So it’s just what people are calling apostasy these days?”
My friend was trying to understand Christianity Today’s articles on people “deconstructing” their faith. I admitted that yes, it’s often apostasy. For example, when former pastor Joshua Harris announced on Instagram, “I am not a Christian,” he added, “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’”
Others using the word, I told my friend, remain Christian but are disturbed by discovering how institutional conditioning and cultural assumptions have shaped many of their beliefs. Once you see how insidious and pervasive racism, sexism, and consumerism can be, Paul’s command to test all things (1 Thess. 5:21) takes on special urgency.
“Right,” my friend said. “ ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Rom. 12:2). That’s not deconstructing faith. That’s Christian faith. Or just call it ‘changing your mind.’”
As an editor, I assured him I usually prefer precise words to ambiguous ones like deconstruction. But at CT, I’m surrounded by good words that require constant clarification and differentiation, evangelical chief among them. In fact, frustration with the increasing ambiguity of evangelical is a common starting point for many who now describe themselves as deconstructing.
In this month’s cover story, theologian Kirsten Sanders offers a helpful definition of deconstruction: “the struggle to correct or deepen naive belief.” Even more helpfully, she rightly sees that struggle as akin to our theological work of knowing and loving God more deeply.
For my friends who identify as actively deconstructing, that struggle sometimes looks like questioning. Sometimes it’s more like fatigued despair or anger. But that’s how the great restorationist movements that have reformed churches and societies looked, too. Puritans, Hussites, Anabaptists, Moravians, Methodists, and even those hard-to-define evangelicals came together because they were horrified by sin, idolatries, and passive cultural Christianity. Yes, deconstruction must eventually give way to reformation. You can’t correct or deepen simply by staying angry at sin.
But you can’t rush the struggle, either. We won’t correct or deepen anything if we agree that the right biblical phrase is “falling away.” Instead, it’s the “You deceived me” of Jeremiah, the “How long” of the psalmist, the “They have taken my Lord away” of Mary at the tomb, and the “We had hoped” on the road to Emmaus.
Ted Olsen is executive editor of Christianity Today.
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