Former Desiring God and TGC Author Paul Maxwell Describes in VIVID Detail how he Came to Lose his Faith

Several popular and prominent Christian figures have renounced their Christianity over the last couple of years including the former editor of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, popular Hillsong musician, Marty Sampson, purity culture pastor, Josh Harris, and recently Paul Maxwell.

Maxwell is a former Desiring God and TGC writer and the author of the book, The Trauma of Doctrine. He famously announced in April of 2021 that he had left the faith and deconverted, but left barely an explanation of what happened and what led him to repudiate his former beliefs.

In a new interview with famed apostate Josh Harris, Maxwell reveals what led him to this point, with an major focus on the need for self-esteem and the declaration that constant repentance was too draining on him, he swiftly demonstrated that truly he was never really of us. He shares:

I didn’t grow up or wasn’t raised a Christian, I became a Christian at a Youth for Christ conference when I was 16… I wanted to understand the Bible. So I went to Moody Bible College. And you know, it was at Moody that I read a book called Is There a Meaning in this Text by a guy named Kevin Vanhoozer, and that introduced me to some French post-modernists, the post-structuralist Jacques Derrida, in particular. And I had a real crisis of faith then at age 19.

You know, the idea that my whole life could be built on a text all of a sudden, didn’t make sense to me. And so Christianity wasn’t even so much the object of my doubt, as it was structuralism, which is a philosophical term for a way of approaching language that says, language, objectively means things. There’s a very strong connection between words and objects in the world. And I, I saw, I perceived a disillusion of that connection.

And the truth is, a lot of people at Moody and a lot of people in seminary go there because they sense a vocational calling on their lives- ‘I want to serve the church, I want to be a pastor’ – that was never me. I wanted to understand God, who is this God that I’ve devoted my life to? I want to know. And I want to know ‘why’ and I want to know ‘how’. And so for me, there were just unanswered questions that needed to get answered. And so I decided to stay a Christian.

And the truth is…when I announced that I wasn’t a Christian anymore, I think it was a combination of that seed that had been planted when I was 19, where I learned to kind of perforate my faith experience with genuine questioning, genuine questioning.

Because it’s one thing to say ‘doubts’, and then they say, ‘doubt your doubts’, and then ‘doubt the doubts of that’, you know, it’s an infinite feedback loop of doubt, but really saying ‘Wow, these things I believe, am I willing to genuinely entertain the notion that they’re not true?’ Or that truth doesn’t work the way it has to work for these claims to be what these people claim to be?

And so that manifested itself in a weird way for me, because initially, it was an intellectual question for me, obviously, these friends were like, Yeah, yada, yada, yada, all these intellectual questions. But ultimately, I realized I had an unworkable self-hatred that I had cultivated…and I did not have the tools to attain a level of what I felt was just a baseline normal, survivable mental wellness, and I didn’t know why.

He explains that after reading a book on self-esteem by Nathaniel Brandon, his whole mindset and worldview shifted:

And his claim in that book is essentially, in order to have the cognitive architecture of mental wellness, begins with esteeming the self, honoring the self, loving the self. And his definition of self-esteem, was what allowed me to let go of the version of Christianity I had held on to for so long, which is ‘self-esteem is the coordination of self-respect, and self-confidence, self-respect, being a conviction of one’s own worthiness and value, and self-confidence being a trust in one’s own mind and heart.’

And I thought ‘I don’t have either of those things’. And I realised if I have to choose between at least the way I’m manifesting and experiencing God through Christianity, and having self-esteem defined as ‘having the coordination of self-respect and self-confidence,’ I need self-esteem. I need this because it’s killing me not to happen.

It’s killing my relationships. It’s killing my perspective on the world. And I thought, ‘this is unworkable‘. So for me, you know, leaving Christianity in which for me, it was only letting go of the God concept as I had conceived it up to that time, was a matter of saying, ‘I am going to choose to love myself.

And there was a certain euphoria to that. There was a certain experience of that self-love that felt very much like what I felt when I originally converted to Christianity

And it was in that resonance that I realised what I did with God in terms of directing love towards the self dignifying the self, and then from there having a sense of mission. I can do without the God concepts. I don’t have to route self-love through a sense that I am undeserving of that love- that love is only ever a gift and a grace and undeserved. I thought wow, if I’m going to begin with self-respect, which is the conviction that I’m worth this love, then I have to insist on not routing that self love, through self hatred. And if I’m going to survive this life, and if I’m going to get pleasure and joy and bring pleasure and joy and purpose to other people, it’s going to be by beginning with the dignification of the self, and extending that to other people.

He concludes on why the concept of dying to self was so repulsive to him.

Christianity was the way I felt comfortable manifesting a lot of those unhealthy ways of thinking… but in Christianity, it was really- if I could really put my finger on…one reality, or one practice that I’m reified or ingrained, that sense of negativity that really detracted from that sense of the fullness of love that I felt when I when I converted to Christianity.

And this is maybe just one example of an infinite number of examples. But this idea of ‘the mortification of the flesh, repentance, daily repentance’ , it’s another way of always looking at the negative, or even if you’re not always looking at the negative, you’re at the very least always going back to the negative. You’re always going back to what’s wrong, what’s bad. And if you take the doctrinal, theological part out of it, and you just bring that to a mental health worker, that’s a neurotic way of thinking. And if you bring that to a positive psychologist, they’ll say, ‘Well, that’s going to be very detrimental to your self-esteem’

And I realised ‘I can’t do this. It’s too exhausting.’…Sure, I had my intellectual reasons for thinking that Christianity wasn’t true in that way, but I didn’t have the energy to be a Christian anymore. I didn’t have the psychological juice to keep that going, you know, my reservoir of love that I got in conversion. I think was sapped by those practices of repentance.

