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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Craig Blomberg on De-Conversion

Craig Blomberg is a well-known Evangelical scholar. He is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary (Conservative Baptist Association). He offers three "consistent factors" that "trigger" a rejection of Christianity. On his blogpost dated Oct. 1, 2010, he writes:

Studies of deconversions find three fairly consistent factors or kinds of experiences that trigger such rejection of Christianity. First, a crisis of some kind unexpectedly intrudes into a person’s life. Maybe it is the loss of a loved one, a major personal failure or even sin, a life-changing injury, a divorce or a devastating financial loss. Second, the community to which this individual has normally turned to for support in hard times turns on that individual instead. Perhaps it is a kind of church discipline that does not seem geared to lead to rehabilitation. Perhaps it involves pat theological slogans that don’t adequately address the complexity of the situation. Perhaps it includes interpersonal estrangement rather than empathy. Third, the hurting person is introduced to and/or for the first time takes seriously and investigates seriously an alternate world view. This may be a different religion or, as it commonly seems today to be, some form of agnosticism or atheism.
According to the studies of de-conversion which he fails to cite, an apostate typically experiences:

1. A personal crisis.
2. A let-down by the church.
3. A questioning of his or her world view.

I don't know about others but in my case, #'s 1 and 2 were not involved. I increasingly came to the conclusion that the Evangelical Christian world-view was inconsistent and incoherent. It did not "mesh" with the real world in which I was living. There was no more reason to believe the Bible was really a divine revelation than there was to believe the Koran or any other "holy book." They all reflected the religious ideas that were prevalent in their time and in their culture.

It is interesting how Blomberg phrases his #3. The person is introduced to and/or for the first time takes seriously and investigates seriously (emphasis mine) an alternate world view.

I think he has hit the nail on the head here. Most Evangelical Christians will not take seriously the possiblity that their world-view (which includes an inspired and inerrant Bible, a bloody human sacrifice which satisfies God's wrath against sin, an eternal hell, and so on) might be wrong. Their minds are closed to that possibility. If you can ever get them to seriously question their world-view and seriously investigate other world-views, there is an excellent possiblity that they will de-convert.


  1. I totally agree Ken, and I'd add that there are few others I can add from my own anecdotal experience.

    During that period of intensive inquiry, I was separated from the church. I was sick, and couldn't attend church. So I was left to stay at home and read what I could.

    There's an excellent video on YouTube if you haven't seen it, but it's about a "network theory" of deconversion. That is, there are lots of different "nodes" – the sense of solidarity derived from collective affirmation of the doctrine, the Bible itself, perceived spiritual or supernatural experiences, philosophical arguments, etc. etc. It's highly unlikely that addressing any single one of these will undermine the network of believe. Several nodes have to fail for a person to deconvert, but they're different for everyone.

  2. 1 and 2 had nothing to do with the transformation of my understanding of Christianity, and it's worth point out that number 1 especially is a frequent factor in conversions to Christianity.

  3. 1 and 2 are commonly seen caricatures touted by generally uninformed theists as an argument against atheists/agnostics having founded beliefs. I question their actual prevalence, at least in my experience, deconversions are not generally part of those - and what research there is, shows equally that trauma may lead increased religious practice. Point three is an extension of the prior two - not the caveat of hurting; whether intentional or not, the overall pattern is to paint the picture that deconversion is generally unfounded by reason and reliant on emotional reactions. Granted the idea to undermine deconversion belief may not be overtly cognisant in this case, it is still the overall point being made here (and commonly elsewhere).

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I agree with the comment above, that item 1 seems likely to be more related to people converting to Christianity than leaving it.

    "I increasingly came to the conclusion that the Evangelical Christian world-view was inconsistent and incoherent. It did not "mesh" with the real world in which I was living."

    Well said. That was my experience exactly, not related to items 1 and 2 either. It does not require a crisis to precipitate those thoughts, just living and looking around you.

  6. Yeah, Bloomber is wayyyy off.

    None of those were priorities for me.

    I've always questioned my worldview because from a young age I was introduced to various cultures in many countries, since we traveled a lot, and it sort of comes with growing worldly.

    So it wasn't that I came to question my worldview... it was already an inbuilt feature.What happened was I realized that Christianity was interfering and restricting with a broader worldview.

    And my main reason for deconversion was out of love.(Which could be considered an 'emotional' crisis I suppose. But nothing of the sort Bloomberg suggests--as if atheists were all traumatized rebellious children.)

    And my secondary reason was that my faith failed me (not the other way around like so many apologists harp).

