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Recipe for Disaster: John Marriott on Deconversion

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
March 16, 2023 5:15 am

Recipe for Disaster: John Marriott on Deconversion

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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March 16, 2023 5:15 am

Why are so many walking away from the faith? Professor John Marriott identifies four ways churches and parents unwittingly contribute to deconversion.

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Read John Marriott's article on how to help you kids avoid a crisis of faith.

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Okay, do you remember the seminar we did on the Love Like You Mean It cruise before COVID for parents of adult children?

Yes. Yeah, what do you remember about that? I remember parents were scared, they had so many questions, and there was a lot of guilt. And I remember a lot of tears, because we opened the mic and said, if you have a question, we're not the experts, but we'd love to dialogue with you. Parent after parent walked to the mic and started crying about their children who had walked away from the faith. 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. As a Christian parent, you're just hoping you did the right thing so that when your kids become teenagers and then adults and have their own family, they're going to continue the faith that you passed on to them. And when they don't, it is heartbreaking. There were tears from that, and we were crying listening to them because we know that feeling. And so often we as parents blame ourselves, we're guilt-ridden, we feel a lot of shame because we assume that it's our fault.

Yeah, so we're going to talk about that today. It's really the question of what can a parent do right to help pass on their faith and what shouldn't we do to avoid things like this? And we all know this, not all the parents, but we feel a heavy burden for that.

So we've got the right guy in the studio. We've got John Marriott with us, who's a parent, who's written a book about this, who's studied this, wrote your dissertation about deconversion or our children or anybody really walking away from the faith. It's been years since you did your dissertation, and this has become your life work, right? Just studying and understanding.

And you're with students every day. You're teaching philosophy at Biola, so you're probably hearing these stories from parents, but you're probably experiencing some of the students' doubts, fears, questions. Yeah, and I get emails through my website from people saying, hey, I'm really struggling, I'm wrestling, I'm not sure whether I can continue to believe this anymore. I want to believe it, but I'm not sure that I can. And all of that has kind of gone into this big pot and stirred around in my mind, and out of that has come some observations and has come maybe some suggestions on how we can help people who are wrestling with these questions.

Because they go right to the core of our being, and they can cause a lot of anxiety, not only for parents, but for the one who's going through it, wondering who am I and what do I really believe? So, what does a recipe for disaster mean? It sounds like bad news. It is bad news, that's right, that's right. I should write a second book called A Prescription for Success.

There you go. Because a recipe for disaster is how unwittingly we as Christian parents or maybe a church community can set up young people for a crisis of faith. There are certain things that we do that sometimes cause people to stumble and walk away from the faith. If I'm a parent, I just got out of a notebook and a pen, or I'm on my iPad, on my notepad, on my phone thinking, I need to know what these are. You're going to want to write these down, because you're going to talk about what not to do and what to do. But before we get there, I've got to ask you to share something you shared earlier off mic about it's not all the parent.

Because we tend to think as parents, it's all on us, and if we do the right thing, it guarantees this, and if we do the wrong thing, it isn't all on us. Talk about the fraternal twins, because that was an interesting observation. Yeah, I met a gentleman when I was doing my doctoral dissertation on people who were leaving the faith. And he reached out and said, oh, I'll share my story with you. And it was a really fascinating story.

This guy now lives in the south, and he's a successful marketer. And he told me about how he grew up with a twin sister. They grew up in the home of, for what some people would recognize the name if I told you the family that they came from, from a leader in an evangelical, a part of the evangelical movement. They had gone to Christian schools, both of them.

They had obviously grown up in the same house, had the same experiences with their parents. They had gone on missions trips. They were even missionaries for a period of time as a family. Then he went off to a Christian university. She went to the same one. Sounds like a recipe for a successful believer.

It sure does. But it was while he was there that he had a crisis of faith. And he, by his own admissions, went off the rails and lived just a wild lifestyle. Rejected Christianity, lock, stock, and barrel. Thinks the whole thing is baloney and now is online writing arguments for why Christianity is not true and does so in a way that is hostile and filled with mockery.

His sister is on the mission field as a missionary. Same exact upbringing, same education, same family, same experiences. And so what I take away from that is that there is an irreducible component to this that we really can't pin down who's going to walk away and who's going to stay. And I can imagine that parents listening might say, but I want to make sure that I do all of the right things. Well, you can do all of the right things and people still choose to leave the faith.

You can do all of the wrong things. And out of some of those environments come people who become really strong Christians. And so I think it really is important to say parents play a really significant role. In fact, if you were to look at the studies, they would say parents play the most significant role. But that needs to be tempered with the other side of the coin that says that there is this inscrutable aspect of it where people are going to make the choices that they make, even if you do everything right. And I hope that takes some burden off the parents.

It does. I can remember as our kids were growing up hearing Dennis Rainey and some other leaders that I really respected spiritually, how they'd have these family devotions once a week. And I was like— I'm laughing because she just was on me. I'm like, dang. They do what the Rainey's do. Every Sunday night they have a— And I don't know if they did, but in my mind that sounded kind of amazing. And so I'm trying to put this guilt complex on Dave like, Dennis Rainey probably would do this every week.

And, you know, Dave's like, that's not my style. And then I thought, well, if our kids go down the tank spiritually, it's your fault. And I think that's interesting because we assume certain things will guarantee their success spiritually. By the way, we're not saying we never got into the Word as a family. We did in a totally different, you know, rhythm. And it was based more on our personality.

Well, Jon, wait. You talked about that. How it's not necessarily just this sit-down devotional. Yeah. It can be weaving in your faith.

Yeah. There was a long-term study done by a professor at University of Southern California by the name of Vern Bankston. And he followed 1,500 families over 35 years, and it was to see which families passed on religious faith and how they did so, which ones were successful, which ones weren't. One of the things that came out of his study was that those families that were successful at passing on their faith were families who wove their faith throughout their life, had meaningful conversations on the way home from the football game or on the way to school, around the dinner table, not necessarily having a sit-down formal time. Now, I'm sure that there were lots of families who had both and passed on their faith.

But it was interesting that he found that it was the most significant, the most meaningful, was a vibrant faith that was woven into the fabric of everyday life that was one of the key factors in passing. You see, honey, I knew that study years ago. You know what it is? It's Deuteronomy 6.

Yeah, it is Deuteronomy 6. Talk about, yes. As you walk along the road, as you lie down at the dinner table. I mean, that really is the organic lifestyle. It's really the apprentice model, do life with me along the way, right?

Yes. You wrote a whole book on this, and a good chunk of it is parents don't do this. These are things that are not helping you pass on your faith to your children.

So, walk us through some of those. Well, one of the things that I talk about in the book and one of the ways I cash it out is sometimes I'll refer to the tyranny of the necessary. And what I mean by that is that sometimes people who have left the faith, when I hear their stories, one of the things that many of them share in common is that they were handed a version of Christianity that they were told, or that they assumed, was just a pristine, unadulterated, uninterpreted Christianity in and of itself. And that if they wanted to be Christians, they needed to adopt and accept and buy into this entire package. So, it was an all or nothing kind of a package deal that they were handed. And everything for them was a non-negotiable belief that they must hold. When it came time for them to maybe go off to college or as they got a little bit older and started becoming maybe more a little intellectually mature, they started questioning some of these things that they had been handed. And they said, I'm not really sure that I think I agree with that or I'm really questioning that.

And a picture that I like to use is a very inflexible house of cards. And you know, if you pull one card out of a house of cards, the entire thing collapses because they all depend on each other. And I can think of one guy who I was speaking with whose name was Greg and Greg went off to school and he really went with the belief that if the universe was not created in six days, 24 hour periods, 10,000 years ago, that the rest of the Bible couldn't possibly be true. And then he went to university, he took a class in biology. He became persuaded that the universe was actually really quite a bit older. And that card got pulled out of his house of faith and his entire faith ended up collapsing because he was handed a very inflexible, brittle, all or nothing, take it or leave it package of non-negotiable beliefs that just was Christianity.

