Deconversion is not new. A handful of “believers” have abjured the faith, especially if persecution was present or on the horizon. So we should not be surprised. If Judas Iscariot personally walked with Jesus for three years and ultimately sold Him out for 30 pieces of silver, we should not be surprised if lesser lights reject the faith.
We must remember that it’s not just about how we begin the Christian life, it’s also how we endure and finish it. Beginning is important. We hear the Gospel, repent of sin and place our faith in Jesus Christ. The ending is important as well. We rely on the Holy Spirit as we’re daily sanctified in Jesus Christ. We must finish well. Jesus said it is those who endure to the end who will be saved (Matthew 24:13). Paul reflects this same sentiment in his farewell address to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
1 Timothy 1:18-20 describes how Hymenaeus and Alexander shipwrecked their faith. In working through this text, we can do an autopsy of deconversion.
First, people who deconvert, in the end, reject the Gospel calling. There are only two callings in life – salvation and sanctification (service). While Paul tells Timothy not to reject the “prophecies” made about him, by implication, he is saying that this is exactly what Hymenaeus and Alexander had done, thereby forfeiting their faith. God called them and, in the end, they stiff-armed God. God calls and we must answer, continually, daily, to the end.
Second, people who deconvert stop waging spiritual warfare. Paul wanted Timothy to “wage the good warfare.” Again, by implication, those who reject the faith stop struggling for the faith and start struggling with the faith. We do new believers a disservice by making following Jesus sound easy. It is not. Jesus said we are to strive to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 13:24). This is not salvation by works, but salvation by a faith that works. People who deconvert stop running, working, investing, studying and fighting the fight of faith. They stop growing (2 Peter 3:18).
Third, people who deconvert invert subjective and objective faith. Hymenaeus and Alexander stopped embracing “the faith” (Jude 3) and in the process they lost “their faith.” When a person elevates their faith journey above the historic faith of the Bible, they are in danger of abandoning the faith. The standard by which we are to judge what we believe is not our subjective experience but the objective truth of God’s Word.
Fourth, people who deconvert lose their conscience (1 Timothy 4:2). We must not violate our conscience. When we stop listening to a conscience informed by the Word of God, we end up with a dead conscience. When this happens, spiritual drift no longer troubles us. Spiritual truths that once made sense don’t seem to line up with worldly wisdom, and ultimately, biblical truth is rejected, and worldly wisdom is adopted as the “smarter route.” Result: deconversion.
Fifth, people who deconvert publicly reject the faith with great fanfare as noted in 1 Timothy 1:19. The word rejection is a violent word – it means to repel, to throw away. The public rejection of the faith is often preceded by a private rejection of the faith. Rejecting the faith often seems sudden but is usually the result of a long journey away from Jesus.
Finally, people who deconvert blaspheme Jesus. Let’s not make deconversion heroic. Many will say about those who deconvert – “Oh, how authentic they are. How brave they are. How smart they are.” They are none of these.
In the end, Hymenaeus and Alexander not only abandoned Jesus, but they made a shipwreck of their faith. Shipwrecks are ugly and disastrous. As one who believes in the security of the believer, deconversion simply exposes what was not there all along – true, genuine, enduring faith (Matthew 24;13; 1 John 1:19). In the meantime, while we’re on our way across Jordan’s stormy banks, as the old saying goes, we’ll run across many shipwrecks. Let’s remain faithful.
Kevin Shrum is pastor of Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville.