Faith Shifting: Can you lose your faith?

In talking about faith shifting, Kathy Escobar notes how the process of unraveling can lead to severing from faith.

She notes that “Not everyone severs after Unraveling, but some do. This is when we walk away from faith altogether, either for a little while or possibly forever.” In writing more about severing, she remarks: “Some people sever from their former faith, some people don’t. Severing isn’t right or wrong, good or bad. It just is, and I’m grateful that my editors agreed on the importance of this stage, no matter how hard it is to talk about in so many Christian circles. Whether we agree with Severing or not, it’s real for so many. I feel passionately that it must be truly honored. Trying to control people’s faith experiences will just not help; it always backfires.” 

As much as I appreciate how Escobar refuses to be judgmental with regard to people’s faith journey, I find it hard not to see severing as being generally negative. This is not to say that I can’t understand how severing from one’s faith community could be a good thing: Having been part of an unhealthy faith community, especially one in which shame was misused, might make severing a better option. However, as someone who believes that a relationship with and commitment to God is good for all people, I cannot help but understand severing as being a bad thing. I am thankful that Escobar allows space for that, even as she pushes us to acknowledge that severing happens.

The question of whether people can walk away from faith is one that Reformed Christians have thought about a lot – thanks, at least in part, to the Canons of Dort.The Canons of Dort teach that once someone is saved, he or she can no longer turn away from faith (this is called perseverence of the saints). Because of this teaching, the idea of severing feels less problematic. I can make space for people to question honestly and search for God, knowing that I can trust that God will protect them and hold on to his saints. At the same time, there are stories of people who appear to have walked away from faith (see Ruth A Tucker’s, Walking away from Faith). Do we argue that those who seem to have walked away from faith actually didn’t walk away? Do we argue that their original faith wasn’t real faith? How much do we need to validate the words and experience of the person who has turned away from faith? None of those are easy questions, nor are there, I believe, easy answers. But we need to talk about these questions, along with asking what is absolutely necessary to believe for salvation. They are the sort of questions that, especially if there is no room to ask them, tend to prompt a faith shift.