Derek Webb, Wrestling with the Category of “Ex-Christian,” and the Nature of True Saving Faith


Derek Webb is an ex-Christian.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Derek Webb, he is a musician that played in the Christian band Caedmon’s Call in the 1990s and early 2000s before embarking on a solo career. Derek wrote songs grappling with theological truth, ranging from topics about God’s sovereign election (“Thankful”), the depravity of man (“Crooked Deep Down”), and the priority of love as a mark of true Christianity (“The Church”).

He is a songwriter with depth and honesty to his lyrics. He looks at the world and tells us what he sees. For me and many of my friends in college, we listened as he worked out his theology in a deeply personal way that made him a representative figure for many of us on the same walk.

And yet a few weeks ago I listened with deep sadness to a podcast where Derek vehemently rejected Christianity. He spoke with vulgar language. He explained how he found more comfort in alcohol than he did in the truths of the gospel. At one point, he expresses that, in light of the suffering in the world, either there is no God or the one that exists is a “f***ing ***hole.”

What happened?

Derek Webb is just one among an ever-increasing category of those who identify as “ex-Christian.” They grew up in the church, many even gave their lives in various roles in the church, and yet today they reject Christianity as a delusion at best or oppressive and even evil at worst.

How can we understand what is going on in their lives? There are only three options before us: 1) They were once genuine Christians but have fallen away; 2) At least some of them are still genuine Christians in a deep state of spiritual confusion and error but will eventually return by God’s grace; 3) They were never genuine Christians to begin with.

Option number one is untenable with biblical truth. I sincerely pray that option 2 is the case for Derek and for all who are in his current camp. But, sadly, we know that this is not true for all of them; some of them have genuinely rejected the gospel and will not return. That leaves option 3 as the only possibility: they were never genuine Christians.

At this point the conversation can diverge into two unhelpful ditches. On the one hand, we can try to start picking at the person’s life and saying, “See, we should have seen this coming.” Some may point to Derek’s salty language in some of his songs or his affair and subsequent divorce. But this is completely unhelpful and displays a lack of grace and humility. Christians have affairs. Adulterous thoughts rage in most of our minds even if we don’t physically have affairs (which to Jesus makes us equally guilty). Christians have different standards of what words are acceptable for what purposes. We ought not use his apostasy to point fingers at the struggles in his life or his views with which we do not happen to agree.

But an equally unhelpful divergence is to deny that ex-Christians were never genuine Christians. Many of these ex-Christians argue adamantly, “No, I was a Christian. I believed it. I was a pastor/song leader/youth worker/conference speaker/musician/committed church member. I was a Christian and now I am not.” The same doubts may arise in our minds: How could someone that I was so sure was a Christian, someone from whom I even learned a great deal, how could they never have been a Christian at all?

The answer lies at what is the true nature and cause of genuine saving faith. Jonathan Edwards is helpful for us here:

“Men may have a strong persuasion that the Christian religion is true, when their persuasion is not at all built on evidence, but altogether on education, and the opinion of others; as many Mahometans are strongly persuaded of the truth of the Mahometan religion, because their fathers, and neighbors, and nation believe it. That belief of the truth of the Christian religion, which is built on the very same grounds with a Mahometan’s belief of the Mahometan religion, is the same sort of belief. And though the thing believed happens to be better, yet that does not make the belief itself to be of a better sort; for though the thing believed happens to be true, yet the belief of it is not owing to this truth, but to education” (emphasis mine).

Edwards makes a vital distinction here between two kinds of belief. There is a way to “believe” in Christianity that is not genuine saving belief. You can believe in Christianity because you are educated in it, because those around you believe it, and because you are genuinely convinced in your mind that it is a true religion. You can be convinced of and committed to Christianity in the same way you can be convinced of and committed to false religions or sports teams or opinions about which James Bond movie is the best. And yet this is not saving faith, no matter how committed it looks on the outside. This is a kind of belief that can be altered or even abandoned.

True saving faith, as Edwards explains, looks like this:

“A spiritual conviction of the truth of the great things of the gospel, is such a conviction, as arises from having a spiritual view or apprehension of those things in the mind. And this is also evident from the Scripture, which often represents, that a saving belief of the reality and divinity of the things proposed and exhibited to us in the gospel, is from the Spirit of God’s enlightening the mind” (emphasis mine).

True saving faith is not being exposed and educated in the Christian religion and coming to a conviction that such things are true. True saving faith happens when God by His Spirit enlightens the mind and helps us see not only the truth of the gospel but the loveliness and divine nature of it. It is beholding not only the truths of the gospel but also having God work on our souls to rejoice in the glory of God as He is revealed in these truths. True conversion happens when God shines “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, emphasis mine). It is a divine work done by a God who never changes His mind or alters His purposes in history. And thus it will always, always persevere.

