Christians are falling right and left.
Most of them are falling to the left, or out altogether.
Evangelicals and protestants alike are thrashing wildly or grasping feebly to understand what is causing this wave of evolving faith popularly referred to as Deconstruction.
In short, deconstruction is a popular term that refers to the practice of revisiting and rethinking long held beliefs, specifically in the Christian faith. Richard Rohr is perhaps the most well-known Christian leader to popularize the term. As a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center of Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Rohr often describes healthy faith development as one that undergoes three stages.
- Construction — building your belief system and worldview
- Deconstruction — challenging that worldview and subsequent beliefs
- Reconstruction — rebuilding a new, more holistic set of beliefs and worldview
A few years ago deconstruction was a new term gaining some ground in the public. Today, it is a culture-wide phenomenon with thousands of books, podcasts, and social media accounts dedicated to it (including my instagram account, @kurtisvanderpool and book, Giving Up Sunday).
Every other week, it seems, there is new buzz about the next prominent Christian influencer that is renouncing their faith and stepping into a new life.
Rob Bell, who John Piper famously said “farewell” to after the release of his book Love Wins. Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Rhett and Link from Good Mythical Morning. Even famous worship leaders like Audrey Assad and Marty Sampson of Hillsong.
Deconstruction is no longer a fad.
It is not simply a season.
And it is not going away anytime soon.
The Gospel Coalition’s Response
The Gospel Coalition recognized that deconstruction is more potent than many believed it would be, and decided it was time to respond by putting out a book entitled Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing in the Church.
If you are currently going through deconstruction and are hoping to maintain faith through the process, maybe this book will help, but based on an article I read by the Gospel Coalition about the book…I doubt it.
The article began by expressing some measure of understanding and acceptance regarding deconstruction and the struggles of those going through deconstruction. However, based on the chapter titles of the book and the article’s conclusion, it became more apparent to me that they are writing a book about something they have very little, if any, understanding or experience.
The main takeaways I was able to decipher from the article and the chapter titles, was a list of reasons deconstruction is wrong, and though it can be a helpful season of life, it will only be truly beneficial if done within the context of church affiliation.
Simply put, “deconstruct all you want, but do it within the church…don’t leave.”
To that I say, “trust me, we have tried…for years.”
To their credit, there is a lot of harmful deconstruction going on out there. Deconstruction is not intended to be demolition. It is not helpful to my personal growth to say everything I’ve built my life on is a lie and should be rejected outright.
Instead, an essential part of healthy deconstruction is reconstructing narratives. As Brene Brown might say, “We have to retell the stories we believe about ourselves,” as well as those that raised us. Healthy growth through deconstruction includes finding the good and the helpful from our faith upbringing, then reshaping or throwing out the bad or unhelpful.
The problem with The Gospel Coalition’s advice to “deconstruct within the Church” begins with the fact that most of the people you will find in church are uncomfortable with deconstruction. So rather than listening, accepting, and embracing those wrestling with deeply challenging questions about their faith, most view deconstruction as something to be corrected or argued away.
The thought seems to be “if we argue it well enough, they will see reason, and go back to being strong Christians who stick to what we know and keep the system going.”
I will tell you from a mound of experience in my own deconstruction as well as those I’ve walked with as a deconstruction life coach, this mindset will only push people to the door sooner, and with more resolve. The more that church leaders and Christians attempt to correct deconstructors rather than embrace them in their questions and doubts, the faster their church attendance numbers will dwindle.
Many will claim that this is the natural course of things. They will quote many verses that talk about people falling away from the faith. They will use the Parable of the Sower to support their position, which alludes to the idea that only 25% of people will remain faithful throughout their life.
Maybe they are right. Maybe that is just the way life goes.
That would be a lovely, simple explanation to a vastly complex problem but, at the end of the day, it is a viewpoint lacking the love necessary to benefit anyone. It is a viewpoint starved of understanding, compassion, and any attempt at genuine relationship.
In short, it lacks the things that set Jesus apart from the legalistic, hypocritical religious leaders of his day, and it’s the main reason people are pouring out of churches rather than into them.
Options for Deconstructors
One of the most damaging and harmful parts of deconstruction is the self-abasement and fear that comes with it. Anyone who has grown up in an evangelical church has inevitably heard about those that walk away from the faith, and it’s not a good story.
Deconstruction is a terrifying experience at first, because it leads us to question whether or not we are the very ones who will “burn away like chaff.” If that is what is happening to us, how can we stop it?
We find ourselves caught between disappointing and hurting those we love–including God himself–or living a false life for the foreseeable future.
We are forced to live a life berating ourselves for being too weak to hold our spiritual ground, or live a lie every time we wake up.
And if I’m being honest, for most of us it isn’t worth it to stick around when we’ve already spent too many years of our lives pretending.
Try as we might, we simply cannot live with the idea of attending church if it isn’t real to us. I’m sorry, friends, but “fake it till you make it” is not a reality we’re willing to entertain.
So, the options that seem to be left to us are to authentically share with our spiritual community about our doubts, struggles, and critiques,
or to walk away and try it on our own.
