For many years, I have had a fascination for the reasons why people deconvert from the Christian faith. I have, without exaggeration, viewed many hundreds of deconversion testimonies on YouTube, purchased and read books by deconverts, followed the blogs of deconverts, and personally interacted with many who have either given up their Christian faith or are considering doing so.
In my many engagements, I have discovered just how diverse people’s reasons for leaving the faith are. Sadly, many Christians have bought into the myth that the only reason people abandon their former faith is that they are in willful rebellion against God and are seeking justification for a lifestyle that Scripture prohibits. While this is surely true of some deconverts, it is assuredly not true of all deconverts, many of whom reject their former faith because they have become genuinely persuaded that Christianity cannot be sufficiently justified.
For some, the experience of losing faith is a feeling of liberation from the shackles of a repressive system of belief; for others, it is one of deep anguish and pain, as they are awakened to the uncomfortable reality that the premise upon which they have built their life and identity may in fact be mistaken. While for some, rejection of their former faith comes as a relief, for others it comes at great personal cost (particularly for those who were pastors or in other forms of full-time ministry, whose livelihoods depend upon their Christian beliefs). Though some become anti-theists (believing that religion is not only false but also harmful), others are reluctant non-believers, wishing that Christianity were true, but finding themselves unable to believe it.
While many deconvert because of hurt inflicted by the church, others yearn for the comfort that came from belonging to their church community. Though, for some, doubts about faith are emotional in nature, for others, the doubts are intellectual, based on perceived problems with the historicity of the Bible, perceived inconsistencies in the gospel message, or theological difficulties such as the problem of evil or divine hiddenness. There is thus truth to the statement that if you have talked to one deconvert, you have talked to one deconvert.
Engaging & Connecting
I have long carried a burden to serve Christians who doubt their faith, as well as ex-Christians. In particular, my vision has been to give every person an opportunity to hear the best intellectual defense of Christianity before making a decision to abandon it. In 2016, I placed a form on my personal website that encouraged doubters to get in contact with me and schedule a one-on-one meeting to discuss their doubts and questions in confidence. On average, I received perhaps one or two requests each week.
In 2021, I had the idea to create a network of like-minded scholars and educated laypeople who would be willing to do similar work, mentoring and discipling Christians with doubts about their faith, and I created TalkAboutDoubts.com. Our team has now grown to more than sixty people and includes experts in such diverse fields as physics, biology, philosophy, theology, New and Old Testament scholarship, textual criticism, biblical archaeology, and psychology.
An inquirer’s first contact is made by submitting a form through the website, and his submission is then directed to the person most suited to deal with his specific questions. One of our team members then responds by email to schedule a private video call to discuss the inquirer’s doubts in confidence. If the inquirer is a minor, we prefer to have two team members on the call, and if she is a girl, we try to have at least one of them be a woman.
The inquiries we have received already number in the hundreds. Our inquirers include parents whose children have walked away from the faith of their youth and people in full-time ministry. In some cases, former doubters have joined our team to mentor others walking the same journey they have walked.
It is a joy to see people stabilized in their faith. As examples, consider the following samples of testimonials we have received from past inquirers:
- Confident: “I am officially a confident Christian. . . . I think without you I would have become an atheist or agnostic. I think there is a strong cumulative case for Christianity. . . . My faith has never been like this. It’s informed, it’s active, it’s connected to my reality. . . . I’m so excited to help others and keep learning and to make this stuff my life’s work.”
- Refreshed: “It’s alleviated a lot of weight off of me; it’s much easier to pray with a clear conscience. After reading a lot of shaky academia for almost a year and a half straight, the shock value finally wore off. It’s refreshing to think clearly again.”
- Grateful: “Thank you for showing love and patience . . . when I was deconstructing. It played a major role in saving and reconstructing my faith.”
- Hopeful: “Words probably can’t explain how much of a help and spiritual boost this is on my faith. I was blown away by our conversation, and I’m so thankful to have found your service. I feel very loved by God to have gotten all this info so readily, and I am very hopeful that I can finally be out of the woods re my lingering nagging doubts, which have been hindering my ability to run well in the faith.”
- Eager: “After our conversation . . . I just feel so much more confident in my journey of Faith. . . . Thank you. I feel so much more eager to read the Bible and study theologians; I feel reassured that I can come to your ministry and ask my questions as they surface from my readings.”
- Strengthened: “You have been such a help and encouragement to me. . . . the fact that you and your colleagues are prepared to do this freely is such evidence of the love and ability God has given you for helping and strengthening the faith of his people. This in itself strengthens my faith.”
Catering to People’s Social & Emotional Needs
A recurring theme I have observed is that it is very common to feel a deep sense of isolation and loneliness. It is not uncommon for people to be given unhelpful responses by their family or church community, and to the doubter it can often feel that no one in their community shares their desire to reliably align their beliefs with what can be shown to be true of reality. This sense of loneliness or isolation is particularly true for pastors and others in full-time ministry, where there is a felt risk that opening up to others about their doubts and questions could threaten their livelihood.
We have therefore felt a burden to meet people’s emotional and community needs, as well as their intellectual needs. In May 2022, we launched a Discord server for past inquirers to help facilitate a TalkAboutDoubts.com online community. The intention is not to replace the fellowship of a local church, but to facilitate connections with other people going through a similar season of questions or doubts. We have also launched weekly Zoom hangouts that alternate between an emotional support group and a teaching course on evidence for Christianity.
Our Vision for the Future
We plan to run a series of weekend retreats for Christians doubting their faith. These will involve intensive mentoring by our team members through talks, workshops, panel discussions, and informal conversations over weekends in various parts of the country and internationally. We also hope to host a series of single-day training events for pastors to equip them to engage with members of their congregation who harbor doubts regarding their faith.
Together, we can cultivate a welcoming atmosphere toward doubters within the church, and create a culture where questioning is encouraged rather than frowned upon.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Salvo magazine (salvomag.com)