I let the cat out of the bag Saturday in the Weekly Meanderings and the nice conversation that followed from it. I linked to the story of the reporter named Lobdell who, after a conversion to the faith and after covering the religion scene for a good long while, has walked away from his Christian faith. I mentioned then that I was doing some research on conversion theory and apostasy, so here’s the first in a series this month on loss of faith. My question will come up later in this post.
In 2002 “we” — not Tony and I — published a book on conversion theory and how that theory shows up in the Gospel stories of conversion. The book is called Turning to Jesus. The basic thesis is this: all converts go through a similar process. It begins in one’s context, is prompted by a crisis, leads to a quest for a resolution, finds itself in an interaction and encounter with the advocates (Bible, charismatic evangelist, etc), leads to a commitment and to consequences. Conversions, of course, vary — some have an intense crisis while some simply shuffle through a series of “gentle nods of the soul.”
In that book, which is rooted in Lewis Rambo’s monumental Understanding Conversion, I stated that all conversions involve apostasy — and saying so is not so much a moral judgment or a theological position as a social description. To enter one faith system, one leaves another. (Children emerging into faith is a little different, but that is not the point here.)
I am working now on the last chapter in a book for Baylor University Press tentatively called Finding Faith/Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy. “We’ve” done one on why evangelicals become Roman Catholic, one on why Jews become messianic, one on why Catholics become evangelicals and the study I am presently doing is on why people abandon the Christian faith.
Today’s post is a brief one but I’ll do some more this month. I begin with the story of Charles Templeton, told in his Dawkins-like diatribe Farewell to God. Famously, Templeton was a close Canadian associate of Billy Graham and a powerful evangelist with Youth for Christ and church-building pastor in Toronto. Everyone knew of his legendary preaching abilities and the impact he was having in evangelism and preaching. In the 1950s, just before Billy’s famous LA Crusade, Templeton revealed to Billy Graham that he was struggling with his understanding of Scripture, inspiration, and overall biblical commitment. He said he and Billy were on two different paths.
Well, I can’t tell the whole story here. What I see in Templeton’s decision to abandon the faith is the clash of scientific data with the biblical record — in other words, Templeton had an intellectual crisis from the conflict of scientific facts with the biblical worldview. Templeton left his church, went to Princeton Theological Seminary, then was employed as a mainline evangelist but within a few years, because he could not with integrity continue to preach what he was no longer sure of, left preaching altogether.
For Templeton it was all about intellectual freedom. It was a hard difficult decision for Templeton, but here are his words: “The oft-postponed decision irrevocably made, there came a soaring sense of freedom, not least, intellectual freedom…. My mind could freely quest where it would. I could examine any question without a predisposition to harmonize it with the body of Christian belief. I felt loosed. Set free!” (222).
“In the end, one must follow the truth as one perceives it. Not to do so is to live a lie” (224).
While one cannot reduce Templeton’s loss of faith to his problems with Genesis or the Bible, these issues for the heart of his crisis. What do you think the Church can do more to encourage genuine research on these issues and, what is far more important, bring such research into the local church? What does your local church do? What about your own journey?
This book is a record of his response, but it comes off as a lengthy diatribe against the Genesis accounts, the entire presentation of God in the Bible, the improbability of miracles, the moral hypocrisy of the Church in history, the strange stories of some pastors, how the Bible and Church understand women, and the Christian theory of good and evil. It isn’t simply the rant of a disaffected Christian but it does turn into this at times. Most of his argument is by assertion and logic.
Templeton, who died in 2001 after a lengthy, successful career as a newspaper, magazine and TV editor and leader, was an agnostic — not a theist (he doesn’t think one can believe in a personal God), not an atheist (the evidence is the same against God as for God), but an agnostic (one can’t know such things).