“Deconstructing” Faith?

by | Dec 1, 2023 | Times of Restoration, Worldviews Today

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For several years now, headline news among evangelicals includes reports of many people “deconstructing their faith.” It wasn’t just random congregants that were being headlined, but also very recognizable faces who had large followings of people. Whether they had prominent positions within the church community or were everyday members, the wave of people who admitted to the process of “deconstructing” has been disturbing to many within the church. 

To clarify, deconstructing is not the same as de-conversion (or even backsliding), but many times people who claim to begin deconstructing do in fact de-convert. I realize to some Christians, the word de-conversion is practically anathema because of their doctrinal positions, but my intent is not to argue that. Instead, I think looking at the topic is practical and necessary for the church at large, because it has caused many to begin asking why this has happened and more, is there anything we can do about it?

First, what exactly do we mean by deconstructing? The definition could mean something different to each person, but generally it’s when an individual begins to doubt their beliefs as a Christian, then begins examining those beliefs and breaking them down, and finally either keeps or rebuilds them. When people are going through this, they generally examine everything that they once believed as a Christian and then try to put the pieces back together. This can be a long process. 

If this doesn’t sound like anything new, it’s because it isn’t. In 1 Timothy we see Paul name several individuals who also had begun doubting their faith and had “shipwrecked” themselves.  We in America have been fairly insulated from mass questioning of the Christian faith until more recent times. But now, different cultural trends have seemingly accelerated the movement. 

That brings us back to the question, why is this happening now? And not just why is this happening now, but also, why is this questioning and doubting happening sooner with the younger generation than in times past? In a recent interview, Christian apologist Gavin Ortlund talked with Sean McDowell (professor of apologetics at Biola University) on Ortlund’s YouTube channel “Truth Unites.” McDowell offered several insights into what could be going on, observing that we live in a culture that promotes everyone “being their authentic self.” It used to be that many would go into college and university and be met with carefully presented rebuttals to Christianity, becoming silent and unsure about what to do. Now, because of social media, many people feel the need to express themselves online and tell everyone about their deconstruction in an effort to be “authentic.” Since a vast amount of younger teenagers have access to social media platforms, they become exposed to this much sooner than before. And since most people get praised for deconstructing or de-converting, you can see how this trend would catch fire. Often, but not always, what this seems to have exposed is a very real weakness in much of the church. Whether the person was given an overly emotional or experiential or rational view of the Christian faith, lurking beneath it all seems to be a shallowness and hypocrisy within the church. 

Many Christians at some point come to a moment when they have doubts about what they believe. When someone is going through this period, it can be very traumatic. They’re nervous and afraid. A lot of times they’re too scared to talk with anyone about it for fear that they will be ostracized for their doubts. The thing is, their fears of being shunned aren’t without warrant. Often those within the church lack the grace and compassion needed for these people. We set out to “fix” them and “win them back” when what they really want to know is that they will still be loved while they walk their wilderness path.

In the previously mentioned interview, McDowell recounts his own crisis of faith. His father, Josh McDowell, is the well-known author of the book Evidence That Demands a Verdict. You can imagine the anxiety Sean must have felt questioning his faith when his father had written one of the most popular apologetics books of that era. When he finally talked to his father about it, he was received with grace and love. His father encouraged him to seek truth for himself and that no matter what Sean came to as a conclusion, he would be loved by his father. That is a very powerful demonstration of love. Obviously, Sean’s dad wanted his son to come to the same conclusions that he had. But Sean was never pressured by his father, and that freedom to explore truth allowed him to solidify his faith. 

This demonstration of unconditional love unfortunately isn’t always experienced. We need to be careful not to become defensive and assume bad motives on the part of the person who is struggling with doubts. This can often turn people away from seeking refuge with believers during their turmoil. Coupled with many other types of church hurts that people experience, this can propel them to completely abandon their faith. Another word of caution is to be aware when doctrinal differences are okay and when they are not. We do not want second and third tier doctrines to be the reason people feel the need to abandon the faith. 

On the other end of the spectrum is a lack of sound theological teaching being offered in Christian churches.  

Some churches and their members have become committed to particular political agendas more than to keeping focused on the mission of God’s Kingdom. The outcome is that people associate Christianity with a particular political party rather than with Scripture and what we know to be true by our observations of the world. Still other churches have abandoned the historic gospel message of men being sinners in need of the Savior, Jesus Christ, for the shallow message that God loves them and always will. This type of teaching leads many to question and deconstruct their faith the moment they feel God let them down when they did not have their earnest prayers answered. Worse yet are the churches who do not accept the authority of Scripture. They promote Jesus as an authority, but deny the authority given to Scripture: authority that Jesus Himself pointed out. This lends itself to people deconstructing and reconstructing their beliefs to their own liking, which—to be honest—is not Christianity at all. Scripture is not meant to be adapted to culture, rather the Christian navigating culture should be guided by the truths of Scripture. 

What we can do as Christians is be the catalyst for change in these areas. Whether it is to accurately demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus, or to promote and teach sound Christian doctrine and theology, there is something we all can do. For anyone reading this who is currently struggling with doubts of their own or dealing with hurts: be of good cheer. You are not alone and you are loved. 

For anyone looking to read more on this subject, I encourage you to get the book Set Adrift: Deconstucting What You Believe Without Sinking Your Faith, by Sean McDowell and John Marriott. I believe this can help many who are struggling and also help those who are not to better understand how they can help those who are. ■  

—Usually known as Bobby, the writer and his wife Becky are currently helping with the ministry at Open Door Chapel in McDonough and Quail Hollow Chapel in Florida.

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