Why I’m a Fan of Deconstruction

There’s quite a bit of discussion right now about the idea of ‘deconstruction’ when it comes to your faith. In case you’re unfamiliar with that term, here’s a definition I find helpful: “Faith deconstruction is the systematic pulling apart of one’s belief system for examination. For Christians, that can mean a wide array of questions ranging from the theological to the practical” (source: Backyard Theology).

Much of what is being said is about deconstruction (notably from those in formal positions in the church) is bold and harsh.

  • Exhibit A: Recently an article went viral for giving four reasons why people deconstruct. Two of the reasons were a “desire to sin” and people looking to get “street cred” (source: The Gospel Coalition).
  • Exhibit B: The popular megachurch pastor Matt Chandler recently went viral for referring to deconstruction as the “sexy thing to do.” You can hear him say this in the 30 second clip below.

It also prompted this gem of a pickup line…

So why am I a fan of deconstruction if it stems from a desire to sin, a desire for street cred, or a desire to be sexy? First, I don’t think it’s any of those things. Remember the definition: “pulling apart of one’s belief system for examination.” A good mechanic can deconstruct your engine and then leave it better than they found it. They aren’t trying to impress you by destroying your car.

Second, I think deconstruction is a basic ingredient for a growing and maturing faith in Jesus. This is literally the role of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me.” (John 16:13-14). What truth was Jesus referring to? What journey should we be on if we are following Jesus?

I think it’s important to be honest about what’s happening in this conversation in the lives of more and more Christians.

Deconstruction does not equal deconversion.

The overreaction to much of this conversation implies people want to leave everything behind. That’s usually not the case. People are trying to leave the stuff they’ve found issues with and find something better instead. That’s a trademark of good deconstruction: you leave with an upgrade from what you had before rather than leaving with nothing. Most of the time people who are deconstructing find more clarity in Jesus than they had previously and it is this clarity that allows them to take a hard look at models of Christianity that are getting in the way.

For many people, this is less of a faith transition and more of an institution transition.

Again, most people aren’t leaving their faith as much as they are leaving a model that originally helped them in their faith. When the model becomes an issue for growth, it absolutely should be evaluated. Not all churches are the same, and sadly there seem to be a plethora of bad examples emerging.

“People are not leaving the Church because they’ve ‘fallen away,’ people are leaving because all too often the Church has become a safer place for conspiracy theories, white supremacy, homophobia, and patriarchy than it is for the radical and subversive teachings of Jesus.”

Megan Tschanz

Deconstruction often brings pain.

This is what most people miss. If you go on this journey of examining your faith you will lose friends, you will lose environments that give you comfort, and you will lose much of the certainty you once had. All of these are huge losses and can take a toll on a person. That’s why the critiques on deconstruction I mentioned above sound so absurd to the people who are actually doing this work. I still believe the process is worth it—but like many things of value—it isn’t an easy journey.

If you’ve stayed with me this long, I’d like to offer two bits of advice:

  1. Listen to people who welcome diversity of thought and discussion rather than telling you what’s bad.
  2. Find people who sound like Jesus when they have these discussions, especially where there is disagreement.

The problem I have with most of the negative talk about deconstruction is that it fails on both counts. These voices then become self-appointed gatekeepers who are above the conversation themselves. As Seth Busetti recently wrote, “If you’ve concluded that apples are always red or green, then what do you do when presented with a yellow apple? Either expand your definition, which means admitting you prematurely or falsely codified your categories, or belligerently call it a lemon.”

I’d lovingly appeal to you that if you view deconstruction as a lemon, you need to deepen your understanding of fruit.

The encouraging news is that with a little bit of work you can find these people both in the church ‘institutions’ and outside of it. One resource that does a great job of bringing these conversations together (and passes both marks of my advice) is The New Evangelicals (see: link). They are a great resource if you want to dive deeper into this discussion.

As you’ll find, you can deconstruct and remain in the church. You can also deconstruct and step away from your church. The point isn’t church attendance. The point is to grow closer to Jesus and to look more like Him. Healthy churches will help you do that. The unhealthy ones can make it more difficult.

Listen to people who welcome diversity of thought and discussion rather than telling you what’s bad. And find people who sound like Jesus when they have these discussions, especially where there is disagreement. Share on X

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co. https://linktr.ee/JeremyJernigan