Why do people leave the Christian faith? The answer often given is that there is some fault in the Christian community:
Christians are judgmental.
Christians are old-fashioned.
Christians are not nice.
Christians are anti-everything
Certainly it is true that many people become disillusioned with faith because of bad experiences with Christians.
But not everybody.
I am reading a very challenging book called Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary. The author, Kenneth Daniels, grew up in a strict, fundamentalist Christian church and spent years on the mission field in Africa before leaving the faith and becoming an atheist (for the record, Daniels prefers the term humanist).
Early in the book Daniels says more or less what I just said above: many people fault the Christian community for why Christians leave the faith. But he says that for him it was the Christian community which kept him in the faith for so long. Long after he no longer believed in the claims of Christianity he hung on because the community was so vital to his life:
I must emphasize again I have no ax to grind against Christians as people, even if I do not accept their beliefs. The most wonderful people I know are Christians. I have often heard believers assert that ex-Christians leave the faith primarily because of disappointments with the Christian community and not because of any deficiency in the gospel itself. Precisely the opposite was true for me: my desire to stay in fellowship with believers long served as an obstacle to my decision to leave the faith” (9-10).
Eventually Daniels had to be true to what he had come to believe and he left the church. For Daniels it was about nothing other than the pursuit of truth: he no longer believed in Jesus, the Bible or God. This book is completely focused on why he no longer believes and covers a lot of ground from the reliability of the Bible, miracles, hell and much more.
Books like this and people like Daniels should remind us that the mind matters. We cannot leave behind thinking through the hard issues of faith. If we offer a surface-level, shallow faith to the world we run the risk of losing the deep thinkers among us.
Having great music and fun programs that appeal to people’s desire for community and emotional attachment is a good thing. But it cannot be the only thing. Because sooner or later people begin to ask the hard questions and if they get no answers, or worse if they get shallow answers with little thought, they will drift away.
In my opinion, Daniels book is more challenging then those of the “new atheists” like Dawkins and Harris. Daniels writes with kindness and knowledge as a former insider. He does not hesitate to challenge faith where he sees it as illogical, which is most of the book, but the tone throughout is much friendlier then the so-called angry atheists. Perhaps the new atheists can be brushed off as some guys who are just angry, Daniels and those like him cannot be brushed off as easily.
I think Daniel’s book should be read by Christians, especially pastors. No matter what happens, it can only be good for our soul to allow our faith to be stretched by engaging the works of those who have left it. I have appreciated works by Christian apologists, but I believe my faith is made stronger by reading well-thought out attacks on the faith.