Updated: Mar 18
Is there a way to walk through this deconstruction with Jesus into deeper faith? Is it possible to come out on the other side more in love with the living God? Is there a way to navigate deconstruction and have a deeper love for the church afterward? Can deconstruction make us more compassionate and gracious toward others with whom we disagree? Can it forge in us the character of God?
There is within the North American culture a falling away from Christianity… it is a significant exodus as shown in a September 2022 Pew Research Survey... The landscape is being razed in the realm of Faith.
Deconstruction is a word that every pastor has heard now… The Church… for its part is only recently waking up to the reality that this is something that cannot be simply prayed away, ignored or is “just a phase”. A response will require prayer... but also genuine repentance on the part of the Church.
Deconstruction stories abound in the age of social media. It takes seconds to find stories of church "spiritual" abuse that caused an existential crisis and a complete reevaluation of beliefs. In some cases people leave the faith altogether… and some as well return to the deep truths of faith in Christ as they discover that pain and abuse exists everywhere and that the Church does not have the market cornered on bad people... it's just that The Church is the place we would expect that people would be genuinely good. There are many testimonials of those who come back from the stormy sea of doubt stronger than ever and with new depths of conviction!
Some Church leaders are reacting by adopting progressive ideologies, drifting from Scripture and Christ's teachings... and others by diving deeper into sometimes legalistic disciplines or traditions. Neither of these are stemming the exodus... because neither of these engages the searching heart into a deeper search of truth, and neither of these engages a conversation that brings the Church closer to fulfilling Gods purposes for itself.
While we can not expect the Church to be popular in culture... I believe some contributing factors to today's Faith deconstruction trend include:
Church legalism - rigid unbending dogma. An example is the well meaning purity movement which tried to address external change while ignoring the heart. This created a shallow theological understanding which was oversimplified… an “if/then” gospel… which did nothing to create a hunger for genuine purity that moves outward from a changed heart,
The advent of social media which has brought incredible influence into every home. Today we make life changing l decisions on the basis of a 15 second tik tok video…. In the past the Church Fathers, the Old Testament teachers, the great Christian influencers and philosophers of Human History would take decades to just “sit” in uncomfortable, unanswered questions… modern Christian faith has become a mile wide and an inch deep in its core beliefs.
Church abuse - there is almost no greater damage that can be done to a young believers faith than a narcissistic or abusive Church Leader. We need to admit that the Church as an organization has had many times where Narcissistic leaders have done great damage. A narcissist may have good intentions but they may find it easy to manipulate someone who has a shallow understanding of Christ's core teachings. This, combined with the low capacity for discomfort in todays culture can provide an an easy target of empathetic believers to try to control. The narcissist in Church leadership can bring untold damage using manipulation and gaslighting under the guise of “strong leadership”.
Increased selfishness in todays culture means that "the self" is our new culturally accepted god. This has never proven well for men in history. A possible contributing factor for the rise of self is due to the Church taking the true need to surrender ourselves to Jesus to the level of ignoring ourselves and our feelings entirely. The gospel teaches us not to deny our feelings but rather to “renew” our minds. It’s not just a spiritual act… it means we must take time to understand our feelings as we work to align them with Christ. Mind, soul, spirit, body… these are intricately connected and fused together but each require “work” that must be done… ignoring others while focusing on only one is potentially disastrous.
I’ve been doing a ton of reading in the last couple of years… this reading was spurred on by some people I deeply respect who asked me some super tough questions. While I have grappled with faith and doubt many years ago as a young man... and eventually came to a place where I could put to rest my doubts and felt comfortable in my faith… the questions posed were well thought out, clearly articulated and very challenging.
I needed to drill down to get a deeper, stronger understanding of the faith I have… I needed to mine for truth in such a manner that I could share it with others and also grow my faith. As I read book after book I had more questions rather than less… I could feel an increased presence of darkness initially as I started to talk to devoted atheists in online forums as well as others who hate Christianity… at the same time oddly I also found my faith and more importantly... my empathy for those grappling with deconstruction or Church bitterness growing. I could hear their hearts cry for truth they could rely on. This is something that we cannot see unless we open our eyes to the true condition of the world around us... even within the Church setting. There are many who sit in our Church congregations who are struggling with doubt or depression or who simply have questions about faith.
