I hear about deconstruction in Christian spaces a lot lately. It’s heartbreaking to open up social media and be met with the news of a former Christian leader walking away from their faith. Yet, it’s so common. So many Christians are leaving the faith. Many have questions and wrestle with doubts they cannot seem to shake. Deconstruction is often offered as the antidote to faith struggles but is it a good idea? Is there danger in deconstruction? And if not deconstruction, what should doubting Christians do as they wrestle with unanswered questions?
What is deconstruction?
Deconstruction did not start within faith communities. In fact, deconstruction is a part of the postmodernist movement. It had a lot of influence on how people viewed art and literary texts.
Deconstruction and Postmodernism
If you know anything about postmodernism, then you know that it is characterized by a general skepticism towards life and an opposition to the idea that truth can be known. Following postmodernism, the purpose of deconstruction was to discover the true meaning of a literary text by breaking it apart and exposing its apparent contradictions. J Hillis Miller, an American deconstructionist, argued that rather than being a dismantling of a text’s structure, deconstruction is just a “demonstration that [a text] has already dismantled itself.”
Since deconstruction greatly affected literature, naturally it flowed into how some scholars and thinkers viewed the Bible. Rather than believing its claims, these scholars approached the Bible with the objective of pulling it apart and proving why it was not true.
Deconstruction in hermeneutics
Everyone who reads the Bible comes to it with pre-understandings and presuppositions. This means that we are not a blank slate when we open up scripture. Some of us read scripture with a hermeneutic of faith and trust while others read scripture with a hermeneutic of skepticism and distrust. As with art and other forms of literature, many have attempted to deconstruct the Bible for various purposes.
Finally, I want to address faith deconstruction since this is the topic we are going to be looking at for the rest of this article. According to Melanie Mudge from the Sophia Society, faith deconstruction is “the taking apart of an idea, practice, tradition, belief, or system into smaller components in order to examine their foundation, truthfulness, usefulness, and impact.”
She goes on to compare faith deconstruction to the renovation of an old house. In her words, the “house” needs updating because it’s old, worth saving, and after the renovations, the final product will be better than the original.
John Williamson notes that deconstruction is “examining your faith from the inside looking for potential weaknesses… [and] taking ownership over what you believe and potentially letting go of some of the things that no longer work.”
Finally, Mark Hackett sums up faith deconstruction in this way: “faith deconstruction is the systematic pulling apart of one’s belief system for examination… It can mean questioning the supposed inerrancy of the Bible, the culture and traditions of their church, the practical application — or misapplication — of the Gospel, and much more.”
Overall, deconstructionists are disappointed with their Christian faith and are seeking a new way to love God and be connected to a faith practice apart from traditional Christianity.
Why do Some People Deconstruct Their Faith?
Those who deconstruct end up in the process for different reasons. But for many, they were confronted with personal hardship or loss, difficult questions about the Bible and Christianity, spiritual abuse, or disillusionment with Christians’ response to injustices in our world.
I was at a lecture the other day where Dr. Gary Habermas spoke about the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. He noted that we have countless pieces of evidence that present a solid case for the resurrection. Anticipating the question that lingered in many students’ minds, Dr. Habermas followed up by mentioning that the reason there are still so many skeptics is not because the evidence isn’t strong but because they have an emotional barrier keeping them from faith.
Likewise, many people find themselves deconstructing and eventually abandoning their faith for emotional reasons. Rather than being met with grace and love by the church, they are ignored and told to simply believe.
There are difficult passages in the Bible. Furthermore, these difficult questions are very much related to one’s personal experiences. For example, a Christian struggling with the loss of a loved one may be looking for answers surrounding death. Or, another Christian who is same sex attracted may wonder why the Bible speaks against homosexual relationships. Finally, a Christian who has experienced spiritual abuse may be disappointed that these leaders still have a place in ministry after doing so much harm to their congregation.
Is it wrong to question our faith?
There are so many passages in scripture about people who wrestled with God’s plans. Job wondered why he faced so much suffering. Habbakkuk was deeply concerned over the state of his people and their sin and violence towards God and each other. Even John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner, had moments of doubt.
In my own life, I’ve personally learned how to reject long-held beliefs about God and faith that were not necessarily true. But I looked towards rather than away from scripture for the answers to my questions. I sat with God in his presence and he led me to the truth. It doesn’t mean that I have all the answers – I don’t. However, I’m confident in what the Bible says about God: he’s good, gracious, and kind as well as just and holy. God is not like me and there are some things about him that I will understand and others that will remain a mystery.
It is not wrong to question our faith. But are we bringing those questions to God using a hermeneutic of faith or are we looking within or to society for the answers to our questions? This is the subtle but important difference between simply having questions about our faith and walking down a path of deconstruction.
What is the difference between deconstruction and simply investigating our faith?
The difference between deconstruction and simply asking questions about our faith has to do with the attitude, purpose, and intent behind our questions. Deconstruction by its definition seeks to tear down or pull apart a belief system. At the end of the day, deconstruction does not genuinely provide answers. If you tear something apart enough, you no longer have the capability to see it for what it really is. Pulling apart scripture, theology, and biblical concepts does not lead one to truth. Instead, it leads to more distrust and confusion.
Can deconstruction ever be a good thing?
For some people, deconstruction has led to a stronger and more genuine orthodox faith. Alisa Childers is a perfect example of this. She has a blog for Christians who doubt and are wrestling with questions about faith.
Even though some people deconstruct and end up back to orthodox faith, this doesn’t happen for everyone. As I mentioned before, this isn’t the purpose of deconstruction.
Ultimately, many deconstruct and end up either walking away from their faith completely or they end up rejecting the primary doctrines and principles of Christianity. Rather than coming to true faith as they hoped, they end up with their own version of Christianity, a mere shell of the real thing.
Bottom line: Should Christians deconstruct their faith?
No, I don’t think Christians should deconstruct their faith. Christianity was never meant to be pulled apart; it was meant to be built upon. When you deconstruct, you may end up losing everything and find yourself with nothing left to stand on.
Rather than pulling apart your faith for answers, look to build upon a foundation. Christianity is indeed a rational faith. It provides good reasons for believing in and following Christ.
Here are a few things I suggest instead of deconstruction:
- Ask Questions – be willing to ask and wrestle with the hard questions about Christianity. God is not mad or disappointed when we come to him with doubts.
- Be Honest – be honest about your doubts and the places where you struggle. Just because you doubt doesn’t mean your Christianity is not genuine.
- Find safe community – Find a safe community and ask your questions. Perhaps it might be a good idea to talk to believers who have also wrestled with their faith.
If you or a loved one is wrestling with faith, I hope that this article was able to provide a nuanced and honest discussion surrounding deconstruction. If you have questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org