Friday, February 5, 2010

Why A Believer Might Reject the Faith

This week’s online issue of Christianity Today Magazine published an interview with former Christian artist David Bazan (“I Never Wanted a Hard Heart,” by Drew Dyck, 2-2-2010). Bazan is a “former Christian artist.” He is “former” because he no longer is Christian. He has turned away from the his faith and has become an atheist. What is unusual is that Bazan is 35 years old and has written and sung about his faith for at least a decade. His was not a case of a young person rejecting his parents’ faith once he began to think for himself. Rather, it was a case of rejecting his own faith, a faith hammered out by personally wrestling with the claims of Christ, a faith arrived at as his own conviction, and a faith expressed from his heart in his music. Not that he is the first Christian to turn away from a long and dearly held faith. It happens. But it would seem to take something dramatic for someone like Bazan to turn away from their faith. What would cause such a dramatic turn-about? Perhaps by answering that question, we will better understand our own doubts and vulnerability.

Like many others who turn away from their faith, Bazan offers intellectual reasons for his gradual deconversion. He began to wrestle with big questions, and felt that to be honest he had to pursue those questions. I believe he is right to do so. We all face doubts and questions. We would be dishonest with ourselves and with God if we simply brushed those questions aside or buried them under a fa├žade of unquestioning conviction. The truth is, faith in Christ raises tough questions. There are questions in regard to Jesus’ claims and of the witnesses’ claims to his being raised from the dead, questions of the historical truth of the Bible, and moral questions about a God who allows so much evil and suffering to occur in the world. Perhaps most difficult are when those moral questions become personal through our own suffering and disappointment. Where is God when we suffer tragic loss?

There is no need to fear such questions, whether intellectual or emotional. Perhaps the intellectual questions are the easiest to settle. The Bible and the Christian faith has withstood the test of skeptical examination for 2000 years. Honesty may demand that we pursue such questions when they arise, but it also demands that we pursue and examine all the possible and proposed answers. Too often, however, we use intellectual arguments to cover what is really a problem of the heart. It is not “Can I intellectually and honestly believe this?” so much as it is “Am I willing to surrender my life to this?” That’s more of a heart issue than a head issue. I don’t know if Bazan’s doubt arose out of some deeper heart issue, but I suspect so.

To understand why a believer would give up his or her faith, it might help to ask why an unbeliever would come to faith to begin with. Is it purely an intellectual decision? I’d like to think that we all came to faith after having pursued all the possible questions and all the possible answers, and have concluded intellectually, based on the evidence, that Jesus is the Son of God. But who of us can say we did? Hopefully we at least considered the evidence and concluded it was reasonable enough to give our lives to. But even then, we still had to make an emotional decision. We had to wrestle with questions like, “Do I need Jesus? Am I willing to surrender everything for Jesus? Is it worth the cost?” If coming to the faith involved a combination of intellectual and emotional considerations, leaving the faith would seem to as well. When intellectual doubts arise, don’t be afraid to examine those doubts. But we may need to examine our heart even closer.