Deconstruction. Have you been hearing that word a lot lately, too? What does this trending term mean? Well, just like it sounds, deconstruction is the opposite of construction. When used about a person’s faith (as it often is), it means rethinking and discarding previously held beliefs.
The word has been used by skeptics who leave the faith altogether as well as by progressives who gut the faith down to its studs—and then often keep swinging the sledgehammer. A common story of progressivism is that of deconstruction followed by reconstruction, where a person levels the house and then rebuilds and remodels, usually to look less like historic Christianity and more like cultural trends. Less often, the word has been used for discarding unbiblical beliefs in order to arrive at a more biblical view.
When someone’s faith deconstructs in this more common sense, the natural next question to ask is, “Who’s to blame?” It sounds like a blunt question, but trying to determine the culprit can be reassuring. Let me explain.
If I can read someone’s deconstruction story and say, “Well, the church he grew up in probably never taught apologetics,” then that can help reassure me. I can reason that, if the person had only discovered what I know about the reasonableness of Christianity, the person would have stuck around.
“I can reason that, if the person had only discovered what I know about the reasonableness of Christianity, the person would have stuck around.”
Or, if I can hear a deconstruction story and say, “I bet the person had a legalistic upbringing,” that too can feel reassuring. I can assume that, if the person had grown up in a grace-based home, the person never would have needed to seek out greener pastures.
Or let’s say I learn about a deconstruction and I respond by saying, “You know, it was probably one of those church situations where tough questions were never allowed.” That can feel reassuring. I can think, well, that’s just what happens when you’re not allowed to ask tough questions.
Now before we move on, let’s admit that we Christians can learn important lessons from deconstruction stories. Such stories can and should motivate us to pursue better apologetics, show more grace, and make room for doubt.
Yet is it true that, when we find weak apologetics or legalistic upbringings, that these are necessarily the culprits behind the deconstruction? In them, have we found something we can blame?
“Is it true that, when we find weak apologetics or legalistic upbringings, that these are necessarily the culprits behind the deconstruction?”
Again, it can be reassuring to have something or someone to blame for deconstruction stories. Must have been inadequate parenting. Must have been the church. And yet, behind all this finger pointing is an assumption which often is not true. Here’s the assumption: It’s that, if the person had only experienced the real thing, he or she never would have left the faith.
That is not a safe assumption. We discover this from a story in the Gospel of John.
Jesus preached an unpopular yet true sermon about the need to see him as the bread of life. In it, Jesus shocked the crowd by saying statements like, “I am the bread of life. . . . This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:35, 58, NIV). By the end of the sermon, people were leaving and mumbling responses such as, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60, NIV).
They had experienced the real thing.
What was the result of experiencing the real Jesus—of walking for a time with the stubbornly demanding God-man? “As a result of this many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66, NASB). There are people who will experience the real thing and yet will choose to stop following. Even the best apologetics arguments in the world can’t overturn an unwillingness to follow.
“What was the result of experiencing the real Jesus—of walking for a time with the stubbornly demanding God-man?”
Do we need solid apologetics, grace-based parenting, and spaces where people can ask tough questions? YES. And yet, there will still be people who know the apologetics arguments, had a solid upbringing, and were allowed to explore tough questions—and they will still leave Jesus.
Assigning blame might feel reassuring, but humans aren’t robots with coded responses. We are humans with free choices, and Jesus himself couldn’t stop free people from leaving when they decided to reject the real thing.
It’s something we can get used to without making peace with. Christian love may be gentle, but it’s also persistent.