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Leaving the Faith: Letting Goods and Kindred Go

By Matt ~

I have clambered so hard for Christianity to be true. I love the story. The idea that everything sad will come untrue inspires me. I want to believe Aslan returns and tears apart the White Witch. I want to believe the ring is being carried to Mordor to be plunged into a pit of fire. I want to see justice delivered from a man on a horse.

I want there to be Lucy’s and Bilbo’s and Frodo’s, and even a Mr. Tumnus. I want to believe my futile efforts at work and art will ring forever throughout the ages and reach their culmination at the end of this present age.

For that idea—to quote the triumphal hymn by Martin Luther—I would “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” And I would have been happy to do it. Except, when it’s the epitome of the cultural norm in my own circle, you never have to lose a single good or kindred. You gain a bunch.
There’s a faintly noticeable addiction to that gain, muted no doubt by the beauty of the story, by Aslan’s deafening roar itself. It’s easy in that context to truly believe you are driven exclusively by your captivation with that beautiful idea, ignorant of the treasures you are amassing and walling in around you.

But, after 5 years of chasing an M.Div at one seminary, 2 years of chasing but never obtaining a Ph.D at another, 15 years of vocational ministry with the last 4 being the senior pastor of a small town Baptist Church, I was crying on the floor of my living room as my wife was trying to pry me up to go preach the evening service which was set to begin in 3 minutes. The beautiful idea had begun to dissolve. Upon it, I had spilled some universal acid.

Thankfully, I was able to stumble in just in time to preach, but only as a dead man, a shell. My deconversion had begun.

I had been hit hard with an existential crisis that I have yet to recover from. Everyone’s story of deconstruction has its beginning point. Mine, oddly enough, began when I couldn’t bear the shame of denying that the earth was abundantly old. “God could have created the earth with age,” I’d preach. But the fact that such a view flies in the face of the biblical account as to why death and decay entered the world was inescapable, and its truth haunted me.

According to the Scriptures, Adam brought sin into the world. He made every woman suffer through child bearing. Thorns and thistles began to sprout from the ground. Heck, even the snake lost his legs over it. The innocence of the garden was lost and death had been introduced.

Yet—and this sounds so foolish to admit was an epiphany at this point—the earth had been full of death and thorns and thistles, billions of years before Adams arrival. The age of the earth and the biblical account were mutually exclusive. (I am more than aware of the attempts by theologians to reconcile the two. There were none I found convincing. In my view, all attempts to do so were giving up too much theologically.)

The point of this testimony of deconstruction is not to lobby a full-fledged offensive at the creation story, but merely to say, once one of the many frays on the sweater of your worldview gets snagged on an obvious thorn, the whole thing is coming apart. And you are about to be naked. It’s just a matter of time.

Once you lose your sweater, those who have grown to love its many colors will flee at the sight of your flesh. This is the second death. If the first death is the existential crisis, the second death is the sudden realization that you are about to lose everyone.

The goods and kindred that you were supposed to lose as the entry way to the faith, you never really lost. In fact, you’ve amassed all the more on the journey.

I was able to stumble in just in time to preach, but only as a dead man, a shell. My deconversion had begun.In truth, goods and kindred, are what you lose now if you step out of the skeptic’s closet. When you thought the beautiful story demanded forsaking goods and kindred, and you proclaimed that you were willing to do it, perhaps it was because doing so actually gained you more goods and kindred.

It takes far more bravery to admit your denial of the story, because this time, confessing the truth with your mouth, risks ripping those goods and kindred away. You’ve built an entire city around that story, one with streets of gold, one shining on a hill.

It takes guts to leave it. Far more than it took to build it. If Christians understood that, they’d save their rebukes. If they knew the pain of the exit, they’d love you all the more. You aren’t leaving because you never truly trusted the story. You are leaving because you have leaned on it so hard that you found in the end that it could not support the weight.

Your true goods and kindred won’t leave you. They’ll stand with you and beside you. But you will lose a lot. The newly found skeptic has counted the cost and found the truth more valuable, so valuable they have risked letting goods and kindred go for the sake of it. Ironically, in the process, the skeptic gains this mortal life back. It’s a precious one. It’s all we get.

Simply put, I guess it’s time to get busy living it and mute the critics with the lions roar. Time to be Lucy and Frodo and march forward into uncertainty for the beauty of that truth. Maybe there is room for those characters after all.