The God of Seekers--Rauser: The Problem of Christians Becoming Atheists


(Randy) #1

I’d be interested in your impression of Randal Rauser’s discussion of John Marriott’s book, “The Problem of Christians Becoming Atheists.” https://randalrauser.com/2018/12/the-problem-of-christians-becoming-atheists/

(Book: A Recipe for Disaster: How Parents and Churches Prepare Individuals to Lose Their Faith, And How They Can Instill a Faith That Endures (Wipf and Stock, 2018). )

Marriott discusses figures of between 40 and 80% of even Southern Baptist and other evangelical youth leaving the faith after starting college.

He argues in his book that there are 3 major factors in deconverting:

  1. Mistaking a particular interpretation of Christianity for Christianity itself (eg, YEC)
  2. Unmet expectations, eg strict literal innerancy (example: Bart Ehrmann in Princeton started questioning Mark; note–he lost his faith from the argument of evil, not directly from his liberal theology)
  3. Poor communication of faith to a more nuanced audience. "How, former Christians ask, can an intelligent, educated person accept the biblical story of two naked people, a talking snake and a magical tree, at face value given the world we live in? Or that a man lived inside a fish for three days, people lived over 900 years, and the dead come back to life? "

I want to emphasize that this review seems to empathize with the struggle we all have for faith. It doesn’t seem to say that God rejects people for struggling. I think that makes the most sense–Rauser is very good at communicating that God meets us as a father, where we are in our understanding of Him. He’s the “God of the seekers,” those who seek Him with their whole hearts. That would include those who are not a the position, at that time, of being able to believe in God. It seems to me that the image of an angry God who rejects you for not being able to believe in Him is one of those things that also repels people from a false impression of Christianity. I’d be interested in your thoughts in this respect, too.


(Phil) #2

I was reading that last night, you beat to posting about it! I was surprised at the upper end of the studies as far as kids leaving the faith, but as I consider it, it is no doubt accurate. At lot of the same material is covered in the book You Lost Me. While the reasons given are true, I am sure other factors enter in also. I think a real basic problem is that doctrine is held above love in relationships, which is sort of what #1 says on a deeper level, and that moves us from the foundation of faith onto the sand. This is evident in the way the church handles sexuality, patriarchy, abuse, and social issues as well.
I look forward to Part 2 of the series.


(Laura) #3

Thanks for sharing – very interesting discussion. The part at the end there reminded me of the C. S. Lewis quote about fairy tales:

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

Our culture seems terrified of emotional/mental vulnerability – we often cover up sincerity with sarcasm, snark, and satirical humor. I wonder if genuine and sincere faith is seen as infantile in comparison with these “higher” forms of understanding and communication.

The percentage of people losing their faith is scary. In my homeschool world, “secular college” was seen as something to be feared, especially if the child would be living on campus – I think many parents would have rather their children got no higher education at all than to go to a secular institution for that reason. I think the explanation in the article is pretty right on though – we often misrepresent peripheral issues for genuine doctrine (and I would add that we have treated “culture wars” as crusades of faith).

Either way, I think we have to be careful. When we get scared, we often make poor decisions – I’m curious to see what his answers will be to the “what should we do?” question. It seems to me that sometimes the harder we try to force something to happen, the more we inadvertently prevent it.


(Randy) #4

We just had this discussion in Sunday School this Sunday. Our leader, a 38 year old, used the text from Daniel in which he, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego (Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) studied at the Babylonian court about astrology and the pagan religion but kept their faith. He said that like the Hebrews, we have to teach our children very well before going off to college about how to keep their faith. He specifically named evolution as the cause of loss of faith, in addition to English courses. I did point out to him that there were more Christians in the “hard” than “soft” sciences, and that my faith actually got better discussion with biology than English. Also, I mentioned that I had met Christian evolutionists professors in college. He seemed to take that well. It is an ongoing area where we can have kind dialogue.


(Phil) #5

Absolutely. Whatever we have been doing obviously is not working, so perhaps we should be doing something different, rather than more of the same.
Having raised a couple of daughters who not only stayed with the church, but have been very active, the temptation is to think that I have the answers, but I know many parents whose children have left the church who are good parents and Christlike people.

