Question: "What is deconstruction? What does it mean when people say they are deconstructing their faith?"
Answer: “Deconstruction” is the heading most recently applied to the process of questioning, doubting, and ultimately rejecting aspects of Christian faith. This is an application of deconstructionism, an approach that claims to disassemble beliefs or ideas while assuming their meanings are inherently subjective. Both the trend and its title reflect backlash against the unfortunate habit within some religious circles to downplay deep questions and ignore those who hold them. To openly investigate the nuances of belief, even changing one’s convictions, is a biblical concept. In practice, though, “deconstruction” almost always acts as a polite cover for “demolition.” Modern “deconstruction” usually means replacing uncomfortable tenets with culturally or personally popular ideas.
A fundamental belief in biblical Christianity is that of man’s limited understanding compared to God’s unlimited understanding. Scripture often draws this contrast explicitly (Isaiah 55:8–9; Job 38:1–4; John 6:45–46). Scripture also teaches this truth indirectly, noting how sincere Christians often come to different conclusions (Romans 14:1–5; 1 Corinthians 10:28–32). The Bible says we can be stubborn and interpret His will wrongly (John 5:39–40). This does not mean everything is subject to opinion (1 Corinthians 3:10–14; 15:3–8); rather, it means everything should be open to sincere questions (Matthew 7:7–8). Deconstruction claims to explore such issues, though its ultimate motivation is often not to understand, but to undermine.
Scripture commands each person to scrutinize his or her faith. This includes fact-checking (Acts 17:11), thoughtful preparation (1 Peter 3:15), reasonable skepticism (1 John 4:1), cooperation with others (Proverbs 27:17), multiple perspectives (Proverbs 15:22), and an appreciation for all God has shown in His creation (Romans 1:18–20; Psalm 19:1). Scripture often depicts people crying out with doubtful complaints and frustrations (Psalm 73:2–3; Habakkuk 1:2–4). Those who examine what they believe and why they believe it, assessing those views for truth, are following a biblical mandate (2 Corinthians 13:5). Yet this is not what the modern deconstruction movement does.
Too often, churches and church members act like social clubs, while failing to wrestle with difficult questions about faith. Believing we have established every answer beyond all doubt reflects a natural desire for control. That impulse is not biblical. In fact, it’s what led groups like the Pharisees to claim they could define “honoring the Sabbath” down to how many steps a man could take. Refusal to accept some level of trust in the face of uncertainty is more than a form of legalism (Mark 7:8–9); it’s antithetical to the very concept of faith (Mark 9:24; Hebrews 12:1).
Rather than allowing room for sincere doubt and questions, some Christian communities reject anything more than superficial curiosity. That may extend to carelessly labelling those with doubts as unbelievers or troublemakers. This lends weight to those who falsely claim that valid answers are only found outside the church. Faith communities may obsess over teachings that are secondary or even superficial. They may cement cultural and political preferences into their view of Christianity. Those errors also feed the false narrative driving much of the modern deconstruction movement.
Some deconstruct in response to deeply personal pain. Those who have been neglected, rejected, or even abused within a church context struggle to separate unbiblical traumas from legitimate teachings of Scripture. Failures and betrayals from Christian leaders create heartache and embarrassment. Pain felt by those we love becomes pain in our own lives. Some respond to these struggles by jettisoning doctrines or beliefs; this is partly an attempt to distance themselves from the stigma of another person’s actions.
Such failures of the modern church can and should be corrected. However, what is now called “deconstruction” reflects long-established and innate principles. There will always be those whose connection to faith is superficial (Matthew 7:21). Others have understanding fragile enough to fail under strain (Hebrews 3:12). Jesus’ parable of the sower includes two groups who demonstrate a response to truth, only to be overcome by worldly pressure or persecution (Matthew 13:20–22). Paul knew people often succumb to attractive lies (2 Timothy 4:3–4). Paul witnessed close friends yielding to popular trends (2 Timothy 4:10). Even Christ saw people walk away because they did not want to accept His message (John 6:65–66).
To say, “Deconstruction means choosing easier beliefs” is an oversimplification. And yet deconstruction almost always means adopting views palatable to the unbelieving world. All too conveniently, it means moving away from positions on sexuality, gender, salvation, sin, hell, and other issues not embraced by popular culture. The vast majority who claim to be deconstructing move with the flow of their surrounding culture, not against it. This movement demands “safe space” to ask difficult questions. Yet, ironically, modern deconstruction often settles for easy, comfortable answers. Or it simply chooses which aspects of faith to retain based on personal preference.
While deconstruction implies openness in theory, it most often manifests as an “escape clause” when it comes time to justify one’s new or “progressing” views. Ironically, those who reject Christian culture for not engaging questions can themselves be deeply evasive when asked to do that very thing. It’s easy to ask hard questions. Complex mysteries can be posed in just a few words. Answering those questions, however, takes time and effort. Simply listing complications or nitpicking is not the same as sincerely assessing ideas. Identifying oneself as “in deconstruction” can become an easy excuse for never taking a position but merely rejecting something one dislikes.
There’s a natural tendency to feel “smart” or superior when pointing out the flaws in someone else’s views. When one forgets that the questioning process is meant to go both ways, it can feel like an attack. When challenged to explain their views, deconstructors often complain they are “not being allowed a safe space” to pose questions. As noted, there absolutely are circumstances where Christian communities unreasonably slam the door on doubters. Yet merely being asked, “Why do you think that’s true?” or “What makes that a better option?” is a part of any sincere line of questioning.
Three counterexamples provide guidelines on how Christians can respond to sharp questions or doubts about faith. These are Nicodemus, Thomas, and the early church. Nicodemus came to ask Jesus about faith (John 3:1–2), and Jesus gave Him answers. These answers were honest, even if not entirely what Nicodemus might have wanted to hear (John 3:3–15). They were certainly not the answers Nicodemus’ culture would have preferred. Jesus’ responses often challenged the assumptions of those who sought Him out (John 4:22–24; Luke 18:22–23).
When Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus took the gracious step of providing more attention, time, and evidence than anyone reasonably needed (John 20:24–28). Believers should sympathize with those struggling under doubts and be ready to go that extra mile when they can (Matthew 5:41–42). Jesus didn’t merely applaud Thomas for being skeptical; He graciously dealt with the skepticism.
While being respectful of doubters, the church needs to hold its ground on principles that are truly clear or fundamental to faith. That means insisting on truths even if they are controversial to the world at large. The book of Acts records the early church making reasonable concessions to Jewish believers. The church did not compromise cornerstone teachings in the face of intense pressure to do just that (Acts 15). While accepting the need to consider culture when communicating (1 Corinthians 9:20–23), those early believers also refused to accept false teaching for the sake of popularity (Acts 5:29).
Christians need to lovingly engage questions from seekers and doubters. That might mean simply admitting “I don’t know” and offering to look for an answer together. Not all challenges to faith come from a point of antagonism. Some come in the form of curiosity. Some come in the form of skepticism. Some come with intense personal pain and complicated histories. For those reasons, believers should provide “safe space” for others to express concerns and doubts (Romans 12:18; 14:13). Those who “fall away,” even when lovingly treated, don’t reflect a weakness in the truth of Christianity (1 John 1:15–19). No one should replace sincere seeking with the attitudes connected to the modern deconstruction movement.