I was re-reading an article by a friend Phil Harold, 'De-converion in the emerging church' (sorry it's behind a paywall, and I can't give out free copies) and I wondered if de-conversion is the new conversion?
Phil's article surveys a broad range of bloggers and writers in the Emerging Church, and highlights the stories of loss of faith, and belief. Phil then makes one suggestion of how the work of John D. Barbour on de-conversion, might help us to understand what is happening within this.
There are four elements from Barbour that Phil correlates with his survey: 1) Doubt: the struggle for belief in a post-modern world 2) Moral critique: how Christians are tired with seeing Christians more concerned with the consumer dream than the Kingdom of God 3) New metaphors: the search for new ways of expressing 1 & 2 that don't use the mappings of previous ways of understanding faith 4) Self examination away from others in isolation. There's so much to Barbour and Harold's use of him. It's one way to see what is happening and how it's a healthy and simultaneously unhealthy, like all movements.
In my Doctor of Ministry thesis I used the work of James Fowler, to suggest that the loss of faith is a normal and necessary part of faith development. I'm not unique in suggesting that, and I drew heavily on the work of Alan Jamieson for that.
But I also wonder if something else is happening, as I'm sure many things are happening. Having just surveyed the history of evangelicalism, it's beliefs and practices, one thing stands out. The process of initiation into the christian faith through an intense emotional experience, of personal faith and assurance.
A large rump of the E/C are from middle of the road evangelicals who were brought up on certainties of faith and the telling of stories of conversion and finding faith in the evangelical tradition. I remember hearing Nicky Cruz speak, and saw how evangelism was often about gathering people to hear dramatic conversion stories.
So all these christians brought up on this narrative and 'normative' experience, who did not have this experience having been raised in churches, have to come to terms with not having had dramatic conversion experiences, and the loss of certainties in a post-modern world.
Perhaps de-conversion, the telling of intense emotional stories about the realisation of not believing, of loss of faith, are functioning as the 'new conversion'. We now confess our lack of faith and assurance, and the uncertainty that captivates our imaginations and actions.
I find myself in the middle of this somehow. Not having been brought up in church, but having had an intense conversion experience, what was not around formulas and programs. I'n not sure if that's helpful or a hinderance in church life and mission.
In any event, the loss of faith, and de-conversion, as well as the certainties of the past, seem to offer little hope for seeing others 'find faith' and live out that faith with others. What does a new 'new conversion' look like?