There has been lots of talk about “de-conversion” over the last month or so. Joshua Harris was a mega-church Pastor and a best-selling evangelical author. He recently announced that his marriage of 20+ years had come to an end. Shortly after this, he announced that he had left the Christian faith. He has “de-converted”. His story has sparked lots of comment in the evangelical, “liberal”, and secular media. I will add my two-cents.
I have been a Christian for a long time (almost 50 years). I have been a pastor for 38 years. Over the years, I have had many friends leave the faith. There have been people who were an important part of the church that I pastor (Messiah) that have left the faith. I confess that some of the departures shook me. As I prayed and thought about the issue, I realized that Jesus talked about “de-conversion”. This is not something that catches Him by surprise. I meditated upon the Parable of the Sower. This parable is so important, that it is one of the few parables that is recorded in three different Gospels (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15).
The Parable of the Sower
In this parable, Jesus provides a taxonomy of three broad classes of reasons why people who play a role – sometimes a significant role – in the visible church, come to walk away from the visible Christian community. In every case, the word of God, or the word of the kingdom, or the Word comes from God, through His servants, to people. In other words, people hear of the Biblical Jesus in the context of the Gospel and the whole counsel of God. In some cases, this message enters into a person and bears fruit for eternal life and the glory of God.
On the path
But, for some people, the message is heard, but there is no true understanding and no saving belief/faith. They might be part of the visible church, the Christian community, for a very short period or a long period, but the reality is they are described as seed falling on the path.
On shallow soil
Some people hear the message and are part of the visible church, maybe even having leadership positions. They “understand” the word. However, the word has not entered into them to bear fruit for eternal life and the glory of God. So when membership in the visible church has a cost because of tribulation, persecution, or testing, the person departs from the visible church community. They are the seed in shallow soil. In Canada today, to be an “out” Christian requires courage. The whole counsel of God and the Gospel are antithetical to much that is valued by the leading cultural influences, and by the culture in general. This opposition is “testing” and it is daily and in your face. It can be far easier just to leave the visible Christian community.
Finally, some people understand the word and become a part of the visible church. They can be in leadership and/or play a significant role in the visible Christian community. Frankly, they don’t really care about the cultural pressures that test others. However, they desire other things, maybe good in themselves, but they devote themselves to these things the world values highly and before they know it, they find the visible church boring or inconvenient or not relevant. Their pursuit of money or promotion leaves less and less time for the visible Christian community. Even more powerful today are kids sports. More people have left the visible church because of minor hockey or ringette then because of all the new atheists combined. The seeds among the thorns also include those who leave the visible church because they want guilt-free sex outside of marriage or to pursue something else that the bible says is wrong.
Jesus is not being reductionistic or belittling in this parable. He is giving us both a 20,000-foot understanding and also a deep understanding of what each heart is like before God. And Jesus did not tell us this parable to make us proud. He spoke it to warn us and humble us, that we will call out to Him – Lord, by Your grace make me good soil where Your word comes in and bears much fruit for eternal life and Your glory!