With no nuance or no discernment between maybe levels of doctrine. And that happens quite often. That happened with one of our sons. You know, we wrote this book on parenting, No Perfect Parents, and we asked our three sons, write anything you want. Thinking, parents would rather read what the kids said than the parents.

Like, did this work? Was it true? Is this just some parents creating a thing?

Or I wish my parents would have, dot, dot, dot. So we said, you can write anything you want, just here you go. And so out of nowhere, I could read it if I could pull it up, but CJ, our oldest, who was a real thinker, to this day, he's an engineer of mine. He's just a brilliant mind. He's analytical.

Analytical. He writes in here, if dad would have forced me to believe in a young earth, I would have walked away from my faith. Wow. He never said that to me. He writes in this book. And I do remember when he was in high school, we had discussions about that. And my perspective was, you know what, it's important.

It's not that important. You don't lose your faith over that. There are arguments for young. There are arguments for old. There's theistic evolution. I've been on both sides at different times.

CJ, let's dive into that together. But that is not the foundation of your faith. Having no idea. I had no idea that conversation was that important to him. And it was. Yeah. You're right. It's a house of cards.

You pull one of those out. And some of them really are critical. Jesus is not the son of God.

Okay, we've got to talk son or daughter. That is a tenet of the faith. But there are so many others that we just build up that they have to be and they're not that important.

That's right. And sometimes young people don't realize that what they're being given is, and I want to be careful how I say this, they're given a version of the Christian faith or an interpretation of the faith from a particular group of Christians, maybe in a denomination or an independent kind of a church, that at the core of which are these orthodox, historic, non-negotiable beliefs. But once you move out from those, then we start getting into beliefs that people have debated on and have disagreed on and have had different opinions on. And if someone does not realize that there are alternatives, then they think, well, my pastor, one person told me, said that the Bible is all true.

You either take it or you leave it. And this is what the Bible says. And the young person unfortunately didn't realize that what he was getting was an interpretation of what the Bible says. So this pastor had elevated his interpretation of the Bible to being identical to what the Bible teaches.

And so the young person just said, well, I can't handle that. I kind of want to get a tattoo. And the Bible, according to his pastor, you can't get tattoos. It's very clear.

It says that. Well, and so… Let's dive into that one right here. So he lost his faith because of a tattoo. Oh, yes. Because he was told it's an all or nothing deal.

Right? You can't pick and choose. Well, here's the question, because I know there's a listener or two or a thousand going, yeah, but that is essential. That is in the Bible. And I would hold as a parent that my son or daughter is never getting that.

And if they do, it's a violation. And, you know, we know the statement, I think it was Augustine, right? Unity in the essentials, liberty in the non-essentials. You and I are saying that's a non-essential.

Others are saying, no, that is an essential. You start there. You're going to end up, you know, with all kinds of freedom and all kinds of things. So what do you say to that parent? I say that I'm really sympathetic with you because I would have been there at one point in time. I grew up in a church environment that I loved.

I mean, I have really fond memories of it. It's a springboard to many of the things I've been able to do were planted there in the faith that they passed on to me, but also in an aspect of the evangelical world that was very fundamentalistic and very rigid. And I adopted all that in my zeal, because I wanted to follow God and I wanted to be true to His word.

Ultimately, I ended up in kind of a crisis of trying to live that out consistently. And I think that if the Bible is God's word, then clearly everything that it teaches is true, but not everything that it teaches is as weighty or as important a matter, right? Ehud was left-handed. The Bible teaches that. That's true.

So we should believe that. But it also says Jesus rose from the dead, which is a much more significant truth. Jesus talks about weightier matters of the law.

And I think that there are some weightier matters that we need to really think about because if we elevate everything to an essential, if we elevate everything to a non-negotiable, then that makes a very brittle, inflexible, house of cards kind of a faith that ends up being very exhausting trying to live out. And when I talk with folks who have left the faith, do you know what the number one emotion that they experience when they've left the faith? They feel, obviously, a loss of their family. They feel a loss with their friends. They feel a loss of their identity because all of that gets thrown into the blender when you walk away from the faith. Like, who am I and who are my friends? Where do I belong?

