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Ed Stetzer on Deconversion: Some Thoughts on Kissing Christianity Goodbye

According to the Faith and Families project, only a minority of the children of mainliners are mainliners, whereas a strong majority of evangelical parents end up with evangelical children.

Then, I started to reconsider.

I remembered Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Francis Schaeffer. If robust evangelicalism guaranteed continuing fidelity, the younger Schaeffer would not be writing odd books about his mother’s sex life and describing his own spiritual life as an atheist who believes in God.

And, let’s be honest, I could list one hundred others, though perhaps few as prominent as Schaeffer and Campolo. And, we don’t really have statistics for progressive evangelicals, partly because there aren’t that many statistics available, so we don’t know for sure if they will track like mainliners.

Looking back now, let me also add to that the number of ex-evangelicals (or “exvies”) like John Piper’s son Abraham. While our initial reaction to such stories might range from disappointment to frustration, I think it might be good for us to consider a bit about what this means—not for those departing the faith, but for us (and for me).

Let’s Pause a Moment

Back then, I wrote five things to consider as we think about the deconversion of Campolo, Harris, and others. This is from the original article:

First, and perhaps this is personal, I need to think about my own family.

Do my children have a faith of their own? In this extremely informative and compelling talk Bart gave to earlier this year to the SSA Annual Conference, he is quite clear that he embraced a Christian community, but not the Christian faith.

As parents, we need to work to ensure our children have a relationship with Jesus, not just a desire to be part of a loving community doing good. In other words, we need to ask, are we discipling or merely socializing our children in church?

Let me add today that, we also need to have honest conversations with our children about the realities of our broken world and to help them process when they have doubt or questions, or fail badly, and when others they admire do the same. This means helping our children always look to Jesus instead of well-known evangelical leaders or (especially) Christian celebrities.

Continuing from the earlier article:

Second, it is appropriate to ask if the faith tradition we create produces children who regularly reject that faith.

I’d ask that of fundamentalists, mainline Protestants, progressive evangelicals, and, yes, conservative evangelicals.

But, most importantly, I’d ask that of your (and my) tradition: Are we producing disciples in the next generation?

Will the children of your faith tradition flourish in the faith you pass on to them?

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.