What feels like our loved ones turning their backs on faith may actually be a part of a phenomenon called deconstruction. Although the word “deconstruction” is fairly new (from the 1960’s) the essence behind it has been around since the beginning of time. In other words, this current popular term has old roots. Understanding this may help put into perspective the deconstruction process our friends or family may be experiencing. Simply put, deconstruction is a season of critical examination and reorientation.
As threatening is this may feel to the religious community there’s really a very healthy aspect to it. For instance, if a grown child comes home from college and announces they have different ideas about their faith, listening to their new thoughts instead of being defensive, could prove beneficial. Even if it feels like an affront, seeking to understand underlying reasons could bring deeper insight into our own faith and need for deconstruction.
In a recent bible study a concern was raised about adult-children falling away from the faith. I explained that some might not be turning their back on faith in the way parents perceive, but rather faith “practices” and faith “expressions”. They might be discovering their own wings in spiritual matters. After class a woman pulled me aside and said this thought gave her great hope. So many parents are desperate to understand what’s going on with the children they’ve raised in the church. They feel distraught. But these emotions are based on the very tightly wound bubble of Christianity that our sons and daughters may be trying to deconstruct. As unsettling as it feels, we can be reassured that true and living faith isn’t lost or threatened by investigating and questioning religious traditions and theologies. In fact, politics and philosophies that surround our faith may be in need of a good sifting.
There are many different bubbles within the larger bubble of the Christian Culture. A recent study suggest there are over 40,000 denominations. Each denomination carries its own unique system of theology and tradition. I remember my own bubble. I was young and a single mom at the time. The church I attended became my world. As a result my Spiritual experience became an imposed training ground for my children. But those learned Christian experiences, at some point, would naturally need to be deconstructed in order for my children to discover faith for themselves—and often that is direct result of seeing life outside their fixed church culture.
One of my own deconstruction processes came about when God placed three son-in-laws in my life within a three year time period. Each of these young men came from different denominational backgrounds, and each highly educated in their beliefs and doctrines, holding Doctorates and Masters of Divinity. Two were actually pastors and the other a pastor’s son. The discussions in my home between these newly formed families (my son-in-laws and my daughters) were intense at times. Add to this my ultra savvy single daughters, one who was a Moody Bible College graduate. The strong differences were in the individual theologies, and each was as solid as the next. But stronger than their differences was the one unifying bond–Jesus and the work of the cross. The conflict in cultures however caused great soul searching for me. It was a revelation that serious Christians can feel and behave very differently due to their upbringing, traditions, and convictions. Through many of their conversations I could see cracks in my own bubble that only surfaced because of the challenge it presented. My little Christian world was obviously not the only world. Thus, deconstruction naturally ensued as God used my three son-in-laws to help me cultivate a deeper faith in Him, rather than in systems of theologies.
Because the church is made up of fallible humans-beings deconstruction is inevitable. And as history unfolds and cultures change the need for examination and reorientation continues. But sometimes we fear so much for someone in the deconstruction process that we forget to let God be God in theirs lives instead of us. Loosening our hold and trusting God through the ups and downs of deconstruction will ultimately provide a safe place.
Even methods of communication in the religious world transform over time. I remember asking one of Billy Graham’s grandsons why he didn’t hold crusades like his grandfather. His answer impressed upon me the reality of change. He told me tent meetings were obsolete since the internet has made everyone a potential evangelist. Although the gospel itself never changes—theologies, preferences, ceremonies, and deliveries around it constantly evolve.
Never-the-less, some segments of Christianity continue to impose harsh and legalistic applications. They assert ideologies from these bubbled-places rather than listening and respecting when disagreed with. These expectations become like iron bars. Here is where we find some of the greatest necessity for deconstruction. Keep in mind people who are in this process may be labeled deserters. But often they are not abandoning the faith, they are simply abandoning the bubble.
A Scripture verse that needed deconstruction for me was Romans 12:2 which says “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be renewed in the transformation of your mind.” I had been interpreting it in away that kept me bound to the expectations of my particular Christian culture in the past. For instance examining and reevaluating my bubbled theology was seen as disloyal and conforming to the world. But taking a closer look at this verse helped me discover something radically freeing!
The context is actually “grace”. It’s staying away from patterns, models, and modes of trying to be good and holy without being transformed in the heart. In the preceding chapter we see God’s plan for a church that looks much different—grace-based. The Apostle Paul reveals God purpose—this way no one can say, “I’m this or that” or “my behaviors are superior”. All became level by means of unilateral disobedience. God has bound everyone to disobedience—so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:32)
In other words, when Scripture says do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, it’s talking about our constant default as humans to make our theologies about us, about our goodness, or our preferences, our interpretations. He did not want our Christianity to become a badge of superiority which causes us to thinking too highly of ourselves and treat others with contempt (me vs. you). The scripture could be understood this way, “Do not be conformed to worldly patterns of proud spirituality”. The context makes this clear in the preceding verse which says, “I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) And the looking at the verse after which says, “For by the grace given me I say to everyone among you not to think to of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” (Romans 12:3-5) It is clear that we are to be poured out as living spiritual offerings unto the Lord for the sake of one another (me for you). This flies in the face of the patterns of the world–not by thinking ourselves superior. Grace is opposite of the world way of doing religion, “If by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” (Romans 11:6)
If my old perspectives on this one verse can become deconstructed through the lens of grace then all of Scripture invites deconstruction of this nature. It is healthy and good for the soul and not something to be feared. In fact, God is all about deconstruction. Jesus three year ministry on earth displayed a continual pattern of deconstruction as he spoke against the legalism of the Pharisees (the spiritual leaders of the day). And Galatians 3:3 doesn’t doesn’t pull any punches when addressing Christians, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish be means of the flesh?”
Even ministries that start off altruistic begin to morph into business and profit centers. Programs are honed to please people and bring in revenue. Tithes from struggling congragants are used for staff retreats and office remodels. Critical examination and reorientation will always be needed because of human tendency to conform churches and ministry agendas to the patterns of this world.
The Apostle Paul also speaks in deconstruction terms in 1 Corinthians 3:12 when he paints a mental illustration of Jesus as the foundation. That is, Jesus’ work on the cross being our righteousness (not our own). He goes onto to say that anything built on this foundation will be examined (deconstructed) and if found without certain qualities—destroyed. The highest quality materials like grace (which is golden), and mercy (like precious stones) will remain. But works that look and feel impressive on the outside, yet, empty on the inside will be like hay which is burned-up.
If we have put our faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ we are all in this together no matter where we are on the bubble and deconstruction spectrum. Both loving and wrestling with a church that hasn’t been perfected yet, and won’t be this side of heaven. Your loved-one or friend who has stepped away temporarily is somewhere in this process. The best thing we can do for each other as we go through deconstruction is to pray, listen, and show kindness, respect, and grace. These materials are tried and true and go the distance. In the end God will perform the ultimate deconstruction, “I will shake not only the earth but also the the heavens…the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things [including our religious bubbles]–so that what cannot be shaken may remain. (Hebrews 12:27) “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)