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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