On Monday night, Chris mentioned some prominent stories of celebrities who have recently “deconverted,” renouncing their previous commitment to Christian belief. Some YouTubers recently joined the ranks of the deconverted, and it prompted a little spate of emails to my inbox from some lists I subscribe to. One helpful link was to an article by Alisa Childers , called Let’s Deconstruct a Deconversion Story It’s about the people Chris mentioned, and I recommend it. Another was from a few years ago, by Trevin Wax. I recommend it too, for a big-picture kind of look at all of the issues. In Wax’s article, he quotes from Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age, Taylor writes:
What happens is that people are convinced that there is something more mature, more courageous, readier to face unvarnished reality in the scientific stance. The superiority is an ethical one… If I become convinced that the ancient faith reflects a more immature outlook on things, in comparison to modern science, then I will indeed see myself as abandoning the first to cleave to the second.
Wax observes that, as Taylor explains, the issue “is not the latest piece of science but the story science tells, as well as the desired self-image of being mature and rational.” Wax continues:
What might this truth mean for our engaging of people who are in the process of abandoning the faith they inherited as children? Commenting on Taylor’s view, James K. A. Smith writes:
If Taylor is right, it seems to suggest that the Christian response to such converts to unbelief is not to have an argument about the data or “evidences” but rather to offer an alternative story that offers a more robust, complex understanding of the Christian faith. The goal of such witness would not be the minimal establishment of some vague theism but the invitation to historic, sacramental Christianity.” (77)
The classical approach of apologetics is to present rational proofs for God’s existence, and then from this point to argue for the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Classical apologetics is beneficial in the effort to show that Christianity is true, but if Taylor is right, then one is already likely to accept or reject reasons for belief before they ever hear them because the greater story is already conditioning them to accept or reject “proofs” of God’s existence and the truth of Christianity.
Perhaps this is why one of the best ways to engage an unbeliever is simply to invite them to church. Lesslie Newbigin spoke of the people of God as a “community apologetic.” It’s not that the church replaces other, rational strategies and arguments for belief in God. It’s that the church becomes the atmosphere, the teller of a better story, a story whose truth begins to work on the heart of a non-religious person, conditioning them for the moment when the classical apologetics “proofs” are then used by the Holy Spirit to confirm the belief He has already initiated in them.
I have come to agree with this more and more as the years go by. The first need is for all of us who follow Jesus to press into living and experiencing real spiritual life in communion with the Spirit of God. The second need is for us to commit to doing that with others–to be living parts of our church, building up the family of believers, just as the Bible directs us. And then, maybe the final step is for us to invite non-believers to come observe our life together–to see our friendships, to hear the word of our Father, to taste what it’s like to be in a place where people who really love each other gather and share in God’s blessings together. They won’t really be a part of things until they trust in Christ and find new life, but the very existence of the kind of family they’ve never had might be the strongest “argument” God uses to bring them to faith in Christ.
Maybe they will think: “I’ve never had this. And I want it.”
And maybe the Spirit of God will say to them, “You can have it. Repent of your sin and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Come be part of the family.”