4 min. to read.
If you’re worried about the number of Christian folks who are deconstructing, take a deep breath. If you’re experiencing it yourself, no need to panic. I’ve had a tangible experience of deconstruction these past few weeks that clarified how it is often a necessary and healthy experience.
I love sitting on my deck in the morning sun, reading a book with a cup of tea. The deck, though, is old. We’ve been trying to hold back the rot and decay with imperfect patches and repairs. Finally, it became clear we were losing the race with entropy. If the deck was going to remain a safe and enjoyable space for our family, it needed restoration.
So my son and I started the project by taking off the decking. Some of the surface boards had visible damage. Once removed, we could see additional damage we didn’t even know about. The posts had settled. There was dry-rot in a few joists. In a couple of spots, the supporting structure had been expanded in a way that couldn’t possibly last and wasn’t even really safe.
My son and I were doing deconstruction. Taking the deck apart piece by piece gave us access to the underlying structure. We could see that some of the supports were solid and trustworthy. Others were badly damaged from weather and insects. In a few places destructive rot was spreading.
Our work of deconstruction was not malicious or irresponsible—just the opposite. We wanted to preserve, even improve the deck. Our motives weren’t cynicism (“Decks are just a scam by big lumber!”) or unhealed injury (“Once I was pushed off a deck, so all decks must be destroyed.”). We love our experience of that space. Our work looked destructive, but its purpose was renewal.
Your system of religious beliefs is a construction project like our deck. It’s been built and expanded all your life. A complex system of supports lies beneath the surface, laid by people before you—parents, teachers, pastors and theologians for nearly two thousand years.
You may have noticed a few loose boards. (“Hmm… why is the passion story in Matthew so much different than that in Luke?”) Maybe you stubbed your toe on a nail sticking up. (“People keep quoting Paul to say that women shouldn’t have leadership. That doesn’t seem right.”) Some dry-rot has crept in. (“The way some Christian leaders cling to power doesn’t seem like Jesus.”) The deck stairs are so broken folks have been injured. (The LGBTQ community? Racial minorities? Women? Abused children?)
Some manage all of this by throwing on another thick coat of paint. After all, this old deck has worked for us for so long. Why should we change it? Other folks decide the deck is too unsafe and the whole deck has to come down. Between those two responses are the many who have found their experience of the deck to be meaningful and life-giving, but they have hope it can be better. Safer. Less likely to harm others. More accessible. (More like Jesus, to step out of the metaphor for a moment.)
Maturing faith requires restoration and repair.
I’m re-doing my deck because the deck has been life-giving to me. I want that experience to continue for me, for my kids, and for others around me. My faith and associated religious belief system are a much more consequential construct than my deck. They shapes my thinking, my relationships, my choices, and how I relate to those around me.
Like many others, I am captivated and compelled by Jesus and his way. I have become confident that to follow Jesus well, deconstruction is necessary—at least for some of us. Following Jesus’ path of service and other-centered love means removing the boards of power and self from the deck. Any aspect of faith and practice that violates Jesus’ character and teaching, or that leave behind “collateral damage” must be rethought.
Jesus told us to love God with all we are and have, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Take this seriously, and we must then deal with the broken, rotten, or failing parts of our faith and belief system that keep us from Jesus’ calling. So, whether you are the one deconstructing or if it’s someone you love, don’t panic. Deconstruction, in this way, is an act of love and faithfulness. It is a necessary step on the path of spiritual maturity, emerging from a our belief that Jesus wasn’t wrong when he called us to die to self and love others.
10 thoughts on “When deconstruction comes from hope.”
This is enlightening to me because I was having a problem with some things I was hearing. Since I live with my sister and brother-in-law I was kind of excited thinking I would be able to learn more and grow in my faith. Unfortunately the things that my brother-in-law is following is very disturbing to me and I was giving myself a break from all things religious for a while. It hurts that I live far away from my church now and Bible Study is hard to get to. Until a friend of mine whos lives far away now started a group with the Daily Bible and then I started reading again but still keep away from the negative things I’ve been hearing. So it seems that this was my restoration phase and I feel much better about it now. Thanks so much for this.
I’m sorry you’ve had that experience. Peace to your heart. I trust that the Spirit of God will find you where you are and provide what you need.
I really love this metaphor and your words are encouraging for those of us who are attempting to discern how our decks will be reconstructed. I think it was interesting that you said that this process is only necessary for some of us. I follow a well-known writer in the reformed tradition simply because I heard him speak and loved his forthright and honest approach to faith in everyday life. But deconstruction would be dangerous for him, it would dishonour the God who chose him, the rotting, sticking up, loose boards all have answers. Or he doesn’t see the deck the way I do? Or in some weird way he doesn’t even “own” the deck the way I do? He doesn’t have to splash on a coat of paint because the deck simply can never decay. Is that possible? Or real?
