McKnight on conversion theory and deconversion

May 12, 2009

Scot McKnight is visiting South Africa again. It’s been just over a year since last time he visited. Running a search on “McKnight” on my blog revealed some interesting things on how the emerging church scene changed since then, and Scot’s role in this from my perspective. I gave him an article David Bosch wrote about 25 years ago partly in response to the Lausanne Covenent today, and on it thanked him for the role he plays in keeping different voices together. I really respect the way in which he talks about some of the voices he differs with in private conversations.

Last night he talked with our church council on the Blue Parakeet, and I’m kicking myself for not video-taping it. Afterwards we had dinner together. Today he talked on conversion, and from tomorrow we’ll be discussing acts with him.

I’m not going to try and repeat all that was said, but this is the image that we used in the discussion:

scot mcknight conversion copyConversion is this process of moving from the context where you are to the “church”, the group where are are moving towards. This may be a megachurch or small group meeting somewhere that won’t ever call themselves church. Conversion is changing my story to be told through the lens of this new self understanding I now have, which is formed by this group.

Part of converting is a crisis that is addressed. For years now I’ve been getting more and more uncomfortable with the fact that we have been creating a crisis in our attempts of evangelism. This crisis have usually been by painting a vivid picture of how someone might just burn in hell, or in lighter forms convincing someone of the severity of his/her sins, and this warthful God that really cannot help but punish us, that is of course just. Scot mentioned Brian Mclaren’s moral question: How can a just God punish a lifetime of sins with eternal torment?

But what Scot was actually talking about in the end was how people deconvert from Christianity, how people become non-Christians. What is the crisis moments that lead to this?

In his book Finding Faith Loosing Faith he talks about a number of crisis that leads to deconversion. I’ll order the book sometime, and will mention them more when I get the book, but form today’s talk Scot confirmed one thing: Fundamentalism creates extremely good soil for atheism to flourish in. I’ve been saying this for a long time now. The crisis that fundamentalism creates is that an expectation on infallability of the Bible is created that cannot be met, and the text never intended to meet, when that realisation dawn on someone, it has the potential of leading to atheism.

Of course there are other reasons for deconverstion as well. But I’ll skip them for now. This is a model that I believe I’ll use again, and would love to know more about.

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12 Responses to “McKnight on conversion theory and deconversion”

  1. Tom Smith Says:

    Thanks for writing this up Cobus. I wonder if the reasons for apostasy Scot mentioned would be the same in an Afrian context? What do you think?

  2. Cori Says:

    Thanks for bringing McKnights book to my awareness – it looks very interesting and I certainly agree with the statement about fundamentalism.


  3. Thanks for this!

    Please keep on posting about his other speaking engagements that you attend. I was at Tuks yesterday but cannot get to the others…..

  4. Michael Says:

    So true about fundamentalism. Makes me think of what Soren Kierkegaard said about distinguishing between the faith of Christianity and the religion of Christendom, and what Bonhoeffer said about the need to establish a “religionless Christianity”. In my own experience I can say that most people I know that have “deconverted” have done so out of a rebellion against the stangling effect of fundamentalist religion in all its many forms. We should resist considering fundamentalism in only Bible-belt conservative terms. Any religious structure (liberal, conservative or otherwise) which shames or threatens people into avoiding asking the questions they really need answered is fundamentalist. Interestingly, the Beeld has an article in today’s issue that describes precisely this as the reason for the current exodus of the masses from the Church. How accurate the author’s assumptions are regarding the shrinking of the Church worldwide is up for debate, but by pointing out fundamentalism as a key to deconversion, I think you are both onto something!

  5. Steve Says:

    Does he come every year?

    Nelus Niemand gave a date for a gathering he’ll be addressing next year at Tuks.

  6. cobus Says:

    I don’t know. Seems like some people like him enough to bring him more often.


  7. […] and my son had been attending some of his sessions. You can read more about this on his blog at McKnight on conversion theory and deconversion as well as Acts 15-20 for South Africa today. Tom Smith has also been blogging about these sessions […]


  8. […] ‘n klompie gesprekke en ervarings oor die afgelope 2 weke (o.a. ‘n TGIF byeenkoms  en lesing deur Scot McKnight) het ek besluit om oor Genesis 1 te preek vanaand. Hierdie teks is totaal uit verband uit gerus in […]


  9. […] the by, in another virulent attack on fundamentalists, Cobus van Wyngaard said the following on his blog recently: In his [Scot McKnight’s] book Finding Faith Loosing Faith he talks about a number of […]


  10. […] the by, in another virulent attack on fundamentalists, Cobus van Wyngaard said the following on his My Contemplations blog recently: In his [Scot McKnight’s] book Finding Faith Loosing Faithhe talks about a number […]


  11. […] the by, in another virulent attack on fundamentalists, Cobus van Wyngaard said the following on his My Contemplations blog […]


  12. […] the by, in another virulent attack on fundamentalists, Cobus van Wyngaard said the following on his blog […]


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