A couple of years ago, someone recommended a book to me called The Anatomy of Deconversion by John Marriott. A deconvert is defined as a person who used to be a Christian. Marriott’s book is based on extensive interviews with 24 deconverts, ranging in age from early 20s to mid-50s. 15 of them are men, 9 female. 6 of them come from fundamentalist backgrounds; 9 were “conservative evangelicals with fundamentalist tendencies;” and 9 were conservative evangelicals.
Before I started reading the book (which I just finished), my main interest was why people deconvert, and to his credit, Marriott devotes an entire chapter to that question. I was not surprised to find that there were two broad categories of reasons why people deconverted: emotional and cognitive. Under the first category (emotional), Marriott wrote only about disappointments with fellow Christians; under the second category (cognitive), he wrote about three subcategories: problems with the Bible, Darwinian evolution, and the influence of atheists. What surprised me was that deconversion seemed to happen primarily for cognitive reasons, not emotional ones; on the other hand, it’s obvious that they were intertwined.
As someone with a scientific background (although I became an ESL teacher), I was struck by statements from deconverts like this: “Evidence of evolution was one of the biggest things.” Here’s another one: “I’m huge on you should only believe in what you actually test.” More than one person referred to Richard Dawkins, a staunch atheist and one of the biggest proponents of evolution. I have written before about evolution, but let me just say this: the “evidence” for evolution is flimsy at best, and frankly, it cannot be “tested” unless by that you mean looking at the fossil record. And if that is the “test” for evolution, it fails miserably. Someone has said that the pictures/drawings of evolution have evolved into the “proof.” How true that is. If you’re interested in more of what I wrote about evolution, click here: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/09/16/is-evolution-a-viable-theory/
As for people who deconverted because of “problems with the Bible:” one of the problems mentioned is the commands that God gave the Israelites to wipe out or drive out the Canaanites and the other “-ites” in the Old Testament. I could devote an entire post to this, but here let me just quote Deuteronomy 9:4-6: “After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Notice two repeated phrases: “the wickedness of these nations” and “not because of your righteousness.” This explains very clearly why the Lord commanded the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites, while at the same time reminding the Israelites that they themselves were sinful, not righteous.
Marriott also writes about two main moral issues that deconverts changed their views on: abortion and homosexuality, including same-sex marriage. When they were believers, they viewed these as sins, but after they deconverted, most of them became pro-choice, and “They all accepted homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle and also supported same-sex marriage.” I was not at all surprised at this; I have known churchgoers who have changed their views on homosexuality because of a friend or relative who came out as gay. I have written elsewhere about this as well, but let me just say here that first of all, the Bible is very clear that homosexuality is a sin; second, if people in the LGBTQ community hear only acceptance from the church, then it would seem to me that their motivation to change is going to be less, which means they are on the fast road to hell. I think we as believers need to figure out what it really means to love those in the LGBTQ community, which is, however, not going to be the same for everybody.
At the end of his book, Marriott writes about four reconverts, meaning people who once identified as Christians; then deconverted; but then reconverted to Christianity. One of those four people is also one of the 24 deconverts that he interviewed.
There is more that could be said about Marriott’s book, but what are we to make of deconversion in the big picture? First of all, let me say that there are some American church practices and even beliefs that have become elevated in some fundamentalist churches. For example, is hair length important? How about Sunday observance? Is becoming a pastor or missionary a vocation that is really somehow more “worshipful” than being a plumber or an electrician? I think that the Bible gives clear answers to these questions, but as a lifelong friend of mine (now a retired pastor) would say, they are non-salvation issues. In other words, we should not elevate them to that level because they can become a needless stumbling block.
Finally, let me answer the question posed in the title of this post: Is there such a thing as deconversion? In other words, is it possible to lose your salvation? Marriott doesn’t answer this question directly, but it’s clear that he thinks it’s possible. Marriott doesn’t mention John 6:66, but I thought of it as I was reading. John 6:66 says: “From this time many of his [Jesus’] disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Does that sound like “deconversion?” I can imagine that some might interpret it that way, but remember also how so many of the people in the Palm Sunday crowd turned on Jesus just a few days later, on Good Friday. I think Scripture makes it very clear that it is in fact not possible to lose your salvation. I have written about this in a previous post; here, let me quote John 10:28, which says, “I [Jesus] give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Philippians 4:6 gives us this assurance: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
“Deconverts,” then, are people who used to have the appearance, including words and actions, of being Christians, but who in fact were not, and are not. Thankfully, however, those who have denied the name of Jesus can repent, just like the apostle Peter did, as well as the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-32. I also mentioned earlier that Marriott writes about four people who had renounced the name of Jesus but who have since come back home. If you, like me, know someone who used to be a churchgoer and was perhaps baptized, but has since denied the name of Jesus, pray for them according to the Lord’s will and trust Him for the results.