Those who fear deconstruction. Or really any scrutiny.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 August

I wrote about deconstruction last month; it’s the practice of taking apart one’s beliefs so as to understand them better. It’s something Christians oughta do all the time… though it feels to me like most of us only ever do it when we’re in the middle of a faith crisis.

More than likely that’s the reason for the pushback I’ve received about that article. I keep hearing from people who insist I should never, ever, EVER encourage Christians to dabble in deconstruction. EVER.

You’d think I told them to read the Harry Potter novels. What’s with the freakouts? Why are so many Christians terrified of deconstruction? Why do so many of you worry Christianity can’t hold up to serious scrutiny? Do you think deep down it’s a house of cards? Do you believe deep down it might not be true?—that the bible’s fiction, the apostles were liars, Jesus never existed, every miracle you’ve ever seen was self-delusion, every conversation you’ve had with God was just you and your mental sock puppet? Have you been faking your faith in God all along?

’Cause I’m pretty sure that’s at the core of all the worries over deconstruction: Y’all are only playing at Christianity, because you find the playacting to be convenient. But deep down, you’re already fully aware you’ve got it wrong, or are doing it wrong. You don’t wanna expose to yourself your beliefs are all hypocrisy; it’d mean you have to follow Jesus for real, and you’d much rather play ignorant on Judgment Day. The ignorance defense oughta work, right? “But Lord, I had no idea I got it wrong! But you do grace, right?”

Matthew 7.22-23 Message
22 “I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ 23 And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ ”

Jesus absolutely does grace—for those who are making an effort, not dodging reality. For those who take him seriously, not those who don’t, and hope to be saved anyway. For those who truly don’t know any better, not those who feign ignorance, and fear deconstruction because it’ll expose their dark deeds and ideas to the light.

Christianity, and Christ Jesus especially, can easily withstand scrutiny, and hold up to analysis. Individual Christians, wayward churches, problematic theologies, and popular teachings, not so much—if at all. They have everything to fear from deconstruction. God doesn’t… and a lot of times he’s the one prompting Christians to doubt some of the foolishness we’ve been taught, and replace it with wisdom. Which we really should’ve been doing all along.

The fear of apostasy.

Maybe you’ve known some kids whom you thought were good Christians… but then they went to college and came back pagan. Worse, atheists. Worse, hardcore antichrists, who only wanna argue with Christians and debunk our beliefs and ruin major holidays. Maybe you’re related to one or two. Yeah, they’re super annoying.

So they’re what you think of whenever someone brings up deconstruction: That’s what somebody did to them. Got ’em to question their faith, take it apart for analysis, conclude it’s worth throwing out, so they quit Jesus and now they’re going to hell. And when I brought up deconstruction, I’m just setting them along that very same path. It’s like someone who has a weed or two in the front lawn, and decides the solution isn’t a spritz or two of Weed-B-Gone, but to salt the earth so nothing ever grows there again.

Okay yes; I’ve known people who abandoned Christianity in college. Watched ’em do it. Watched ’em do it in a bible college, of all places; parents must’ve figured those were the safest places ever to send their kids, and instead they come home apostate. “What the… What kind of evil school did I send you to?”

But I guarantee you it’s not the school. Those kids were planning to ditch Jesus as soon as they were out of their parents’ house. Made no difference which school they attended. Made no difference whether their professors mocked Jesus in every classroom, or begged and pleaded for them to stay within the faith: They have freewill, made up their own minds, and chose to leave. Sometimes for what sound like valid, thoughtful reasons; sometimes for no reason whatsoever. The Prodigal Son never said why he was leaving home. (It’s probably the whores, but still.)

I know tons of Christians who deconstructed their faith; sometimes to small degrees, sometimes to great big ones. They’re still totally Christian. The few who quit Jesus: They were already quitting Jesus. Whenever I ask ’em about their deconstruction process—“So you had these questions about the faith; what’d you find out?”—four times out of five they found one answer they didn’t like, and it became the excuse they used for quitting. They didn’t find the other 20 valid answers which professional theologians and philosophers teach in their classes; they didn’t look. This wasn’t a real deconstruction. They did as much homework as an antivaxxer who watched half of a 40-minute YouTube video and thinks she’s now a virology expert… instead of yet another person who only wanted to confirm her biases, and thinks she sufficiently has.

Real deconstruction takes time, as anyone will tell you. And sometimes a fair amount of struggle, ’cause some of those false beliefs we have to give up are often beloved beliefs. Or we wrongly think giving up that one belief, pulls a ripcord which sets loose all the other ones… and y’know, maybe it will. Maybe there’s a lot to renovate. Maybe just a little. God knows; and he’ll be with us throughout, and we need to keep trusting him. Those who bail on him easily, never did trust him.