  7. I have met Dr. Blomberg, and he seems like a fairly well-grounded and engaging person. And, I actually agree with him on these points - with one small correction: these three factors can contribute to ANY serious mind-set change in life. Meaning, all of us endure personal crises from time to time, and will undoubtedly change from them. Second, the church as a social context is typically unable to assist because they are a false front - meaning, they profess to be a meaningful social context, but are not. This inevitably leads to #3. But, you could apply this process to anything from political position change to sexual preferences to world views, couldn't you? Of course the church is ill equipped to speak to any of this. EFH

  8. Weirdly, I agree with all three points based on my own experience, but probably not in the way that any of them were intended.

    I did have a crisis, which caused me to try to drop my faith. But that attempt only lasted about a month and I went back. I did get let down by my religious communit(ies), but it wasn't because of anything bad that had happened to me. It was more of a gradual realization that I was surrounded by narcissists who were only concerned with making sure everyone else knew how great and holy they were. There were good people intermixed in that, but I've tended to keep lines of communication open with them, so it's not like that was a big deal.

    What it ultimately came down to for me was the realization over the course of my crisis that I had to start addressing the doubts I'd had for years honestly. When I kept hearing the same crap from people I strongly suspected didn't much care about me, while I had strong relationships with people outside of the church I realized it would be okay to leave, as I didn't need that safety net of the church social scene. So I left, but even at that it took over a year for me to be really comfortable with it.

    The problem when we see articles like the one above is that they mean, "Well, the apostate sees a bad thing happens and sees the people at church being mean to him/her and says, 'Wah, I don't wanna do this any more. I'm taking my ball and going home.'" It's actually quite a bit more complicated than that.

  9. I can't put it as well as some of the comments, but boy can I relate to a lot ot them.

    "the church is a false front" -exactly
    "real world doesn't match what's taught" - exactly

    To those longterm observations while inside Christianity was finally added-a real, live person very dear to me who casually stated, "No, I'm not a Christian." I overheard this statement, and my analytical mind started churning. The investigation through books and the internet sealed the deconversion.

    So, the cognitive dissonance had been there a very long time, but this overheard statement was the catalyst.

  10. It was certainly true of my own experience. Christians too often dismiss emotional crises that lead to a loss of faith. What they don't realize is that faith comes through an emotional impulse and is maintained the same way. It often takes a stout emotional jolt to jog a believer out of his emotional attachment to his faith enough so that he can look at it more objectively. When that happens he will often notice how flimsy the foundation his faith rests on really is. And that's the first step in walking away.

  11. I get it. De-conversion from Christianity results from personal and psychological trauma. De-conversion from other religions results from realizing that they are BS.

  12. I was going to say that my deconversion didn't follow that pattern at all, but I suppose you could shoehorn me into it if you really tried. I mean, you could count the fact that our priest had the soul of a used car salesman* as a "personal crisis", I guess, except that I didn't much have to interact with him. And you could count the fact that nobody else in the church seemed to notice this but me as a "let-down by the church" - but again, it wasn't my problem. And while that experience did shape my view of the Church, it didn't lead to my deconversion.

    My deconversion was a result of two things, really: such "religious experiences" as I've had have never taken place in a church, or in any association with a Bible; and I started trying to fit the doctrines I'd been taught into a coherent whole. (I was about twelve, though it's hard to assign a precise age; it was a long and somewhat erratic process.)

    * Charismatic but sleazy.

  13. It was my Christian education that ruined my Christianity.

  14. My deconversion followed this pattern but not along the implied sequential lines.

    I did suffer a crisis (a health issues that had been untreated for a long time which landed me in the hospital). But I survived this crisis and owe a lot of credit to the people I considered my "church family" (people whom I still consider very close friends bordering on family). I did encounter strange behavior by bold Evangelical Christians I was close to who were commenting on the Presidential election cycle and offering ideas that seemed nothing more than conspiracy theories. This type of faith bothered me so I shared it with an elder at my church who suggested I check out William Lane Craig and his "Reasonable Faith". I did and found a hidden world of philosophical debate (including this blog) which called into question the faith assertions I had held yet never examined. I started examining my faith assertions and found them wanting. I did go through a period of anger due to my cognitive dissonance that I projected onto believers but seem to have passed through that now and can call some people affirming christianity my friends without having to affirm christianity as my world-view. I'm still seeking a durable morality and truth but don't see it in the faith assertions of my former christianity. I'm okay with being an agnostic atheist (don't know if there is a god but unwilling to worship any current concept of the gods offered) and love to discuss theology, philosophy of religion and belief withoug having to reach any definitive conclusions.