I don’t deny that Derek Webb or ex-pastors, ex-missionaries, ex-ministry workers, and those who define themselves as ex-Christians were at one time completely convinced of the truth of the gospel. Their belief in its truth is evidenced by the fact that they built their entire lives around it. But what I deny is that the eyes of their hearts were opened by God to truly savor the glory of God revealed in those truths. I’m not saying they didn’t believe that God was glorious. I’m saying that their conviction was a human conviction and was based upon education and circumstances and not the supernatural work of God to shine in their hearts the beauty and glory of gospel truths.

And that is why they were able to lose the faith they had.

** Due to a number of criticisms of this post, I’ve attempted to show a biblical justification for the idea that some faith is not of God and thus not true saving faith in this follow-up post.**


65 thoughts on “Derek Webb, Wrestling with the Category of “Ex-Christian,” and the Nature of True Saving Faith

  1. Thanks for posting this. I was actually considering writing a very similar article but instead I’ll just point people to yours. If you don’t mind, can you give me the Edwards reference? I have the 2 volume set in case that’s what you’re using.

  2. Since you listened to the podcast, you know that the theological explanation you offer is one of the things that drove Derek away in the first place. You say that if Derek truly isn’t a believer, then “the eyes of his heart were never opened by God…” So he’s damned for unbelief when the only thing that would allow him to believe is a move of God’s Spirit. Webb is hardly the first person from a Reformed background to examine this seeming contradiction and find it unsatisfying.

    • Don, thank you for your comment. I appreciate you taking time to read and interact. In response, I would say there is a difference between contradiction and mystery. The Bible does claim that no one can exercise faith without the work of God upon the heart but it also makes clear that God calls on people to respond to the gospel. Paul himself addresses your question in Romans 9 by asking, “Why then does He find fault? For who resists His will?” Paul’s only answer is that God has the right to do as He pleases with His creation. It must be noted, however, that Romans 9 is followed by Romans 10 where Paul presses the need for the gospel to be preached so that people can hear it, call upon the Lord, and be saved.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Derek Webb believed and called upon the Lord. Why didn’t the Lord save him even though Derek believed in him? Saying “God can do what he wants” when someone asks why God refused to save someone who believed in and worshiped him is not a satisfactory explanation; it’s a cop out. Whenever there are clear inconsistencies or examples of God doing things that seem downright cruel, I either hear “God is a mystery” or “God can do whatever he wants and still be perfect and just”. That’s not a real answer.

  3. My religion died off in a similar manner. It has been encouraging to see some of my favorite Christian artists take a hard look at what they believe. Mutemath and Thrice often seem like they are on the edge of reassessing their beliefs as well, though they were not quite as deep in the Christian music scene.

    • Mutemath? Maybe, haven’t heard one way or another. Thrice (and Dustin Kensrue specifically)? Don’t think so, and they’re not a band anymore. Check out Kensrue’s recent work during and after Thrice, it’s more explicitly spiritual/Biblical than anything done in Thrice.

  4. Are we really willing to give up on a set of beliefs because of how our limited human knowledge reconciles these deep concepts? Are we willing to risk our eternity because of the actions of disobedient or flawed Christians? Christ either died and rose again or He didn’t; how will each of us deal with that? The historical documentation leans heavily to “HE DID!” I’m so glad that my salvation is not based on me or my convictions but on God and his faithfulness. The common theme, it seems, is that people can’t comprehend a sovereign God who would choose to not save some people. Me neither! But it’s clear that there’s only one answer that we actually CAN do something about – repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

    • You’re spot on, Paul Klassen. I’m thinking right now of the scene in John ch. 6:

      “And he [Jesus] said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
      After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”’

      I was just rereading the introduction and first couple chapters of J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. I’d definitely recommend checking it out, if you, like Derek Webb, are struggling with how God saves us and what our responsibility as created beings with a free will is in the process of conversion and living life as a believer. Actually, I’d recommend it even if you’re not struggling with the concept.

      Praying for Derek today.

  5. Considering the image of God Webb previously embraced as a staunch Calvinist, you may be right.

    As John Wesley once said, Calvinism “represents the most holy God as worse than the devil—as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust than Satan. More false: because the devil, liar as he is, has never said that he wills all men to be saved. More unjust: because the devil cannot, if he would, be guilty of such injustice as you ascribe to God when you say that God condemned millions of souls to everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels for continuing in sin which, for want of that grace he will not give them, they cannot avoid. And more cruel: … To suppose him, happy as he is, to doom his creatures to endless misery … is to impute such cruelty to him as we cannot impute even to the great enemy of God and man. It is to represent the high God (he who has ears to hear let him hear!) as more cruel, false, and unjust than the devil!”

    To this, Webb now says, “amen.” Sadly, that representation of God seems to be the only one he ever knew—or at least is the only one he seems to have embraced. Given that, it’s hard to blame him for his current conclusions about that representation of God.

    • You said it better than I could have, Jason. Thank you.

      It’s sad to me that some (like the author of this article) are unwilling to take so many people at their word when they say their faith in Christ was genuine, that they really and truly did have a relationship with God… but now have walked away from that. All because it doesn’t fit into their doctrinal system.

