[TBC: Professing Christian Jen Hatmaker is a prominent writer and speaker. In recent years, she has said that the Bible has been misinterpreted on LGBT issues, consequently undermining the teachings she says she upholds.]
The Power of De-Conversion Stories: How Jen Hatmaker is Trying to Change Minds About the Bible
When it comes to reaching the “lost,” one of the most tried-and-true methods is the personal conversion story.....But when it comes to reaching the “found,” there’s an equally effective method—and this is a method to which the evangelical church has paid very little attention. It’s what we might call the de-conversion story.
De-conversion stories are designed not to reach non-Christians but to reach Christians. And their purpose is to convince them that their outdated, naïve beliefs are no longer worthy of their assent. Whether done privately or publicly, this is when a person simply gives their testimony of how they once thought like you did and have now seen the light.
I’ve seen a number of these de-conversion stories over the years in the books I’ve reviewed—a number by Bart Ehrman, and some by Rob Bell and Peter Enns….But, I was particularly reminded of the power and impact of de-conversion stories when I listened to last week’s podcast of Jen Hatmaker being interviewed by Peter Enns….And the title of her interview fits this de-conversion theme perfectly: “Changing Your Mind about the Bible: A Survivor’s Guide.” As many know, the main issue Hatmaker changed her mind about is that she now fully affirms the LGBQT lifestyle as consistent with biblical Christianity. But, Hatmaker’s journey in this interview is not as original as it might first appear. In effect, she simply follows the same basic playbook used by Rob Bell, Bart Ehrman and others. The details may be different, but the overall point is the same.
The first place to start in every good de-conversion story is to tell about the narrow dogmatism of your evangelical past. You begin by first flashing your evangelical credentials—Hatmaker was a Southern Baptist who went to a Southern Baptist College—and then you recount the problems you observed.
For Hatmaker, her evangelical past included people who are afraid to ask questions, won’t let you ask questions, only give pat answers, and never acknowledge gray areas. She says, “I had no idea that we had permission to press hard on our faith.” Of course, there are some evangelical groups that are like this. And it’s certainly possible Hatmaker is from one of these groups. The problem, however, is that Hatmaker’s language is a caricature of evangelicalism as a whole.
Many evangelicals believe what they believe not because they are backwater bucolic yokels who are scared to press hard on the text, but precisely because they have engaged the text and are persuaded it teaches these truths. Indeed, it’s usually evangelicals who are actually reading both conservative and liberal arguments and weighing them against each other. There are plenty of liberal seminaries and universities that never have their students read a single conservative book. And it’s supposedly evangelicals that are in the intellectual echo chamber?
In our current postmodern culture, there’s nothing more offensive than being dogmatic. Just about anything is allowed except certainty. Thus, the quickest way to win points in a de-conversion story is to admit you used to commit this cardinal sin but now you know better.
Hatmaker states, “For a season that sense of certainty was wonderful…but of course upon scrutiny it breaks down because, as always, we come to Scripture and the things that we say are certain are obviously not certain to other people . . . certainty really only works in an echo chamber.” In other words, Hatmaker has now figured out how religion is really supposed to work. All of us who have a deep conviction about the truth of our beliefs just need to realize how wrong we are. It turns out we can’t really be certain about what the Bible teaches after all.
Of course, there are numerous problems with this sort of position. For one, it’s profoundly self-contradictory. Hatmaker is absolutely certain this is the way the Christian religion works. She’s dogmatic in her condemnation of dogmatism. Even more than this, later in the same interview Hatmaker is very certain about what the Bible teaches on a great many things. In particular, she is sure the Bible accepts the LGBTQ lifestyle and that the historic evangelical position is wrong and harmful.
Apparently she has forgotten her commitment to uncertainty when it comes to that issue.
And there are additional issues beyond this. If we’re all required to be uncertain in our interpretations of the Bible, then what doctrines can really be affirmed? On those terms, aren’t all doctrines uncertain? And if that’s the case, then we cannot affirm with assurance even the most basic Christian truths—e.g., the divinity of Jesus, his resurrection from the dead, the forgiveness of our sins.
I doubt Hatmaker is willing to abandon the certainty of these basic truths. But, that just reveals that her supposed commitment to uncertainty is being selectively applied. She uses it to make her case for homosexuality but then forgets about it when other doctrines are in view.
(Kruger, "The Power of De-Conversion Stories: How Jen Hatmaker is Trying to Change Minds About the Bible,” Canon Fodder Blog, 2/5/18).