Joshua Harris, the hugely successful author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, shook the evangelical world a few weeks ago when he announced he was deconstructing and leaving the Christian faith.
Listening to the conversations regarding Harris (and others), I’ve realized that many people have misconceptions of what deconstruction actually is and how it fits into a life of faith.
I’d like to offer several observations.
1. Deconstructing is not the same as discarding or destroying our faith.
Joshua Harris’s statement in his infamous Instagram post defined his journey away from faith as “The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’” This is inaccurate. Falling away from faith is an entirely different matter from deconstructing it.
Deconstruction is the process of carefully taking apart our faith, piece by piece, and examining it.
During deconstruction, we pick up a piece and ask, “Does this align with God’s Word, with the life and character of Jesus, and with the witness of the Holy Spirit?” Many times we also will look at church history and traditions, although those things are secondary to what God has revealed through His Word and Spirit. Some pieces of our faith and tradition we keep, some we discard, and often we add some new ones, reconstructing or rebuilding as we go.
Going through a faith deconstruction is a purifying and incredibly painful process, but one that usually makes our faith stronger, not weaker. (Indeed, if Christianity is not able to withstand a careful scrutiny, is it something worth following?)
This does not mean that we are able to get to the place of understanding everything. God is a mystery; His ways immeasurable. We need space in our spirits to hold the mystery. But seeking to grow and understand what we can enables us to move forward while still accepting the parts that remain concealed from us.
2. People in the process of deconstructing aren’t necessarily closed to advice.
I hear this criticism often: that those re-examining their faith are just making Jesus into what they want Him to be, or that they hate church and the Bible. That Jesus is remade into a character of their choosing is definitely true at times, and I don’t like it either. At all. But from what I have experienced myself and also seen in others, during deconstruction people are often very open to advice and ideas. It just takes time to process everything and move past the inner resistance to living out what they know to be true.
I remember a dear Christian talking at length with Will and me through a crucial point in our lives. The things he said resonated deeply with me, but it was too much to take in at the time. I had so much pain and fear that needed to be healed first, so I stored the wisdom from him in my heart. At a later time I was able to follow his advice and incorporate it into my faith.
Initially I was not against him or resistant to his advice; I just needed time. I think this is a common theme among many who are undergoing a deep change.
3. Deconstruction doesn’t happen at the same pace for everyone who goes through it. This can be awkward and painful, especially in a marriage or close friendship. Sometimes big changes happen very fast; other times they happen with almost imperceptible slowness.
What seems crystal clear and feels absolutely necessary to one person may be frightening and even triggering to the spouse or friend. This is the prime time for us to show grace to each other and to trust God to do His work at the pace that He wants to. The variance doesn’t mean that some are more spiritual than others, just that God has unique ways of working according to what we need.
I don’t know if all Christians raised in a strong religious background go through a deconstruction of sorts. But when people have a faith crisis that makes them question their upbringing, they seem to have three options: a). ignore the evidence that wants to surface and blindly follow what has always been done, b). throw everything out and give up on faith, or c.) deconstruct by re-examining their faith and aligning it with what is true. In my opinion, deconstruction is the only option that does not produce hardness of heart. So let it happen.
In conclusion, if one of your loved ones is going through a faith crisis, stay near. Don’t make assumptions based on fear. They may not be able to attend a church group that spiritually abused them, but that does not mean they hate God’s church. Offer kindness and insight. But give them enough breathing room to struggle, to discover Jesus for themselves.
The Spirit and the Word are the very best teachers anyone could ask for.
Have you gone through a major shift in your faith at some point in your life? What helped you through it?