Deconstruction Doesn’t Have to be Scary
Deconstruction is an intimidating word. Like anything today, it’s polarizing — maybe even a little controversial. My goal is to make it a little less scary, because, like you, I’m not an expert. But I am a firm believer in being a participant in what’s going on in culture to expand our influence and speak life, love, and truth into our communities. I’m sure we’ll get it wrong, too heavy-handed, too lighthearted, or maybe even a little biased, but if you’ll agree to enter gracefully, so will I.
Let me start by saying deconstruction is not new. In fact, it’s not even a cultural “trend.” It’s a philosophical analysis — a way of thinking, that was coined in the 1960’s by some French philosophers. It came to mean a dismantling of tradition and traditional thought processes. It’s basically a continual questioning of what’s commonly held as fact (proven or not). Today, it’s mainly associated with religious tradition. It has become a buzzword in Christian circles as people have tried to put a name on what they are experiencing.
There is no shortage of articles on the topic, and if you’d like to dig in, just be prepared for a ton of negativity. Like anything “trendy,” there is opposition. People tend to not like change, and deconstruction is exactly that. Anything that threatens a long-held belief, system, or structure is a no-no for most groups of people. But I think a lot of the negativity comes from a lack of understanding.
For our purposes, deconstruction of faith is the pulling apart and examination of your belief system.
That still may feel a little scary to some, but to me it sounds like an invitation.
I’ve always been a fan of asking questions — of getting to the bottom of things. We won’t believe something for very long if we don’t know why we believe it. And to figure out the “why,” we’ve got to examine our beliefs. We all go through some version of this at some point in our lives. For most of us, this happens when we go to college. Or it may happen when you move out of your parents’ house. There comes a time when you begin to wonder about the validity of the belief system your parents, mentors, or faith communities have passed down to you.
Maybe you’re introduced to a new person, whether that’s a friend, professor, author, podcaster, speaker, or influencer who has an idea or experience different from anything you’ve seen. Maybe it’s a book or curriculum that presents a solid argument for creation, evolution, or gender identity. Maybe you experience a crisis that brings into question the goodness of this world and Who created it. Maybe you just realize that everything you believe has been handed to you by someone else and you’re ready to determine for yourself how to move forward.
This is a form of deconstruction. I bet you’ve already lived through several versions of it. Do you have the same views as you did when you first met Jesus? Without isolating anyone, consider your beliefs about marriage, sexuality, social justice, poverty, human rights, abortion, spiritual gifts, divorce, baptism, church, politics, and grace. Have you seen any shifts as you’ve dug into those areas? Was there a season you dedicated to studying and seeking wisdom? Has the Holy Spirit changed your mind? If you’re like me, He has in a lot of ways.
But for many others, it’s more than that. They aren’t digging deeper into elements of their faith, but they are digging into faith itself. Is God real? Is the Church worth it? Is there anything after we die? Are we all just finite beings without any cosmic influence destined to return back to the nothing that we came from? It can be caused by any of the aspects I’ve already mentioned, but it seems more recently to be brought about by the popularity of celebrities, influencers, and notable Christian names who have left the faith. It has almost become the cool thing to do — maybe even the better thing to do. With social media, leaving behind faith in God has become famous and celebrated. I’m not suggesting that everyone who deconstructs is doing so because it’s the thing to do, but it is definitely aiding in the phenomenon.
For many, it goes hand in hand with pushing back against oppressive systems that have driven the narrative for centuries. It has been a partner in the work to dismantle these systems and bring about freedom for the oppressed. And while I don’t disagree, I don’t believe throwing out our faith is the answer. It begs the question, if we are pushing back against the authority and the power that led us to believe what we’ve historically believed, then aren’t we just exchanging that for another authority telling us not to believe it? John Mark Comer puts it this way:
“The question becomes all right, if we’re just making up right and wrong based on mob mentality, what Instagram is saying and what we want, then why social justice? Why is slavery wrong? Why civil rights? Why all of this stuff? There’s no metaphysical grounding for it. And so, this is where I think that Christianity will still have an important role to play in whatever comes next culturally in the West, because was it Voltaire who said, ‘If there wasn’t a God, we’d have to invent one.’”
Now add a pandemic, and you’ve got isolation, anxiety, and doubt. If there ever was a time for the enemy to suggest you throw everything out, it’s now. Everyone else is doing it. You’ve been lacking in community, but you see a group of people being praised for giving up on God. Just like in Genesis 3, the enemy is asking you, “Did God really say?” — the oldest trick in the book. You’re looking around at the world around you and asking yourself, “Can God be trusted?” And sometimes, it doesn’t feel like it. But if we can count on something, we can count on the enemy to lie to us. He is truly the father of lies and can be expected to do so at every turn.
John Mark is suggesting we ask the bigger questions — we get down to the “why.” And faith in God is sufficient to supply these answers. There is still a place for Him in your questioning. If I believe anything, I believe that God can handle your questions, your doubt, your hurt. The worst thing we can do is leave God out of our deconstruction process. And I believe this about God: He will meet you every time you sincerely seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13, Proverbs 8:17, Luke 11:9–10).
But don’t do it alone. The enemy shouts the loudest in our loneliness. Tell a trusted friend that you are doubting. Tell your small group, your pastor, a mentor, your family, a therapist — someone. You aren’t looking for people to affirm you but to speak truth in love. There’s a difference. It would be easy to find people to praise you for deconstructing, but we need people in our lives who love us, love Truth, and aren’t afraid to be honest.
So when you are considering throwing everything out, I’m suggesting a few things:
1. Ask yourself: is this a lie from the enemy?
2. Bring your specific doubts to God.
3. Deconstruct in true community.
Deconstruction doesn’t have to be scary, but I do think it’s a serious and holy work. I’m not afraid of it for several reasons I’ve found after knowing Jesus intimately for a long time, but one sticks out to me right now:
“Many of his disciples said, ‘This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe me.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) Then he said, ‘That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.’
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, ‘Are you also going to leave?’
Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.’”
There is only one answer that brings life, and that’s Jesus. Where else can we go? We can try to explore other paths, turn and walk away, and deconstruct every ounce of our faith, but all other roads only lead to death. I know there are aspects that are hard to accept. I know it doesn’t make sense, and we don’t have all the answers. But I wouldn’t believe in a God that I could outsmart anyway. Faith is just that, “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” It takes faith to reconstruct. But if we stay with God, I believe there is life on the other side. Where else can I go?