  15. My deconversion came from reading what the Bible has to say about human sacrifice, genocide, infanticide, treatment of rape victims, beating slaves, sex slavery, and generational punishment. The more I learned about what the Bible actually says on these issues, the more I realised that it could not possibly be the inspired revelations of a super-intelligent, all-loving father who sincerely wants his children to understand and apply his morally perfect will.

    Then I started comparing each of the gospel accounts and I was blown away by what I found. I had always read the Bible with a devotional attitude, but as soon as I studied it from a historical-critical method, the New Testament (which I still thought highly of) had as many problems as the Old.

    In short, I was unable to resolve the seemingly abhorrent instructions, contradictorily theologies and absurd claims in both testaments.

    I still love my Church. My lifestyle has not changed in any significant way since de-conversion. I did not go though any trauma. I just started studying these issues, and my faith ended up in shambles.

  16. Thanks for the many helpful and varied responses. A few clarifications: I would absolutely agree that the same three factors can lead to other forms of religious or worldview change--to or from Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, naturalism, etc. The three factors are by no means universal, as several of the posters have indicated, but research from ex-evangelicals like John Loftus and Ed Babinski and evangelicals like Scot McKnight and Hauna Aundrey do show that they are remarkably frequent. My personal experience with friends and acquaintances backs that up, too, anecdotal though that evidence is. Perhaps what fascinates me the most are stories like Robert's immediately above. The moral horrors, apparent theological contradictions and miracle narratives have been read, studied, explained and/or explained away since the various biblical books were first written. Jews in pre-Christian times discussed and wrestled with the moral horrors they read about in their Scriptures. Augustine, the early Christian theologian, wrote an entire commentary on a harmony of the Gospels. Polls suggest 80-90% of all Americans believe in miracles. So what is that leads some people, perhaps even those who once felt they had adequate explanations for these phenomena in the Scripture, to at a later time find them inadequate? Usually--certainly not always--it has something to do with their personal experience, largely unrelated to how convincing the actual arguments are one way or the other. At any rate, thanks for taking my blog seriously enough to excerpt it and react to it. I'm still learning, too! :) And now I'm really curious who ExPat from Hell is, since he says he's met me! :) :)

  17. Dr. Blomberg, thank you for posting! I, myself, was a hardcore/evangelical fundamentalist Christian for over a decade, and your three factors were significant reasons for my defection from the Christian faith to agnosticism. I don't have a problem admitting this and I'm not embarrassed about it. I went through some heartbreaking personal crises and that forced me to investigate why I believe what I believe and I found the answers lacking.

    Anyway, the main reasons I'm writing is because I want to thank you for your kind and thoughtful post despite your theological disagreements with us. It certainly is refreshing. I would rather engage in a dialogue/friendly debate with evangelical Christians such as yourself any time over the hardcore reformed/calvinists types that I've encountered both in real life and here on the internet.

    Again, thank you for reminding me that there are many evangelical Christians who are kind, thoughtful and truly Christ-like. -Mike.

  18. Dr. Blomberg,

    Ditto to Mike. Thank you for commenting. I'd like to say a little more about my story because I suspect my type of deconversion is becoming more common. I'd like to think that I am not too distant an outlier. ;-)

    I have been a Christian my entire life. Raised in the Churches of Christ, I learned about Jesus before I could tie my shoes.

    About 2 years ago, I searched for an Atheist-Christian debate I wanted to see. Instead of finding it, I stumbled upon the Christianity section at I started reading.

    As I was reading, I could not deny that the criticisms raised against the Bible were strong, and many of them were coming from former believers who had been deeply devoted to the cause of Christ -- men like Ken Pulliman.

    When I started reading these articles, I fully expected to find good reasons to reject what they were saying. So I studied more to defend the faith and “then I would be a stronger Christian”, I told myself.

    Things didn’t turn out that way. After a few hundred hours of searching for answers, I no longer believed the Bible was true. It was a difficult and emotional decision, but I believe it was the right one.

    Now ... why do I think I am part of a new trend? Because it only took a few searches -- less than a minute -- for me to land on the material that sparked this process, and as my doubts grew, the Internet provided a wealth of literature from sceptics to keep "leading me astray".

    I think that without Internet access, I would still be a believer today. I might have wondered why the Bible gives permission to beat slaves, and I might have asked my preacher about it, but I don't think I would have searched the local libraries to find atheist authors and see what they had to say! As the son of 2 conservative Christian parents and the husband of a conservative Christian wife, I would have been hesitant to purchase or borrow any books that try to debunk the Bible, but entering "Yahweh genocide" in a search engine (with the intent of finding a Christian response) can easily land us upon a site like this.