Your reflections on this are helpful, I think. I would like to say that this kind of de/re-construction is necessary for everyone, but one of the things I’ve learned is that steps of spiritual maturity cannot be forced. So the “some of us” for whom this is necessary are the ones who have come to the point (the end of the rope?) where following Jesus requires it. Not everyone is there.
Here’s an example. I’m a strident egalitarian and have ample scriptural support for why I think this position best honors Christ. But I know some complementarians who have honest relationships with God, act in tangible ways that are loving, and are respectful of people who treat the topic differently than they do. They have scriptural reasons for their position. From my vantage point, I think they are wrong! 😄 I suspect that practically speaking they are more egalitarian than they think. But whatever. The have not come to the point where they needed to deconstruct that aspect of their faith experience. I’ve become content that they may not. Their experience of life may not press them into the place where this inner work is necessary. But for me, I feel deeply led to follow Christ in this way, and suspect that there are many who feel the same.
George Macdonald, the famous preacher of the last century who was such an influence on C.S. Lewis wrote about this in striking terms. This is from his sermon called “Self-Denial.” I’ll share a long quote here, because I think this is so helpful:
“There is another kind of forsaking that may fall to the lot of some, and which they may find very difficult: the forsaking of such notions of God and his Christ as they were taught in their youth–which they held, nor could help holding, at such time as they began to believe–of which they have begun to doubt the truth, but the cast which way seems like parting with every assurance of safety.
There are so-called doctrines long accepted of good people, which how any man can love God and hold, except indeed by fast closing of the spiritual eyes, I find it hard to understand…But for him who is in earnest about the will of God, it is of endless consequence that he should rightly think of God. He cannot come close to him, cannot truly know his will, while his notion of him is an any point that of a false God. The thing shows itself absurd. If such a man seems to himself to be giving up even his former assurance of salvation, in yielding such ideas of God as are unworthy of God, he must nonetheless, if he will be true, if he would enter into life, take up that cross also. He will come to see that he must follow new doctrine, be it true as word of man could state it, but the living Truth, the Master himself.
Good souls many will one day be horrified at the things they now believe of God. If they have not thought about them, but given themselves to obedience, they may not have done them much harm as yet; but they can make little progress in the knowledge of God, while, if but passively, holding evil things true of him. If, on the other hand, they do think about them, and finding in them no obstruction, they must indeed be far from anything to be called a true knowledge of God. But there are those who find them a terrible obstruction, and yet imagine, or at least fear them to be true: such must take courage to for sake the false in any shape, to deny their old selves in the most seemingly sacred prejudices, and follow Jesus, not as he is presented in the tradition of the elders, but as he is presented by himself, his apostles, and the spirit of truth. There are ‘traditions of men’ after Christ as well as before him, and far worse, as ‘making of none effect’ higher and better things; and we have to look to it, how we have learned Christ.”
Wonderful. Thank you. Your intellect, honesty, clarity and love are refreshing. And needed at this time.
Thank you for this, it is so relevant to me at this time. I just recently found your blog, looking forward to reading more.
Glad it was helpful! Thanks for taking a moment to let me know.
Thank you for this excellent article and for your insightful replies to the comments (George MacDonald, wow!). My heart, gifts, and time are dedicated to unity and restoration, so this period of deconstruction that, first my adult son, and then I have been going through has been painful and confusing. I appreciate your thoughtful treatment of the subject and the acknowledgment that it is indeed happening on a wide scale. It’s comforting and exciting to think about the stripping God is doing and the glory that will emerge from His bride as we yield to His good work in us.
(Added to my previous comment) My prayer during this season for my son and myself has been, “Lord, please restore any ‘load-bearing walls’ that may have come down in this process. Don’t allow me to reject truth in the interest of making sense of the church or the gospel. I yield to your leading and truth no matter the cost, just help me resist tradition that doesn’t reflect you, even if it stirs up dissension or discomfort.”
That’s a great prayer. Focus on Jesus, and Jesus’ presence to You. Pursuing unity and restoration is hard, especially so when all the parties don’t necessarily want to be in unity. (Often a god clue that the real heart of the matter is power, by the way. People and groups don’t want to pursue unity often when it means giving up power, privilege, or position. They will say they want unity, but they mean the unity of other people giving in and accepting their position.) So, follow Jesus other-centered co-suffering way, and trust that even in this time of confusion and deconstruction, God is bringing life where there was death.