take was the dishonesty of many christians. Why is it hard to take? Because if we are really serious about Christ, we will be people of inward truth, which means of ALL people, we should be willing and able to dig deeper without fear. But often we don’t. We talk Spirit but walk flesh. Which brings me to a seriously important divide. Michael, you talked of her issues being FOUNDATIONAL. Right on. The ” i see that hand, your’re saved if you followed me in the sinner’s prayer” kind of evangelism is a departure from the biblical doctrine of the need for Spirit generated conviction of sin and repentance. You can now get saved without either in most evangelical churches. Tozer called it Christless crossless christianity and spoke of how men may now exercise faith without a jar to their rmoral life. I attended a large pentecostal church . We once had a speaker who told somewhat proudly of how he led a football jock to the Lord by telling him that God wanted to quarterback his life! How insulting to the King of Kings! One of my more recent pastors would preach stuff about how God puts dreams in our hearts and wants to make our dreams come true, bless us, give us the desires of our hearts, etc. He fell into serious sin, no doubt related to his man centeredness There is a difference between the kind of dream that originates from a heart attuned to self and one attunded to the heart of God. I get her , I think. She was right in that she was saying that what she was seeing didn’t line up with what she was taught. Sadly she didn’t realize that she was reacting correctly to a counterfeit gospel; mind set on flesh produces death. modern christianity bears little resemblance to classic biblical christianity because it has embraced the world and its man made teachings and left Christ and His word.

  30. It would be interesting to track these that “walk away” from Christ and see what happens to them.

    I’m of the opinion that most of them get significantly disappointed with God not doing something for them or protecting them from something bad that happened to them. That disappointment turns to anger and leads to bitterness cutting them off from the operation of grace in their lives (Heb 12). While we should be sympathetic with their pain and emotional stress, they like all of us, must decide to humble themselves in spite of their pain. I think that is where God leads all of us eventually. He has no such plan for those that are not His.

    I agree that we need to teach young people more foundational truth and show them early on how to practice it in real life situations. But I also know we should not give into their sinful demandingness because God didn’t come through for them on their terms.

  31. AS so much of “Christianity” is based on what ‘we do’ or what ‘we ought not be doing’…you’ll end up with basically two kinds of Christians…the prideful…or the despairing.

    The despairing are very likely to dump the whole project overboard. Or they will become phonies and tough it out.

  32. Hi Michael,

    I find it a bit strange that amongst all the reasons you outline you don’t mention the character of God as one of the possible reasons. Why is that? I don’t have your level of contact with lots of people but whenever I’ve spoken with people about God/Jesus I try to ask the question “explain to me about the kind of God you don’t believe in?”. Many times it’s the god of Calvin, or aspects thereof, that comes forth and one can only say “well, I wouldn’t believe in that kind of god either!” So, I mention that for full disclosure.

    I am not really trying to “bash” your beliefs or start one of the usual arguments. However, I think my point is that Calvinism does have some challenges to overcome in this area. It’s pretty much “all or nothing” when it comes to Calvinism and it’s rather a complex system to understand. Calvinism is a bit like coffee, it’s an acquired taste and it it seems one has to either grow up within a community that believes it or to spend quite a bit of time learning about it.

    You also say that one of the answers is to “to lay theological foundations through critical thinking”. As someone that has engaged with Calvinists in a couple of average evangelical churches I don’t really see much openness to critical thinking. There’s very little honest engagement with those of different views other than arguments.

    There’s not much of “yes, we’re all on a journey and here’s where I am at, and I respect where you are at, let’s serve Jesus and our fellow man together and be friends while we have a conversation about these things…”. The level of hostility within the Calvinist community against those that disagree with them is astounding. Of course, this is only my experience but it’s usually more or less “if you’re not for us, you’re against us” and one is viewed with suspicion. I am speaking as one that hold to Armenian/Open Theism views. “Critical thinking” and “Calvinists” seems very contradictory.

  33. Truth Unites... and Divides February 22, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Sadie Heilemann: “One branch of apologetics that particularly irritates me is presuppositionalism, which inserts the necessity for God as a precondition for rational thought.”

    That’s too funny. I like the various branches of apologetics, including and particularly presuppositionalism.

    Oh well.

  34. One question your post never addresses…

    How does one who has the one true God as Lord of his/her reasoning manage to reason his/her way OUT of that position?

