For some people, the path of faith is a relatively straight one. The faith of their childhood sustains them to the end of their days. For others, the path is more circuitous, involving a conversion from one faith system to another. Walk into an evangelical suburban megachurch and you’re likely to encounter a large group of former Roman Catholics. Surprisingly to some, your chances of meeting a former evangelical at the local Catholic parish are increasing. Organizations like Jews for Jesus promote conversion to faith in Christ. This phenomenon raises several questions. What really happens when a person converts? What are the consequences?
In the new book FINDING FAITH, LOSING FAITH (Baylor University Press, 2008), authors Scot McKnight and Hauna Ondrey provide compelling answers to the questions surrounding conversion. “The last century of research into how conversion works has demonstrated that all converts go through the ‘same process.’ Each person emerges from a context as a result of a crisis of some sort that leads them to a conversion. That crisis prompts a quest to find a solution to that crisis. Converts then encounter and interact with those who advocate a new faith, leading them to a commitment and to consequences for life,” McKnight says. “Although each person goes through the same six dimensions, evidence clearly shows that no two conversions --- like fingerprints --- are identical. But there are some general patterns, and it is these patterns that we want to explain in FINDING FAITH, LOSING FAITH.”
Scot McKnight is a widely-recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity and the historical Jesus and a professor of religious studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois). For the last decade, he has been reading stories of conversion. For the purposes of this book, he and Ondrey have chosen to examine several specific scenarios: conversion from Jewishness to Messianic Jewishness, from Roman Catholicism to Evangelicalism and from Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism. The book opens with a discussion of a fourth scenario, the conversion experience most people have never considered --- conversion from orthodox Christianity to apostasy (choosing to walk away from the Christian faith).
“Theoretically speaking, all conversions are apostasies and all apostasies are therefore conversions. Everyone who converts leaves a former faith, even if that faith is ill-defined. Everyone who leaves the orthodox Christian faith converts to a different faith, even if that new faith is as ill-defined as a kind of agnosticism or personal theism or even gentler forms of atheism,” McKnight states.
FINDING FAITH, LOSING FAITH clearly draws on the scholarly strengths of its authors, who present compelling evidence in support of the patterns of conversion. While the excellence in research and presentation will certainly appeal to academic audiences, the real examples of conversion take center stage --- fascinating, personal stories that will resonate with many readers. Among the many conclusions presented, McKnight and Ondrey point out that in some situations an individual’s decision to leave a faith system could have been prevented, if only someone had been willing to address the source of the disenchantment. FINDING FAITH, LOSING FAITH will be an invaluable resource for pastors and lay leaders who want to understand the dynamics behind conversion and deal proactively with the underlying problems that cause people to leave --- particularly those that instigate the departure from faith altogether.
FINDING FAITH, LOSING FAITH: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy © Copyright 2011 by Scot McKnight and Hauna Ondrey. Reprinted with permission by Baylor University Press. All rights reserved.