The elephant in most evangelical churches across the country is that many Christians are “deconstructing.” This development is being talked about in some spaces, but many Christians are still unaware (a reality that has sad implications) or dismissive about the trend. Deconstructing means something a little different for everyone experiencing it (either first or second hand), but in general, it refers to growing disenchanted with at least some of the beliefs you grew up with. And, this trend seems to be most prominent among Millennials and Gen-Z.
I want to start with a strong word of affirmation: if you’re deconstructing, I don’t doubt that that’s a good thing. That may be a surprising thing to hear a pastor say, but as John Mark Comer points out, many elements of our faith NEED to be deconstructed, and Jesus himself led people in a version of deconstruction (“You have heard that it was said, but I say to you…”). Did you grow up believing that anyone who questions a hyper-literal six-day creationist reading of Genesis 1 and 2 is caught in a satanic agenda? That should be deconstructed. Were you taught to hold your nose at anyone who sins in ways that differ from the ways you regularly sin? Deconstruct that.
I’ll go a bit further. Have you found yourself questioning God’s existence or goodness? Have you been doubting how the Bible can be considered God’s word and fully accurate? Do you wonder on occasion or regularly if Jesus actually cares about what you’re going through? If you answered yes to any of those questions, chances are you’ve been pressured by the culture of shame and fear we cultivate in many churches to simply keep silent and pretend to yourself and to everyone else that you don’t have those questions. But I’m here to tell you that if these questions are forming in your mind, you should find healthy and safe ways to ask these questions legitimately. To wrestle with them in earnest. Don’t let anyone make you feel unspiritual or immature for asking questions like this.
If you’re feeling like you’re not allowed to be disappointed when your prayers go unanswered and apparently unheard, or to question what you’ve always been taught, I encourage you to read Psalm 44 slowly and carefully. Pay attention to what’s being expressed and consider the fact that these questions, complaints, and accusations are recorded IN Scripture AS Scripture. That’s a big deal. Don’t try to be more biblical than the Bible. If the sons of Korah are allowed to wrestle with God like this in the actual Bible, then so are you.“The elephant in most evangelical churches across the country is that many Christians are deconstructing. If you find yourself deconstructing, I doubt that’s a bad thing.”
I also encourage you to think carefully about WHAT SPECIFICALLY you’re questioning and WHAT SPECIFICALLY you find yourself rejecting. If you’re turned off to the concept of church because you see tons of churches covering up child abuse, sexual abuse, and institutional bullying in order to protect their reputations or their leaders—well, so am I. But I’m here to tell you that the Church will be better off if you’re able to work with us to weed these things out of the Church rather than walking away. (But also: if you need to walk way, walk away. You don’t need to stay in a place where you’ve experienced abuse just out of some vague sense of obligation.) If you’re skeptical of Christian teachers ignoring the genres of the Bible and using selectively literal interpretations of certain passages (say, for instance, the book of Revelation) as a test of who is in and who is out—I’m with you there, too. (Here’s a guide I put together years ago for reading the Bible in light of its literary genres—a practice that could sort out a lot of what is dividing us these days.)
You might be afraid of being too honest with yourself, afraid of where you’ll end up if you let go of too many of the things you’ve held onto. I empathize on that front. I find some comfort in this regard in the fiction writing of Flannery O’Connor. She was a Catholic who wrote in the mid 20th century. Her stories are jarring, sad, and often violent. Yet she insisted that her faith was running throughout all of her stories. Often her characters would speak against Jesus (like Hazel Motes, who passionately preached “the Church of God Without Christ.”) But Flannery insisted that these characters were not godless. She said that their virtue lay not so much in their firm faith, but in the fact that they were never able to fully leave Jesus behind. She described Jesus moving between the trees in the backs of their minds. Or to borrow a phrase from the poet Christian Wiman, Jesus was like a thorn in their brains that they could never fully ignore.
Perhaps that’s all you’ve got left. You know your beliefs are not what they used to be, but you also can’t bring yourself to leave everything behind. Maybe you’ve given up on the Church but you’re still drawn to Jesus. I can say with confidence that that’s not nothing. And actually, it’s a lot. A faith that has been dismantled, stripped of distraction, and honed down to its essence has got to be better than an intact system that is problematic and easy to discard. That kernel of faith may be just the building block to begin from.
I’d encourage you to build in honesty with people who are willing to engage you in honest conversation. However, don’t just hash it out completely on your own, or only with a bunch of disillusioned people. See if you can find some people whose faith you respect, even if you don’t intend for your faith to look exactly like theirs. Don’t stop asking questions. If you deconstructed by allowing yourself to ask questions, don’t pretend you’re not still drawn to Jesus, Scripture, or some idealistic version of Church that you have yet to see in real life (if that is indeed the case). Let that same impulse to question and dream draw you back to some version of reconstruction. You don’t have to rush, and you should be honest, but it’s too easy to pull things apart without ever doing the hard work of putting something back together. I don’t want to be dismissive of what you’re experiencing, but I know we will all be better off if this deconstructing generation finds a way to put in the hard work of helping us swing the pendulum of what Christianity is meant to be.
For more on that, and on what the existing Church can do to help a deconstructing generation, I’ll write again next Monday.