What Causes "Deconstruction"?
Eva Humphries attended the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill where she earned her B.A. in Human and Organizational Leadership Development and a B.A. in Religious Studies. She has served as a writer and research intern for ATAP since 2022.
In February 2020, popular comedian duo, Rhett and Link uploaded videos discussing their spiritual deconstruction and breaking the news to the world that they no longer considered themselves Christians. This came as a shock to many as both Rhett and Link quit their jobs after college graduation to work with CRU, a well-known evangelical college campus ministry. For me, and many others, this was the first time I heard the word “deconstruction” within a Christian context.
Over the past few years, well-known Christians have made noise in the media by calling themselves “exvangelical.” Some of these include the former pastor and author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Joshua Harris, DC Talk’s Kevin Max, and Hawk Nelson’s John Steingard.
If you haven’t heard the term deconstruction within a Christian setting, you have likely seen it happening to your friends, family, people in your church, strangers, or even within yourself. What is spiritual deconstruction? Is it always a bad thing? What are the causes of deconstruction? What can you do and what can the church do to support Christians going through deconstruction?
The term “deconstruction” comes from a French Philosopher named Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) based on work he began writing in the 1960s. He is known to be an influential but heavily criticized philosopher. Derrida was fascinated with critical questioning that intended to expose the truth behind the traditions, institutions, and language within the world. Deconstruction is the idea that one can criticize and analyze the text using solely the text (Logocentrism). Derrida proclaimed that words cannot have a definite meaning and therefore we are unable to communicate absolute truth using language. You can learn more about Derrida and these ideas from this helpful resource. (Jacques Derrida Resource)
In a general sense, the use of the word deconstruction when talking about the Christian faith today is referring to the dissection of and often explaining away of particular beliefs. When this happens, individuals who would previously call themselves Christian recurrently become agnostic, atheist, or even resort to progressive Christianity.
What causes someone to begin deconstructing their faith?
From a combination of research, my own spiritual walk, and watching friends go through this very thing, I have determined four major themes that lead a person to begin this process: The authority of scripture, the presence of suffering in the world, the failures of the church, and the doctrine of “Eternal Conscious Torment”.
The Authority of Scripture
For Christians, the Bible is a tool that functions as God’s communication with us and with the world. The words contained in it are from God and are designed to convey truth. I would argue understanding the truth of scripture takes time, energy, and dedication. An article from The Gospel Coalition highlights a quote from Paul Feinberg on the inerrancy of scripture, “When all the facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.” (TGC Article)
For some, the idea that God used mankind to write His words down to communicate with us begins to feel insecure. How on earth could humans possibly write unbiased instructions from God and accurately record events and conversations that took place? As much as we believe the Spirit of God is with us as we read to understand scripture, we know the Holy Spirit was with each person God used to record scripture.
Others may believe in the inerrancy of the original Greek and Hebrew text but express difficulty having confidence in the number of translations it took to have the scripture in their language. Many professors will call attention to some mistranslations that do not change what the original scripture is communicating. Overall, doubt in the inerrancy of scripture without the personal desire and commitment to understand how the scriptures have been given and support from friends, pastors, or the church community will lead to a deconstruction of faith.
The Presence of Suffering and Evil
Out of all people I have spoken with who are having or have had a questioning of faith, I would dare to say 100% have expressed being unsettled with the suffering that exists in the world. Around 90% are confused by God’s role in it all. The famous question “How could an omnipotent, good God allow such evil to persist in the world?” easily drives a person of faith to have doubts. Indubitably, this is a very important question that should be taken seriously. Thoughts on this question become increasingly difficult as a person experiences personal suffering.
While I do not want to use this article to give a defense for this question, it is important to consider the nature of free will, the role of human beings, and the purpose of suffering. Thinking about suffering and dealing with suffering is extremely difficult. I believe out of all four pathways; it is the main reason someone would begin to deconstruct their faith.
The Failures of the Church
“I don’t go to church because of the hypocrisy I see in the church.” I have heard some variations of this sentence time and time again from a diverse array of different people. We know our sinful human nature doesn’t allow us to be completely perfect without sin. However, I do think it is important for the Church and Christians to understand how powerful their actions, words, and thoughts are in influencing even a stranger's faith journey.
Many times, I have listened to people express disapproval of Christian leaders. While the same forgiveness and grace are extended to church leaders as anyone else, leaders are called to a higher standard. 1 Timothy 3:1-10 lays out expectations for those who choose to lead. While I believe it is crucial for Christians to be open and vulnerable about their struggles, we also need to hold ourselves and others accountable. When we are aware of our sin and make no effort to stop sin from reigning over us (Romans 6:12-14), we fail to be witnesses to the world of the transformation Christ offers us. If our lives look no different, why would anyone be interested in the Christian faith much less stay in the faith?
The Doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment
The concept of eternal torment is not easy to wrap our brains around. If God is gracious and forgiving, how can He also be just? Hell is a real place where souls who do not truly believe in Jesus Christ go to endure eternal punishment. The Bible talks about hell in this way and it has been the church’s position for over 2000 years. Mercy and Justice are not qualities that easily go together in the way we understand them, yet God is fully both.
God showed His mercy to the fullest degree when He sent Jesus to die on the cross for us and forever take the sins of the world so that He could offer redemption to all who desire to trust in Him. God’s wrath was completely satisfied when Jesus died on the cross. We have the gracious free gift of salvation, but the just decision to take it or reject it determines where we spend eternity. The paradoxes of God are not easy to grasp, but I believe the scriptures allow us a better understanding. I recommend checking out this resource on mercy and justice characteristic of God and this resource on eternal torment.
So, what should the church do? And what can you do? I believe simply being aware of these issues and supporting and loving people who are deconstructing is crucial. Expressing interest in their questions and being dedicated to helping them search for answers. Recently, I have heard people use the term disentanglement to describe the picking apart false ideas of Christianity from the truth of scripture. Personally, I prefer this term as deconstruction often communicates a turning away from faith without a search for the truth.
Every year, Rhett and Link give an update on their faith journeys. A few weeks ago, three years after the release of his original statement, Rhett said, “Although I am definitely still not a Christian, I am a person of faith and I’m figuring out what that faith looks like.” While this statement is confusing to me, I do admire Rhett for being someone who is pursuing understanding and answers.
I challenge you to look for and be aware of these major themes and ideas that lead people to question their faith; 1 – The Authority of Scripture, 2 – Suffering in the world, 3 – Failings of the Church, and 4 – Eternal Torment. Doubts shouldn’t be scary and can untimely lead us to a greater understanding of the faith and a deeper relationship with Jesus. We need a community to surround us and support us when doubts arise.
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