What do you make of someone who says, “I used to be a Christian. But I’m not anymore.”
De-conversions have become trendy in recent years with celebrities making headlines when they publicly “abandon the faith,” being celebrated by some while being vilified by others.
Christian celebrities like Joshua Harris, Kevin Max, Bart Campolo, and Jon Steingard, have made certain to go very public with their systematic deconstructing of their Christian faith. I don’t think any less of these men – they are still precious in God’s sight. I would enjoy sharing a warm beverage with any one of them and listening to their story. My sole purpose here is merely to, hopefully, help bring some understanding and theological context to this perplexing topic.
Every person who makes the decision to leave the Christian faith has reasons unique to their own personal spiritual journey. But, there does seem to be a common denominator: the Jesus of the Bible is too harsh, too restrictive, too narrow-minded. This, in turn, necessitates that a ‘de-convert’s’ faith evolve into that which fits their evolving worldview – a religious philosophy that is more comfortable, that “fits neatly into their politics and preferences.”
After his de-conversion, Kevin Max, using the present term, ‘exvangelical’, described himself as now:
“anti-war, pro-peace, anti-hate, pro-live, pro-LGBTQIA, pro-BLM, pro-open mindedness, anti-narrow mindedness, pro-utopia, anti-white nationalist agenda, pro-equality, pro-vax, pro-music, anti-1%rs, pro-poor, pro-misfit-pro-Jesus, etc…”
The topic of ‘de-conversion’ can, initially, be confusing. I mean, Max said he’s “anti-hate” and “pro-Jesus.” So, what’s the problem?
The problem is in one’s definition of Jesus. Jesus is pro-people, but not pro-human-agenda. While ‘de-converts’ like Max seek to please everyone, Jesus had no such message. The gospel, itself, is offensive. Jesus, himself, was offensive. God confronts and exposes our wicked hearts and disregard for God’s righteous standards.
People don’t like that. At all. They want their views to be not merely accepted, but celebrated. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveal Jesus didn’t operate that way.
All four biographies of Jesus in the New Testament trace the crowds’ escalating hatred for Jesus as he confronted and exposed their sin and taught them what it meant to truly follow him.
I heard a preacher once say, “Jesus had the ability to profoundly love and care for people while, simultaneously, profoundly disagree with their lifestyles.” Although this sounds like a winning combination, it wasn’t. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. Those people Jesus loved while not approving their lifestyles? They killed him.
He was too restrictive. Too harsh. Too narrow-minded. This is what John meant when he wrote, “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.”
The world rejected him then. The world rejects him now. Nothing has changed because human nature doesn’t change. And this is precisely why, when the “restrictive, harsh, narrow-minded” tenets of the gospel heat up, some choose to deconstruct and de-convert, in search of less uncomfortable pastures.
So, how can we make sense out of people who claim, “I’m no longer a Christian.”
Let’s take a quick look at what the Bible has to say about it.
Three quick biblical truths:
1) Almost certainly, they were never saved to begin with.
“But I heard them preach!”, you may counter. (Or share their faith, or teach, or write a book, or sing about their faith, etc.)
This begs the question, “Is it possible to appear to be a born-again Christian when you’re actually not?”
Jesus minced no words when he warned,
“Many will say to Me on that day [when I judge them], ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and driven out demons in Your name, and done many miracles in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them publicly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me [you are banished from My presence], you who act wickedly.”
So, yes, one can go through all the motions of the Christian faith – even do remarkable things – and, on Judgment Day, Jesus sentence them to hell.
To the ‘de-convert’, Jesus’ words cited in Matthew’s gospel, as well as throughout the gospels, are harsh, restrictive, and close-minded.
2) Following Jesus is hard.
“Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier in Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote to young Timothy.
This is the side of the gospel rarely preached. John, the disciple and eye-witness of Jesus, wrote, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” At least, for now.
So, it makes perfect sense that living a life devoted to Christ will certainly receive more than its share of push-back, sometimes hatefully. ”Indeed,” Paul warned, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
The gospel writers record story after story of Jesus’ followers (thousands of them) wanting ‘sizzle’, but no ‘substance.’ Or, to borrow Jesus’ own metaphor, they want to enter his kingdom through the ‘wide gate’ rather than the ‘narrow’ one.
The sizzle: they wanted the multiplied fish & loaves (free buffet), and their loves ones (or themselves) healed. They wanted a ‘nice Jesus,’ who would pat them on the head and then send them on their way to do whatever they felt like doing, regardless of what he said. But, in Christ we see the exact opposite. Remember when Jesus spoiled the ‘execution party’ of the Pharisees? Jesus didn’t say to the woman caught in adultery, “You’re safe now. Go and enjoy yourself.” Rather, he told her she was completely forgiven, but then added, “Now, go and leave your life of sin.”
The substance: they had zero interest in facing the suffering, loneliness, and persecution that sometimes accompanies following Christ. They scoffed at his hard teaching and commands. In the words of Bonhoeffer, they prefer ‘cheap grace’ over ‘costly grace.’
I played football and baseball in high school. Never once did I think it a good idea to approach my coaches and say, “Hey, I’d like to play on game day. But, I don’t think I’ll be at practices in the Texas heat. I’m gonna forgo the sprained ankles, stitches in my chin, and throwing up due to heat exhaustion.” (all of which I endured)
But that’s precisely what many people do where the Christian faith is concerned. “God will not be used as a convenience,” Uncle Screwtape wrote to his demon apprentice, Wormwood, in CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.
Chesterton was right:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
3) They completely missed what “placing one’s faith in Christ” actually means.
“The reason we’re seeing a tidal wave of ‘de-conversions’ is not due to any inadequacy with the biblical gospel, but because so many people have been binging on spiritual junk food for years and are now suffering from heart failure.”
It’s interesting – half the time it seems as if Jesus is trying to talk people out of following him. He didn’t pull any punches:
“If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross daily [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].
“If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Conclusion: Are there examples of de-conversion in scripture? Yes.
We all know the disciple, Judas. He spent three years with Jesus, himself. Witnessed the miracles. Heard his powerful teaching. Saw his boundless love. Judas played the part, and looked the part. He knew the ‘church lingo’ and, no doubt, helped teach people about Jesus. But, he missed altogether what following Christ meant. So, he de-converted.
But, there is another man you may not have heard of – a man who greatly helped Paul in ministry. His name was Demas. Watch the progression here. In each passage, Paul is writing from prison…
No, de-conversion is nothing new.
What Jesus had in mind was different than what Judas and Demas had in mind. So, they deconstructed their faith, de-converted, and moved on to a worldview that better fit their opinion of how things should go.
Do you know someone who’s de-converted/left the Christian faith? Love them. Pray for them. Be available should they someday like to visit about their journey. Be a good listener. Don’t preach. Be Jesus to them – the Jesus they didn’t quite see clearly before.
A Final Thought
Sure, de-conversion is trendy, radical, and counter-cultural (which always has a touch of ‘cool’ to it). But, consider these statements by Brett McCracken:
In a post-Christian and rapidly secularizing culture, deconstructing/de-converting isn’t a radical act. It’s just a normal thing that more and more people do… I want to suggest that the far more radical—and truly countercultural—choice isn’t to abandon Christian faith because it is maddening, difficult, and out of step with the contemporary zeitgeist. The radical choice is to keep the faith.
The full editorial by McCracken is linked for you here. It’s titled, ‘Deconversion is Not As Counter-Cultural As You Think.’