The Deconversion of Christians

Do you ever miss being a Christian?”

“No,” replied Anthony B. Pinn comfortably.

In an online story by The ChristianPost, Leonardo Blair relates the deconversion of a professor of humanities and religion at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Deconversion is a strange-sounding new word to Christians. We’re familiar with conversion. But deconversion? It’s defined as a loss of faith or leaving one’s religion for another religion, or no religion at all.

Professor Pinn professes “no longer being a Christian doesn’t mean that I’m without ritual, without community, that I’m without relationship or without a sense of awe. I continue to have a sense of awe, but it’s secular. I walk outside and I’m baffled by the beauty. I think about life even from an evolutionary perspective and it creates a sense of awe that we are here.”

Pinn reports that his deconversion wasn’t an “aha! moment,” but a “slow build” over a period of years.

Pinn’s loss of faith is reflected in a recently released study by the Pew Research Center that said the number of those who identify as Christians has dropped to 65 percent. And the number of those who identify as “religiously unaffiliated,” which includes atheists, agnostics, and people who don’t identify with any religion, has swelled to 26 percent of the population. That’s a drop of 12% of those identifying as Christians in the last 10 years. The change, Pew noted, was particularly high among young adults.

Blair writes in the Post that “millions of Americans who were once committed Christians have continued to increasingly disengage with their religion in recent decades, and churches have been struggling with the culture shift in which there are no absolute answers.”

While not as dramatic in terms of denying the existence of God and turning to humanism, the problem of deconversion is increasingly growing among the fellowship of churches of Christ in the past decade. It is been troubling to personally see young people who’ve grown up in Christian homes turning away from “the faith once delivered unto the saints.”

While this trend is perplexing, it’s important to realize that it’s not new. The apostle Paul spoke of those in the first century who once were believers but had “made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Tim. 1:9). He also spoke of Demas who had forsaken him and the Lord because he “loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). And he even warned the Ephesian elders that some spiritual shepherds would arise “speaking perverse things,” distorting the truth, and would “draw away disciples after them” (Ax 20:28-30).

In his parable of the Seed and Sower, Jesus reminds us that tribulation, persecution, the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches can choke out the Word. And of course, some are not properly grounded in the first place. Their faith is not deeply rooted in Truth and so they fall away.

Of course, this offers little comfort to those who’ve seen young people in their families and church families “depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits” (1 Tim. 4:1).

It reminds us not to take our young people for granted just because they’ve grown up in Christian homes. To recognize that each person’s faith is personal and individual. It cannot be inherited or inborn. Faith comes through the seed of God’s Word. It must be nurtured and nourished. Spiritually cultivated. Watered. And fertilized.

Furthermore, it’s important to teach new converts not only what we believe, but why we believe it. To provide answers to difficult questions. To patiently deal with doubts. To establish the authority of the Bible. To speak the Truth in love. To ground them in the Truth of God’s Word instead of the traditions of our church. And to fortify their faith in Christ rather than American customs.

All of this points to the Truth of the second part of Jesus’ Great Commission– “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20).

Conversion does NOT end with baptism. It really just begins. Discipleship is not an event, but an ongoing process.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

I would love to hear from my readers regarding this issue. Why do you think we’re seeing so many deconversions today? And what can we do to minimize it?

29 Comments

Filed under Discipleship

29 responses to “The Deconversion of Christians

  1. Nancy

    Begin everyday by nourishing my own spirit in the Lord. Get up early enough to be able to spend time in prayer, bible study, and meditation.

    Prioritize my own service to God for today, beginning with my own worship, and my own service to God. Pray for family members and brethren, and then determine to do whatever I can do today for those having physical or spiritual needs.

    Make sure I’m doing right before God before instructing any others.

  2. Glynda Matteo

    The big problem AND the big fix is exposure: one hour of exposure a week to God’s beauty, grace, power and extreme awesomeness just won’t stand against the other 167 hours a week embroiled in secular activities and influences. We have to somehow get these deconverts to devote more time to assembly, prayer and good works.