One tendency is to blame the secular colleges, but I find that falls short. One of my kids attended a denominational Baptist university, and the kids there were probably further from Christian in their walk than my daughter who went to a secular university. The secular school had a strong core of committed Christians who met, whereas the church school gave Christianity more lip service and less commitment. There is no vaccine against secularism.


(Randy) #6

There actually seems to be a way to inoculate against Christianity, though. It seems that some kids do well in Christian schools, and others do worse! Currently in a nearby town, a secular group wants to remove the wise men and camels figures that have been put on the school roof annually at this time for about 70 years. I am afraid that the wise men have nothing to do with actually communicating God’s love, and are more of a false sense of comfort by identifying Christianity with our government for those of us of the “old guard” (including me in my 40s). That can replace a personal relationship and devotion. It’s quite a controversy, but the struggle may uncover and teach some lessons about faith.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #7

This is a misrepresentation of the reasons why Ehrman became an atheist. He became an atheist (as I understand it) due to the problem of evil, and continued to believe in God after realising the Bible was not inerrant.


(Randy) #8

I’ve read that too. I think that I truncated this too much. The author says that’s where he started on his questioning. I’ll try to fix that. Thanks.


(Shawn T Murphy) #9

Thanks for sharing Randy. I left the catholic church at 14 for these three reasons and one additional: church officials not walking the talk. At 35, I came back to Christianity through the enlightened Greeks (which I mention often.)

The early Christian teaching did not have any of the illogical problems you listed and that young people struggle with today. Their worldview was logical and their ethics were of great importance. Aesop’s fables were taught to every child, each one as a song. Each one teaching the morals and ethics of their society. Each member of society was expected to know all their laws, their history (Homer) and their ethics (Aesop).

The romans were a complete contrast to these Ionian Greeks as a slave-based society. The romans would not let the people read the Bible, to uncover all the contradictions. Rather, they indoctrinated the people through creeds. Galileo publishing his works in Italian, not Latin, was very symbolic. The common people didn’t read Copernicus’ work which was published in Latin, but his work uncovered the facade of the church to the people.


(Mark D.) #10

Thanks @Randy for an interesting article. I find it relevant even without a Christian faith to worry about losing. Because I find value in acknowledging that everything I can do by my own means is less than what I can accomplish acting in concert with something greater, I find many points of common concern with you all here. My metaphysics of this something more doesn’t dovetail so well with Christianity. But I can identify with sometimes feeling reluctant to speak up for what I know I can’t adequately defend rationally to anyone who can’t locate in themselves the same feeling which is the grounds for what I believe.

I especially resonated when Elle said:

I refuse to accept that snark and triviality is the only thing left for those of us who will not embrace the supernatural.


(Laura) #11

I don’t think it has to be – and to be clear, I think this lack of sincerity is all over our culture, including among those who are Christians or just generally spiritual.


(Mark D.) #12

Thanks and neither do I.

Oh, I hope you didn’t think I thought you meant that it had to be. Hadn’t considered that possibility.


(Randy) #13

I want to emphasize that I think being honest is what God’s looking for–not the creed. First of all, He’s not afraid of whether we believe in Him or not. :slight_smile: Second, in the search for truth, becoming an atheist sometimes is the most truthful thing one can do with the evidence at hand. I changed the title to “The God of Seekers” as a result. And I appreciate your kind thoughts, @MarkD


(Mark D.) #14

When you can’t be honest with yourself you really are lost.


(Laura) #15

Looks like part 2 was posted today: https://randalrauser.com/2018/12/the-solution-to-christians-becoming-atheists-part-1/


(Randy) #16

Thanks! I’m not going to be able to comment on it or look it up for about a day, so if you would like to do that or start a new thread (or anyone else), I’d be beholden :slight_smile:–or in this thread, too. I’d be interested in what you see and think.


(Ashley Lande) #17

Thanks for sharing! I read this with great interest as I’m guilty of feeling occasional anxiety about my kids “deconverting” at some future juncture.

