For most of us who grew up in a religious household, there is a time in our lives when we realize that the faith we were handed as kids isn't capable of handling the complexities, challenges, or disappointments in our lives. There's usually a catalytic event that causes this disillusionment.
Perhaps a family member or spiritual mentor has a huge moral failure. Or you leave your hometown, experience other cultures, and realize that they also have beautiful and vibrant ways of life. Or God doesn't show up for you in the middle of a difficult season. Or you head to college and are exposed to a lot of ideas that threaten the view of God, Bible, and the world you were taught.
Whatever the reason, when you face this crisis of faith, you have a few options on how to respond. (A) You can try to shrink your new experiences through the filter of your old worldview. (B) You can abandon your old faith model completely in light of what you've experienced. (C) You can try to expand your faith to accommodate the world you're experiencing while still clinging to the core of what you believe.
I think it's impossible to do the first option without doing serious harm to the relationships around you and without developing some modicum of delusion. The second option doesn't work well either because to completely abandon everything over a pretty specific something might actually do more harm than the thing that caused it. In my mind, the third option, though the hardest, is the path forward. This is the path of deconstruction.
The term deconstruction was originally used around the field of metaphysics, but the term quickly began to be used in the literary, philosophical, and religious worlds as well. It means to undo and affirm at the same time. Or in other words, to pull something apart in order to keep it functional.
Think of an engine that no longer works. The mechanic takes it apart, inspects what went wrong, makes adjustments, replaces parts, makes tweaks...etc...all with the intention of keeping the engine running.
Deconstruction is not the same thing as destruction or apostasy. In terms of our faith, we don't deconstruct in order to completely abandon it. We examine, question, reflect, and shift, in order to build a more resilient faith. G.K. Chesterton said it like this:
“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
The goal of deconstruction is to draw closer to God. To find the beliefs, prejudices, and practices that actually keep you from loving God and others and to move past them as you journey closer to being like the Christ.
In my two decades of being a Christian, I've gone through two major shifts in my faith. One came while at seminary (and not in the way you might expect.) One came while living overseas. I'm currently going through a third. I'll write about all three in a later post.
The next series of posts will look at different angles of deconstruction. We'll look at epistemology- how do we know anything? We'll look at Jesus as the Great Deconstructor. We'll look at how to deconstruct without self-destructing. And as I just mentioned, I'll share some of my own experiences working through the anger and hope of an evolving faith.
If you are currently in a season where you feel like what you believe about God isn't adding up with what you are experiencing in your life, I just want to encourage you- you are in good company. You are not alone. Jesus not only walks with us in our seasons of doubt and struggle, I think He is often the one pushing us to the questions in the first place.