We should consider before we look down on those who are struggling with thier beliefs… that every move of God that inched the Church back to Biblical faith and away from apostasy... with its accompanying irrelevance... came through a period of deconstructing peripheral and sometimes nonessential non-biblical elements of faith first. Every story in history that reveals a new "'move" of God will create a wave of repentance of "dead works" as well as a shaking of those things that can be shaken.
Sometimes rebuilding can happen rapidly... when an atmosphere of repentance grabs a hold and drives us into an intensive search for truth combined with worship... much like we are seeing in Asbury and some other college campuses now. Deeper and lasting repentance however often takes longer than an "outpouring" can offer.
As an example, Augustine struggled deeply with finding reliable truth for nearly a decade before he finally came to repentance and "reconstructed" his faith. He went from dismantling the faith of his believing Mother, then adopting "new age" gnostic type beliefs, then eventually accepting Christs teachings and the Bible as truth... and finally experiencing Christ in a deep way and making Him Lord of his life. This took many years!
Perhaps we could say the Church itself has been renovated and updated numerous times… those renovations that maintained the foundational structures... those core teachings of the written word and the core teachings of Jesus Christ have stood the test of time… and those renovations that were based in the heart of man alone have been passing fads and eventually dwindled to irrelevance.
When Martin Luther nailed the 95 thesis onto the Church door… he was in a sense, deconstructing from the faith he grew up in… let’s let that settle in our hearts for a moment. He was addressing the commonly believed concept of “Sacerdotalism”… the Church at the time had many faults and a bloody history from crusades. Martin Luther's exposing of the Church's errors was not meant to hurt the Church... but rather he was questioning the Church. This was an important moment as it started the much needed decentralization of "the church"... had this not happened the Church would have become irrelevant and simply a tool used by corrupt men to control the masses. Martin Luther saw the abuses and called it out... Sacerdotalism had to go.
Sacerdotalism is the belief in some Christian churches that priests are meant to be mediators between God and humankind. This belief created the conditions whereby the church was open season for narcissistic patriarchal abuse.
Martin tore down this belief and wanted to see the Bible - the written word of God in every home. Martin Luther sought to reform the Church… not destroy it.
Martin sought a conversation about those things that needed to be talked about and the Church leaders of the time shut it down rather than actually “wrestle” with it. They immediately saw his teachings as heresy… and reacted with fear and anger.
Then of course there were the anabaptists.. Menno Simons and others who also deconstructed from the concept of infant baptism and other church dogmas that were needing to be challenged. Again the Church tried to shut down the discussion even to the point of putting the “heretics” to death. I guess that is worse than gaslighting… the tactic of gaslighting is used today everywhere including some Church leaders who have lost their way to shut down questions…
I started to look at my own deconstruction… I came out of a very traditional, perhaps somewhat legalistic environment. I remember as a young adult attending a denomination wide question and answer session where youth could ask any question they wanted… I walked into that large meeting with friends and teens from across our denomination… I was expecting that the adults I deeply respected would answer my burning questions with deep and sure truth… and I came away sorely disappointed. The answers we received created within myself a crisis of faith. The general consensus was… in German… “this is how we have always done it”… and that was the end of the discussion.
We never had another event like that. I’ve looked back on that moment at times and wondered how different many of those young peoples lives would have been… had the leadership allowed us to question… perhaps even joined us in saying… “we are uncomfortable with the questions… however… we want to grow and understand Gods heart more so let’s dig into this together and see where it leads”. Opening ourselves up to seeking Gods deep truths in community will free us all into a deeper relationship with Christ. Instead… the task of the day was protecting the “traditional values” of the denomination… above actually finding what the heart following Christ is meant to be.
I began a deep dive into the Bible… these were days before the internet… well before we could look up answers and find whole theological books in seconds on Google. I devoured the Bible and dug into the text meaning through word analysis using Strongs Hebrew Greek reference books. I read numerous authors. I purchased my first non King James Bible and read that $14 bible until it fell apart.
