I’d like to introduce you to a word that has become quite the thing in Evangelical church circles. It’s called “Deconstruction.” This term has been used for decades in philosophy and literature, but its use in Christianity is quite recent. It has been defined as “the process of re-examining the faith you grew up with.”1 Alisa Childers, a well-known Evangelical podcaster, demonstrates how common a subject this is on Christian social media by pointing out that “In February 2022 there were 293,026 posts on Instagram utilizing the hashtag #deconstruction.”2
I, personally, don’t do Instagram, but I’ve been fascinated with the many discussions of the subject on YouTube. There are video descriptions of successful personal journeys from a narrow, constricting Christian belief system to one that is much broader and more liberating.3 But there are also accounts of journeys that led to loss of faith in traditional Christianity, or even to open atheism.4 Since this is a possible outcome, many social media gurus warn against deconstruction as a diabolical evil, to be avoided like the plague.5
Personally, I think some sort of deconstruction journey is necessary for any thinking Christian today. It’s just part of growing up, of trading in some of your Sunday School pictures of God and his plan for an understanding that better fits what you as an adult have learned from life. If we trust him to guide us, the deconstruction will emerge into a healthy reconstruction.
Let me share a bit from my personal journey. Questioning started early for me; it’s in my nature, and it’s still going on. There were several factors that made the questioning inevitable:
- The faith box I grew up with was too small. My church used the word “Fundamentalist” to describe itself, and “Separation” was advocated as the best way to deal with living a Christian life. It wasn’t an oppressive kind of Fundamentalism, but it certainly limited our horizons.
- My interest in nature and science was deep and constant. Biblical “Garden-of-Eden” explanations never seemed enough for me. I had to find more answers outside the box.
- I grew up right after World War II and through the Cold War, with impending nuclear threats. The world was complex, rapidly changing and very scary. My church’s answer to that was to outline end times Biblical prophecies with modern applications. The answer was God’s impending judgment. That seemed inadequate to me; there must be something we can do as Christians.
So, my personal deconstruction began when I was a boy, slowed down in my teens, escalated in my college years and has been continual since then. But over time, deconstruction has turned into reconstruction, and, by God’s grace, my faith in him is stronger than ever in the final chapter of my life. I’m thankful for several factors that helped make this possible:
- My family of birth really gave me tacit permission to venture outside of the Fundamentalist faith box. They didn’t try to limit my world by keeping me in ultra-protective environments. I attended public schools and a secular State college.
- I had no early life traumas that left me emotionally disabled, with excessive anger toward God that would affect my deconstruction/reconstruction journey.
- Much of this change and growth came when I was already serving as a minister, and both congregations I have pastored gave me ample space to become the faith-leader God was shaping me to be, rather than forcing me into traditional clergy stereotypes.
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Not all journeys are the same. I was talking with an old friend today and he updated me on his “project”: to worship at every church in Pasadena. He grew up in a traditional African-American Pentecostal congregation, and he continued being faithful to that tradition in his adulthood. But after he retired, his sense of need to fulfill his project overwhelmed him, and he couldn’t escape it. He has just reached his goal — he’s worshiped in over a hundred churches in Pasadena: every Protestant church of every denomination, every Catholic church, Mormon churches, Orthodox churches, startup churches that rent office buildings. He thinks he’s got them all, and he’s kept thorough notes. His plan: to write a book, tentatively entitled, The Body of Christ in Pasadena.
I wonder what kind of deconstruction/reconstruction that will lead to?
— Pastor George Van Alstine
1 Tyler Huckaby – Huckabee, Tyler (9 February 2022). “Skillet’s John Cooper: It’s Time to ‘Declare War Against This Deconstruction Christian Movement'”. Relevant.
4 For example, Josh Harris (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8x-GEzCC78;
Sara Martin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZW_UTsU0iPw&t=55s);
Abraham Piper (John Piper’s other son – https://medium.com/belover/abraham-piper- deconstructs-his-dad-37b3bdd9b519)