Are Christians Allowed to “Deconstruct” Their Faith?
You may be thinking, “I’m doing it whether it’s ‘allowed’ or not. I can’t seem to help it.” I hear you! Once on a path of deconstruction it can feel like you’re being carried by a current you no longer control. I think it’s precisely that feeling which makes Christians fearful of deconstruction.
Once as a teen I watched a TV show about an inventor who learned all about electronics by taking them apart. I thought it would be cool to take apart a digital alarm clock, see how it works, and put it together again. I guess I learned a little, but at the end of the day I gave up and bought a new clock. I couldn’t do it.
So, the apprehension around deconstruction is understandable. The concern is that deconstructors will dismantle their faith, piece by piece, until it can’t be put back together again. So maybe… don’t… do it? (Insert heavy sigh, laughter, or tears. Whatever you need. Take your time.)
For those in crisis, it’s clear that doubt and deconstruction happen to followers of Jesus whether we “allow” it, want it, or are comfortable with it. Wisdom warns us that a “just don’t do it” approach is inadequate. So, what is deconstruction and how do we journey through it?
Christian Deconstruction is the process by which we identify components of Christianity (doctrine, church-life, Christian culture, etc.), reassess their validity, and try to reintegrate them into our lives. In the process Christians may modify their beliefs or change them altogether.
While the term “deconstruction” has been connected with the notion of losing faith, that isn’t necessarily the case. The dictionary gives synonyms of deconstruction like analyze, examine, investigate, and study. It’s hard to imagine any serious Christian saying we shouldn’t continually analyze or examine our faith. Doesn’t our ongoing investigation and study of Jesus nurture Christlike maturity?
So, while one perspective would say, “Don’t risk the change of deconstruction,” another perspective is that sometimes deconstruction brings healthy change. Healthy deconstruction is needed when church communities have added beliefs and practices to Christianity which ultimately distort Jesus. Unbiblical teachings, abusive power structures, politics, conspiracy theory thinking, superstitious practices, legalism, and even healthy expressions of diversity (like cultural identity and doctrinal distinctives) can become inseparably fused with what it means to be a “real” follower Jesus. For some, the tension felt between Jesus and the practices of the church can actually be the cause of deconstruction.
So, I invite you to think of deconstruction the way you think of mushrooms. They are not all good and not all bad. Some will make you sick (or worse) and others will make your omelette just right! The real trick is knowing which is which. Deconstruction is a path away from Jesus if it obscures who he truly is. But deconstruction is a path toward Jesus if it helps us remove distortions of who he is. An important part of following Jesus means knowing exactly who he is, no more and no less.
I sometimes feel protective of those who are deconstructing and simply told not to do so. To believe we should never deconstruct is to assume that our beliefs and practices are perfect just the way they are. But any Christian or church that humbly accepts its need for ongoing maturing will also accept the need to deconstruct the many distortions of Jesus which inevitably arise.
Since that’s the case, Christian leaders should be at the forefront of discerning exactly where healthy deconstruction is needed! Christian leaders have the most visible power within the church to disentangle Jesus from a distortive church culture. Capable leaders must be equipped to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy deconstruction. They will then be able to listen and discern truth within the concerns of those deconstructing.
My own experiences with deconstruction taught me that it is possible to become an adventurous truth-seeker and recover confident faith in Christ. While adventures include risk and the unknown, they may also include incredible riches! My own deconstruction of distortions gave me a richer understanding of who Jesus is and who he isn’t. What the Bible is and what it isn’t. What salvation is and what it isn’t… you get it!
Here in Scotland, there are mushrooms everywhere. I’m captivated by the groups of foragers who wander the woods, picking delicious treats together. I’m a newcomer to their Facebook group where they often post pictures and help one another identify different species. They know that their collective wisdom will help them discern between nausea and nourishment! Oddly enough, no one has suggested shutting down the group entirely since “mushrooms can be dangerous.” Instead, the group members seem intent on discarding that which is dangerous in order to enjoy that which is life-giving. Those who are wisest are the least afraid and the most life-giving guides to others.
So, I want to encourage you. If you are deconstructing, don’t do it secretly and don’t do it alone. Share your thoughts with wise parents, pastors, mentors, and friends. Go through the process with a great cloud of witnesses: God, scripture, the church, reason, experience. All these are guides to help us deconstruct distortions of Jesus and reconstruct a more mature faith in who he truly is.
(Added Feb 21, 2022)
Recently I posted a YouTube video discussing how encountering dysfunctional Christians sparked a time of deconstruction in my own life. You can find that video here.