No. 27: Deconstructing Deconstruction

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No. 27: Deconstructing Deconstruction

Today we’re talking about this hot buzzword: deconstruction. What is healthy deconstruction? What is unhealthy deconstruction? What are the benefits of deconstructing your faith? What causes unhealthy deconstruction? What effect has social media had on more talk around deconstruction?  What effect has church hurt had on more talk around deconstruction?

Today we’re talking about this hot buzzword: deconstruction.

It’s a phrase that has gotten really popular in the past few years. There’s no singular definition of it in the context of evangelical faith, but it has roots in the 1960s from a French Philosopher Jaques Derrida. We’ll spare you the boring details of where it started, but deconstruction has become increasingly relevant in the past few years. In this episode, we’re going to dive into deconstruction as it pertains to modern-day evangelical Christianity.

What is Deconstruction?

There are a couple of different ways we could define, or describe deconstruction. Wikipedia defines deconstruction as when Christians rethink their faith and ditch previously held beliefs, sometimes to the point of no longer identifying as Christians. Jon Bloom from Desiring God describes deconstruction in two ways:

  1. “Deconstruction is a critical dismantling of a person’s understanding of what it means to be an evangelical Christian, and in some cases a refusal to recognize as authorities those perceived as occupying privileged evangelical institutional positions who “supposedly speak for God.”
  2. “It means different things in different contexts. It is a postmodern philosophical label that has been adopted by current and former evangelicals to sometimes mean navigating a faith crisis, to sometimes mean identifying harmful cultural influences that distort the true gospel, to sometimes mean questioning and rejecting traditional evangelical doctrines and authority figures, or to sometimes mean departing the Christian faith altogether.”

Basically, to put it in laymens’ terms: “deconstruction is when you dismantle and take apart your beliefs one by one to get back to a fresh slate.” This journey looks very different for different people.

The Good of Deconstruction

Because this is such a buzzword, Christians can often approach deconstruction with fear. So we’re going to break down the difference between good and healthy vs. bad and unhealthy deconstruction.

1. Deconstruction forces us to evaluate what we truly believe.

In an increasingly secular society, Christians need to know what we believe about God, the Gospel, heaven and hell, etc… and why we believe them. Our beliefs impact how we live our lives, so we need to confront them.

We are being forced to confront our beliefs in a way that older generations weren’t. It used to be “I go to church because my grandma went to church and my parents went to church and it’s a good thing to do…” But that isn’t a good reason to make decisions.

Deconstruction also allows Christians to refine their beliefs on various topics such as homosexuality, women in ministry, drugs, etc… It is important that believers know what the Bible says about these things!

1 Peter 3:15 tell us to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” You should be able to understand and defend your beliefs. People often say that you just need to trust the Bible or that faith is merely a blind leap. We may not be able to understand everything about God, but our faith is rational and is rooted in something real. Therefore, we should be able to make a defense for it when needed. Be ready in season and out of season. Even if you aren’t an apologetic scholar, you don’t have to be intimidated when it comes to knowing your faith and defending it.

2. It forces us to evaluate the cultural influences on why we believe what we believe.

Wherever you have been raised, it will have a big impact on your spirituality and faith. No matter what culture you are born into, your culture shapes your view of Scripture far more than you know. Your immediate family and church upbringing play a part in this as well.

People from different cultures can shed light on issues that you would never see because of your own culture. If you stay in an echo chamber, you can remain blind to certain unbiblical ideas promoted by your culture. All cultures practice some form of unbiblical behavior, no matter how godly they seem. There can be good in deconstructing in the presence and community of believers from other cultures and backgrounds.

3. Deconstruction can and should be the road to reconstruction.

Demolition should be a catalyst for rebuilding. When done well, it can lead to a deeper and healthier faith rooted in the truth that you have sought for yourself.

