It would seem that many people are seeking to renounce their faith in a more official way. Reports out of England tell of over 100,000 people downloading a De-Baptism certificate. Yes, that is right. Read it for yourself—a certificate to make their departure from Christianity a black and white matter.
I have spilled quite a bit of ink here on the blog talking about the anatomy of those who leave their faith. I suppose, reluctantly, I will continue to do so.
I am a Calvinist. I believe very strongly in the perseverance of the saints, meaning I don’t believe that a true believer will ever walk away. Certainly there will be times of doubt, discouragement, and skepticism, but these, for the believer, are often times of significant growth. My sister, for example, died with a copy of Chuck Swindoll’s Day by Day in front of her. She was crying out to God with her last breath, but I believe that she was still hanging on (or, from God’s point of view, He was hanging on to her (Jn. 10:29)). But, when someone truly walks away from the faith, I believe that we, as a church, must assess the situation and take it very seriously. That is why I take the time I do to read stories of the deconverted, often at the brink of tears.
However, this does astonish me that people are going so far to denounce their faith. It implies not a peaceful departure, but a exodus in bitterness and resentment.
I have found that there is a particular process when people leave the faith and I think it is important to see this. Here is is:
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.
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.
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. 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 illegitimized and the church is therefore an illegitimate contender for their mind.
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.
Step Five: Departure
At this stage the fact that they have left the faith has become real to them and they are willing to announce 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.
It would seem that most of these are at stage five.
My life and my ministry is committed to one thing: rooting people theologically by presenting the intellectual viability of the Evangelical faith. 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 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.