    – SD

  35. I am sickened by the commenters here who so clearly put their cherished doctrinal treasures ahead of compassion and merciful consideration for the person’s soul. Your arrogance and myopic hearesy is clear to all but you. There are often serious doubts that need to be dealt with. And there is a way to be true to Truth in love; full of grace and truth. You should look for that or resolve to keep your comments to yourself. That’s exactly what’s driving so many away. (And I do recognize and regret the irony of this post)

  36. “That’s too funny. I like the various branches of apologetics, including and particularly presuppositionalism.”

    Maybe my limited exposure to it has been a major source of irritation? In the back-and-forths I’ve listened to and read, it inevitably leads to a circular argument that resolves nothing and wastes time, leading only to the idea that we can’t really know anything for sure, unless God is inserted and understood to be the rock beyond perceptual relativism. But one could use an actual rock, I suppose.

  37. Although you gave a passing salute to Calvinism you say these people leave Christ. I would prefer to say they have fallen away from the faith and they may have a myriad of excuses for doing so. It sounds that many fall away from faith over some problem with a person or people who are “Christians”. (1 Tim 4:1-2) They may fall away but do they leave Christ? Is Christ the issue? If he is, it would seem they are much like those in John 6:66-69. They may not be believers at all, never were. Who among the true brethren leaves Christ. None!

  38. As a pastor, with a teenaged son graduating this year, and wrestling with these same issues, all I can say is, thanks so much for your message.

  39. Michael, I really like this analysis and could see using it sometime. Just two suggested refinements as you develop these thoughts in the future:

    Do you think that maybe Stage 5 could better be divided in two? (or stage 4 and 5 divided into 3.) I think many reach “Departure” who don’t later go on to be “evangelistic” nonbelievers. Rather, they stay in “apathy,” exept an apathy outside the church and faith rather than inside. So maybe those stages could be clarified.

    Another area which could be clarified is the intellect vs. emotion axis. I agree with your conclusion about the battle for the intellect and how the church has largely abrogated our duty there. It runs against the grain of the age we live in, where intellect is downplayed and story and emotion are lifted up. I think very few church leaders would agree with you, at least not in *practice,* that “presenting the intellectual viability of the [evangelical Christian] faith… is foundational to everything else.” I *almost* agree, but I see it more as twin foundations: head and heart go hand in hand. When someone truly meets Jesus, when they are soundly converted, as one commenter described, they may or may not be asking the intellectual questions at that time. I guess that’s why it’s tempting to neglect them. But the foundation of intellectual understanding needs to be laid along with the foundation of heart experience.

    Something in your story about the young woman struck me: she belt *betrayed* – which is a deep-cutting emotion – because had been (she thought) *duped* – which is an intellectual idea. I think it’s the interplay of heart and head there which is so powerful. So keep exploring that. Thank you for discussing this issue with those who follow your work!

  40. I have several problems with this article. However, there is one issue I would like to raise . A relationship with Christ is based on faith. Ultimately it is faith that is the foundation for our relationship with God and faith that maintains that foundation.

    The Christian is a “believer”. He/she knows (if they know anything about faith at all) that none of us have all the answers, but that trust in God assures us that the answers are there, that there is “evidence of things not seen”.

    Of course, we try to give doubters the best biblical, theological, philosophical and even scientific answers we can, but finding a true “resting place” still depends on faith.

    This article, to me, seems to give the impression that “staying with Christ” rests on always having acceptable and accessible answers, and that persons are somehow justified in “leaving Christ” when answers are not readily available, when the fact of the matter is that if we had, our could have all the answers there would be no need for “faith”.

    Doubt, in my view, is inextricably bound up with believing. And doubt is not a bad thing at all. Genuinely converted persons often harbor serious doubts, but are buoyed by the truth that God is “bigger than our doubts”.

    I am not saying that we should not give doubters at the departure gate with ticket in hand reasons not to “leave Christ”; but among our answers should be the biblical encouragement that “the just shall live by faith.”

  41. @Craig: Often theology really does matter, especially biblical theology. Simply, I am a Calvinist, and you are an Arminian, and salvation is always really God’s! And real saving grace is efficacious and effectual, and again perseverance is the gift of God’s Perseverance.. of God with the Redeemed!

    I noted no one said a word about the Parable of the Sower! Pretty plain, but full of GOD’s “mystery”!

  42. @Steve Skeete,

    Personally, I find these sort of comments very unhelpful. You’re right that ultimately, we have to make a “leap of faith” — in the sense that we cannot know with absolute certainty that what we believe (or hope to believe) is true… and at some point we have to just hope and trust that its true.