Where do I belong? But of all the negative consequences that they suffer, to a person everyone I've interviewed have said, but it was all worth it for the freedom that I experienced. Really? For the freedom that I've experienced. And that tells me something. That if Jesus says that my burden is light and my yoke is easy and I've come to give you abundant life and here are the commands I give you and happy are you if you do them, then whatever those young people experienced, I'm not sure that it was the way of Jesus. He said, I came to set the captive free. So, they weren't experiencing freedom in Christ or in church doctrine.

Correct. But they found it when they lost it. So, they really weren't experiencing the freedom that was available in Christ. Which is so sad because it is the gospel. Look at you, you're crying.

I know. I mean, that's the heart of a mom. It's the heart of a parent. It's the gospel that sets us free. I feel like my faith is a thing that's allowed me to be free. And so, for them to feel the burden and the weight of that feels so sad to me because Jesus came to set us free. But they're carrying a load that they didn't necessarily have to carry. One young man described it as having a weight tied down around his ankle.

And it was as though the weight was cut off of his ankle and he could finally fly. And part of that comes from a very rigid, law-based, very legalistic, I guess, form of the faith. And it's interesting when you really do understand and live in Christ, that's often the analogy we use. I feel like a burden was cut off my shoulders.

It's freedom for the first time. But when it's misunderstood, it does feel heavy. That's why Paul said the law leads us to freedom and grace in the gospel. I think that's a good question for us to ask as parents. Am I handing my kids down these heavy burdens that they necessarily cannot abide by?

And I'm not talking about the basics of the gospel, of Jesus rose from the dead. There's some really important truths that we have to live by. I have to say, a mom and dad, even as a result of listening today, should sit down and say, what are our essentials? What are the two or three?

I don't think there's 50 that I am not going to budge on. And what are the non-essentials that we're going to give freedom and liberty to our kids to not make a big deal? How would you voice that, John, as a parent? Well, let me share with you what I do with my kids.

Yeah, 14 and 12. One of the things that I realized after listening to the same story come through different people about how they felt that Christianity was just a burdensome religion, that they had to do all of these practices sometimes. Not just beliefs, but I have to do this and I cannot do this.

I realized that you have to identify what the essentials are and then pass those essentials on. And then introduce and explain and share what some of those secondary beliefs are. And then let my son and my daughter, as they grow, I guide them now, but as they get older, to think through these issues on their own.

And I think that things like the Apostles' Creed, I think like the Nicene Creed are really great places to start because they are the early Church's summary of what these are the essentials right here. And so those are the things I really want my kids to know. I want them to know who God is. I want them to know what God has done, who they are. I want them to know the essentials of the Gospel, the broad, big story of the Bible.

And then to say, now here are the secondary issues. And if you're a follower of Jesus and he's really Lord, then you should have thought through these things and have an opinion before him because they really do matter. But I think, you know, to your situation of saying your son has the freedom to land wherever he feels like he needs to land on creation, I think just proves the point of what I'm saying and how important it is to give flexibility to this because to say you either have to be, and I hope that I don't offend listeners, but to say that you have to have this particular view of Genesis or you can't really be a biblical Christian is to push somebody to the precipice of walking away from the faith based on a false dichotomy because we're not saved based on what we believe about Genesis.

We're saved based on what we believe about Jesus. And I know those two relate and I know there are consequences to what you believe about Genesis. But I would rather have someone who might be a little off base on what I think about Genesis who still wants to identify with Jesus as Lord than to say, no, you have to toe this line and you have to take my interpretation of this passage and that would be the thing that causes them to say, well then, I'm out.

