Recently I had a conversation with someone who grew up in a Christian home, went to church, and considered himself a Christian. However, when his life crumbled, it led him to abandoning the faith.
As I listened to him, my heart broke, especially as he told me of the hypocrisy he saw in Christians. So I told him that whatever he experienced, it is antithetical to what Jesus died for. It breaks his heart. And I continued to say that I hope to be a Christian who doesn’t just let my faith stay on my lips, but that it would be a faith that I live out.
Walking away from that conversation, I was confronted with the reality that so many “Christians” are walking away from their faith based on negative, or even hurtful experiences in the church. So I wanted to do a deep dive and examine the root of this.
Recently there has been a trend to “deconstruct” the faith. Many Christians, particularly millennials and gen Zers, have begun to go through periods of “deconstruction”.
What is deconstruction?
As Millennial blogger Mark Hackett puts it, “Faith deconstruction is the systematic pulling apart of one’s belief system for examination. For Christians, that can mean a wide array of questions ranging from the theological to the practical. It can mean questioning the supposed inerrancy of the Bible, the culture and traditions of their church, the practical application — or misapplication — of the Gospel, and much more. Faith deconstruction can begin at many different points for many different reasons”.
Hackett goes on to describe how he has recently come out of his third deconstruction, and that he has come to “disappointing truths about the state of the American church”.
Let’s stop right there and unpack these statements.
Deconstructionism calls for the pulling apart of faith for examination. At first glance, this sounds beneficial. We should know what we believe and why we believe it (1 Peter 3:15). However, the deconstructionist is rooted in doubt, not in faith. We are encouraged to doubt everything that we have ever known. Doubt, not faith, is encouraged and praised.
Deconstructionists often begin their journey based upon past experiences. Like Hackett states, many times it is because of the cultural climate in the church. Throughout the duration of his blog, he resorts to finger-pointing at the white evangelical church.
I want to be clear. There are many, many ways that the evangelical church has fallen short and has not followed after Jesus’ example and what is outlined in scripture. No church is perfect. And we should examine whether or not the Christianity we believe is merely cultural, or if it is, indeed, scriptural.
However, I think with that being said, it is also vital to recognize that doubts arising based on negative church experience should not make one decide to go through a season of intentional demolition. One apparent danger of this is losing sight of Jesus, and instead, looking at imperfect humans who failed to reflect his image well.
The Six Pillars with No Foundation
When someone decides to go through deconstruction, they typically question six pillars:
- the Bible
- eternal torment
- penal substitutionary atonement
- suffering in the world
- end times
- the church
By first questioning scriptures, many deconstructionists deny that Scripture is faultless in its teaching and sufficient for instruction. With that starting point, once you move on to all the other pillars mentioned, it is quite easy to pick and choose which ones are desirable to be held onto, and which ones can be discarded.
As I did my research, reading different articles of deconstructionists, I discovered too many beliefs that are contrary to the Bible, such as issues on gender identity, the reality of hell, and the theology of sin. The mission of one blog I read is to “apply a 2000 year old religion to 21st century life”. There is a dangerous line crossed when one denies the inerrancy or infallibility of scripture, because it leads to a postmodernist view of relative truth.
Deconstructionists often “reconstruct” their faith to morph into the image of something that looks a little more like secular culture. And interpretation of scriptures often becomes not what the author’s original intention was, but rather what cultural and social conditions informed the author’s bias, thus making certain scriptures irrelevant for the current cultural moment.
One deconstructionist stated, “Reconstruction is not building a new perfect doctrine in the place of the old deconstructed one. Rather, it is equipping us for an adventurous journey – one filled with risk and danger. This journey has no guaranteed destination. For as we follow the pioneer of our faith, we discover that true faith shows itself most clearly, not in the certainty of how right we are, but in the midst of difficult … impossible situations”.
Notice the idea that the deconstructionist is “building a new doctrine”, and this doctrine does not include honoring and glorifying God. It has no destination, no finish line. What a sad faith, one that is unstable and has no ultimate purpose.
So Where is the Place for doubt?
I want to clarify something. Faith and doubt are not necessarily opposites.
Doubting does not mean that you don’t have enough faith. It is good and healthy in the life of a Christian to be able to ask questions. Author Bobby Conway wrote a book, Doubting Towards Faith. He explains that doubt is directional, either towards God, or away from God. Countless times we see in scriptures people doubting and questioning.
In Habakkuk 1, Habakkuk asks the Lord why he does not hear from him, why there is injustice, why he stands off in the distance? These were real feelings. And God replies, “I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”
Habakkuk doubted toward God. And God answered him, reminding him of man’s finite nature.
In Psalm 73, the psalmist is questioning why others are prospering, yet he suffers. But then he came to a realization. “When I sought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (Psalm 73:16-17). The psalmist found his answers in God’s presence.
When Thomas heard about the risen Lord, he said that he would not believe until he saw the marks on Jesus’ hands and feet. Not long later, Jesus appeared to the twelve disciples. Knowing Thomas’ unbelief, he said “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Jesus did not commend his unbelief, he actually later blesses those who believe and have not seen. And yet he graciously extended his hands out to Thomas. In our imperfection, we doubt. And Jesus lovingly reveals himself to us. We must doubt toward him.
What to do with “Deconstruction”?
So how do we live in a culture that praises deconstructionism? What is the practical application?
- We must not allow an experience in the church, whether that is abusive church leaders, a faith giant who abandoned their faith, or hypocrisy, to taint our perception of Jesus. Those Christians who don’t live according to Jesus will be held accountable for their actions, if not on earth, then on judgement day.
- We must seek to live lives in accordance with Scripture so that we may accurately bear witness to Christ. May our lives be living testimonies of the Gospel.
- We must doubt towards God. Like the father of the demon possessed boy in Mark 9, may we cry, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief”. When we ask the Lord, he will be faithful. He may not give us the answers we were looking for. Job never understood his suffering. But he saw God. And isn’t that the point?
We must never lose sight of Jesus, even in our doubting.
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).