The fear of liberalism.

I mentioned tons of Christians who deconstructed their faith and are still totally Christian. Now when I say “tons,” I don’t mean “Well honestly five or six, but they’re Americans and you know how fat we get.” I really do mean so many I’ve lost count.

Everybody goes through a faith crisis at some point in our lives, and most of us are gonna deconstruct a few ideas. These would be the people who say, “I used to believe in [BELIEF] but now I believe in [WHOLE DIFFERENT BELIEF],” and no they didn’t change their mind easily, or switch churches and take their pastors’ word for it: They really did think it through, look stuff up, pray, come to conclusions, and change. There are lots of us. You probably know tons.

Here’s the interesting thing though: With rare exception, most of the Christians who analyzed a belief then changed it, usually swapped it for a more accepting, more expansive, more gracious belief.

  • They feared their church was the only true Christians left; now they realize God has lots of sheep.
  • They used to think God only wants to save some; now they realize he wants to save all.
  • They imagined God micromanages the universe; now they realize he built a self-sustaining creation.
  • They used to be sexist; now they’re not.

And so on. They used to think Christianity was tight and narrow—after all, didn’t Jesus say the gate to heaven is? But now they realize a lot more people are getting through that narrow door than they thought.

For those Christians who still hold to the old swapped-out belief, these deconstructionist Christians have “gone liberal.” What’s wrong with the old belief?—it’s perfectly good! They still believe it! Firmly believe it, in a lot of cases; they worry it’s a foundational block in their Jenga towers of faith, and anyone who pulls it will ruin Christianity, if not humanity. Some sexists, fr’instance, insist gender roles must conform to the standards of Leave It to Beaver or it’ll be the ruin of America. And if you disagree, the devil’s got ahold of you, and has tricked you into helping it ruin America.

For these folks, deconstruction turns you liberal. Sometimes theologically liberal, sometimes politically liberal, sometimes both. Which to them is often the same as apostasy, because they insist “real Christians” don’t think that way. Real Christians think like them—or whatever baseline they’ve chosen; don’t you dare be “too conservative” either.

I said there are rare exceptions where Christians get more conservative. I know there are Christians who insist, “It’s not rare; I got more conservative.” Well you might have, but that wasn’t a product of deconstruction: That was because we used to believe nothing, and now we believe something. Christian newbies regularly get more conservative as they ditch our old lifestyles to follow Jesus, and realize “Oh wait; I can’t do that anymore, ’cause it’s sin.” It’s a necessary conservatism, and hopefully it develops self-control instead of legalism.

But newbies also tend to get roped into political conservatism. And corrupt politicians regularly try to convince us it’s all one and the same. “You’re against sin, right? So are we! We’re on the same side! You gotta vote for our guys”—and try to take our votes captive and hold them forever. But plenty of political views are immoral and idolatrous, and constantly become the sort of views which the Holy Spirit needs to purge from us. They’re about seizing power instead of surrendering it. They’re about establishing earthly kingdoms instead of God’s kingdom.

They gotta go—but if you dare reject them, or dare criticize them, suddenly you’ve “gone liberal.” And those who embrace the confounding of their Christian views with their political ones, who don’t realize they’ve become idolaters, are naturally gonna reject those of us who realize Jesus comes before our politics. To them it’s political heresy—and since they can’t tell the difference between religion and politics, it’s just heresy.

Yeah, I’ve known certain Christians who deconstructed their way into actual heresy. People who think everything can be eliminated, including everything the ancient Christians firmly settled; that we only need to follow Jesus and nothing else. Happens all the time with Christians who don’t know the Holy Spirit, so of course they’re not listening when he tells them, “Whoa there; you’ve gone too far” and they’re not gonna heed his other followers either. They’re gonna make such a mess of their faith, apostasy’s gonna sound like a really tempting idea: “This makes no sense. What’re these other guys doing?…” and next thing you know they’re Buddhist. That scenario sounds to me like the worst case of a deconstructionist going liberal, and I’ve seen it happen too. Not often, but yeah it happens.

But to many a Christian conservative, that’s not the worst case: To their minds, the worst case is them joining another political party. Liberal theology doesn’t bug ’em anywhere near as much as liberal politics. Politics is too often all they’re worried about. Not faith, not salvation, not relationships with Jesus, not orthodoxy, not good behavior, not the gospel; voting. Just shows how far gone they are.

The Holy Spirit is vital to the deconstruction process, and if you undertake it without him, you’re guaranteed to go wrong. So don’t. We gotta trust him! And if he takes us in “liberal” directions… well don’t worry about that. They’re not a sign we’ve gone wrong; heresy and fruitlessness is. So’s fear.