I loved Elle’s comment about our culture being terrified of vulnerability. I do think sarcasm / almost meta-cynicism (so very many layers of cynicism… oy!) is the language of mine and younger generations. I “deconverted” (though I’m not sure I ever had a genuine encounter with Christ prior to this, so not sure it can legitimately be called a deconversion though I would have said I was a Christian) around age 15 and declared myself an atheist. I was raised with a kind of strange cocktail of diluted Methodism, extreme political conservatism and occasional Calvinist fire and brimstone-type comments from my paternal grandmother. Families are complicated! We never prayed or read the Bible at home and I had no idea what was in it other than the Sunday school basics. So, yes, I remember expressing that exact sentiment - it seemed like a fairytale.
I actually had a strange and winding path back to Jesus. I remained atheist until the age of 23 when I took acid and encountered God. It was terrifying. I knew I had encountered Some One much greater than my puny, vain self but I would have been loathe at that point to associate that Some One with Jesus, due to the totally skewed perception I had of Christianity, mostly informed by culture. It took several more years as He slowly drew me in and I finally caved to his truly amazing grace. And quit taking drugs :slight_smile:

I think it would be unwise to neglect the spiritual element of all this as well - the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, and he’s good at it. Cynicism and hyper-intellectualism are powerful blinders. However, it is true that the church can be its own saboteur, and I am always a little concerned when I encounter people in the Christian homeschool community teaching their kids strict inerrantism or YEC. The other day a homeschooling friend who I know is more 'conservative" than me in that sense sent me a text message saying how she had been troubled by a seeming contradiction in the Bible and her “rock” almost crumbled beneath her feet. I don’t mean to belittle her at all! But I am trying to find a way to gently tell her that the Bible is actually not our rock, Jesus is.

Anyway, sorry this is all just anecdotal. My kids and husband have been talking to me variously as I’ve been typing this and it’s been hard to put together my thoughts!


(Randy) #18

That’s a great note. Thanks. I also appreciate @Elle’s note.

You might like Andy Stanley’s 3 sermon series on Jesus being our rock, not the Bible-- Marcion and the first ecumenical councils

He might be easier for her to grasp, though Rauser is generally very kindly (one of my favorite apologists)

we’ve been discussing this on another thread, but it’s the “Aftermath” series on Youtube.


(Jay Johnson) #19

Thanks for the “heads up” on what looks like a good book on the subject. I’ve been following that trend for a long time now. Just from reading the introduction, Marriott recognizes the problem, but he has chosen to focus on just one slice of it. That’s not necessarily a criticism.

Better to be uneducated than have sex before marriage? (Don’t answer that question … although there is a direct correlation between women’s educational attainment and birth rates.)

As far as “secular college,” here’s an interesting study by the “other side” at secularhumanism.org. The important bit for your homeschooling friends:

"What, then, are the causes of this alienation from religion? Many conservative religionists have posited that higher education itself undermines faith and is the major cause of alienation from religion. We explored the differences among the worldview groups as to the courses of study they were following. Perhaps surprisingly, there was no statistical difference between the patterns of choices of academic majors between the Religious and Secular worldview groups… In fact, the difference we did discover was between the Spiritual and the other two worldview groups, rather than Religious versus Secular. The Spiritual group was less likely to include STEM majors, probably due to that group’s female skew.

“So what other influences are at play in the trend toward rejection of religion? One indicator of alienation besides respondents’ personal theological beliefs, discussed later in this article, is that 70 percent of the Secular group agreed with the statement, ‘Looking around the world, religions bring more conflict than peace.’ This negative view of the role religion plays today is probably also a factor for the Spiritual worldview group, among whom 55 percent agreed with the statement.”

Keep in mind that this was before the age of Trump. Those negative perceptions surely are worse today.


(Jay Johnson) #21

You’re presuming a knowledge of history (and other cultures) among the general populace.

Funny that you mention this, since it pertains to pseudoscience, but I assume you’re talking about Lysenkosim. That is what happens when you base biological science upon ideology. Lysenko rejected the concept of the gene and of natural selection. He adopted Lamarckian evolution for philosophical reasons, and the results for “Soviet biology” were disastrous. Not only were legitimate scientists put in jail, but once put into practice, Lysenko’s ideas translated into widespread crop failures, famine, and millions of deaths.

It’s a great case study of the reasons why ideology/philosophy/religion should not dictate scientific paradigms.