If you are convinced that deconstructing faith is dangerous, and you are annoyed by the “trend,” this article is an attempt to help you see things a little differently. It’s an article that’s trying to deconstruct your view of deconstruction.
Let me guess. You’re already rolling your eyes.
Keep reading. Give this some thought.
I’ve spent the last few years researching and conducting interviews on the topic of deconstruction for a book I have coming out with NavPress and Tyndale. Along the way, I have noticed that some pastors find this topic to be antiquated, frustrating, and a waste of time. One pastor told me that “deconstructionists are just cannibalizing the faith.” Another pastor referred to deconstruction as “the cool, kind-of religious woke term” that accomplishes more bad than good. Deconstruction is a maddening, selfish process to many pastors. Additionally, many people are unable to see how deconstructing is any different from asking questions. I’ve heard sentiments like this expressed through phrases such as “How is this any different from what we all did in high school or college?” To exacerbate the issue, more and more people are leaving the church and claiming “church hurt” as the reason. Which seems to be a catalytic starting point for many of those who deconstruct.
I get it.
It’s easier to tend to those who are coming to church rather than to those who aren’t.
But the uncomfortable truth is that God’s attention will always be with those who aren’t in attendance. And sixty-three million of those who used to attend but don’t have chosen not to based on the misunderstood term of deconstruction. Let’s define it . . .
Deconstruction is “the taking apart of an idea, practice, tradition, belief, or system into smaller components in order to examine its foundation, truthfulness, usefulness, and impact.” If you are a protestant, deconstruction is the story of your ancestors, not your enemies. These are ancient echoes from centuries ago. This is the sound of your spiritual migration. What many call deconstruction now, others will call reformation later. Here are the top three reasons pastors should reconsider their stance on those who are deconstructing their faith:
1. Jesus challenged beliefs and practices, and he taught his disciples to do the same.
Anytime someone says, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you . . .” they are deconstructing an idea in order to reconstruct a new one. From healing on the Sabbath to descriptors of God as Father, Jesus constantly challenged the norms of religious systems and doctrine. Furthermore, he directly opposed practices that would provide the religious with financial gain (Matthew 21:12-13, Luke 21:1-4). Jesus did not adhere to customs simply because he was a Jew. He saw the law of God and the Kingdom from which that law came from to be of the utmost importance.
G. K. Chesterton knew something of this quality of Christ when he wrote, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Never have I seen a living thing go against the stream like Jesus in Matthew 23. A few things he says of the religious leaders and experts of the law:
Don’t follow their examples.
Everything they do is for show.
They love to receive respectful greetings.
They shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.
They teach on tithe but ignore teachings on justice.
Jesus was a deconstructionist. We can follow him and do as he did, or we can crucify him and his followers. But one thing we can’t do: We can’t claim to follow him while crucifying his followers.
2. We can’t stereotype people into this one category.
Imagine someone talking about all Christians as if they are “conservative, bigoted, close-minded Bible thumpers.” Yes—some people who claim to be Christians act that way. However, the vast majority of us aren’t that simplistic. Some of us have a rather flat reading of the Bible. Others of us think Genesis 1 is a poem. Some of us want more Christian leaders in government. Others of us don’t care. Some are pacifists. Others are snipers in the military. Some are celibate. Others have sex. In other words, none of us fit the stereotype that the world may give us, and it’s demeaning and uninformed to assume otherwise. No one fits the stereotype.
Let’s stop doing this to the deconstruction movement.
Not everyone who says they are deconstructing their faith is actually doing it thoughtfully and with the intent to discover what is real and true. Furthermore, we must pay attention to the voices of those who have been hurt by the church. There is currently a well-deserved reckoning happening among evangelical denominations and leaders that is allowing a safe place for people to talk about their experiences. If you want people to stop claiming church hurt every time they get offended, be the first to point out the real stuff! The best way to identify fool’s gold is by knowing the weight, feel, and look of real gold. Pastors, you should be the first to identify true hurt that has been done by the church in order to separate yourselves from it. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when every offense is considered church hurt.
There are nuances to stories and personal experience. And for that reason, we cannot stereotype this movement. Perhaps the real frustration for many people is that listening to stories and pain requires us to slow down and shut up. Two things American Christianity doesn’t give allowances for.
3. Christian maturity demands that we deconstruct.
We think we know more than we do.
From the fourth century forward, various philosophical and ideological systems influenced Christianity. And when an ideology of the world influences Christianity, it manifests itself through Christians that emphasize the centrality of something other than Christ, protecting that emphasis by twisting Scriptures and exiling those who differ. From Platonism and Alexandrian philosophies in the early church to Locke’s liberalism and Marx’s communism in the reformed to Enlightenment years. From Nazism to evangelicalism. We are kidding ourselves if we think that we have arrived at the proper interpretation of Scripture on every passage that has something to say about the issues of the day. God help us if we repent of the actions of our past without changing our minds in the present.
Growing requires deconstruction. Moreover, the areas that we are unable to deconstruct are the areas we are unwilling to grow in.
Preston Ulmer is the founder and director of the Doubters’ Club, an organization that teaches Christians and atheists to model friendship and pursue truth together. Additionally, he serves as a Pastor at North Point Church in Springfield, MO. Before joining North Point Church, Preston served in the role of network development director with the Church Multiplication Network (CMN), as well as various ministry roles as a youth pastor, young adult pastor and church planter. Preston has two master’s degrees, one in religion and one in divinity. His experience and education led him and his family to plant a church in Denver, CO, where he also founded the Doubters’ Club. Preston is the author of The Doubters’ Club and Deconstruct Faith, Discover Jesus.