  3. Larry Hafley

    We can minimize it by speaking the truth in love.  But, “in love” for what?    

  4. K Winters

    The realization that what young people are taught in church isn’t consistently applied to all aspects of life by the spiritual leaders we grew up admiring is like an earthquake to a foundation of faith. Especially in recent years, the shock factor of seeing the “spiritual heroes” of our youth express and justify anti-immigrant ideas, racially/culturally insensitive sentiments, and proudly align themselves with a man who claims to be a Christian yet is the epitome of a wolf in sheep clothing is immense. The justification of the ideas because it’s politics-not religion-only amplifies the effects. As a Christian youth, I didn’t feel the concept of love and humility we were taught was to be separate from political laws and policies. To see others say “I believe this,” but “I live & vote like that” makes us question “What’s the point?” When our non-Christian role-models express a better example of humility and generosity, it makes us want to take a step back and consider if anyone in the world is going to be saved. To see people who have spent enough hours to account for decades of their life sitting in church express such disregard for other souls is baffling. If the strongest leaders of the faith can’t express love to strangers, but these non-spiritual people can, the Christian youth can’t help but ask what are we doing here?

    • Thank you, K, for taking the time to read my blog post and offer a response. While you observations definitely have merit and identify the failings of some leaders, this is certainly not true of all spiritual leaders. Sadly, though some have thought politics and politicians are the answer to the world’s ills rather than Jesus Christ. Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. David Huff

    It’s not the hours we are exposed to the secular, but the speed and variety at which the secular can influence. The internet is a great tool and a great evil and minds are immersed more than ever in the secular because of it and our numbers decline.

  6. Laura Elliott Johnson

    I think we fail to equip kids to defend their own faith (nevermind Christianity, in total). Our children MUST be trained in more than the Bible. More kids than ever are going to universities and losing their faith as they confront, for the first time, philosophies, worldviews, science, and religions that they don’t have the “arguments” against. Highly intelligent people, capable of cogent argumentation, believe these things. We certainly need to instill Biblical knowledge; we also need to ground them in understanding others pov and being able to create logical arguments. They should have heard as many of the “opposition” arguments and effective refutation as is possible. Build their defense–not just their offense.

  7. Chuck Richardson

    Besides the deep devotional study habits of individuals and families, directed by the father, we need to ask ourselves why we don’t spend time with christians as described in the first century? {Acts 2:46; 5:42; Hebrews 3:13}

  8. Chuck Richardson

    With your permission I want to print this in our bulletin this week.

    • Chuck. Yes. Here is my standard answer less than under the FAQ on my site. 1. May I reprint your blog post in our church bulletin?

      This is a often asked question, and the answer is “of course!” I appreciate being asked, but we are always happy for these posts to be reprinted and circulated to accomplish as much good as possible. Please reprint the post in its entirety. And we ask that in addition to the author attribution that you site the source as http://www.ThePreachersWord.com

      • Chuck Richardson

        I plan to print it in its entirety with no additional comments. I will give credit to the author.

  9. Ken, my older brother has done this, and he was no neophyte. He’s in his mid-fifties, and, like me, grew up “in the church,” as we say. He was a preacher for many years, eventually ending up as a “pastor” in the Methodist church – in all, nearly 40 years in ministry. A couple of years ago, he said, “I can’t do this any more.” He said God had never answered his prayers, and he was giving up. He quit his job, left his wife, and became a very verbal atheist and humanist. There’s pretty much nothing you can tell him that he doesn’t know about the Bible and Christianity. He even has a Masters of Divinity degree. Not everyone who “deconverts” is young or a new Christian.
    I believe our colleges and universities – even seminaries and religious based schools – are actually contributing to this problem. People are being urged to reconsider their faith in terms of “critical thinking” – which is the new god that Christianity is being left for. I had a serious conversation with my younger daughter before she left for college, not to be roped into this anti-God concept.
    Well, this is longer than I meant it to be… guess you struck a nerve.
    Amy

    • Amy, I agree. “I believe our colleges and universities-even seminaries and religious based schools – are actually contributing to this problem.”