      Apparently they think that if the Prodigal Son had never come home, it would prove that he never was his father’s son in the first place.

      It makes me glad to be in the Wesleyan tradition! We have our own baggage, of course, but at least it’s not this baggage! 🙂

      • It seems to me that those who want to hold to “free will” somehow believe that their position gets God off the hook for being “unfair” or “cruel”, as they see it. Rich, I assume you believe that God is all-knowing? If so, then you must believe that God, before He created the one who would never believe in Him, knew that that person would never believe in Him and therefore would spend eternity apart from Him. In that case, before God created that person, He had a choice, to either not create that person, knowing they would spend eternity in eternal torment, or, create that person anyway. How many people has God created, knowing they would spend eternity in torment? Countless. So why? Why does God create people for whom He knows will spend eternity in hell? Why does He create people for destruction?

        Romans 9 tells us that God is in complete control, drawing those whom He wishes to Himself. The Bible teaches us that there is a tension, not between God’s choosing and our choosing, but between God’s choosing and our accountability. God’s sheep are among us, waiting to hear His voice as we preach the gospel. His sheep will hear His voice, therefore we preach. Those who choose not to believe, do not want to believe (John 3).

      • Mike, your response conflates foreknowledge with foreordination, but the former does not require the latter. Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy” is a good place to start for a better perspective.

        Part of the problem is the assumption that God operates in time in the same way humans do, with all actions and events happening sequentially (that is, with a “before” and “after”) for God. But if God is not limited by time, God’s perspective is not limited to a sequential order. Instead, God can see everything all at once such that when a person freely chooses to do something, God *knows* (present tense) that person made that choice at the same time the world began. This is not the same as suggesting that God *knew* (past tense) that person would make that choice before creation. In this way, God’s knowledge is not limited AND humans have free choice.

        As for Romans 9, it is a terrible misreading of that chapter to conclude that “God is in complete control.” Paul enlists the venerable potter/clay metaphor to call upon traditions that say exactly the opposite! As any experienced potter will tell you, clay “has a mind of its own,” and a potter has to learn to interact with the clay to produce the vessel the clay allows. Throwing pots is an interactive process of negotiation, not a one-way creative process. That’s why God used exactly that image to make that point explicit in Jeremiah 18, one of the passages to which Paul is pointing by repeating the imagery.

        As Paul explains, “What if God produced with much patience vessels of wrath reshaped for destruction…” (Rom 9:22). Paul emphasizes that God is patient with stubborn clay, reshaping it to suit new purposes if it resists his hand in exactly the fashion Jer 18 explains. This is a far cry from claiming that God irresistibly exercises control in all things, with humans unable to resist. The very point of the metaphor is to answer the question, “For who resists his will?” with the obvious answer from the Hebrew Bible: “We do.”

    • Jason, thanks for your comment! I would say that both you and Wesley are reacting against hyper-Calvinism, a view that ONLY looks at God’s part in salvation. The Bible holds both views in tension: God saves whom he wills but men are also called upon God to respond and are held responsible for doing so. I would suggest reading Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” for an excellent treatment of this position.

      I often wrestle myself with how these two things logically fit together. But I cannot deny that it is the biblical portrait of how salvation in Christ works.

      Thanks again for your comment!

      • No, this is not against hyper-Calvinism. It is against Calvinism in general. Hyper-Calvinism only takes the foundational arguments to their logical end anyway.

        Nor is it “the biblical portrait of how salvation in Christ works.” One must not forget (or explain away, as is the case with those who argue that God ultimately did not will the salvation of those who are not saved), 1 Tim 2:4, “[God] desires all humans to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” What the Bible then teaches is that God’s will is not always done, that humans can and do resist God.

        Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” also does not adequately interpret the passages with which he is dealing.

  6. I wonder what Mark Conditt believed about God. He made a haunting comment, “I do not care about those people. I wish I did.”

  7. Has the author ever considered that his own doctrine may lead to some pretty troubling conclusions about the nature of God?

    If we are predestined to be saved (or not), as Calvinists believe, then that means God is creating billions of people who are predestined for hell. How would this not make him a cruel and unjust God? How can Webb be condemned by a just God if he had no choice as to if he is saved or not? It’s as if he’s being punished for a choice that was never his to make – free will he never had. You can’t have it both ways.

    Why not entertain the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Webb was being truthful about his belief – and subsequent unbelief? The idea of being able to “lose” your faith may not bring the same amount of comfort as a doctrine that tells us it’s not possible, may even be scary, but it’s something to consider.

    • Jaye, thanks for your comment! In answer to your question about election making God unjust and cruel, I would recommend wrestling with Paul’s comments in Romans 9.

