There’s a lot of conversation taking place these days about deconstruction in regards to the Christian faith. A growing number of Christians, especially those who come from a conservative/evangelical expression of Christianity, are sharing their experience of deconstruction. Some are becoming the so-called “dones” and renouncing their Christian faith altogether while others are just leaving behind their evangelicals, becoming the so-called “exvangelicals.”
This is a conversation of interest to me because earlier in life I went through a deconstruction period myself. This process happened as I began my seminary studies and was brought about by the existential crisis that followed after the death of my oldest son. Kenny’s death raised questions about God and faith that I didn’t have answers for. My faith was shattered and in some sense, lost. Although there are some questions (perhaps many) I still have, I did find faith again but I left behind the sectarian/fundamentalist understanding I was raised in for good.
It actually turned out that seminary was a great place to lose faith because I had people that God worked through to rebuild a ruined faith. Not only am I still a Christian but I have gone on to serve as a pastor and I do so with faith as a follower of Jesus, who understands God as merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love (Ps 103:8). My faith shapes my interest in the conversation regarding deconstruction and what I’m about to say.
First off, there is nothing inherently wrong with deconstruction. Anyone who ever questions something they have held to be true is deconstructing in a sense. The reasons some Christians go through a process of deconstruction vary but one thing should be clear, they have questions for which the answers they currently have are inadequate. Is asking questions wrong? Hardly!
That leads me to one other point I want to make. If you want to be of help to someone deconstructing their faith, listen. Don’t respond, just listen to understand. It’s clear that some of the people who have or are deconstructing their faith have experienced significant trauma in life. Some of this trauma has been caused by toxic churches where abusive pastors have created great harm through sexual abuse, racism, and misogynism, where churches have not only woefully misread the Bible and weaponized it against people. So listen because any criticism will only amplify that trauma. Listen to understand, and then, in time, if you have earned the person’s trust, God might open space for you to help sort through questions in a way that leads to a healthy reconstruction of the Christian faith.
I say that because, as I mentioned before, I am the recipient of some people who graciously listened and understood. And I’m still here because they did.