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Walking with Someone through Deconstruction: John Marriott

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
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March 14, 2023 5:15 am

Walking with Someone through Deconstruction: John Marriott

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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March 14, 2023 5:15 am

Walking with someone through faith deconstruction? Dr. John Marriott helps you understand what's going on, navigate wisely, and love deeply.

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When someone leaves the faith, they will always say that they're leaving because they no longer believe that it's true, because they just came to the place where they don't think that the Bible can be the word of God. And unfortunately, in the church, I think we have sort of set them up for that crisis of faith because we haven't done a really great job of letting young people know, this is where the New Testament came from, here's why we think this person wrote it, here's how it was put together, this is why we think that it's reliable. And then they go to university and they hear what would be more the skeptical, critical side of the history of the Bible. And they say, what?

Are you kidding me? Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson.

And I'm Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. You know, as we've already talked about, all the signs of the next generation in their Christian faith are sort of scary. There seems to be like they're walking away.

Now, we know that not everybody's walking away. Our kids aren't all walking away, but when you read the stats, you think, man, it's an epidemic. Yeah, and I think as a parent, we're thinking, how can I avoid this? How can I keep my kids in the faith that is dynamic? Every parent listening right now is like, help me, help me, help me. Even parents with little kids. Oh, especially.

As they're raising kids in a culture where God isn't a topic that we often discuss as it used to be. Yeah, and so we have John Marriott back in the studio with us. Welcome back, John.

Good to be here again. And I mean, I called you last time the expert, but you know, I never asked you, why did you start? I mean, you're a professor of Biola.

You work with students every day. You're an author. Years ago, you decided, I'm going to dig into this whole thing called deconversion or deconstruction where our kids, our children are walking away. What got you so interested in this?

I mean, you were sort of studying it before it's a known entity in our culture. Yeah, there was one significant event that happened in my life that really motivated me. I was, in 1996, I was at a Division I university on the East Coast. I was on track and field scholarship.

My event was the triple jump. And I had been there a year and things had been going really poorly. I felt as though I was getting worse instead of better. And I really wanted to quit. I had a good conversation with my coach and he said, no, you've got to hang in there a little longer.

And we went to Florida for the Florida State relays. The first morning there, one of my teammates came to me and said, you'll never guess who's in the weight room. And I said, I have no idea who's in the weight room. And I'm not really interested in playing a guessing game.

You know, I'm really discouraged at this point. And he says, Jonathan Edwards is in the weight room. And the year previous to that, Jonathan Edwards, out of the UK, had broke the record in the triple jump. And he had broken it three times. The world record? Yeah, the world record in the triple jump in that year. He was the world champion. And I guess he had decided to move to the United States to train. And he was at Florida State University, where we were, and he was in the weight room.

And if there was one person who I felt could have understood me, it would have been Jonathan Edwards. Because the UK press was more impressed with his personal life than they were with his amazing triple jumps. He sacrificed, very much like Eric Little did in Chariots of Fire, an opportunity to go to the Olympics and the World Championships in previous years.

Because he didn't want to compete on a Sunday. Wow. Deeply committed believer. And so you can imagine what I felt when I knew that Jonathan Edwards was in the weight room that day. A hero. He was my hero. Pictures of him were all over my dorm room wall.

Really? I went in the weight room. There he was. I waited until he was done. I went over and I told him my sad story. I told him that I was a Christian and that, you know, I knew that he was a believer and I was really struggling. And could he, you know, help me? And he said, well, I'm not a great coach, but my coach can help you.

But would you like to go out for lunch? So we went out for lunch and he told me all about how when he was done track and field, he was going to go to Dallas Theological Seminary. And he was going to study Israelology, do a systematic study of the nation of Israel. He went on. He won the gold medal in the Olympics. And then he won the World Championships one more time. And then he retired. When he retired, he became the host of Songs of Praise, which is the BBC's longest running television show. And it's a Sunday morning praise television show. So he was one of the most well-known Christians in the UK at the time.

In 2007, I Googled him and I thought, I wonder what Jonathan Edwards is doing these days. And the first headline I see is, Olympic triple jumper takes leap out of faith. Really?

Yeah. I actually felt my stomach flip. And I clicked on that link and I read how he no longer identifies as a Christian. And what really bothered me was when he said, and I am happier and more content without my faith than I was with it. And I don't think there's any more reason to believe in the existence of God. And I said, how is that possible? And then the rest of that night, I started looking into stories of people like Jonathan Edwards. And probably many of us are familiar with famous Christian celebrities who have recently walked away from the faith.