      And I do think Webb is being truthful about his belief. I think he genuinely believed in the gospel but the faith that he had was a human faith and not one wrought in his heart by God. I don’t think Derek has ever been deceptive or less than honest about where he stands. I simply think that the Bible helps us think through how someone who seemed so genuine in their faith can lose it.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  8. Andy, while I do not object to people disagreeing with me, comments that are of this nature will not be approved on our site. If you would like to engage the opinion offered, I am more than happy to approve dissenting comments, as we’ve already done on this post, but mean-spirited attacks will not be approved. You make many assumptions about what we do and do not believe in this comment that are simply incorrect. Respect must be offered even to those with whom you disagree. Blessings to you!

  9. This article reads like the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Thus:-

    No true Calvinist could ever become an Arminian and then label Calvinism a heresy.
    No true Arminian could ever become a Calvinist and then label Arminianism a heresy.
    No true atheist could ever become a theist.
    No true Muslim could ever become a Christian.

    This can even be argued another way. No true Christian would ever make their faith look so lousy that it causes other true Christians to look, to think, and then to see an alternative world and go there, and never look back.

    In essence you need to consider that this fellow was actually a true Christian and then something happened to shake him to his core.

    As for the foul language? Be careful. Within the faith is a lot of language that is very demeaning to other humans. And believers often use the associated verses to be foul their opponents:-

    1. believers are in the light, non believers are in the dark,
    2. believers are saved, non believers are damned,
    3. believers are righteous, non believers are wicked,
    4. believers are wise, non believers are fools,
    5. believers are of God, non believers are of Satan,
    6. believers are joyous, non believers are miserable,
    7. believers are healed, non believers are sick,
    8. believers have pearls, non believers are swine?

    Given the role Satan plays within Christian theology, point 5 is about the filthiest thing one human can think about or say to another human. Swearing, and name calling are all relatively mild in comparison. Several other points are illustrative of very poor attitudes as well. If you believe all points 1-8 and articulate them, don’t be critical of others who have learnt to cuss on abandoning the faith.

    Finally, I think you need to get away from this notion that you and only you had his heart properly opened. Perhaps the fellow you criticise is the one who really saw the light.

    • Roland, thanks for your comment!

      In all fairness, I think many of your comments do not hit at the point I was making in my post. I am grateful that you took the time to read and respond but I do not think you interacted fairly with the points I was making.

      Thanks again for your comment!

    • Liza, thanks for your comment! But you assume more than you argue. I don’t mind criticism, but only ask that you interact with the ideas presented rather than making unfair accusations.

      Thanks again for reading!

  10. What’s odd about this post is that you don’t mention the very obviously troubling conclusion that you have to arrive at based on this logic, and it’s that the “security” in one’s salvation that Calvinists think they have is really a mirage. If this could happen to Derek Webb, or your best friend, or your father, mother, or child, or your pastor at your staunchly Calvinist church, then it could happen to you, no matter how you think you feel about God, Jesus or Calvin at this very moment. In fact, I think Calvin suggested that God may even cause some to think they are saved for a time, even if they are not, for his “glory”. The way I see it, you can never be sure you are saved as a Calvinist, just as you could never know who is truly predestined for heaven or hell. When God’s salvation is ultimately arbitrary, and I think that is actually the precise word for the Calvinist view of salvation, then you can’t really be sure about anything, can you? How could this possibly be the “biblical” view, it borders on nonsense.

    • Dean, thanks for your comment! You do, however, assume much about Calvinism that is not true. Also, this post is not a defense of Calvinism. It strives to wrestle with the biblical assertion that true faith perseveres and the fact that there are those who profess faith and then leave it, never to return.

      Thanks again fro reading!

      • What part of Calvinism am I misunderstanding? It’s 100% true that you may also be under a mistaken belief that you are one of the Elect. People walk away from the faith every single day. We could literally never know until maybe right before your death? I’m just pointing out that this possibility must exist as part of your theology. What am I getting wrong?

    • Where does Calvinism state that anyone who claims belief in the Calvinist system of Christianity must be saved? Believing in Calvinism doesn’t save you, believing Christ until the end does. I’ve never heard a Calvinist hold to the strawman you’re putting forth, but I presume such people exist and misunderstand the tenets of their (presumed) faith as you do.

      • I think you missed my point. My point is, Calvinists love pointing to how their systematic is the only one that provides a person security in one’s salvation because it was foreordained by God. But do you really have that security? Can a God who saves who he wants to save and damns who he wants to damn, based on no preconditions (the dictionary definition for this is to be arbitrary) ever provide anyone with security of anyone’s salvation? Let me put it this way, how do you know you won’t be Derek Web 10 years from now? The answer is you can’t. Because Calvin himself said that the Calvinist God may cause you think you are saved only for you to realize later that you’re actually damned. This would explain why people who appear to genuinely believe sometimes fall way from the faith. What a glorious God he is, tricking people into thinking they are saved but really they were reprobate from before the foundations of the world. I guess it wasn’t enough just to send them to hell straight up, but I guess that’s a problem with Calvinism generally.

        The fact of the matter is, your systematic 100% allows for you, jesuguru, to be born reprobate, but think you are saved. You can’t ever know one way or another because you can’t know the secret will of God and you don’t know the future. Where’s the security in that?

