This article is Part One of a three part series on Christians and Deconstruction.
I grew up in the church. Some of my earlier memories are from the church, from pretending to put money into the offering basket as a kid to playing Jesus in a youth church production where I fluffed my lines and the church teased me for months after. I have many fond memories like this, but also saw lots of brokenness too. Many times I saw imperfect people trying to do perfect work. This is the church.
Growing up in youth church, I am now ready to admit that I was sometimes that petulant and iconoclastic kid. I had 100 questions for my youth leaders and when they answered them, I had 100 more. Looking back, it really is amazing to me that they kept their cool, were patient and sought to help me understand what the bible was truly saying. They took the bible seriously because and perfectly embodied and lived out 2 Timothy 4 2-4.
‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.’
This portion of scripture shows us a young Timothy being encouraged by an older and wiser Paul encouraging him to be ready for the battle that lay ahead. Correcting, rebuking and encouraging. This is what my early youth leaders did day in day out. They often did this without praise and worldly recognition, they carried out their duties faithfully and I was all the more blessed by it.
Does this sound familiar?
If what I’m saying sounds familiar, it’s because, my experiences may be similar to yours, especially if you grew up in church. In many ways, my story is a typical Christian one. Growing up in church, the Christianity I was taught was capacious enough to take questions seriously and made a strong attempt at answering them. For many years, we called this Christian maturing.
Recently, I was informed of the so-called ‘deconstruction movement’ — My brother in the faith told me, these were a group of people questioning their faith’. I immediately thought, ‘that’s healthy’ My mind journeyed back to those moments I spent in church asking the leader questions trying to work out what was true and what was not. Those experiences I described just minutes ago.
In this three-part series, I’m going to try to tackle three questions, What is deconstruction? Is deconstructing dangerous and should I deconstruct my faith?
I think these questions are important because when we lack the vocabulary and language to describe our Christian experiences, we unwittingly join and support causes that may not be in our best interest. We create distinctions without differences and unhealthy tensions in our lives.
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Lets define terms
On social media, deconstruction stories have drawn greater attention. The trend extends far beyond the spotlight of well-known Christians with large social-media followings, book deals, and podcasts walking away from the faith. What strikes me as more true is that high-profile cases have normalized unbelief, emboldening ordinary folks to proceed in their own deconstruction journeys.
That’s one of the ways social media could be accelerating this trend. Whereas 50 years ago it might’ve been hard to find a community of deconstructing Christians (and thus you didn’t feel it was a valid social option), now it’s easy to find such community online, further removing fears or stigmas that might be associated with spiritual deconstruction.
It is also important to note that not all people are using the term in the same way. A podcaster on this topic, John Williamson said in a blog post “Deconstruction is a careful and deliberate examination of one’s beliefs from the inside. It’s about coming to terms with what you believe outside of your inherited beliefs. It’s about growing INTO your faith, not out of it.’ — This may be true for Mr Williamson, but it is not how all use the term. For others like Josh de Keijzer, he says ‘Deconstruction is to understand the constructed nature of human reality, Deconstruction of faith opens up to the truth behind the gods that are constructed’. This presents the first problem, agreeing on a definition. Whilst Williamson’s definition appears clear enough, I find more people sharing the sentiments of Keijzer. The latter definition is also consistent with the origins of the term. I came across Derrida during my undergraduate degree in a philosophy class. His approach was novel and exciting to me. An iconoclast who had the temerity to challenge orthodoxy.
When Derrida penned the now-infamous term “deconstruction” in 1967, he introduced into Western civilization a glaring scepticism of the truths it held to be self-evident: the autonomy of the spoken word (what he calls “logocentrism”), God, and other concepts especially important in Western philosophies. His works mainly focus on revealing the inherent disunity he claims is pre-existent in all purportedly unified structures or systems
When theorizing about the interpretation of the Bible, some have begun to consider an entirely subjective, individualistic approach, while others believe Biblical interpretation is wholly objective. Further, many academics have employed the term “deconstruction” to dismiss Christianity as merely a system of religion established by tradition and hence not actually based on eternal truth.
It is true that if you venture onto youtube in an attempt to gain a greater understand of this movement, you are quickly overwhelmed by a range of actors and speakers talking about the movement. It has become a world onto itself and so is hard sometimes to know what means what. I still wonder if this is an effect of social media or a deliberate attempt by some to ensure the term, remain foggy and abstract.
Do we need the term?
It struck me as peculiar that, ordinary Christian maturing needed branding. If some people could look back at me in that youth church, then they may have said that I was deconstructing. However, the truth is, I wasn’t. I was just asking questions. Orthodox Christianity has always been capacious enough for difficult questions. It’s what we thank the reformers for now. They asked difficult questions and found comfort in some answers. Questions are welcome but the Christian faith is built on some very important foundations.
These are what we may call primary issues, topics like the trinity, salvation by faith alone, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, the virgin birth, the sinlessness of Christ, Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, ascension and future bodily return, the authority of scripture. Christians can question these but must reach a resolution because this forms the foundation for their Christian walk. They cannot live in perpetual limbo on issues like this.
Things are different for secondary issues. If and when we levy pejorative attacks against other Christians or defame their character because they hold a different view, I believe we have climbed over the safety rail established by Scripture. Not only do we do injury to others, but we risk injury to ourselves. There is a warning of loss of rewards (Mt. 12:46). There are also fewer ministry opportunities after being rightly labelled a sour Christian who cannot “play well in the sandbox” with other Christians.
Whilst this is true of secondary issues, tampering with core issues is akin to playing faith Jenga with belief. If enough key pillars are pulled out, then the whole thing topples. This is what many people encounter after ‘deconstructing’. Asking questions as a Christian is one thing, joining a branded movement is another. In many ways, we shouldn’t be too shocked by the fruit from this.
At its core, this path toward unbelief is nothing new. Jesus warned of it: “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:12–13). From Demas (2 Tim. 4:10) to Hymenaeus and Philetus (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), the early church saw many abandon the faith they once professed (1 John 2:19). We should be saddened, but we shouldn’t be surprised.
In Mark’s Gospel, we read the parable of the sower and the four soils (4:1–20). Only one of the four soils produces fruit. Here we learn several important things about the gospel, faith in Jesus, and varying responses to the gospel. Relevant for our discussion, it explains why some who profess faith ultimately fall away. It’s a warning for anyone who claims the name of Christ.
Some may not really identify with the phrase and are simply just asking questions. It’s important that you know that asking questions is welcome in the Christian faith. You’re likely seeking to make sense of your faith—if Jesus is worth trusting if it’s your faith and not just some inherited belief system if there are too many problematic or perplexing issues with Scripture if it’s worth putting up with the failures and hypocrisy of so many who claim the name of Christ.
Maybe you aren’t sure about some of the behaviours you have observed for Christians and the Christian world looks like a distortion of what God promised in the bible. Bad messengers don’t always mean a bad message. There are communities of Christians dedicated to Christian maturing and a period of doubt can lead to greater faith, hope and trust in the message. We spoke about doubts during your Christian walk here.
Because Christianity—to be more specific, Jesus—can help, whatever your questions. Whatever your struggle, it gets better with more—not less—Christianity. It might be tempting to leave the church in order to find the answers. But reconsider the church as the best place to deal with your doubts and deconstruction. Be careful not to brand Christian maturing as something else. In many ways, there is no need for a new term to describe something the bible already has vocabulary for.
In the next part of this series, we will consider whether deconstruction is dangerous.