But for each one of those, there are tens of thousands of other stories of people online who are not celebrities, but who say, yeah, I used to be committed to this, but I don't believe it anymore. And so I said, why does that happen? What's the process look like? Is there anything that we can do? Is there anything that we're doing that might be contributing to it? And that's what started the research for my dissertation. Hmm.

Wow. Everyone who leaves the faith has a different story. We can't just broad brush and say, this is how it happens.

This is what it looks like. Here are the specific reasons, because there are factors we can identify. There's a general model that people kind of go through that we can identify.

There are some triggers that we can identify. But everyone is unique and everyone comes into faith on their own unique journey. And everyone who leaves the faith also has their own unique journey. And yesterday you talked about a profile. Yes.

There's a type of profile of people that are leaving? Yes. Okay. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Because we mentioned it yesterday. Sure. I think that it's important to say that just because people fit the profile does not mean that they are going to walk away from the faith. One of my good friends read it and said, oh, I don't think I'm going to be a Christian for very much longer. This identifies me. And he's one of the most deeply committed believers that I know. And so what I'm saying is that this is just a generalization.

Yeah. And so first off, there's a set of personality traits that people who deconvert typically have. And one of them is being above average in intelligence. Well, I guess we're out, honey.

We don't have to worry about it. There are a number of studies done and one of the most significant is a study of 63 different studies that show that people who either have left the faith or some religious faith or who don't adopt a religious faith, they score higher in intelligence tests. And so there is this sort of connection between, you know, intelligence and people who say, you know, I don't believe. There is also a component where someone is maybe more analytic than intuitive. We all come to beliefs in a predominantly systematic, strategic reasoning kind of way. That would be the analytic personality. Then there's the intuitive where we say, this is just clearly makes sense to me. The intuitive person would say, yeah, I look outside and it's pretty clear there's got to be a God.

The analytic person says, let me see all of the empirical evidence. People who are more analytic are more inclined. People who are open to experience. Now, this is one of the big five personality traits that psychologists say that we were born with and it seems to be consistent throughout our life.

And we are either open or closed to varying degrees to new experiences. Do you want to go skydiving? Yeah. Do you want to do bungee jumping? Sure. Do you want to go hear a Buddhist speaker down at the student union?

I'm open to hearing new things. People who are more open to experience are significantly more likely than people who are a bit more closed off. And that seems to make sense because you're opening yourself up to new ideas, new ways of thinking. Whereas if you, you know, you don't do that, then maybe you're not going to be challenged as much in what you believe. Those who have a low tolerance for authoritarian leadership should not be surprising, right? Because sometimes religious communities can be a bit overbearing.

And if you come from one of those and you have a low tolerance for that, you're going to maybe buck against that. Then there are some values that we have. There are about 12 basic values that everyone has and we hold them to varying degrees. None of these are better or worse than the other. We all esteem some of them, but there are a set of values that if you esteem them highly, you are more likely.

These are actual predictors. One is if you score high in the value of self-determination, right? Doing what I want to do, my own freedom, my own autonomy, that's one.

Another one is if you score high in what's sometimes called hedonism, which is pleasure is really important for you and seeking pleasure, that would be another one. That's not everybody? Well, see, that is everybody, but to varying degrees, right?

Yeah, yeah. Everybody does want to be independent. Everyone wants their freedom.

Everybody wants pleasure, but people for whom this is a really high, important, prioritized value, that's the difference. Well, it's interesting. Even as you're talking, Jon, it's like I can picture a mom or dad, you know, a husband listening right now and they've got their pencil out or they get their phone and they're jotting these down and they're like, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh.

I mean, it just feels like it's stacking up. I mean, definitely our sons, a couple of them, ding, ding, ding, ding, every one of them so far. And again, I know you're not saying that means, but it does give an indication that they're going to be more open to this than anybody else, right? Sure. Yes. Should we keep going? This is getting scary.

We can. I'm kidding. You don't need to do all of them, but as you look at that, you've got the personality, you've got values, what else is in there that would be really important for us to understand? That this is a profile that's at least worth looking at. Some college. Some college. Some college. Yeah.

Yeah. Going off to college is significant. And one of the reasons why it's significant is not just because, you know, maybe college is a, so some bastion of liberalism.

I think that that's a problem. And I think that that can be the seeds of doubt for a lot of people, but it's also a time when young people leave home, right? And they're outside of their family environment where they maybe feel a bit more free to think about things and to question. They encounter new people, especially new people from different faith traditions or no faith tradition. And they say, I like these people. They're nice people. They're not people who, you know, I thought were wicked and evil and bad.

