Scot McKnight on deconversions

Scot’s blog shares some light on the recent celebrity deconversions from Christianity. I thought he did a good job, and certainly it is a common topic here as we deal with coming to grips with challenges to faith.


Interesting read. I think in a way he is right to say that every deconversion is also a conversion, at least in the sense that to stop believing one thing a person seemingly must start believing something contrary to it. But conversion concerns world views, not just specific beliefs. The real question is whether there are matters which are specifically religious in nature about which every person is obliged to hold beliefs of one sort or another. If so, I wonder what those are.

Thanks for sharing – I’ve been reading a lot about this in the past few weeks. This quote resonated:

In essence, those who leave the faith discover a profound, deep-seated, and existentially unnerving intellectual incoherence to the Christian faith. The faith that once held their life together, gave it meaning, and provided direction simply no longer makes sense. For such persons, the whole of life has to be reconstructed from the bottom up.

I bet this is why we can be so drawn to easy answers, and not just in Christianity – intellectual incoherence can be scary, and when we have a “theory of everything” that can answer all our questions, it makes the incoherence easier to bear.

For some reason it reminds me of a quote I read recently in Rachel Held Evans’s book “Faith Unraveled”:

The problem with fundamentalism is that it can’t adapt to change. When you count each one of your beliefs as absolutely essential, change is never an option. When change is never an option, you have to hope that the world stays exactly as it is so as not to mess with your view of it. I think this explains why some of the preachers on TV look so frantic and angry. For fundamentalists, Christianity sits perpetually on the precipice of doom, one scientific discovery or cultural shift or difficult theological question away from extinction. So fearful of losing their grip on faith, they squeeze the life out of it.


Thanks for sharing this article.
It describes ME perfectly.

In essence, those who leave the faith discover a profound, deep-seated, and existentially unnerving intellectual incoherence to the Christian faith. The faith that once held their life together, gave it meaning, and provided direction simply no longer makes sense. For such persons, the whole of life has to be reconstructed from the bottom up. Not all who experience this intellectual incoherence abandon their faith permanently.

What were the issues and ideas and experiences that precipitated their “crisis,” their walking away, and their quest for a new and different kind of life, one no longer related to that original faith?

Scripture in tension with what one believes Scripture is/ought to be – CHECK

Science and faith in a war with one another – CHECK

Christian hypocrisy – CHECK

Hell as taught: eternal conscious punishment/torture – CHECK

The God of the Bible (Old Testament usually) – CHECK although I had serious questions about the New Testament as well.

One thing I can say … when you do come back to the faith, you don’t come back to the same place you were prior to leaving. You come back with a totally different mindset, a totally different willingness to consider other viewpoints. I believe I came back with more compassion for those who question because I understand first hand WHY they’re questioning.

My wife, however, still has tremendous issues with believing that I’ve come back to the faith.


You mean Evolving in Monkeytown? It says a lot that the publisher felt compelled to rename the book.

This is actually good news, at least to my way of thinking. Tell us more.


Yeah, I think that title was catchier, but I can also see how it might have unfairly pigeonholed the book’s topic.

It’s more likely that the publisher, Zondervan, changed the title because it was hurting sales in evangelical bookstores. Publishers, not authors, have the final say on titles, and the only measuring stick is sales.

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Interesting topic and now it is 4 days since last reply but will comment anyway.
My wife and I were both raised as Catholics and now have come back to Christ as non-denominational Christians. We had an interesting discussion last weekend about whether I experienced a deconversion or were never converted in the first place. As a youth through most of high school I was a fervent believer and accepted everything in the Nicene Creed. But as a youth I was convinced that salvation was up to me as I had to avoid mortal sin as defined by the church. Living in the fear of damnation became overwhelming and so I had to let (this form) of Christianity go. I did believe, but alas I did not trust God for salvation. Did I go through a deconversion, or was I not converted in first place? Furthermore, IF as now I have faith in God (not just belief but also trust), can I be de-converted? If answer is NO, then perhaps all deconverstions, or falling away as it is sometimes called, is because a person really has not put their trust in God? “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” I suggest that there is NO true falling away. Just a lack of belief in the first place?