  11. Personally, the narrow minded norm of Christian music plays a part in this. If ‘fans’ and music spin doctors weren’t putting people like Derek on a pedestal, they are tearing them down for having doubts or saying something deemed questionable. No wonder people are turning away.

      • Maybe I was coming from a (dare I say more practical) approach to Christianity where people are people and we love and support people. Whether it be through losing God through theology or having to deal with a church that all seem to think that they are right and others are wrong and they need to correct them. A person whether they are a professional Christian musician or an every day whoever… Its the arguing, bickering, holier than though attitude which can cause people to lose faith in the church and possibly that a perfect God cant exist due to his church being such a poor example of what being a Christ follower is all about. On a side note, theology is great but when it gets in the way of salvation, it has lost its purpose. Hope that makes sense. Cheers.

  12. Pingback: Does the Bible Say There is Such a Thing as Non-Saving Faith? | Theology Along the Way

  13. There are persons who once genuinely believed that salvation and eternal life came through Jesus Christ and who no longer think that. To deny this is to commit the No True Scotsman fallacy. Furthermore, it is presumptuous to claim to know what someone you’ve ever met was thinking at a certain point in time.

    • Thanks for your comment!

      I understand the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and do not think I have committed it. If the Bible gives persevering faith as a mark of its veracity before the fact, then the fallacy is avoided. As I stated in the follow up post, the New Testament is very aware that there are people who can be said to believe in Jesus who did not have saving faith. The apostasy of Derek Webb or any others does not surprise the New Testament.

      Also, I do not claim to know what people are thinking. I do not doubt for one second that Derek Webb genuinely believed the gospel. I am not making statements about the genuineness of his belief, only the nature of it.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      • “If the Bible gives persevering faith as a mark of its veracity before the fact, then the fallacy is avoided.”

        So how can this be tested? A “mark” is a sign of something, and you are saying the “P” in TULIP is the sign someone is a Real True Christian. So let’s just get to brass tax, if not Webb, if not others, than why you or your fellow congregant at your Calvinist church? What is the difference except post hoc, proptor hoc?

        This goes back to the point I made in another comment. I will say the trouble with talking to some Calvinists is that there is literally no point that can be made that cannot be dodged or spun. Just answer straight, please. I think the only answer is that you don’t know, your own conviction that you are saved is just a transitory emotion and cannot be confirmed outside your own subjective feelings. You are Derek Webb 10 years ago. Perseverance of the Saints is not a real doctrine, does not exist in the Bible, it’s completely made up like the rest of Calvinism. The problem is there is literally nothing someone can present to you that you’ll even consider as contrary to Calvinism. Can you at least admit that? Don’t be ashamed and don’t consider this an attack, this is ubiquitous among people holding to this theology. I’m just trying to get you open your mind to other possibilities, because they exist if you’re willing to consider them.

      • Dean, I appreciate that you disagree with Calvinism. I don’t think a comment board is a place to lay out a whole theological system as any system requires nuance, tons of biblical texts, and face to face conversation.

        That said, brother, it is uncharitable to dismiss everyone who holds a position and say that it has no basis in the Bible and is made up just because you are not convinced of it. You don’t have to agree with it. You can be completely convinced in your mind of your position. But don’t be uncharitable to others.

        The gist of this article was to try to work out in my mind a very painful occurrence-when a brother walks away from the faith. I have had two such close, close friends walk away in the past two months. This is not me sitting back in an arm chair and spouting my opinions. I’m wrestling with how to understand this in light of the Bible.

        I won’t be engaging you further on this issue because I don’t think it would be fruitful. I’m thankful for your time to interact! Blessings to you!

      • Dustin, I appreciate you publishing dissenting views. That is already miles above a lot of other Calvinists. I know it takes an emotional toll reading dissenting views and I apologize for coming on so strong. But I do hope you will open the door a bit and dive a little deeper. Let me leave you with a theological stone in your shoe as Greg Koukl, a fellow Calvinist of yours likes to do, but rarely practices on himself, why has Calvinism been historically a minority view and secondly, why do critics so
        vehemently frame it as an affront to God’s reputation? I think if you meditate on those two questions long enough you might have an epiphany. Here’s a pro tip, when you feel yourself emotionally triggered, there is something deeper that is going on. I say jump on in, because you will find treasure you never knew was there! Blessings.

  14. This is a comforting thing to cling to, but it’s, frankly, rubbish. Source? Me. I genuinely believed. My belief was not merely intellectual. In fact, right up to the time of my conversation I was convinced Christianity was a total lie. But I was desperate and attracted to the love it believers I met, the inner strength they seemed to have that I lacked. I had a salvation experience and accepted it. My thought process was, literally, “Well, Christ touched my life, so I suppose the Bible must be true. I guess I better believe it.” I was seeking truth as honestly as I could.