And boy, some of them might even be a bit more moral than I am. That makes me question my own beliefs about things. It's also a time I think when young people begin to kind of figure out who their true self is. It's really easy if you're, certainly if you're a firstborn and you're a pleaser, you grow up and you adopt all the values and the beliefs that your family has placed, you know, into you and you think that's really who you are. But at some point you say, I don't really think I do line up with that political party or I don't really feel like, you know, this really is as important as my parents feel. And that all happens at that point in time.

And so some college exposed to new ideas, getting outside of the home, being able to kind of have the freedom to think for oneself is another aspect. Yeah. And I, you know, I was thinking the other day I heard somebody give their testimony and as they gave it, I thought, wow, I know I'm exaggerating. I know I'm generalizing.

I had this thought. Every person that goes to college has their testimony is, and then I went to college and I walked away and I got into bad stuff and then I came back. I don't know if that's true or not, but don't you think that often happens? And so as a parent, when your kid goes to college, it's a wonderful moment, but you're also scared to death because all those temptations are right there and they're not in your home anymore. And yet at the other side of it, it can be a great opportunity for God to meet. That's where I met him, you know, and it was like all those things were the end.

They were empty. But I sort of had to walk through that to know that and then I turned to Christ. So is it something we should be scared of?

Probably not. I mean, in one sense, yeah, but in another sense not. I mean, when you hear this profile, you go, okay, I'm going to make sure my kid never goes to college.

No, you want him to experience that. Anything else significant in there that we should pay attention to? I think the ingredients can sound, you know, like they're very determinative that if my son or daughter checks off these boxes, then they're eventually going to leave the faith, which is just clearly not the case.

There are things though that we can do when they do check off those boxes to try and help mitigate what potentially down the road could cause problems. So for my son. Yeah, I was going to ask you, your kids, I'm guessing that you're thinking, okay, I'm going to make sure I have some conversations that help him answer some of these questions. Exactly.

Yes. Tell us about your son. Well, my son is first born. He's intelligent. He is sort of a pleaser, a people pleaser, but he wants to do the right thing. And, you know, he does identify as a Christian. He believes that it's true. He wanted to get baptized. And then before he got baptized, he said to me, I got one question though.

And I said, yeah, what is it? He said, how do we know this is all true? I said, okay, maybe we need to step back from getting baptized and go through this. And we need to start providing you with some reasons why that we think that it's true. And so we started watching a series of videos on the resurrection and on the existence of God.

And I was fortunate enough because of my background and my education and my experience, I could pause those videos and say, now, I agree with what this guy on the screen is saying, but I want you to hear me present the argument against that. So that you know that this is not a slam dunk case, but that there is reason to believe, but faith is a matter of trust that goes a bit beyond the reasons. Give us the example of the conversation. Was it the resurrection? It was the resurrection.

So it was the resurrection. And I don't remember exactly what the point was, but I remember saying, now, here's the weak link in his argument, because I want him to hear that from me. So in a way it inoculates him.

Way to go. He says, oh, when he gets to university, and one of the classic things that happens in Intro to Philosophy classes is they say, now, here are the traditional arguments for the existence of God, right? And if you've just been given the existence of God arguments from the Christian side, you're going to walk into that class and think, yeah, of course God exists.

Are you kidding me? These arguments are foolproof. And then you hear the professor say, well, this one doesn't seem to work. And here's a premise here that seems to fail.

This doesn't necessarily follow. And you walk out with maybe a shaken faith. But if you can introduce some of those challenges and say, look, these are the two competing views, and neither one is a slam dunk case, but each one of them make reasons.

You give reasons. You need to listen and then say, is there enough reason here that you have for a hope worth acting on? And that's sort of how I cash it out with my kids. I say, you'll never be 100% certain that Christianity is true. I mean, how did that conversation go with your son? Oh, good. He watched the videos and, you know, he seems to think that Jesus really did rise from the dead, that God exists, that Jesus is who he claims to be.

And so I'm happy about that. What was the video series? Some of our listeners were like, tell me what it was. I think it was Impact 360.

Yeah, I think it was Impact 360 on the resurrection. Yeah, it was really well done. And some parents are thinking, I don't think that I could give the other side, you know? It's a good thing you wrote some good books and there's some other literature out there.

And there are some really great books that can do that, right? That will say, yeah, yeah, here's the argument from the Christian side. And now here's what the other side will say.

