Faith Deconstruction (Pt1)
This phenomena amongst ‘evangelicals’ is well and truly underway and has been for probably at least 20 years. For the purposes of this blog I will define ‘Faith Deconstruction’ as the taking apart of an idea, practice, tradition, belief, or system into smaller components in order to examine their foundation, truthfulness, usefulness, and impact.
My guess is that maybe as many as a third of folks in evangelical churches in NZ are on a ‘deconstruction journey’ of some kind. Could be more. Many are still attending relatively regularly and even participating in ministry activity in a local church but privately they are unsettled and are asking some very important questions ……. questions they haven’t asked before. I say important because I hold a view that an unexamined faith is perhaps not a faith worth having in the first place. Let me put it this way. Christian Faith (and God Himself) is well able to handle the hardest, the toughest, the trickiest and most searching questions you and I can come up with. When ‘born again’ Christians wrestle with the big questions of faith it will often lead to a much more robust and resilient faith, I believe. My own experience bares that out.
We know from the international research that young adults are walking away from church in there droves. For years now pastors and researchers in the Western World have been expressing their concerns about this and rightly so. More often than not these young people are simply ‘not buying’ the faith of their parents who are mostly Baby Boomers but also Generation X’ers. I know this is true when I look around the Christian landscape in NZ. So without a doubt this is a worry and something that quite a bit has been written about.
However, there is another group we should note. The Baby Boomers themselves. They are the 57-74 years old now. I am an example as is my wife. Though we haven’t been through a full on deconstruction as per the definition above we have certainly ‘reviewed and reconsidered’ some of our beliefs and definitely some of our practices. Now panic not my friends, but that is the truth. In my case I have come out the other end more convinced in the gospel story and the power to save for all those who call on the name of Jesus. I am a evangelical through and through. However, I am less black and white and a bit more grey. I am still orthodox as far as the fundamentals of our faith are concerned but troubled by the reformed somewhat law based posturing of some of my tribe. I do have some concerns to be honest about how we are doing church these days but resolute about the gathering (ecclesia) of God’s people.
We can be a guide as these folks ‘reconstruct their faith’ and how they chose to express it.
I have many friends who are my age and can attest to a similar journey. Some have come through stronger and more devoted followers of Christ. Others not so much and are still wrestling with a bunch of issues. A few have returned to their roots, namely Pentecostal and charismatic believers returning to their childhood faith communities including Catholic. Others have become ‘Dones’. A Done is a Christ follower who is done with the institutional church but definitely not done with Jesus. For a ‘Done’ the deconstruction has been more about practices and traditions rather than beliefs. And most sad of all a few of my friends have walked away from faith altogether.
Asking questions is nothing new. That has been around since Methuselah was a boy. Asking questions is a good thing. We have been given a brain that we are allowed to use. Asking questions is not a lack of faith per se. If faith deconstruction is asking deep and searching questions then in my opinion every pastor should welcome that and never close it down or make a rash judgement about the person asking those questions. In fact, how we respond as pastors and church leaders will have a major influence on the outcome for the ‘deconstructing’ believer. We can be a guide as these folks deconstruct and then hopefully reconstruct their faith and how they chose to express it.
Pastor. Every Sunday there are probably more people sitting in front of you that are going through some kind of a deconstruction journey then you may realise. It will be personal, it will be private and it will be a unique journey. As leaders we are called to be companions on the faith journey our brothers and our sisters are on irrespective of their age or stage in life.
Next Week, David Collins will write a second blog on this subject sharing his own experience as a former Pentecostal Pastor and some valuable insights he has learned along the way.
Alan Vink is currently the Executive Director for LeadershipWorx. Prior to this role he has been the Executive Director of Willow Creek Association NZ (WillowNZ), a Baptist pastor (23 years), Bible College teacher, and church consultant.