    And about 15 years later, in that same spirit, I stopped running and admitted to myself that I no longer believed, and that I had been sadly mistaken in my interpretation of that inner experience. It remains one of the most difficult, painful and terrifying things I’ve ever done in my life.

    I don’t expect to sway anyone – if you believe this post, you feel you have to disbelieve me. Nothing I say will matter because you believe the Bible says otherwise, and it CAN’T be wrong. I’m just another one that never really believed.

    But that’s not the truth and it’s not honest. It’s just a comforting bit of circular logic to reinforce faith. It’s a tidy defense mechanism against that pang of fear caused by a threat to your worldview. In this case, someone abandoning what’s supposed to be the one divine truth. If they had your faith, what makes you different? How do you know?

    It kicks in so that you can go on believing your faith is perfect and true. And, of course, that what happened to Derek, or David Bazan, or me, won’t ever happen to you. Because it can’t. You’re different.

    Until it does, and you find out you’re not. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  15. Derek Webb is 3 years older than I am, and we are both in our midlife years. From what I’ve read and experienced so far regarding the midlife crisis. I’m wondering if he’s going thru it. It really is a legitimate thing.

    • JT, thanks for your comment! I think, however genuine this comment is, that it’s a little patronizing to Derek or others who leave the faith. It happens at all ages! I do continue to pray for Derek like you, that his faith is saving faith and that he returns!

      • Dustin, my comment was a mere statement of curiosity, not a propositional argument.

        I am well aware of all the theology upholding your post here. I’ve studied JE for years, and agree with all that. I’ve also written an article about various kinds of doubt–“Seeing through Doubt”. All this is to acknowledge there are many things which might lead a person to walk away from Jesus–yes, no matter how old they are.

        In Derek Webb’s case, it seems, at least from the statement you alluded to earlier in the post, that he has not walked away because of mere intellectual struggles–since “he found more comfort in alcohol than he did in the truths of the gospel.” His case seems to stem more from a moral issue.

        One of the points of my curiosity regarding midlife relates to the timeline in his story–since his extramarital affair (which often occurs around midlife–see Tullian Tchividjian’s timeline), is that since then, his faith trajectory seems to have spiraled the other way–away from Jesus. Unbelief doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it happens in real person’s story. I was only curious as to whether a season in life–like midlife–related (not necessarily caused) such unbelief.

        All in all, we don’t know if Derek Webb is a Christian. We won’t know until the end (hence, the perseverance of the saints).

        I’m not into blog post disputes, which are ridiculous and a waste of time. So, this is my final comment.

  16. I am sickened by this article. I cannot imagine ever losing my faith in Christ, but I find myself discouraged frequently by Christian thinkers who waste time on what can only be described as fringe theology. Jesus came to forgive, to clothe naked, to feed the hungry, and to heal the sick. Jesus urges us on to complete His work. How dare we waste an minute of the time God has given us trying to determine if the sincerity and “trueness” of someone’s faith who formerly believed in Christ and currently does not.

    Your exercise in your attempt to divine who is truly ‘saved’ and who is not, is not only a waste of time, but a complete departure from Christ’s commision to us as his followers.

    My brother, there are people in need and people hurting. Let’s get busy with God’s work.

    • Nick, thanks for your comment!

      I think you missed the point of my post. I’m not trying to decide who is saved and who is not, only trying to wrestle with the biblical portrait of saving faith as that which perseveres and the reality that there are those who seem to have biblical faith who leave it behind. Is there a way for us to understand how this happens?

      And I think it is a bit unfair to criticize me for writing a post–by taking time to read it and then criticize me through writing your own comment. I would be careful before presuming that others are not busy with helping others find Jesus just because they take time to write a post about an issue that is deeply troubling to them. But I agree with you that we should show our love through action.

      Thanks for take the time to interact!

    • Are you perhaps too eager to throw stones from your own glass house? Why are you on here, “sickened” by this article rather than out clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, etc? Perhaps it’s because there is a place in the Christian life for friendly albeit sometimes passionate debate about what is the essence of this faith in Christ whose name -and Gospel- we’re representing when we does those other things?

  17. “Option number one is untenable with biblical truth”

    Once saved is as bad a evolution, both are sick, twisted lies. You CAN walk away & reject Jesus & go to hell, folks just find no comfort in that……

  18. One can certainly reject Jesus; and given our mere humanness and our ability to be so easily swayed by other opinions, emotions, or life experiences it is bound to happen to any single one of us. But after reading through all of these comments, there is only one question that keeps surfacing in my mind. Has Jesus rejected Derek? What kind of loving God would He be if he did? After all, it even says so in scripture: neither height, nor depth… Don’t any of you think that would also include yourself? Can you keep yourself away from the love of Jesus once you have given yourself to Him?

    If my wife were to walk away from me tomorrow because she no longer believed in me, would I stop loving her? She might move on (and perhaps so would I), but that doesn’t mean the love wouldn’t still be there. And I am not even God!

    Does the Holy Spirit truly cease to dwell within us once we walk away?