I can just speak for myself. I'm thinking parents are leaning in right now going, thank you for helping me think critically about this. I hope it leads to a discussion. And I know there are single parents like my mom that don't have a spouse to talk these through with, so maybe it's a friend, but to have a conversation about what do we believe are essential about the Word of God, about Jesus, about the Gospel, and what are we going to allow freedom in our home as our kids rise up and start to believe in young earth or older, whatever it is, understanding how critical that is to their future faith, I think that's been a very healthy discussion. Me too, and Dave, I love the idea of sitting around the table at some point as a family and asking your kids, is there anything in our belief system as a family that you feel like it's so heavy? It'd just be an interesting conversation to see what they're carrying, what they believe, and then to dialogue about that, like why does that feel heavy? I mean, we would ask that to our teens anyway. Is there anything we're doing as parents that you're really bothered by it? So why wouldn't we ask that? Well, let's talk about like your faith journey.

Is there anything, you're just struggling with this concept and to talk about it and not to be afraid. And if you don't have the answer, we can find it. Like let's, we'll find it. Let's talk about it.

You can buy John's books. It'd be great to go through those with teens. And each child is so different. My son, you know, I had this conversation with my son and he'd say, no, nothing's difficult for me. I think it's true. And yeah, do you feel uncomfortable at school or is there anything that, you know, do you feel like an outsider or a weirdo because you hold these shoes?

No. But this is also the kid who'd never, I think is, I think he's never worn pants in the last two years. He wears shorts all the time. Like bless his heart. He's a wonderful, but his shorts and his shirt will never match.

We have to say, comb your hair. My daughter, on the other hand, I know that the thoughts and the impressions of other people and what they think of her and what she would hold and what she would believe, especially as she gets older and the culture continues to press upon her that she needs to adopt and accept certain ideas, then for her that will really weigh heavy on her. And so kids are all different. And as parents, we get fearful of the culture. We get fearful of what's happening in the schools. We tend to, as parents, want to protect our kids from so much.

Is the right thing to do to protect them to never have those discussions? You're listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with John Marriott on Family Life Today. We'll hear John's answer in just a second, but first, we really are at a crucial time where families are in need of having biblical tools to help impact future generations.

That's exactly what we've been talking about today. So if you are as passionate as I am about advancing this kind of truth, not only in your life but into the future generations, would you consider partnering with us at Family Life? When you give any amount this week, we want to send you a copy of John Marriott's book, A Recipe for Disaster, four ways churches and parents prepare individuals to lose their faith and how they can instill a faith that endures. It's our way of saying thanks to you when you give at any time this week. And if you're curious about partnering with us, you can find out more details online at or you could give us a call at 800-358-6329. And when you give, that can be a one-time gift or it could be a recurring monthly gift.

And the number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Okay, so should we as parents shield our kids from tough discussions? Let's see what John has to say. Yeah, that's a really hard, hard question, isn't it? Because it may be different for each child.

It might be different for each one. And one of the families that we really respected as parents growing up, one of their kids was homeschooled, one of their kids went to a Christian school, one of their kids went to a public school. And when I said, why did you guys do it like that? And they just said, because we felt that each one needed something different. And I think that might be the case when it comes to these kinds of questions.

Now, typically, I think that if you were to plant a tree and if you were to put some sort of protective barrier around it and let the tree grow and never experience any kind of wind or rain or hard elements, that once you took that wall away from it, it would be inclined to tip over because it doesn't set those deep roots that the harsh elements would make it do. And so I think that sheltering our kids is probably not helpful. And I don't think that we can really be very effective and successful at doing it, given social media and the internet is just everywhere. But those discussions are critical. They are very critical. Here's what's amazing.

In your book, Recipe for Disaster, you have four things parents shouldn't do. We just covered one. So if you're leaning in, guess what? We're going to hit the other three in the next program. We got to.

We do. And then we're going to actually talk about what you should do. So stay tuned.

So many kids are leaving the faith after college. And the real question is, what's happening? Well, Dave and Ann are going to talk again with John Marriott to tell us what parents can do to stay properly prepared. That's coming up 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 / 2023-03-16 07:00:40 / 2023-03-16 07:12:13 / 12

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