That’s interesting–you’re in good company. I believe in “Surprised by Joy,” C S Lewis noted that his tremendous fear of God and being unable to forever put himself in the right mindset led to his deconversion for a while.

@Ron0126 Lewis, too, came back to a very different view of God–through George Macdonald’s books–so it seems you have some parallels there, too. (Macdonald was somewhat of a universalist, in that he thought God would never give up till we were all reconciled with Him–but didn’t think that it would be free and easy). I think @jpm also mentioned elsewhere that we hope to be somewhat deconstructed–we have to make our beliefs and faith our own, too.


Welcome, Neal, glad you are here. You ask good questions, and different denominations give different answers. Most Baptist churches I’ve been in subscribe to the “once saved, always saved” view, with varying degrees of assuredness. It’s something I’m still wrestling with, so you’re not alone.


For what it is worth, even beyond the question of ”once saved always saved,” I think there is certainly a place to recognize that there are those who are certainly “unconverted in the first place.”

If I trust Jesus’ words, and there are in fact some people who are living what appears to be a Christian life, but who will be told someday by Jesus himself that he never knew them, then I think every Christian would agree that there are some who are not truly converted regardless of their present external actions.

Thus I think it not a stretch to think that at least some of those who “deconvert” during this lifetime were of the same category who, had they not fallen away, would have found out at the end of all things by Christ that they had never been converted in the first place.


Yes, I’d agree there is a place for that as well, and I imagine it would be more common in cultures that place a high value on external performance. Where I’m more apt to disagree is with those who contend that any deconversion means the person was “never really saved” (and therefore, faking it?), no matter how much they wanted to believe or how long they persevered in the faith.


I guess I’m not really seeing how they were never converted in the first place. And I speak from experience of having fallen away (all the way) and being restored. I was converted in the first place. I believed 20 years ago and was baptized for the remission of my sins. I truly believed and was definitely converted. It was only early last year that my belief disappeared and I became an atheist. I fell away. I was no longer saved. But i had previously been saved and been right with God. When I believed again, I repented and asked God’s forgiveness. I am right with God now (though certainly not perfect or without sin!). I do my best to continue to walk in the light.

It’s somewhat irritating to hear people suggest that someone must not have been saved in the first place. I think they’re usually trying to cover for misguided doctrine. The Bible says you CAN fall away after being saved.

In Galatians 5:4, it says, “ You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." The Galatians had been saved, but now they were looking to the Law of Moses for justification, teaching another gospel. This was enough to sever them from Christ! They couldn’t be severed if they were never in Christ. They couldn’t fall from grace if they were never in grace.

Hebrews 3:12 says, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” If you didn’t believe in the first place, how could you fall away from God? You weren’t in God in the first place.

In Acts 8, we see the story of Simon the Sorcerer. In verse 13, we’re told that he believed and was baptized (which Acts 2:38 says is for the remission of sins). At that point, Simon is in Christ, sins forgiven. In verse 18-19, Simon is envious of the apostles’ ability to lay hands on people and bestow the ability to perform miraculous spiritual gifts. He offers them money. That’s not a godly attitude. In verse 21, Peter tells Simon that his heart is not right with God. Simon is in spiritual danger here. Peter instructs him to ask forgiveness, and Simon does that - setting his heart right with God again.

If you’re always saved once you’ve been saved, I don’t understand why Simon would have had a problem. As far as we can tell from the text, Simon truly believed and was saved, then he started to fall away, but Peter rebuked him in order to bring him back. He was then restored.

Very much appreciate the thoughts and sharing your personal experience.

I my defense, however, I would call your attention to the fact that I very carefully said “at least some of those who “deconvert” during this lifetime were of the same category who, had they not fallen away, would have found out at the end of all things by Christ that they had never been converted in the first place.”

No need for defense. I didn’t intend any offense against you. :slight_smile:

I’m sure there are those who go through the motions and never believe in the first place, especially if they’re being pressured as children to make decisions they’re not ready for. My 15 year old has not yet decided to be baptized. I’m waiting patiently for him to let me know he needs it. I want it to be fully HIS decision because HE believes, not because Mom and Dad believe.