    There will always be more to the mystery than what is before our eyes. Even if we could fully understand scripture without any doubt as to its meaning, I don’t believe that all of the answers are there. We cannot presume for one second that Derek is going to hell simply because he has decided he no longer believes in God. The fact is, God may still believe in him. And, really, if that is truly the case, what else matters?

  19. My husband and I have been doing counseling internationally for years, and I will say this- the loss of faith usually is a result of a sin entered into that the person cannot/will not give up. Which came first- the adultery or the unbelief?

  20. Derek is a dear brother in Christ. God will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. The devil’s primary goal is for us to believe that we do not belong to God, but when we are born again, we are righteous, and belong to God no matter what.
    We, even as Christians, are NOT perfect and God knows that, He sent His perfect son, Jesus Christ, for our sins to be atoned. When we go to God in Christ’s name, we stand before Him righteous. I pray that our brother does not listen to the devil telling him that he is not worthy and that God cannot help him just because he made a mistake. None of us are worthy, Christ only makes us worthy to come before a Holy God, and God, because of His great love for all men, provided that way. God is love and reaches out to all who will listen.

  21. I came to the Lord Jesus because I wanted something that I supposed only God could give me. After many many years, I saw that God would not give me what I wanted *but* I had known forgiveness, understood the Cross and repentance, and seen answers to prayers and God leading me gently. It was, at that time, as if Jesus were saying to me, “What are you going to do about it?” or, “Will you leave too?” My answer was that I could never deny knowing God or the truth of God. My answer was, “Where else shall I go, Lord?” You alone are, well, everything that God is.

  22. Pingback: Joining the Ranks – Beliefs That Blind

  23. Just wow. Are children saved? Who knows and who cares. Are you God? This dualistic thinking is absurd and should be embarrassing to theology idolizers. Why is your god so small and petty? Didn’t Jesus die for the sins of the world? Your entire worldview is based on fear and the ideas of theologians (Calvin, Luther, Reformers) who created “the canon” to keep themselves in power.

  24. The biggest problem with this article. Is that you completely forget to address why so many are walking away from their faith.
    I grew up in church, faithfully attended, prayed everyday, read the Bible from cover to cover multiple times, lead the music, played in the band, taught Sunday school, but now I’m a agnostic (on a good day), atheist (the rest of the time)!
    The reason I walked away. Is because I questioned the reality of a redemptive god. Because I saw all the people who claimed that redemption.
    The church in America is quite low on actual “Christians”.
    The people who feel the pews. Only want to use their position to feel superior, to those who are “Christians”.
    If God exists, then where are the plagues upon those hypocrites who are called by his name?

    • I’m not sure why I’m still getting updates on this thread, but these are the kind of thoughtful responses that I think it would behoove Christians to acknowledge and address rather than mock and ridicule. I still consider myself a Christian, but I hold that label and my theology quite loosely. In fact, it’s not clear to me how it can be possible to be intellectually honest and really do otherwise. The truth is, if you are truly open minded, you have to have the ability to step in the shoes of the agnostic, the Muslim, the atheist, the Buddhist, the nones, the Nuns, the Hindu, the Christian from the 15th century, the Jew from B.C. times, and then you have to ask yourself, why do they or why did they believe what they believe? And then your only conclusion is that their personal experience led them to believe x, y, or z. That is true existential honestly when it comes to religion and spirituality. It’s truly ironic when I see Christians talk to non-believers or about them as if to not believe in the Evangelical Christian God is nothing short of absurd. But if you walked up to someone and tell them that an all loving and powerful being was immaculately conceived in some far away place 2000 years ago and if you say some special words you will live forever, and that person’s name was Zod. You would run as fast you can the other direction because they would sound like a crazy person.

      American Christians today exist in a world where it seems like few of them have ever met someone who happens to think differently about the true nature of reality, genuinely believes it and has rational reasons to believe it. That alone must be some sort of mental block because that describes exactly the world we live in and it’s actually ok. It’s not Satan deceiving people, it’s not sin or pride, it’s just the human condition. No one really knows for sure, we are all just trying to figure it out. At least some of us are honest about it.

  25. Our theological views are the lens through which we see the world. I am not a Calvinist, but I have close family members that are and I have done a lot of investigating on both sides of the argument.
    Because I don’t hold the Calvinistic view I don’t have a problem with reconciling a loving God with all the suffering, but I can see how Derek Webb wasn’t able to with his views. I don’t believe that God causes or preordained the suffering so it’s easier for me to maintain a loving view of God.
    I spent a while thinking that Calvinism might be correct and I nearly lost my faith. I thought that maybe I just wasn’t chosen. I didn’t understand why we even pray if everything was predetermined. I felt angry that God would forordain people to sin.
    I struggled for a long time until a pastor really helped me understand what the Bible actually teaches about sin and salvation and prayer. I know the author is a Calvinist and I respect how people can come to that conclusion. What I do want Calvinist to understand though is that it can really turn people away from God and I believe that played a big role in Derek Webb turning away.