I wanted truth. Some thought I was losing it… and perhaps I was. I remember thinking “if my current church and spiritual experience is all there is of God I don’t want it”. That… is deconstruction! A gutting of the old to the bare walls… and a rebuilding of the new… using the same foundation of Jesus Christs redemption of my sin... but updating it... laying aside the things that we added as extras and moving back to core teachings of Christ.
Something happened though… I started getting significant opposition... Soon a small group of similarly minded truth seekers started meeting in a local church young adults group until leaders there also reacted in fear and shut it down. We were wrong in some of our beliefs… that is certain… however we most certainly were deeply passionate and sincere as well. The fierceness of the opposition was such that it damaged some of those who were otherwise passionate followers of Christ… some fell away from faith… others melted into the background of a church, still others struggled to fit in an trust again. I would have been the latter in that group.
As I look back though…
I wonder how much things could have been different had the opposition been more engaging…
perhaps more curious…
and less confrontational?
What if our group of young adults as well had also been more engaging
and less confrontational?
What if I had... along with the teachers and pastors over me...
approached the "deconstruction" of our young adult group with curiosity instead of fear?
Welcoming the questions…
asking questions in return…
What if we learned to debate and discuss challenges to our faith or beliefs in the way the early church fathers did?
What if the Church encouraged deep faith dives into the hard questions?
What if the body of Christ learned to function above the fear of losing a way of life or a reputation or support by donors... and chose to follow Christ no matter where he might lead?
I think of the Asbury "outpouring"... a current movement which I am seeking to approach with a "wait and see" attitude. I'm excited to see young adults come to Jesus... but I also pray that they have Godly older men and women of faith to guide them past the minefields and into deep faith. Older faith filled men and women who won't condemn what they don't understand... but rather walk with them as "available mentors". Seeking truth together with them...
What if the "mature" believers walked in empathy over judgement?
Or In compassion over condemnation?
Or In encouragement over discouragement?
I’ve learned over the years to “doubt my doubt”… this means that I’ve seen enough light at the end of my darkest moments with enough years behind me to know that when I am confronted with a hard question… there is an answer I’ve just not discovered yet. Over and over again I’ve found that even my hardest question eventually gets answered… sometimes years later.
It is wildly uncomfortable being challenged by hard questions… but when I read of the early church that’s something they were constantly grappling with… new challenges to their faith were nearly constant… but they continued to search the scriptures together. They debated difficult things and sometimes had significant disagreements… but they had common goals and they focused on Christs teachings and the Bible to guide them together.
What if the Church mentored and coached young men and women asking tough questions and allowed some discomfort while seeking truth?
What if there was freedom within a framework?
As I write this I think of the early Church grappling with the custom of Circumcising new male converts… yeah... that happened in those early days of faith as Christianity moved from Jews to Gentiles as well.
The apostles and church fathers were all Jewish. They had a thousand plus years of tradition behind them… this would have been a heated discussion. They grappled with this, they took a step back and considered Christs teachings, his example, the Old Testament prophets and likey scriptures like Isaiah 58 verse 6. I'm certain they considered the difficulties that continuing this tradition would cause and they stopped the practice… and I’m fairly certain every male in the room breathed a sigh of relief.
The fact is that when we look at the first 400 years of Christianity the Church fathers were often grappling with difficult challenges to the faith. They took the time to grapple seriously with them. They became “comfortable with the uncomfortable”.
Deconstruction... done in a healthy way does not need to be a big scary thing for the Church… it can be an opportunity to show courage and faith. Seems like the modern Church either caves in quickly and becomes part of the decay of society or they fight every challenge from their deepest parts… using gaslighting or intimidation… whatever it takes so long as the questions are quelled. More on this in a future post as we unravel the Spanish Inquisition and compare it to how some Church leaders lead today.
It is a hard thing to live in the questions… to be comfortable with the uncomfortable… however, Jesus bride should love doing the things that Jesus does…
Healing, lifting, coaching, mentoring, challenging dogma that does nothing for holiness or wholeness, encouraging, setting captives free, helping the helpless…
I guess Christ has a different idea of spotless than we do…
Let’s be the change!