Scot McKnight & Hauna Ondrey,
Finding Faith, Losing Faith:
Stories of Conversion & Apostasy

(Baylor University Press, 2008)

In Finding Faith, Losing Faith, Scot McKnight, a professor of religious studies at North Park University, studies the conversion experience, with co-author Hauna Ondrey contributing a chapter discussing the conversion of Roman Catholics to Evangelical Protestantism. The authors point out that, while no two conversion experiences are exactly the same, most fall into a pattern.

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 the crisis. Converts then encounter and interact with those who advocate a new faith, leading them to a commitment and to consequences. There are then six dimensions to all conversions: context, crisis, quest, encounter, commitment and consequences.

The book is developed primarily by telling the stories of individuals who converted, thereby demonstrating that the pattern holds up. It convincingly does the job. Reading it shows that what is a deeply personal and individual experience is also universal. It happens to everyone who undergoes it in pretty much the same way.

Strikingly, McKnight first demonstrates that leaving your faith without going to another one is also an act of conversion. The act of giving up on the church and God altogether follows the same archetypal pattern as a conversion from, say, Evangelicism to Roman Catholicism. That insight is the news of the book. Although, for all I know, it might be a common notion in theological studies, the act of quitting being an unrecognized conversion was new and striking to me. It gave me a framework for understanding what many of my friends have gone through.

The other chapters cover the more standard conversions: from one denomination to another. We see Jews becoming both Christians and Messianic Jews, Catholics becoming Evangelicals, and Evangelicals becoming Catholic. In each section, we hear from people who have made those trips. They tell their stories, mostly in their own words and if, after a while, most of the stories sound the same, well, that's the thesis of the book, a demonstration that the pattern the authors discuss is actually operational.

We also see that if we ever thought that the decision to leave a denomination that isn't working for you and either going to another one or going it alone was a simple one, we were wrong. It turns out to be complex and, for many people, life-transforming, as much a source of suffering as it is a source of comfort.

Finding Faith, Losing Faith is a thoroughly researched, well-organized book that only occasional falls into the academic trap of overkill.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

20 December 2008

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