In the end, there’s no doubt Hatmaker’s de-conversion story will be persuasive to our postmodern world. And I am sure some will adopt her newfound theology as a result. But, upon closer examination, it is rife with problems. While claiming to be non-judgmental, she declares the fruit of those who believe in traditional marriage as “rotten.” Despite her insistence that the Bible should be read without certainty, she offers all sorts of dogmatic claims about what the Bible teaches. While claiming her views are due to a deep study of Scripture, she offers only simplistic (and even irresponsible) explanations for the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, while disregarding 2000 years of church history.
When it comes to reaching the “lost,” one of the most tried-and-true methods is the personal conversion story. Whether done privately or publicly, it’s compelling to hear a person’s testimony about how they came to believe in the truth of the Gospel, the truth of the Bible, and embraced the Christian faith. Such testimonies can personalize and soften the message so it is more easily understood and received.
But when it comes to reaching the “found,” there’s an equally effective method—and this is a method to which the evangelical church has paid very little attention. It’s what we might call the de-conversion story.
De-conversion stories are designed not to reach non-Christians but to reach Christians. And their purpose is to convince them that their crusty, backwards, outdated, naïve beliefs are no longer worthy of their assent. Whether done privately or publicly, this is when a person simply gives their testimony of how they once thought like you did and have now seen the light.
Of course, there have always been de-conversion stories available throughout the history of the church—if one would only take the time to dig them up and listen to them. Christianity has never had a shortage of people who were once in the fold and then left, hoping to take with them as many people as possible.
But in recent years these de-conversion stories seem to have taken on a higher profile. Part of this is due, no doubt, to the technology that makes these de-conversion stories more available whether through podcasts, blogs, or other forms of media.
But, it’s also due to the fact that many of those who de-convert have realized a newfound calling to share their testimony with as many people as possible. Rather than just quietly leaving the faith and moving onto other things—something that would have been more common in prior generations—there seems to be a new guard that has made it their life’s ambition to evangelize the found.
Indeed, many of these de-conversion stories are told with the kind of conviction, passion, and evangelistic zeal that would make any modern televangelist blush. In their minds, they’re missionaries to the “lost” in every sense of the word. They just have to help these Christians realize they are mistaken and lead them to the truth.
Modern examples of those in the de-conversion business are well known: Bart Ehrman, Rob Bell, Peter Enns, and (as we shall discuss below) Jen Hatmaker.
Of course, each of their stories are different. Ehrman moved from fundamentalism all the way to agnosticism, with no desire to retain the label “Christian.” In contrast, those like Bell would still consider themselves “Christian” in some fashion, maybe even an evangelical of sorts.
But what all these folks do share is the same background. They were all once what we might call traditional, evangelical Christians and have now come to see the error of their ways. Whatever they embrace, it is no longer that version of Christianity.
I’ve seen a number of these de-conversion stories over the years in the books I’ve reviewed—a number by Ehrman, and some by Bell and Enns (you can find them all here). And a few years ago, I had a number of guest blog posts responding to Enns’ “Aha Moments” blog series (see responses here).
But, I was particularly reminded of the power and impact of de-conversion stories when I listened to last week’s podcast of Jen Hatmaker being interviewed by Peter Enns (you can listen here). This interview has been making the rounds, and I can see why. She’s a friendly, charming and well-spoken woman who is easy to listen to.
And the title of her interview fits this de-conversion theme perfectly: “Changing Your Mind about the Bible: A Survivor’s Guide.” As many know, the main issue Hatmaker changed her mind about is that she now fully affirms the LGBQT lifestyle as consistent with biblical Christianity.
But, Hatmaker’s journey in this interview is not as original as it might first appear. In effect, she simply follows the same basic playbook used by Rob Bell, Bart Ehrman and others. The details may be different, but the overall point is the same.
The purpose of this post is to lay out the steps in this de-conversion playbook and offer a quick response to each of them. My hope is to help others who hear these de-conversion stories and struggle with how to respond.