Type “deconstruction” into the iTunes search bar and you will find no shortage of podcasts called by the same name or dealing with the topic.
We live in the age of Christian deconstruction.
The question is, why?
There is no simple answer, but rather a confluence of factors that are worthy of differentiation and analysis. As with most things, the baby is likely to be sitting somewhere in the middle of the bathwater. In order to find the truth in the mess, I think it’s important to avoid oversimplifications and false dichotomies. Not all doubt is directionless, negative, or unthoughtful; likewise, deconstructing faith isn’t inherently noble nor useful.
I hope to cover the most pertinent factors below.
I think, in part, we are in this place because our culture tolerates discussion but rejects the truth. Modern society is deeply influenced by a postmodern dismissal of absolute truth and is especially suspicious of traditional sources of authority (e.g., the Bible and the Church).
Many Christians have been influenced by this secular mindset and have created their own form of postmodernism. This has given rise to the ubiquitous spiritual deconstruction seen in blogs and podcasts across the internet. In many ways, Christian doubt and deconstruction are just conformity to modernity.
It’s also possible that it reflects a large number of Christians who simply no longer identify with a traditional view of the faith. Not long ago, it was socially beneficial to be a Christian. This was the dominant mindset, and to align with it was to be in the majority.
Furthermore, the Christian faith was seen as the foundation for moral behavior and decency, and the church, a place to meet a spouse and do business. Believing in God used to be advantageous and so most did.
Today, there is an intense social cost to being a Christian. To be a follower of Jesus in modern culture is to be considered anti-scientific, narrow-minded, and homophobic. This is a high price, especially for those who are superficially religious, and it has led many to abandon their faith, and others to doubt and deconstruct it.
After all, if the goal is cultural congruence, then one must either alter or ditch a faith that increasingly doesn’t fit. Many have chosen the former, and this is in large part why we are seeing the explosive growth of spiritual deconstruction.
But not all doubt and deconstruction is bad. Human beings have the tendency to add things to Jesus that don’t belong. In the book of Acts, the early church struggled to detach human ordinances from the essence of what it meant to follow Jesus.
History is rife with extra-biblical barriers being imposed on people trying to know and obey God. Today, being a Christian has suddenly become about fashion, music style, and politics. This baggage obscures what it means to follow Jesus and should be ditched and altered. Healthy spiritual deconstruction will lead to a clearer understanding of who God is and what it means to follow Him, making it an invaluable tool for every Christian.
Doubt can also serve as a powerful impetus for pushing beyond a superficial faith. New York City-based pastor Tim Keller says, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without antibodies. It is susceptible to attack.” In this case, doubt and deconstruction are not only positive but critical.
Many grew up in a church culture that didn’t challenge its congregants to think for themselves, and those that did were often ostracized. The Church is guilty of pushing many people into intense seasons of deconstruction, which is almost always the logical outcome of a faith without a firm foundation.
Now more than ever, the world needs to witness followers of Jesus whose words and lives mirror the person they claim to follow. Healthy doubt and deconstruction can be part of the refining process that produces precisely those types of believers, but we need to be cautious.
Before tearing something down, we should ask what exactly we are hoping to build in its place.
Is the goal to know and obey the God of the Bible, or to reconstruct Him into a deity of our own making? Do we wrestle with our deep questions in order to find the truth, or do we revel in attacking a belief system we simply don’t agree with anymore?
It’s ultimately a question of motivation. If used for the right reason, deconstruction becomes a critical surgical tool necessary for excising the biases and baggage that stand in the way of seeing and obeying the one true God.