    But, I can tell you that if my own faith was not built on at least some amount of sound reason and/or historic witness, I doubt very much I could (or really should) maintain that faith. It would seem foolish. If we weren’t speaking of Christ and the Christian faith, I assume you would feel the same way if someone told you that they worshiped the flying spaghetti monster because “they just had faith” that he was real and worthy of worship.

    And if someone stopped believing in the spaghetti monster because they felt there was reasonable reason to believe in him, I doubt you would “have a problem” with it.

    As someone who wants certitude in all things, it took my a long time to finally be ok with resting in my faith and hope that Christ is my Lord. But I can tell you that if at any time that belief became intellectually impossible, I have no doubt that my faith and hope would die with my intellectual reasoning.

  43. @Phil Long: I guess this is shot my way? But again, we simply must be biblical and theological! I am not an “Ivory Tower” priest/presbyter, I work mostly now (semi-retired) as a hospital chaplain.. (but I am an old “theolog” too). But sadly many of this new generation are simply not challenged by the Gospel “Kerygma” (message) itself! Again the Parable of the Sower!

    Btw, it is hard to bring the Gospel to a generation of the biblically llliterate!

  44. Kenneth R Fountain Emeritus Professor of chemistryr February 22, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Glad to see someone with the same burden I’ve had for over 30 yrs.
    I advise beginning with heuristic arguments, and sound bottom-up thinking. We have loads of top-down thinking from those anti- people, but real science is founded on bottom-up thought. Phenomenon first, then theory!

  45. Is this my daughter?

  46. Judeo-Christianity has always been 0ntological, i.e. the metaphysics of the doctrine of being and man’s ultimate substance, which is at the essence of what St. Paul says is “spirit and soul and body” (1 Thess. 5: 23)…spirit-soul, “bipartite”. The doctrine or teaching of phenomenology, i.e. phenomena without any attempt at metaphysical explanation has only a secondary place for the Christian life. The former, is also part of the Jewish Hellenism, and the Greco-Roman of the Apostles Doctrine, Acts 2: 42, etc.

  47. @Greg: The Judeo-Christianity IS “top-down first.. “spirit and truth”! :)

  48. I have not read all the responses so I do not know if I am covering ground already covered by others.

    It seems that while the argument that the church has not done its job in responding to this or that question, there are other variables a foot. (take for example a man like Frank Schaeffer (son of apologist Francis Schaeffer) – Frank clearly grew up in a home with a robust theology, and a dad who would by nature, seek to address questions. But Frank has shed his faith, at least in terms I can understand.

    Other options:

    Parental Sin (or Community sin) which pollutes or distorts the gospel message.

    The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life…in which a persons own sin hardens him against the witness of the Spirit.

    or finally
    The questions that the doubting person is asking are credible, and the answers he or she might be given ARE and always will be inadequate.

    You will know, this article hits a nerve. This is my house, my daughter.

    We are aware of the many ways we have not represented Christ well before our children. We also see devilry underfoot. And then there are some questions that my daughter asks, that I am not satisfied with the answers (or non-answers being given). By me, or anyone else.

  49. Kirk,

    So why not share “The questions that the doubting person is asking “; that your daughter, and others have? There have been a lot of people commenting here. Perhaps some may have insight into some of the questions and be able to help you with the answers. It has bothered me from the start that no one seems to know the basis of the young lady’s feelings of betrayal; and yet there is a great debate about people leaving the church. Let’s forget the theories and postulates and maybe and deal with some concrete issues. What are the problems that people are having? (in their own words.)
    A lot of this reminded me of research discussions with a professors discussing the what ifs and theories, and no one actually going in the lab and doing the experiment. What are the issues people bring up and how have they been so hurt by them that they want to turn their backs on God? Surely, that is the issue. That is the data we need, not discussions about whether they were really saved or not. Why are they hurting?

  50. I Pet 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

    This sums it up. We should be filled with the Spirit of God and His word so we can give a reason of the hope within us. I will be praying for this young lady and others you encounter. We have Christ and He is our wisdom in time of need. I pray He reveals Himself to them and they will call on His sweet name.

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    […] Leaving (Christ)ianity. “Leaving (Christ)inanity is one of the most serious issues facing the Church today. Right under our noses, an epidemic is confronting Christianity— the “disease” of unbelief spreading among our very own. The ironic fact is that there is a great assembly of people in our churches who are somewhere in the process of leaving. No, I am not talking about them leaving one denomination, only to join another Christian group. I am not talking about abandoning some institutionalized notion of Christianity. I am not even talking about the explicit renunciation of their expressed beliefs. I am talking about those who are leaving Christ (And this is coming from a Calvinist who does not believe that those who are truly elect will ever leave).” […]