      Critical thinking examines and assumes scripture is written without “faith based” constructions and testimonies. When a man, a community, crippled by prejudice notices and rivets their attention on Peter and John standing beside “the Gate” the beautiful precious Gate named Jesus suddenly leaps for joy, critical thinking gets in the way. A critical thinker sees one male person who is crippled from birth by a biological disability. Then the critical thinker discounts this faith based account told in Acts 3:5. S/he will insist that it is very rare for anyone to suddenly overcome a biological disability just by looking at Peter and John standing beside and for Jesus. The critical thinker will go on and say…but this man’s ankles and his feet got stronger. In contrast a faith based person would see the man’s ankles as the joints that keep the community standing and able to travel and do business in the world.

  10. Jim Grushon

    I believe the reason Paul gave in Romans one is still true. People do not want to retain God in their minds. Acknowledging a creator with inherent authority means I must answer to someone other than myself. Rejection of God is the same thing as making ourselves God, and that will never change.

    • Good point Jim. Thanks for reading my blog and for taking time to respond

    • Acknowledging a creator is a tough one if you are an orphan. People who feel excluded from the economy or the social livelihood of life may think of themselves as orphans. They may find it hard to see and feel how the micro creator works in a macro creator eternal functioning universe. Yet for many believers, tapping into that creator message inside them is as easy as tapping into the data in one’s cell phone. If one does not have access to a password or a support network who can help one retrieve the password…the want to be believer can doubt and scoff and reject any belief in God or turn to megalomania or self aggrandizing themselves through many different avenues. Doubters thought Jesus was a megalomaniac and a blasphemer.

  11. Kevin

    We have a real need for teaching Christian Evidence. Many of us believed because our parents were believers. Those Christian examples are great but in this day and time we need to focus on the evidence of God, His creation and His word. Our faith should not be a “Blind” faith but a faith based on real facts. Thanks for all your writings.

  12. My thinking is that one such as Prof. Pinn, IF he was ever truly a Christian, slowly “self-enlightened” himself out of being one. And being in the “godless” environment of an university no doubt exacerbated his coming to this current condition.

    I dare to say that Pinn’s new (secular) community is academia, and his new “relationship” is that of peer approval – of which he admits, he stands in “awe”.

    The reasons for one to depart from the faith are many. One observation I will point out is that the “young adults” in the churches of Christ were taught little, and their teachings and practices were based more on “traditions” (what has been done in the past), rather than instruction being provided from “book,. chapter, & verse”. These “young adults” were never given the Biblical answers, so their conviction came to be – there are no “absolute answers”!

    To add insult to the injury, we sent the “young adults” to the environment of universities… who have people like Pinn teaching them !

  13. ranger

    Conversion does NOT end with baptism. It really just begins. Discipleship is not an event, but an ongoing process.

    This really says it all

    GREAT ARTICLE AS USUAL;

  14. Brother, this was a great post but a hard read. It is so challenging to maintain the joy of salvation let alone to share that joy in teaching others to truly convert them. Eye opening. Thank you!!!

  15. “Pinn reports that his deconversion wasn’t an “aha! moment,” but a “slow build” over a period of years.”………1998 grew seeds of disillusionment within myself with Christians and at the beginning of 1999 I committed spiritual suicide. Wanted nothing to do with anything about God…bible, church, tv, radio, music etc. but at the same time I knew better than to not indulge in willful acts of sin to fill that void. i.e sex, drugs, alcohol, occult.

    I had intense anger within.

    Then I had one the quote says but in the other direction. God slowly called me back and I could sense it inside. He pulled and when I kicked He stopped for a short time then pulled some me. I found myself eventually visiting some church, in time, but it was only getting a feel for the church again.

    Then a few years into this while out jogging I heard a voice speak to me the word ‘Seduction’ and it drove me into the bible. After this happened it seems that seed that died in me and was gently being watered by God got fertilized and I have become a different kind of Christian than what I was before. LIke a catepillar turning into a butterfly.

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