    Churches (at least in my part of the country) are on every corner, but the Internet is now on our mobile phones. That gives unbelievers a voice that they otherwise would not have, and it is bound to expand their audience to people like me.

    -- Robert

  19. Craig,

    Thanks for posting. Yes, I do read your blog regularly as well as a number of other evangelical Christians. Having spent 20 years of my life studying the Bible and theology, I still find it fascinating.

    I agree that personal crises do often lead people to question their world-view. As you said, it happens both ways. It just was not part of my experience. Sometimes a person has to be shaken before they will seriously examine what they believe. It is also true that when this happens, the church does often let the doubter down. They may do it by shunning him, or by telling him he needs to confess his sin and get right with God, or by giving him "pat-answers" that really aren't satisfying. I found that many conservative Evangelicals are afraid of doubt. It is a threat to their dogmatism. So they don't really know how to deal with it.

    Again, thanks for posting here and I hope we may have more dialogue in the future. Since I live in Atlanta, I will be attending the SBL meeting, I would love to meet you if you have the time.

  20. Robert,

    I think you are "spot-on" regarding the internet. The printing press was instrumental in bringing about the Reformation in the 16th century, and I think the internet will have an even greater impact.

  21. BTW, there are a couple of prior posts that also address this subject. One concerns Ruth Tucker's book on Walking Away from the Faith and the other concerns Michael Patton's observations on why people de-convert.

  22. I'd like to say a little more about my story because I suspect my type of deconversion is becoming more common. I'd like to think that I am not too distant an outlier. ;-)

    Hi, Robert

    I have to say that my deconversion mirrors yours almost exactly. The WWW introduced me to critical arguments on the bible that I was simply not aware of. I began to view "scripture" in a whole new light.

    Sadly, since I was raised as a fundamentalist, I never concerned myself with the behavior of Yahweh in the OT. The people getting smote left and right must of had it coming simply because they were not part of Yahweh's "chosen" tribe. I was brought up to believe that all other ancient nations, besides Israel, were so thoroughly evil that everyone deserved to be killed down to the women and children. I am now quite ashamed that I held such views.

    As I got older I began to have serious moral issues with a God that sentences people to eternal anguish simply for not affirming the "correct" theological beliefs before they die. Had I been raised as a more liberal Universalist Christian, I might have still been one today.

  23. It was a prolonged dialogue on Facebook with Mike D. that led me to all out "heathenism". So, yeah, the internet serves as a remarkable voice that can certainly compete with the churches voice.

  24. Dr. Blomberg,

    Let me add my voice to the others stating their appreciation for both your willingness to come here, and the manner in which you did so.

    I don't believe my experience is very common at all; I mention it mostly because, well, it's mine. My brother, who attended the same church at the same time, remains at least nominally Christian, so it's not a simple case of "if this happens, people leave the faith".

    ...All of that by way of telling you something that you doubtless knew already: these things are highly personal and extremely idiosyncratic.

  25. John,

    All I can say is don't be afraid to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

  26. Ken,

    I have to confess, fear does come into play. But the more I think of this the more questions I have. Thanks.

  27. So my doubts are completely intellectual.

    But having said that, I can't help but be affected by 1/2 above as a result. For instance, in evangelical churches the focus is so much about looking like the world (has anyone noticed the way they reach out these days?). But this is completely against the bible (ie, separation). But the more they look like the world, the more they feel they are totally sold out for Him. The stuff doesn't make sense to me.

  28. John, I second what Ken said. There is plenty of material and resources out there, both defending the Christian faith and exposing it, written by intelligent people. While I acknowledge that there are some good arguments for the Christian faith, in my view the arguments and evidence against it are stronger and are the reason why I am no longer convinced of the truth of Christianity, especially evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity.

    But that's me. You might end up in a different place. Many Christians have claimed that their periods of doubt ultimately strengthened their faith and perhaps this is what will happen to you. But as Ken said, don't be afraid to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

    One quick piece of advice, though, which I hope you don't mind me giving to you. If you are intent on hanging on to your Christian faith no matter what, then spending time on websites like this probably isn't a good idea.

  29. "For instance, in evangelical churches the focus is so much about looking like the world (has anyone noticed the way they reach out these days?). But this is completely against the bible (ie, separation)"

    A disparity between Christians and the Bible might only indicate a need for reform within those Churches. Is this your most troubling doubt right now?

  30. Robert,

    No it isn't. I have completely intellectual doubt.

