Faith Deconstruction (Part 2)
Faith Deconstruction (Part 2)
This week it is a privilege to have my friend David Collins be my guest writer as he reflects on this very important subject. Please Note: This article is unpacking a social trend amongst Christians. It is not intended to be making a theological statement on any particular issue.
I truly appreciate that Alan has written about “Deconstruction” (see Part 1 ) I don’t know what the numbers are in New Zealand, but a reliable source recently wrote that 65 million adults alive in America today have dropped out of church and about 2.7 million more leave yearly.
Not everyone in that startling statistic will fit into what’s termed “deconstruction”, however, neither has everyone who has deconstructed dropped out of church - far from it! Large numbers, including serving pastors, are deconstructing and their love of Christian community has not diminished. Either way the phenomena of ‘deconstruction / reconstruction’ can’t be ignored and it’s a growing part of the spiritual landscape in New Zealand.
My own experience of deconstruction / reconstruction started in 2009 during my last pastoral term before retiring in 2017. Prior to 2009 I’d served in Pentecostal churches and missions for 37 years. I loved my calling and was confident as a teacher and shepherd - I was not looking to deconstruct anything!
Defining Spiritual Deconstruction
Spiritual deconstruction takes place for a variety of reasons but results in a loss of confidence in aspects of faith the person once held (or was taught). This may concern the structures and practices of their church, the doctrines they have been taught as “unquestionable”, and/or attitudes that condemn others who live and believe differently to what they and their church prescribe.
Deconstruction is seldom calm or methodical - it’s an emotional, messy experience to unpick ones certainties … think grief! It might lead to an abandonment of faith altogether. But in most cases, a reconstruction of faith follows with a somewhat different set of convictions about church, truth and others. (I rediscovered curiosity: a quality far too rare in my world of certainties).
Deconstruction “Triggers” include …
- A transcendent experience that shakes the foundations of what a person believed to be unshakable. (This was the trigger that took me into deconstruction / reconstruction … an encounter with God and his love that radically challenged my perceptions - my God-picture).
- A growing dissatisfaction with one or more teaching of their church that appears unreasonably judgmental or elitist.
- Exposure to different thinking about a subject that leads to significant re-evaluation (the internet and social media has a role in this).
- A bad experience in church that leaves the person reeling and asking questions they would not otherwise ask themselves.
- Stresses in other areas of life that leave a person yearning for a simpler faith without the expectations or drivers present in their church.
- Embarrassment or concern over their church’s political engagement.
Hot-Button issues common to many who are deconstructing
- An eternal conscious torment teaching about hell.
- The essential nature of God revealed by Jesus Christ as self-giving, radically forgiving and relentless love: a cruciform God.
- Issues of inerrancy and authority of the Bible.
- Questions about atonement theory, especially penal substitution.
- Autocratic leadership styles.
- Rigid and simplistic approach to doctrine.
- Issues of inclusion/exclusion in society, e.g. LGBTQ, misogyny, racism, moralism (particularly for younger generations).
- Partisan political entanglement.
- End time doom and gloom.
A person who is deconstructing will only need a single trigger and perhaps only one or two of these issues may be critical to them. (I found that once underway, a kind of inner-honesty surfaced that allowed me to own up to other questions and positions deserving some critical examination.)
The Challenge for Churches
Deconstructing believers will be found in every type of church. Some migrate to churches whose style and teaching resonates more closely with their journey. Others have dropped out altogether, finding different ways to fellowship with friends and feed their spiritual appetite. A growing number of theologians and pastors are now writing in this space.
Most are quietly deconstructing in their familiar places of worship. I put to you that they are part of the rich tapestry of your church and recommend that you affirm them as such. They are ‘seekers’; they embrace diversity and value inclusion; they will serve initiatives that take the love of God to the marginalised. Respect their questions. Make time to listen to them. They have not lost their love for Christ, nor for community and sincere open friendship.
In his 2016 book “The Great Spiritual Migration” Brian McLaren writes: “The Christian story, from Genesis until now, is fundamentally about people on the move” … “Growing numbers of Christians are moving away from defining themselves by lists of beliefs and towards a way of life defined by love.” Brian invites us to set out on “the most significant spiritual pilgrimage of our time: to help Christianity become more Christian.”
Whether by deconstruction or by renewal, it is the pilgrimage that beckons us all.
Editors Note: If you would like to get in touch with David or myself please simply drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will pass your email on. David has also written a wonderful little book entitled ‘The Story Teller’ where he shares his insights into the parables of Jesus, the greatest story teller of all time.