  26. It’s because of arrogant attitudes of Christians that think they know people better than they know themselves that make people turn away from this faith. People are complicated. And Christians do not have all the answers. I am so glad I’m not part of this toxic community any longer. Break my whole life down to 3 options if you want to. I can’t stop you. But know this… you’ll be wrong.

  27. Pingback: Fight the Cynic Within Us to Sustain the Faith | The Garrett Ham Blog

  28. Agree with Carrie. And it is not correct to say that there are only 3 options in the original article. Option 4 is that Christianity doesn’t actually match reality. It can work for a while, you can believe in it for a while, but eventually reality catches up with you and you outgrow it. This either happens in this life, or in the afterlife when you discover Christianity isn’t true.

    Claims are made about God and the afterlife by Christianity that don’t match spiritual reality or even the fundamental teachings of Jesus. If you want to find out about spiritual reality then you need to read more widely. Option 4 is actually what is happening here.

    • I totally forgot about this post, but since I got the email prompt, I have to say that being a Christian and also believing that Christianity gives you just one model of perceiving the true nature of reality is not mutually exclusive. I mean, you can even believe that it’s the best model, but to say that it is a complete model is just epistemologically arrogant beyond what any reasonably well-read person could really sincerely hold. I think the best access we have to what we call spirituality in whatever form you want to practice is experience and it seems like the only way humans have been able to express those experiences have been the language of symbols. If that’s true, then we are all really talking about metaphors that are describing some deeper reality. The project that Evangelicals are undertaking today, the mantle which folks in the Calvinist camp have taken up with particular fervor, what I will generally call systematic theology in the most broad sense of the term, will ultimately be a failure. It will be a failure because it is just as much a product of modernity as the materialist paradigm which I assume most of us would reject. The more we know, the more we know what we don’t know, and I think as stupid as that sounds, it will bring us full circle to where the mystics have been pointing us all along.

  29. I was encouraged by his music from when I first heard his church album.
    Sorry that I may be repeating something someone else posted. I just couldn’t read anymore. Heartbroken for he and his children.

    I had to grow in the Reformed community myself. Derek was called out before the divorce fiasco for not being rooted in a church body.
    Instead of being more of a studio band, he just had to be on the road too much.
    That’s part of it. If you love Christ (the head), then you must love his body in community (the bride of Christ/the church).

    I’ve had my own struggles. My ex did something that I cannot speak of and that’s just that. But I am still the federal head. I feel the weight of blame. I’m enduring church discipline after years ago that my divorce happened.

    Anyway, I would love to be there for Derek if I could be around him.

    The other thing is there is a lack of covenant understanding in his music. He never got into the conditional aspect of the covenant mentioned in 1 Corinthians 10 or in Hebrews 6.
    The elect, who fear God, will persevere. It isn’t merely preservation of the saints. There is another side of the coin that was always missing in Derek’s understanding of Reformed Theology.

    The covenant is 100% conditional upon the part of man. The covenant is 100% unconditional upon the part of God.
    As Luther stated basically that we are saved by faith alone, but a faith that is not alone. Faith without works is dead. Just read through the proof texts and statements in the Westminster Confession of Faith on Assurance. That’s a good start.

    Derek right now sounds like he’s resorting to knowledge. We are saved by the Spirit whom grants us the knowledge. And knowing or yada in Hebrew is connected to an intimate knowledge and is connected to doing.

  30. Great discussion. All you anti-Calvinists…. your argument is not with Calvin, it is with Scripture. And if you reject Scripture, you reject Scripture. As lost as Webb is, we truly don’t know the outcome. But neither does “Calvinism”. Only God does. It appears to me that his heart was never God’s (not yet), but that is only appearances. Whatever his claim to actual saving faith, it was clearly a psychological reality to him. So yes, I take him at his word that he REALLY was a believer in his mind. How deceitful the human heart. If he really wasn’t, he deceived himself – it’s not hard to do. If he was, his heart is after other gods now. Someone likened him to the prodigal son to explain away election. He sinned against his father, but I don’t think he went out of his way to curse him and lead his brothers away from him. If I had to bet on it, I would say that by God’s mercy Derek will be saved. He just needs to get over himself, like we all do. Until then, he could be called out by some Christians lovingly and prayed for – while others could oppose his lies and warn him – even if not so tenderly – just not self-righteously. Both responses are correct and necessary in my view.

  31. Good post. (Minor issue, I don’t think Jesus was saying that adultery of the mind and adultery in the body are equal, only that they are related–of the same species. Both are adultery–that is the punch Jesus was giving. Not that they are of equal sinfulness. Murder in the mind and murder physically are of the same species, but not the same degree of harm, or loss of self-control, or degradation of one’s own humanity, or degradation of another’s image-bearing value, or of criminal penalty.)

  32. Pingback: Prominent Christian-Turned-Atheist to Re-Join Christian Band to Re-Record Christian Album - The Dissenter

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