    But with an intellectual doubt, then these things become sort of like evidence that almost confirm your theories (or doubts). Yes churches are not perfect. But there is someting deeper here than just human nature. The church is obsessed with wanting to look like a normal wordly, progressive gathering. I mean obsessive.

  31. I started to leave Christianity because I became aware of other faiths that were able to provide similar outcomes to Christianity.

    One of the more interesting arguments that I've had with Christians has been about intercessory prayer - not that it does/does not work, but that other faiths provide similar results, but do not cite the Christian God as the source of their source.

    Christians struggle with that one.

    The same is true of OBEs and NDEs. Christians love to cite them as evidence of a post death existance that glorifies the existance of the Christian God, until it's pointed out that other faiths have similar evidence.

    So I left Christianity not because of the reasons already cited, but because I was aware that Christianity could not be exclusively true.

  32. Damn, just noticed I'd left a typo in my post - sorry.

  33. Some people equate experience with emotion and subjectivity, and that is not so. An essential component of Christianity--indeed, the core of it--is personally *knowing* God. Knowing a person, and experiencing him or her, is a fact. That we all apply subjective filters to our knowledge and experience of a person--as we do to all facts--does not invalidate the fact of the relationship, and does not deny the existence of the person with whom we have the relationship.

    Why do I say that? Because too many people get caught up in making God and His existence a matter that has to be proven in books and by logic, dismissing any personal experience as not being proof.

    This error is often combined with the error of thinking that we can all totally set aside our subjectivity and perceptive limitations and make a person simple and easy to thoroughly understand. We can not do that with most people, how can we expect to do that with a person Who is as inherently complex as God? To put it another way, we can not make the world around us anywhere near simple in the details, and yet there is an expectation that we can fit the creator of the universe into a small box of understanding within the universe.

    That people can claim that God is not because I can not understand Him completely, and there are (apparent) contradictions, etc., is no rational, logical excuse.

    That people, who in and of themselves have to be aware that people are weak and fallible, allow other people to be an excuse for abandoning the effort and commitment of a relationship with God, merely shows that they either did not really know Him and/or are the ones responsible.

    Just as we can not ignore the role of personal and subjective experience, we can not also make any relationship solely about experience, perception, and what others do. We each always bear some responsibility for relationship.

  34. I struggle with the whole notion of deconversion. The word is an oxymoron of sorts. I suppose someone could deconvert after being converted (I have heard of reverse medical procedures). But this is not the picture painted in scripture. There is no such thing as "deconversion" in scripture. No one in all of Christian history has ever deconverted despite even what Blomberg is saying.

    The very essence of Christian conversion is a change from the old to new, from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Some have called this change a change in spiritual taste buds. Once you hated the things of God: you hated thinking of God, being accountable to Him, angry at His wrath and megalomaniacism. But then the heart is regenerated (Titus 3:5). The regeneration activates the faith to believe and to trust God. God is the one who starts the regeneration process according to Ephesians 2:8-9 which states, "by grace we have been saved, throught faith; and this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast". This is what it is to be "born again" according to how Jesus described it in John 3.

    Conversion is just that, regeneration, or being "born again". That term is an ugly phrase to many atheists because it is associated with fundamentalists or cold religion, or some person that hurt them in the past, or something. But if we actually read about what conversion is according to scripture we are greatly releived and desire it.

    Once someone is truly converted, he/she moves from being a creation of God to a child of God (Ephesian 1). Once you are a child of God there is no going back, even if you want to (John 1:12). The good news is that we no longer want to go back to the old way, to our old state. Why? because before we were converted we were accountable to a holy God for righteousness and we had none to give.

    All that to say, someone can certainly be RAISED in a church or even join a church having NEVER been regenerated. It happens all of the time.

    If that type of person gets burned, disillusioned, or angry at the church, they can certainly leave, and call themselves a "deconvert" but that isn't exactly true. They were never converted to begin with.

    They were never regenerated, never given the Spirit, never saved.

  35. None of these were factors in my deconversion:

    Maybe #3, but it was mainly biblical issues which caused me to question my faith. In particular my rejection of young earth creationism and the rejection of the continual narrowing of British evangelicalism. It used to be that a broader range of belief was considered "correct", but this was getting narrower and narrower.

    I wonder of this research is geared to making remaining believers more comfortable with the idea of people stopping believing?

    This is a significant issue for Christians. There has always been "churn" but people who leave now are more vocal and can't be palmed off with:

    1. If you had experienced God like I have experienced God then you would believe.

    2. Lets quote the parable of the sower and pigeon hole you as seed that withers after a season....

    3. You obviously never believed in the first place.

    These seem to be the three standard responses.