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18 thoughts on “Former Desiring God and TGC Author Paul Maxwell Describes in VIVID Detail how he Came to Lose his Faith

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  4. Live for the glory of God and for others, or glorify self… as Satan leads us toward self. That has been the contrast and objective of Satan through the flesh since the beginning.

    He didn’t appear to have learned much, but since that does involve the indwelling Holy Spirit, he was at a disadvantage.

    1. Interesting…the negative comments here seem to further Maxwell’s point. I dare say the judgemental comments that follow this article are another type of heresy…or Pharisee.

  5. Shows you what Moody Bible College can do for you!! This guy has never read the whole Bible or known God, he is lost. Who needs the French post-modernists, the post-structuralist Jacques Derrida? “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10v17. This man could get real FAITH if he bothered to turn to the BIBLE.

  6. “I’m choosing to love myself” pretty much summed it all up nicely. Maxwell chose to venerate his sinful self rather than God, much in the same way Satan and a third of the angels did. Tragic.

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  8. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as we love ourself. Looks like self-love to me. Did Mr. Maxwell miss a meeting? All of these famous apostates share a common shallowness in their apostacy.

  9. Interestingly, I was a student at Moody Bible Institute ‘83-86, but had my crisis of faith (aka “How can I know for sure…”, “Why do I believe?”) at The King’s College where I attended prior to Moody. It is easy to blame institutions and influential writers for perfecting common doubts about and attacks against (subtle or overt) the Christian worldview and, more specifically the Bible. In my experience, having been a professing follower of Christ since the age of 6 and sensing a call to full-time Gospel ministry at age 16, I struggled with the “big questions” of “why” while pursuing formal preparation in the halls of academia. I read the philosophers (secular and religious -including pseudo-Christian). It was a rigorous somewhat scary process that led me to question “everything Christianity.” Even my father, who was a fairly well-known evangelical pastorin the late 70’s and early 80’s, was woefully unequipped to help me in my struggle. He did, however, make it possible for me to attend Moody in the apex moments of my spiritual crisis. So I went to Chicago as a “flirting agnostic” afraid to find out that Christianity was not true! What I found out was that being a Christian was not only true in all disciplines of the intellect but deeply satisfying in every way emotionally and spiritually. What’s more, God used a conversation/debate with an atheist to bring me full circle from the despairing abyss of the consequences of the atheistic/agnostic worldview. I am now 58 and more excited about knowing and serving the Godhead than ever before, despite some unthinkable recent experiences in the very broken vestiges of American Evangelicalism.
    With no malice toward Mr. Maxwell, I would suggest that his conclusions about Christianity and his juxtaposition of self-love as his “savior” are a sad commentary on his faulty premises about the Christian faith. I have already Miley written too much here. But is clear that what is most blatantly missing from Maxwell’s account is even a hint of a personal encounter with the Living God and relationship with the Living Christ. ALL of us are on a spiritual journey which is not only about this life but the next. And legitimate doubts are inevitable. But let’s not confuse such doubts (which have viable and robust answers) with spurious pontifications about “self-love” and “self-dignification” providing the answer to the deep, crying need of the human soul. “Self-settleness” (as I call it) is ONLY found in the freedom of “denying” one’s self-centeredness and calling out to God for His merciful forgiveness. Christ is the One Who gives us the answer to our deepest need of self-fulfillment. And it turns out it is not a concept or even a Scripture verse…it is Christ Himself! The tragedy of the Paul Maxwell story is not that he has had struggles with his “faith” (anyone honest would admit to such)…the tragedy is that he shows no evidence that he has ever had an authentic encounter with the Savior described in the Scriptures.

  10. Many here have covered the ground well of why this man seems to never have known God or Christianity. A proof of this is when he states about taking the mortification of sin to a clinical psychologist. It’s clear those people shouldn’t be the authority on spiritual matters of faith and life. If that’s your authority and not God’s Word, well, you may not be a Christian.
    What I want to add is to me the bigger question, why do we even care? How many people have attended his church, sat under his direct ministry? Or have even spoken to him? Not many. It’s because we as evangelicals have given greater latitude to some pastors, and their staff and ministries, that this is even a story (in this case John Piper and Desiring God). If this was just even a pastor of a pretty large church it may not have made headlines. I bring this up to say we probably need to be more discerning before we let people influence vast sections of Christian populations. We’ve gone way outside the boundaries of the Church set up in scripture. It doesn’t surprise me that someone somewhere in a place of influence was enticed by their own lust and drawn away. What surprises me is the fallout, the importance we give these people, who apparently didn’t even know God in the first place. How did we even listen to them in the first place?

  11. How is it that no one has called out the writer of this article on his dishonesty? There is simply no justification for his assertion that “truly he was never really of us. ”

    On the contrary, Maxwell describes a genuine conversion and subsequent quest for deeper knowledge of God.

    Isn’t the speaking of truth one of the markers of being in the faith? Shouldn’t we therefore question the genuineness of the Christianity of a staff writer who is so willing to lie to his readers?

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  13. Unfortunately, Paul Maxwell was striving to do in his flesh what he should have allowed the Holy Spirit to do through him.

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