And here's why we think we have good responses to that. And so that your faith is grounded in something rather than just kind of a blind leap. I remember that in college. I took a religion class and this guy was probably an atheist that was my professor. And I was like, what? You know, I thought, I'm going to take this religion class. It'll be all about Jesus and why it's so important and how it defends our faith.

And I was like, this is crazy. But yeah, you're right. When you get to college, all of your faith is challenged. Yeah, well, and not just on the existence of God, but one of the really big ones is the reliability of the Bible. And this is the number one intellectual reason that people give for why they walk away from their faith. Now, I think that there's always more going on in deconversions as there is in conversions. There's lots more because we're not just thinking things, right?

We're feeling things and valuing things and worshiping things and loving things. But when someone leaves the faith, they will always say that they're leaving because they no longer believe that it's true. And one of the reasons why they don't believe it's true anymore is because they just came to the place where they don't think that the Bible, especially the New Testament, can be the word of God. And unfortunately, in the church, I think we have sort of set them up for that crisis of faith because we haven't done a really great job of letting young people know this is where the New Testament came from. Here's why we think this person wrote it.

Here's how it was put together. This is why we think that it's reliable. It's just sort of something that's always been there and been part of their life. And they've never questioned where it came from. And then they go to university and they hear what would be more the skeptical critical side of the history of the Bible. And they say, what?

Are you kidding me? I never heard any of this. And I interviewed a handful of people who just got angry and said, my parents and the church just lied to me about all this stuff.

I remember a guy came up to me at the church I pastored for 30 years after a sermon and he said, hey, you know, you don't need to tell us who wrote the book and like what Ephesians is, a church in Ephesus and what was going on. We know that stuff. You don't need to say that.

I mean, you took so much time to explain that and then you get into it. And I go, I'm not talking to you. He goes, what do you mean? I go, I hope you brought your neighbor.

That's what we say all the time. Bring them. They're here. They don't know any of that. And they need to know that because they don't know who Paul is. They don't know there's a church. They don't even know this is a letter.

I grew up around the church. I never knew an epistle was a letter until I was in college, you know. And so that kind of thing is really critical.

It is. And, you know, I knew that in the last 10 or 15 years, whenever you're standing on a stage in a conference or preaching, the people in your audience have this in their hand. Which is a phone. Anything you say, they can check. That's right.

In real time. And they will. You know, and I mean, 20 years ago, you can make an easy reliability of the Bible statement and let it go. Now you can't.

You cannot just say it. They're going to go, yeah, what he just said has been refuted by, you know, this scholar, this scholar, this scholar. That's right. It's a world that people have access to information that nobody ever had before. Only us highly-scholared pastors and teachers did. And so it's a thinking world, right?

Yep. And one of the biggest influences in why people leave the faith is, without question, the internet. Without question, the internet. I grew up in a town of about 75,000 people. There were three Christian radio stations that I could pick up when the sound skipped across Lake Superior and I could get it on a clear Saturday night. Hopefully you got family life today out there.

I might have been family life today. And there were, of course, lots of churches and there was a Christian bookstore in my town and there was Christian television. So there was lots of outlets where I could be encouraged by my faith and I'd go into the Christian bookstore and there were shelves of books on why God exists, right? Apologetics and the reliability of the Bible. I would suspect that there were maybe just a very small handful of atheist bookstores in the entire United States back in the 1980s.

There was, I think, one publishing house, Prometheus Press. There were no atheist television shows, let alone networks. There were no atheist radio programs, no atheist radio networks. And to come across and to encounter counter arguments to all of the good apologetics that I had encountered was almost impossible.

But the internet has just leveled the playing field and has allowed a thousand atheist apologists to bloom. And if you ever watch any of those murder mystery TV shows like 48 Hours or 20 20 or Dateline. Oh, and I watch them. You are convinced halfway through you know who did it. Because they build the positive case. And then at the end when they say, but here's what we haven't told you. And then they tell you all the rest of the story. You say, oh, I don't know who did it anymore. When all you hear is the positive side of the Christian arguments for the truth of the Bible, the existence of God, the truth of the resurrection. You can be incredibly confident. But when you encounter those counter arguments, then you say, wait a minute, I never heard any of this stuff before.

And is there an answer to this? And the internet has allowed people to encounter those where before they had no access to it. So what should a parent do? As you're talking about this and their kids are scrolling and they're on the internet constantly reading the rebuttals to their faith.

What's the next step for them? Sure. One of the things I would say is that we have to be careful that we don't become all or nothing people where we say, look, you might encounter some bad stuff on the internet. So we're never going to use the internet. There's a ton of good things on the internet.

But I think setting a framework for the usefulness of the internet is helpful. One of those is to say you're going to come across some things because there are arguments that people make against the Christian faith and they can sound fairly persuasive. So here's what I want you to do. When you come across those, I just want you to suspend your judgment. I want you to hear what they have to say. Recognize that this is an internet website that may not be reliable, that may not be written by someone who really knows what they're talking about.

This is a YouTube video made by someone that you don't really know. You don't really know how well educated they are. And then to say, all right, so now I've heard the other side. Are there answers to these questions? Is there helpful responses to that? And then as a parent with your child, you can say, let's dig into this. Let's look together to find out if Christians have responded to this. And sometimes what you find is, wow, Christians responded to this thousands of years ago. The early church fathers addressed this question.

And this guy on the internet is like a really Johnny come lately to this discussion because he's raising stuff that has been addressed a long time ago, but it's new to you. And so I think that being involved with our kids, talking with our kids, staying on top of what they're looking at. We have a program on our internet wifi at home that tells us every website that our kids go to, right? So we know what they're looking at. We feel that that's our responsibility as parents.

They're not going to come across anything that's going to ever shock us or surprise us. And sometimes we can say, hey, I saw you were on that website. Would you think of that? That's a great question.

What do you think of that? Not like, why are you on that website? You shouldn't be on that website. They're just telling lies because they'll still look at it. They just won't tell you the next time.

Yes. And one of the underlying assumptions I think that really has a really negative impact when people come across this literature or this information on the internet. And when we respond to it is if they're a young person who says, I'm seeking the truth and I'm wanting to know the truth about this. They know that as parents, we're fully invested in this.

We have complete skin in the game, right? We have lots of reasons why we want this to be true and why we want them to be Christians. And so they're maybe hearing us as saying, yeah, they're saying all of this stuff, but that's because they really want it to be true.

But you know what? These people who have left the faith, these people just seem to be dispassionate and truth seekers and they're not trying to defend some kind of position and keep me in it. They're just seeking the truth. And I think that we have to address that and say, now what you also need to know is that just as Christian apologists believe that Christianity is true. Of course, they want it to be true and they're making an argument because they want to convince you that it's true.

Don't think the other side is completely neutral and unbiased because if Christianity is right, then there is a brokenness and a hardness of heart and a spiritual component there that also sees the evidence from a particular perspective. And I think helping people recognize that can go a long way as well. You know, it'd be really interesting if your son or daughter at whatever age, I'm guessing middle school, high school-ish, starts to really question what you as a parent have handed down their whole life.

You know, my vision is wouldn't it be cool if the parent went on the journey with the son or daughter? Because, you know, we all know most of us as parents don't know all the ins and outs of why we believe what we believe. You know, as a pastor, I saw that every week. It's like, wow, most of our congregation doesn't even read the Bible. And if you ask them to defend it, they would not know the first thing because they just haven't.

Or even how the Bible was assembled. Yeah, I'm not saying it's just where they are. This isn't what they've done. And so when their child starts to question that, they can't answer their questions because they don't know either. What if they went on a journey together? Say, man, you're asking some tough questions, son.

I do not know. But I'll go on this journey with you and let's find out the reliability, the truth, and let's live on that. You're listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with John Marriott on Family Life Today. John's book is called Before You Go, uncovering hidden factors in faith loss. You can pick up a copy at and honestly dive deeper into what we've been talking about today. And as John has been discussing with Dave and Anne today, there are so many people who are walking away from the faith. And we at Family Life want to be a part of the solution. We don't want to just sit back and watch that happen. And we want to ask you if you would help us to become part of that solution.

This is important now more than ever. So would you consider partnering with us here at Family Life? When you give any amount this week, we want to send you a copy of John Marriott's other book called Recipe for Disaster, four ways churches and parents prepare individuals to lose their faith and how they can instill a faith that endures. That book is going to be our gift to you as a way to say thank you for any gift that you give at So if you're wondering how you can get started in partnership with us, again, you can go online to or you could give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329.

It could be a one time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Now, tomorrow, you'll hear Dave and Ann talk again with John Marriott on uncovering more factors in child faith loss and what you as parents can do about it.

Maybe it's more than what we say that keeps them believing. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. family life today is a production of family life a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-14 07:20:47 / 2023-03-14 07:34:08 / 13

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