I am meeting more and more people who feel like spiritual orphans. They grew up in a church, they went off to college, started a career, maybe have kids or maybe don’t and now don’t see how the faith they grew up with connects to the world we live in. They question what they grew up believing. Every person’s story is unique, but broadly this phenomenon is called deconstruction of faith.
I’m fascinated by it. People who had significant and life impacting experiences as people of faith now walking away completely or at least completely rejecting affiliation with a local church. In talking with people, I have found deconversion is usually a process. It's not overnight, people don’t wake up and decide, "I don't think I believe that anymore." Rather, there's an event that triggers the change and then over time intentionally or simply by neglect faith is deconstructed, lost, or rejected. Typically, the trigger event is negative, but interestingly enough the same is true for conversion stories. That could be another whole topic (what makes the difference?).
Here is my current observation: Some people’s faith is found or deepened in tragedy, but some people walk away and reject faith.
There is a lot of deconstruction going on in our culture, great! Ask away, blow away the junk and get to what is real. However, my observation in talking with friends and many others is that there is not a lot of faith re-construction going on. I want to be part of that as well.
Here are three quick observations on how to intentionally approach deconstruction and re-construction of faith:
1) It matters who you deconstruct with.
You and I are shaped far more by the environment we place ourselves in than our highly individualistic western culture acknowledges. Thus, if our deconstruction of faith is with a bunch of people with the same political views, past hurt, and of the same age, race or gender then our deconstruction of faith is a self-fulfilling prophecy of becoming what was pre-decided. I say this bluntly because I have seen it in myself. I recommend asking hard questions with an open mind of people who think differently than you. Ask a respected family friend, set up coffee with a local pastor, get together with an older couple, and instead of just assuming how others will respond, go ahead and ask them.
2) It matters how you view the bible.
If you view the bible as the source of the problem of faith then quite clearly the self-determined path chosen is one of rejecting the bible. Instead, what if one way to view the bible was to see it as an historically accurate portrayal of Jesus that people have abused to their own ends? I find personally re-reading the bible and especially the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) causes me to wish more Christians today would actually take seriously the Jesus they claim to follow. Jesus isn’t republican, democrat, independent or even American!! His values for women, the marginalized, the powerless, children and shared power that avoids abuse is a radically different ethic than many today claim. Deconstruction of faith has a strong ally in the bible itself that will also then give deep and richer roots to a re-construction of faith.
3) Jesus should be taken seriously.
Jesus was killed. The gospel’s claim he came back to life and was seen by hundreds of people in what sparked a massive explosion of people committed to a life following in the footsteps of Jesus. We call that movement, Christianity. Jesus’s resurrection is the central event with implications today. If deconstruction of faith is a serious task, then take cues from Jesus who had the harshest words for the religious leaders of his day. His end goal wasn’t to abolish any sort of faith or confidence in God, but to redeem pure faith from a religious system that had complicated faith. Sadly, I think a lot of spiritual orphans, those who don’t feel at home in their local churches, do take Jesus seriously and are frustrated at a system that doesn’t seem to. Take heart, I see promising cultural change here and believe we will see more and more churches who take Jesus seriously in cities around the western world where this phenomenon is most acute.
I may be crazy, but I find myself encouraged by challenging conversations about faith. Deconstruction of faith often means looking at faith that is disconnected from reality and rejecting it. Amen! I am in! Now, to borrow a phrase from my grandparents, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s get back to a bible that communicates the history of God who loves, is radically merciful and that ultimately is centered on Jesus’s actions in the middle east to transform our world through men and women who love in ways the world has never seen.
Q. Who do you need to set up coffee with to ask questions about your faith you haven’t vocalized but feel deeply?
Q. In what areas does faith seem disconnected from your daily life? Why? Who can you talk with to help you deconstruct what you have added to a pure, Jesus centered faith?