In my opinion, if a Christian faith is to survive, it must adopt either a Catholic, or Orthodox way of thinking, where the Bible reading and interpretation is left up to the Church elites. However, if the average Christian is allowed to read the Bible for themselves and interpret it fairly literally (i.e words are interpreted as they are written), then I don’t think Christianity will survive very long.

However, interpreting the text literally will not get you to a good place, so you must follow a teacher, or leader/pastor who will do the interpreting for you (i.e. something similar to Catholicism/Orthodoxy).

For example, take a teaching by Jesus that one must give up all their possessions to be his disciple.

Luke 14:33 NIV In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Note, the requirement is unambiguous. Nothing in the context changes it’s meaning. But this requirement is very much nonsensical for anyone living in a free world. So, it is interpreted away as something that doesn’t really apply.

For example, goes to a parable and to the Old Testament to justify not following Luke 14:33. They are not even mentioning it in their explanation about Christians giving up their possessions.

But the problem with explaining away inconvenient passages, of course, is that the Bible also warns against doing this very thing.

2 Tim. 4:3 NIV For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

So, on the one hand, you can find an interpretation to suit your preferred understanding, but on the other, you will be considered a heretic/apostate by the others who do not agree with your understanding.

And teaching about salvation also falls into the same category. Ultimately, what drove me away from the faith are the contradictions and lack of clarity. For any ‘clear’ verse, you can find another, just as clear teaching that will squarely contradict the first one.

Nothing in the context so long as we exclude the story of Zaccheus, a few chapters later in Luke, who gave away merely half his possessions to Christ’s praise and acclimation that salvation had come to his house.

Good point. I would just chalk it up to a contradiction, because you can’t give away all your possessions while keeping 50%. Real world math doesn’t work that way, but to your point, with God anything is possible, right?

Edit, the point of Zacheus is not as clear as you made it seem.

Luke 19:8 NIV But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

IF I have cheated is likely assumed to mean … SINCE I have cheated. So, I think Zacchaeus gave up more than 50% percent.

Is there a difference between

  1. giving up and giving away–eg, we no longer “keep” things for ourselves?
  2. disciples in Christ’s special cadre at the time and followers of him? My dad came from the Berean movement and they emphasized (excessively, it is true, but with some reason) the differences in times of service

Jesus sure did use a lot of hyperbole, from the Sermon on the Mount to some of the apocalyptic parables–to make a point. It wasn’t unheard of at the time. I think we run into some problems when we take some of them too literally.

And–I agree that if we look at the high resolution details too much, we fail to see the point. George Macdonald wrote that all of the NT, including contradictions, isn’t that helpful in its detail if we don’t focus on Christ, and God represented in Him.


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Sure, much appreciated.

Now, all my qualifications aside, the question of deconversion to me hinges much on what “true” conversion means in the first place.

I think we can all agree that rational/intellectual belief alone is not the essence of true conversion. “Even the demons believe…”

What about rational/intellectual belief coupled with personal approval, spiritual experiences, and joyful Christian life? I am hesitant to acknowledge this as true conversion… I have seen people clearly embrace these beliefs and go with the program, so long as it was still to their own perceived personal advantage. “when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.” Is this, or should this have been considered, a “true conversion”?

To me (and given your experience, I’d very much value your thoughts or honest critique here)… I have always considered real faith (a “true” conversion) the kind that is totally committed to Christ, that is totally, unwaveringly, utterly committed to him. Not simply which “believes in” him, not simply that trusts him (essential and integral as those things also are to true faith)… “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple…For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish…So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” As I read this and plenty of other warnings, I get the impression that Jesus is looking for followers who are unwaveringly committed to completing what they began.

I have seen people claim to be absolutely committed to their wife… until things got difficult, or someone better came along or the like. All their protestations aside that “well, when I made the commitment on my wedding day I really meant it” aside, I have trouble believing they were really were in fact ever really “committed”. A real commitment to ones wife, by my definition, is the kind of commitment that doesn’t change its mind for these kinds of reasons.

But given your experiences, I would very much value your thoughts and critique of my thoughts.