There is a third way in which well meaning parents and church leaders set up believers for a crisis of faith. I call it being half-baked and it results in being ill-prepared to deal with the realities of life. In this case the half-baked label is attached not so much to the individual but the theology they hold. Theology is half-baked when it is comprised of concepts and beliefs that are true but incomplete. The danger in having a half-baked theology is that it can set up believers to possess unrealistic expectations about God, prayer, the gospel, and the church which result in unmet expectations. Unmet expectations can in turn produce a sense of bewilderment and even betrayal that can end with a loss of faith.
Let me provide an example of what I am talking about. The Bible teaches that God is good, loving and merciful. We want our children to have that image. But the Bible also teaches that God is holy, just, and sovereign. As such he is well within his rights to run the universe as he sees fit. It's that last part, "how he sees fit" that often does not line up with how we think a good, loving and merciful God should act. When we run up against how we think the world should be as opposed to how it is we come face to face with our deep and unconsciously held presuppositions about who God is and how he should act. If we do not have a well balanced and healthy conception about who God is and what we can expect from him our half-baked conceptions will cause us problems when God doesn't meet those expectations. No matter how well balanced and healthy (biblical) our conception of God is he will always surprise us and act in ways that we don't expect. But if being aware of that is part of what comprises our understanding of God we will be less likely to feel betrayed by him when he doesn't do what we think he should. We can avoid the trap that Leanne fell into.
Leanne became a follower of Jesus in high school. She became a leader of the church youth group, helped lead worship, was an intern at a church for over a year and even helped plant another church where she had a leadership role. She was sold out to Jesus. But she had a deep desire and that was to be married. One by one she watched as her friends found Christian men, got married and had children while she continued to serve the Lord as a single woman. Over time this began to cause her to question God's fairness and eventually his existence. How, if God was good, could he treat her this way, she wondered? She had committed her life to him. She was sacrificially serving him. She only wanted one thing in life and he wasn't giving it to her. She felt betrayed. Where was the goodness of God? Where was his compassion? What kind of fair and compassionate God would hold back the one thing she deeply desired after she had given him so much? Eventually Leanne came to the conclusion that the God she had believed in didn't exist. It wasn't long before she concluded there is no God at all.
An overly simplistic summary of Leanne's loss of faith is that her theology was ill-prepared to meet the realities of life. Her concept was only half-baked. She rightly believed that God is good and loving and merciful. But that's only half the story. He is also sovereign and inscrutable. She was never told that God may act in ways that seem at odds with our understanding of goodness, fairness, compassion etc. Regardless he is still God and is never beholden to the reciprocity principle in his dealings with us. He owes us nothing except to be consistent with his own character which is loving and good but also holy and just.
By not teaching Leanne a more robust, biblical portrait of God, her church set her up for a crisis when her conception of God failed to live up to the expectations that such a conception implied. This occurs not only with half-baked conceptions about God but also prayer, what it means to "believe in Jesus", and what to expect from other Christians to name but a few. Half-baked theology is the soil from which unrealistic expectations grow and produces believers who are ill-prepared to deal with reality when it does not match their expectations.
How do we combat ill-prepared believers? The secret is found in the words of the great theologians Crosby, Stills and Nash, "Teach your children well." More to come on this in future blogs.
In the meantime here are some links to interviews I have done recently with the BBC, The Church Times UK and a talk I gave on the underlying value components of faith exit, at L'Abri in Switzerland.
BBC (Begins at 16:24)