One of the main points of this current My Church series is this: Your relationship with the church is a reflection of your relationship with God.
And that leads to another question. If someone will leave a church easily, will they leave their relationship with God just as easily? When something is too difficult, unappealing, doesn’t make sense, causes us discomfort, doesn’t answer all of our questions . . . . will we walk away from our relationship with God too?
This all connects with a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately-–faith deconstruction. And truthfully, the questions above are what deconstruction appears like to me. However, I realize that deconstruction is a complex subject, a uniquely individual journey and a very emotional experience. And in my understanding, I have only begun to scratch the surface.
So what is Deconstruction? The term actually came out of the discipline of textual criticism. Used in the realm of religion, it is the process of systematically dissecting the beliefs you grew up with – taking them apart into smaller components and examining whether they are true or useful anymore. And while people have been questioning their faith for centuries, deconstruction has become a legitimate trend in this decade. It is a weightier subject now as well, because it exists under the added baggage of postmodernism, modern skepticism and the influence of immediate, wide and unvetted social media celebrityism.
What makes this topic even more difficult is that it can have both a positive or negative outcome. Sometimes deconstruction is linked to the negative experience of someone’s upbringing, involves a complete rejection of Christianity and it’s culturally “unpopular” beliefs, and may lead to a total deconversion and abandonment of anything faith-related. Other times, deconstruction can be the catalyst for individual renewal and corporate reformation. It can prompt Christians to prayerfully work through difficult experiences and faith-shaking questions in order to rediscover the purity of the gospel and embrace a Christian worldview that is truly their own. The best case scenarios ultimately a more robust faith full of security and trust, as well as a corrected, truly Christ-like local church-body.
So while I don’t necessarily want to encourage deconstruction, I also don’t want to condemn it. And I do have some major concerns.
Reconstruction vs. Deconstruction
In my youth, I spent a week on a mission trip working with Habitat for Humanity. A multi-generational group from our church went to an area of the U.S. that had been ravaged by a hurricane. The experience was amazing. The work was gratifying, but daunting because most of us were novices. We were led by one foreman with solid construction know-how. (Poor guy! He had to explain, teach, observe, check and recheck our work.) Our effort on the house in just one week didn’t seem like much but we knew it had been a helpful step in providing a family with a home, and all that accompanies that – dignity, security, protection and community.
In the middle of that same week, the foreman asked a few of us (probably the more inexperienced builders) if we would help with a demolition project. They needed to tear down an older dilapidated house in order to clear the lot for another new building project. We could see plainly that the walls were moldy, the wood was rotten, and everything was filthy and outdated. We ripped out old electrical wire and sledgehammered walls. Truthfully, tearing something down was way easier, faster and more fun, especially after the slower pace of learning and sawing and hammering. It almost seemed more gratifying. But as we looked back on the way to the van, the pile of un-usable material and trash was depressing. The entire lot was an eyesore. How refreshing it was to return to the original worksite and see the progress and potential of the new building. I hoped the same for the lot we had just left behind.
That illustration is so applicable to the mental, emotional and spiritual practice of examining and wrestling with our faith. And what I come away with is this: the “re-” words are just healthier and more helpful than the “de-” words. Reconstruction instead of Deconstruction. Actually both the Old and New Testament instruct us over and over again to recover, restore, remember and revisit. They don’t shy away from the realistic need for reform and renewal. And these “re-” words so speak to my spirit. I don’t want to spend the majority of my time tearing things down and throwing things away. I want to grab hold of the important work of rebuilding. Implicit in the term reform is the fact that there was something good and real and right in the original design, some truth that can be reclaimed. Only participating in deconstruction would seem to lead us and leave us in a place of rubble and trash.
This is my biggest worry for those on the deconstruction journey: that they will not pick up or choose what they have pulled apart and examined. That they will not arrive anywhere new. For many, deconstruction may be a necessary part of the journey, but it wasn’t meant to be the whole journey. How sad if our entire life is one of criticism and cynicism. Sure, it is easier to be critical and find flaws in others’ worldviews and belief systems. And it may even feel gratifying. Yes, realistically it is much harder to seek truth with intellectual rigor and then live by that truth, sometimes painstakingly so. Like a bunch of novices learning how to help build a house as they go. But which yields a better existence and extracts more meaning? I pray and hope that reconstruction will follow every work of deconstruction..
In our culture, the experience of deconstruction can be descriptive or prescriptive. Deconstruction helps describe what is a common occurrence in our culture right now, and that is helpful. However, I get uncomfortable when the term is used prescriptively – meaning it is recommended by others, to others. But that type of prescriptive deconstruction seems irresponsible and harmful to me. We need to be careful when we project our own experience onto any and everyone in earshot. For there is a danger in taking something apart if we don’t know how to put it back together again. And there is a danger in encouraging others to take something apart without having the ability and commitment to help them in the reconstruction phase.
The Church’s Role:
For that very reason mentioned above – the potential danger of not having the motivation or the help to reconstruct – wrestling with your faith may be best done in the church. So look for a church that is dedicated to the right things and going in the right direction. A church that remains self-aware. A church that prioritizes the gospel and allows it to shape its internal culture. A church that doesn’t close itself off from the surrounding culture but seeks to understand it. A church that creates space and support for people to doubt and wrestle. A church that disciples people to engage intellectually with their faith and love God with all their mind. A church that welcomes people with hard questions but is also ok that for some hard questions, there are no answers.
With a church like that, deconstruction does not have to lead to a life absent of faith. There is hope for that kind of journey – hope that it will have a true destination. And there is purpose in that kind of “demolition”: in the removing of the broken and rotten; in making room; and in ultimately in filling the empty space. Figuratively, all that work would not only lead someone to a destination, it would create a sense of home. How beautiful! May the church experience be like my mission trip experience, where the the workers learned together, built together, relied on the expertise of our leader, and depended on the shared knowledge and efforts of each other. God let it be so! And let it be so here at LifePoint!