The past few years have seen a startling exodus of believers from the Christian faith. With former pastors and other figureheads leading the way, once-devout Christians are walking away from their denominations, from Church in general, and even from belief in Jesus.
As this movement gathers steam, a word I’m hearing more and more is “deconstruction.” In looking to understand deconstruction, I have pursued an explanation for this term and, more importantly, this whole trend. What is deconstruction? What is causing it? And what, if anything, should be done about it?
Millenial faith leader Mark Hacket defines faith deconstruction as “the systematic pulling apart of one’s belief system for examination.” This is more than just questioning one’s faith; it is examining each component, assessing every piece for accuracy and authenticity, then passing judgment on whether or not it stands up to our scrutiny.
When defined this way, I don’t think that deconstruction is a negative thing. In fact, I believe it can be very beneficial. Personally, I have zero interest in blindly accepting a faith that has been handed down to me. I want to cultivate, nurture, and grow a faith that is all my own, one that is truly a part of who I am and not just something I am told to believe. If my faith is a house, I want to live in a solid structure that I built myself and not a potentially ramshackle home constructed by somebody else; I want to know the ins and out of this house, its assets and flaws, where it could use improvement and where it is entirely solid. This type of faith construction requires plenty of question-asking, clinging tightly to Scripture in one hand while the other hand holds loosely to culturally-constructed aspects of “faith” that may not pass muster. This is the type of deconstruction that Jesus welcomed and even encouraged.
The problem with deconstruction is when it becomes the end-goal, or when it is gone about in the wrong way: believers begin questioning their faith, a questioning that leads to the process of deconstruction. But rather than looking to God and to Scripture for answers, these deconstructors seek answers from fallible sources who lead them astray. Or they are led to assume that deconstructing one tenet of faith (such as one’s views of gender equality or ideas about baptism or creation origins) requires a dismantling of ALL of Christianity and an abandonment of Jesus.
Many who enter into deconstruction go in looking for weak points, and rather than seeking to repair them, they choose to demolish the whole thing. Deconstruction is ONLY healthy when entered into with a desire for growth, and when the deconstruction process paves the way for sure-footed, clear-eyed RE-construction built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ.
It breaks my heart that the modern-day Church is making it so easy for members to simply turn their backs on Jesus. Those who are choosing to leave have bought into the mistaken belief that all Christians—and all churches—reflect the character and values of Christ. This just isn’t true: even those of us who have the Spirit of Jesus living within us are still fallen human beings, susceptible to acting out of alignment with God’s will. Despite our efforts, we could never fully represent Christ to the world around us with complete accuracy. Unfortunately, our failure to live up to Christ’s standard sends the message that it is a standard not worth seeking, and many practitioners and observers turn their backs on more than just the Church, but also on its Divine Leader.
So if we see that deconstruction has the potential for being a problem, how are Christians to respond? I think it starts with providing a safe space to ask questions. God can handle our doubt, and as Christians we need to be tolerant (and even encouraging) of this doubt in ourselves and in those who are interested in Jesus but haven’t quite embraced Him.
I also think we need to be transparent about our own fallibility, being open about our sinfulness AND our ongoing desire to pursue holiness; we are all in the process of sanctification, and we should never give the impression that we have arrived. . . because when we stumble, as we inevitably will, we need ourselves and those watching to know that such missteps are okay and are NOT a reflection of an uncaring or unholy God.
Another step we can take is to stop elevating our leaders to celebrity status. Poor behavior from high-profile Christians contributes to the problem of people leaving Church, but the bigger problem is that we put so much trust in these leaders in the first place. We need to stop looking to them as our saviors, because this takes our eyes off of the one and only True Savior.
Finally, we need to hold the “excesses” of our faith loosely; its okay to carry differing perspectives on the inconsequential issues, especially those more in line with cultural mores than with truths found in the Bible. Jesus, and the message of the Gospel, needs to be our one and only cornerstone who remains firm when every other component of our faith houses undergo scrutiny and potential abandonment.
Call me crazy, but despite all of this deconstruction of faith and walking away from church, I still see much to be celebrated within the Church of today. This trend of questioning and reexamining our belief systems and practices is leading the Church at large to let go of excesses that never should have been tacked onto Jesus in the first place. Those of us who are choosing to stay are more solidified than ever before, firmly established in what we know to be true. And we are creating a softer landing place for those who are seeking. To me, that sounds an awful lot like being Jesus to the rest of the world.
Jesus can withstand our trend of deconstruction, and He is ready and waiting to help us rebuild our individual and collective faiths with Him as our sure foundation. He has not turned His back on His beloved bride, The Church, and with His help we can become more beautiful than ever before.