It isn’t something to be fearful of- it is okay to question things. But remember that there is a healthy way to go about it.  Most people go through seasons of questioning and hardship and come out better on the other side. However, it’s important to mention if you haven’t gone through a full-blown deconstruction, that doesn’t mean you aren’t “enlightened,” “smart,” or “a critical thinker.” You don’t have to deconstruct in order to be secure in your faith.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Deconstruction

We think there are two key distinctions between healthy and unhealthy deconstruction:

  1. Healthy deconstruction is rooted in finding THE truth, unhealthy deconstruction is rooted in finding YOUR truth. It’s really dangerous when we allow relativism to sneak in; there are some things that are always wrong and always right. If we, as Christians are deconstructing our faith and asking questions, our motive should be to find the truth. Oftentimes, Christians deconstruct their faith in order to have a more culturally palatable faith. This is the story of Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ. He was an unbeliever seeking the truth- and he found it!
  2. Healthy deconstruction is done in community and unhealthy deconstruction is done alone or only through social media. It is pretty common for deconstruction to be done only from the influence of online voices. It helps to do this in the context of those who are further along in the faith AND people who are also in your walk of life.

Causes of Unhealthy Deconstruction

There can be a couple of causes for the unhealthy type of deconstruction that we mention above.

One of its biggest driving factors is the response of other Christians to someone’s questions. If they are ridiculed, shamed, or blown off by other believers, this can lead to unhealthy deconstruction. Oftentimes, believers who don’t know what they believe can feel threatened or insecure when they hear questions about the faith.

Another factor leading to unhealthy deconstruction is spiritual abuse or hurt from other Christians. Nathaniel had a friend whose only reason they wouldn’t believe the gospel is because of how Christians acted and their hypocrisy. We see this far too often. While we cannot expect imperfect believers to be a perfect reflection of a holy God, they should look markedly different than the world around them (John 13:35, Matthew 7:17).

We start with these two causes because we think that we as Christians can do better. While there are certainly other factors that lead to deconstruction, we should be aware and focus on the ones that we can change. It’s easy to blame other factors, but we need to first look at our own shortcomings and seek growth in those areas.

Oftentimes, deconstruction is driven by emotion. We tend to think of it as being caused by a deep intellectual problem or issue (and sometimes it is). More times than not, it comes from an emotional reaction to something that has happened. I.e: I saw my pastor abuse someone, my friends are living it up and having a great time, deep church hurt, etc…

Other Causes of Deconstruction

  • Social Media: it plays a large part in unhealthy deconstruction- it is so easy to form an echo chamber around yourself, especially with the algorithm. People walking away from the faith are often being discipled more by these “ex-vangelical influencers” than their own pastors. For instance, teens on social media are largely being influenced by fellow teens who don’t even know what they believe! It is so important to consider where you are getting your information from.
  • Personal Issues: issues like the problem of evil or unanswered prayer can lead to unhealthy reconstruction. When deconstruction comes from an emotional problem, they don’t need an apologetic defense. They need you to sit with them and listen first. There is a time and place for apologetics. We do need to be prepared to answer proper questions in the proper context at the proper time. But someone who just lost their mom doesn’t need to hear that suffering is a trial meant to strengthen faith, they need someone to mourn with them, listen to them, and just sit with them. Recognize that the things you wrestle with may never go away. You have to keep going back to the truth and trust in the Lord even when you don’t fully understand.

How to Help Someone on their Deconstruction Journey

You will likely encounter someone who is going through a season of deconstruction, so what can you do?

  1. Listen to them! Help answer their questions. If you can’t answer their questions right away, be humble and loving enough to come alongside them. Find the answer together!
  2. Remember the power of God’s Word and solid Christian community. They are crucial components of healthy deconstruction.
  3. Don’t assume the motives of the person. They may not be trying to dismantle their faith and are just genuinely seeking answers.
  4. Point people to Jesus! He is the perfect substitute for his imperfect followers. This is so important for those who have been hurt by the church.
  5. Ultimately, pray. The Holy Spirit is powerful enough to reveal truth to us.

One Degree Shift

if you are going through the deconstruction journey right now, find solid Christians whom you trust and whom you can talk freely with. If you’re not presently deconstructing, evaluate what beliefs you have that you wouldn’t be able to “make a defense” of, and do some research & some digging. Know what you believe and be transformed by it.  

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