Unfortunately, the first option typically leads to walking away from that community eventually. We do our best to share with those around us, and are met with an inability to listen, to try and understand, or to embrace us in our fear, doubt, and unbelief.
So, we are learning to seek shelter elsewhere. Many of us are finding it in books, podcasts, and other hurting ex-christians reaching their boiling points.
No, deconstructing within the church will not be an option until our churches do some serious Vatican II work to reform the way we view and treat people who think differently.
That leads me to my main point in all of this…the future of the church.
The Future of the Church
I do not believe that deconstruction is the fulfillment of the prophetic claims that people will walk away from their faith in the end times.
I believe deconstruction is from God.
I believe deconstruction is the revival evangelicals have been praying for for centuries.
I believe God is doing what he has done for many millennium; he is sending a prophet to his people, but this time, the prophet is a wave of millions who are going through the same thing…
Deconstruction is God’s way of returning our hearts to the main point:
Love of God, love toward ourselves, and love for each other. Even love for our enemies.
It is still painful for me every time deconstruction leads people out of their faith completely. I do not believe that is God’s intent for this process. But really, who could blame them?
Ultimately, people walk away for their own reasons which I will not project on them. As a life coach working with deconstructing Christians, most of the people I have seen walk away from the faith did so NOT because of God or their struggles with him, rather because Christianity has become too wrapped up in its own systems.
For centuries, the love of God has been conflated with strict adherence to the law of man. The very thing Jesus spoke against with the Pharisees (living by the letter of the law rather than the spirit of God, which is Love) has been the modus operandi of Christian leaders since the 4th century.
So who could really blame a person for walking away from a religion, or even from Jesus himself, when it has been intertwined with systems of greed, oppression, manipulation, and control for so long.
I get it.
It seems all of Christendom has forgotten the greatest commandment:
People are not deconstructing because they want to hear “theology that tickles their ears.” They are deconstructing because most churches have forgotten the core principle of Jesus’ ministry. They have forgotten “their first love”.
This is where deconstruction comes in.
The church in the West is headed down a road of total upheaval, and thank God for it! It will be turned completely on its head and will “lose” the vast majority of its followers. Maybe not in one year, or five, or even in ten, but within the next fifty to be sure.
People searching for the heart of Christianity will continue to flood out of church doors and into homes, bars, parks, and office buildings. They will leave in search of others who know how to discern Godly authority from greedy power, and who know how to speak, act, and live the truth in love.
The Gospel Coalition is the first in what will inevitably be a long line of evangelical leaders attempting to acknowledge deconstruction, but then co-opt and redirect it for their own purposes. It is a desperate attempt to hold on; to hold on to their people, hold on to their influence, hold on to their way of life without having to be held accountable for what their way of life has produced.
But they will not be able to hold on. Deconstruction will sweep Western Christianity into massive reform and possibly even bring about the end of evangelicalism. It will tear away church facilities and the obscene amounts of money being poured into maintaining them; money that could have been spent actually helping alleviate the poverty around them.
Deconstruction will erase the divide between ordained clergy and lay people. It will instead remind us that God chooses all people to love, to serve, and to lead in their own right, without the stringent gatekeeping of any institution.
Deconstruction will make Jesus followers normal people again, people who live our lives in the context of our own communities. It will remind us that we are humans and that we are part of this world full of humans loved by God. Deconstruction will remind us that being “set apart” means we are charged with exemplifying that love in all places, rather than using it to perpetuate an idea that we are special or favored by God.
Deconstruction will blur the lines of orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right living), because theology will no longer be about having “the one right answer” to each question. All questions will lead to more questions which leads to focusing on the few things we actually do know…how to love people and trust God for the rest.
Deconstruction may be the end of churches in the West, but it will not be the end of Christianity.
Deconstruction, like many massive upheavals in the history of Christianity, is the beginning of the rebirth of the Body of Christ, a body that actually lives among the people and touches them with his love.
Phyllis Tickle called it The Great Emergence. Though it may decimate the size and influence of Christianity in the west, it will restore the heart of Jesus.
It will bring us back to a place of simple faith.
One that seeks only to love God and love others as we love ourselves.
I, myself, have deconstructed most of my old faith, and while I have decided to leave a lot of it in the past, I cannot yet seem to give up God.
For me and millions others in deconstruction, God is not stuck in the rigidity of the past, but the freedom of the present and the hope of the future.
If he exists, he is a redemptive God, not a punitive one. He is a god of all people, all sexual orientations, all genders, and all ethnicities. If he really is real, he is a god that has given us his image, and we have decided to pay attention to the glimpses of “eternity in our hearts” rather than the condemnation in our mouths and on our hands.
Deconstruction is not a plague of the Church, it is its future.
Deconstruction will put Christ-following back into the hands of the people.
It is a prophet reminding us that true religion is setting captives free, fighting for the oppressed, and loving every single person–including your enemies–as if they were Jesus himself.
Deconstruction will bring us back to the heart of God.