Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? Breaking-up with a God Who Failed Them
by Bradley Wright
Part 2 in a series
In a study of religious deconversion, we analyzed 50 on-line testimonies posted by former Christians, and in these testimonies we found four general explanations for deconversion. The first explanation, which I wrote about last week, regarded intellectual and theological concerns about the Christian faith. The second, which I elaborate here, regards a failed relationship with God. Almost half (22 of 50) of the writers expressed sentiments that in some way God had failed them by His not doing what they thought He should.
God’s perceived failure took various forms, most of which fall under the general heading of “unanswered prayers.”
One way that people felt that God had failed them happened when He did not respond to requests for help during difficult times. A young man raised in a Baptist church epitomized this feeling of failure when he wrote about God not answering his prayers about family difficulties. He wrote: “The first time I questioned the faith was when my grandmother shriveled up in front of me for 6 month’s due to cancer. I was 13 & my mother & father [were] getting a divorce. My father told me I should have been aborted. I prayed to God but nothing fails like prayers.”
Likewise, a woman raised in a Methodist household described her step-father as “cruel and abusive” to her, and she could not understand why “if God loves me, why won’t he protect me instead of letting this happen to me?”
In a variation of this theme, some deconverts lamented God’s inactivity amidst spiritual difficulties. A man in his forties, a former elder at a charismatic church, wrote: “In my own life, no matter how much I submitted to ‘God’ and prayed in faith, ‘sin’ never seemed to leave me. Well, what’s the point of being ‘saved’ if you aren’t delivered from ‘sin’?”
A former Southern Baptist described the various good things that God failed to give him: “God promises me a lot in the bible and he’s not come through. Ask and it shall be given. Follow me and I will bless you. I promise you life and promise abundance. Man should not be alone. I have a plan for you. Give tithe and I will reward you. All broken promises. This god lacks clarification. This god lacks faith in me. He wants my faith. I want his too.”
Other writers took a different approach to God’s failures. They too sought God’s help, but when they did not receive it, they simply concluded that God did not exist…
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The question is real and troubling. Why is it that many live with silent doubt, many leaving the ‘evangelical fold’ for something else? Is there something wrong with the message, the communicator, the hearer…or is it all three? It’s time to ask the hard questions of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and why it seems as though God has made it so hard to continue believing. In fact, the son of a prominent U.S. Senator phoned me with that very question. ‘Why has God made it so hard to believe in Him?’ Such skepticism is not just representative of the hostile; it also represents many honest questioners. This book attempts to lay out the response to those within as well as those outside the Christian faith so as to understand what it is we believe and why it is so hard to do so. More to the point: Why it is actually so hard to deny God and still make sense out of life? In the end the answers should be both felt and real, with the added truth that God is nearer than you think. He desires that we sense Him very near to us and not distant. But closeness comes at a cost just as any relationship of love and commitment does.
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Young people aren’t walking away from the church—they’re sprinting. According to a recent study by Ranier Research, 70 percent of youth leave church by the time they are 22 years old. Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are 29 years old. Those who leave
the faith are often downright cynical. To make matters worse, parents generally react poorly when their children go astray. This is where Generation Ex-Christian will lend a hand. It will equip and inspire parents, church leaders, and everyday Christians to reawaken the prodigal’s desire for God and set him or her back on the road to a dynamic faith. The heart of the book will be the raw profiles of real-world, young ex-Christians. No two leavers are identical, but upon close observation some categories emerge. The book will identify seven different kinds of leavers and offer practical advice for how to connect with each type. Shrewd tips will also intersperse the chapters alerting readers to opportunities for engagement, and to hidden landmines they must sidestep to effectively reach leavers.
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