Sean McDowell | September 18, 2023

3 Reasons I Deconstructed, but Did not Deconvert

People often ask me why I went through a period of doubt and yet remain a Christian. In other words, why did I deconstruct my faith and yet not deconvert?

Those of us who are Christians believe there are spiritual factors involved. For the sake of this blog, I am simply focusing on three personal reasons–as best as I can tell–as to why I did not abandon my faith.

First, I Had Space to Process Doubts. In their study designed to help Millennials hang on to their faith, Kara Powell and Chap Clark reveal that it is not doubts per se that necessarily destroy faith but rather unexpressed doubts. Difficult questions alone do not shipwreck faith. In many cases, it is when someone does not feel permission to express those doubts to others, and get them out in the open, that climaxes in a shattered faith.

As a college student, I had a Resident Director who gave me personal space to work through my doubts and questions. He didn’t pressure me. He didn’t freak out. He simply listened, asked good questions, and assured me that our relationship was not based upon what I believed. My father responded the same way. When I told him that I had doubts about my faith, he assured me of his unconditional love.

Having space to doubt freed me to follow truth.

Second, I Have Not Experienced Great Hurt by the Church. Please hear me as I explain this one: I am not saying that deconversions can be explained solely because of hurt. My point in raising this is not to downplay genuine intellectual questions people have about God and the Bible. Last week, I talked with a prominent atheist who had a wonderful overall experience in the evangelical church before he deconverted. Clearly, all deconversions cannot be reduced to bad experiences alone.

Yet hurts do seem to play a key part in many experiences. I am saddened at how frequently I hear stories from former Christians of how they experienced abuse and hurt in the church. Oftentimes I find myself thinking (and saying), “If I had experienced that treatment, I might leave too.” While I certainly had some bad experiences, overall, I felt safe, cared for, and saw integrity in the lives of most Christians.

Third, I Found Sufficient Answers to My Questions. Even though my father is an influential apologist, during my period of doubt, I found the need to read both skeptics and other Christian thinkers, such as William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland. Although I probably now have more questions than when I began my journey, I am convinced that Christianity is really true.

To me, the existence of God makes the best sense of beauty, morality, consciousness, and the complexity of life. The resurrection of Jesus makes the most sense of the historical facts regarding his life, death, and the origin of the Christian faith. And the transforming power of grace, as exemplified in the life and sacrifice of Jesus, strikes my heart as existentially true.

I certainly can’t speak for anyone else. But as I reflect upon my faith journey, these three reasons seem to best explain why I deconstructed my faith, but did not deconvert.

Check out my latest book with John Marriott: Set Adrift: Deconstructing What You Believe Without Sinking Your Faith.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: