But I'm Sure They Were Saved
What can explain the deconversion of a person who once demonstrated what looked like sincere faith?
Were they never really saved?
When an adolescent or young adult reveals they no longer consider themselves a Christian it can be emotionally hard for parents to hear and even more difficult to make sense of how could someone so passionate about Jesus just up and walk away from him. Perhaps the most perplexing question that some parents wrestle with is whether their child was ever a Christian, to begin with. Consider Kate.
Kate grew up in a conservative evangelical Christian home. She believed what her parents told her about God, Jesus, and the Bible. By that I mean she thought it was all true. She taught Sunday school, went on mission trips, and was the president of the Christian club at her high school. Upon graduation, she enrolled in the nursing program at the state university located three hours from her home. Her goal was to become a medical missionary in a country that had very little Christian witness. In September, Kate headed off to college to become a nurse for Jesus.
But it didn't take long for her to begin to question her faith. The combination of being exposed to new ideas and people and the freedom to think about her faith without the support of her family and church opened the door for her to questions she never entertained before. On top of that she encountered objections to Christianity that she had never heard before. Naturally these began to create doubt in her mind about what she believed. She kept these doubts to herself, afraid of what her parents or Christian friends might say. Over that first year, Kate noticed that she was no longer the girl she was in high school. Back then - when she didn't know anything different - faith was easy. But then, she didn't know, what she didn't know. But not now. Armed with her new knowledge she couldn't help but ask herself:
How could she believe in a religion that taught billions of people are going to suffer in Hell for eternity?
How was she supposed to conform her life to the teachings of a book that called for the annihilation of entire people groups?
How could she be part of a religion that had committed so many atrocities throughout history?
How could she tell same-sex attracted people that their lifestyle was sinful?
After a lot of soul searching, Kate began to realize that the faith of her teen years had evaporated. By the time her freshman year was over, Kate no longer identified as a Christian. She didn't know what she was, but she knew that she no longer was a Christian.
What are we to make of Kate and her deconversion? It seems that there are two live options.
Christians have traditionally explained deconversion in one of two ways:
An individual who at one time trusted in Jesus was saved and a member of God's family, can commit apostasy (renounce their faith) and remove themselves from being a member of God's family.
An individual who renounces their faith demonstrates that regardless of how genuine they seemed they were never saved, to begin with, because saved individuals will persevere.
The second option assumes the doctrine of eternal security.
As its name says, eternal security means that once a person places their faith in Jesus, they are eternally secure. Though they will still sin after coming to Christ, he will never cast them away. A corollary of this doctrine is that a person who has been truly born-again will persevere in their faith until they die. If a person who professes to be a Christian renounces the faith, it shows they were never truly born-again, to begin with, no matter how sincere they appeared.
For parents that hold to eternal security, the deconversion of a child who was a passionate follower of Jesus is incredibly difficult to comprehend because it means their child was never really a Christian despite all appearances. How, they wonder, could the child that was so sincere in their faith, excitedly went on mission trips, served in soup kitchens, won awards for Bible memorization, and volunteered at Bible camps every summer have never been a Christian?
That's the question I want to address in this series of posts. Not because I'm defending eternal security. Rather, I want to help those who do affirm eternal security resolve the dissonance between what they believe the Bible teaches about the security of salvation and the deconversion of their child who gave every indication they were a genuine follower of Jesus.
In short, I want to offer some thoughts on how it can be that the doctrine of eternal security can be true and an individual who gave every indication he or she was a genuinely regenerated, member of God's family never really was.
Let's begin with the conclusion and then see if there is any reason to think it is correct.
If eternal security is true, then a person who walked away was never saved because:
they never truly believed.
they never truly believed.
In the case of #1, the problem is with a deficient kind of belief. In the case of #2, the issue is with the self that is doing the believing.
In the next post in the series, we'll look at explanation #1, which holds that deconverts had a deficient form of belief.