12.23.21 | by Kelly Wolfe
In the last few years, a term has become widely used to describe the process of examining what one has been taught, evaluating it against various interpretations of the scripture and theologies, tearing down what has proven to be untrue or incomplete, and rebuilding a faith that aligns with one’s convictions, biblical understanding, experience, modern understandings of science, anatomy, philosophy, economics, and goodness. That term is the process of “deconstruction and reconstruction”. Occurring widely in the west throughout evangelical, reformed, conservative, and even progressive spaces, Christians from Gen Z to baby boomers have found themselves — often without looking or asking for it — knee deep in the deconstruction of the ways they’d always been told God operates, the people God accepts, the ideas of “fact” vs. “truth” in terms of science & history & the Bible, and the ethics of things like sexuality, finances/ economic principles like capitalism and fair-trade, the Eucharist, gate-keeping (who’s in and who’s out of God’s Kingdom and God’s love), and more.
I myself have been through two separate seasons of intense deconstruction and reconstruction of my faith. I prefer the term “evolutions of faith” to describe my experience but it was nonetheless the same process as described above. There were times I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it to the reconstruction portion — or that I wanted to. I didn’t know what was true about a lot of things, I didn’t know who to listen to or trust, who’s interpretations were most trustworthy or accurate, or even what God was really like.
This process - on the deconstruction side - brings with it a host of other side effects like doubt, apathy, depression (spiritual and physical/mental), anxiety (spiritual and physical/mental), confusion, loss of community, friendships, and even family, and a feeling of being tossed by the waves. Reconstruction, however, — when we begin to find our footing, recover new or more complete convictions, start to find & form a new community among those who land where we are landing, and discover that Jesus was our anchor all along — is a truly life-giving, free, joyous process … at least it often culminates there.
There are no end to the articles and blogs and think pieces by evangelical pastors, aggregate sites, and coalitions that discourage and denounce deconstruction, and those in the process of it, as weakness, losing of faith, falling away, or leaving behind “biblical truth” for more liberal or permissive traditions. Their fear is exposed in every piece, every misunderstanding of the process and those in it. Fear of liberal drift, fear of losing members (and contributors), fear of corrupting those in their ranks who might never have known this was something we can do to embark on the process. They claim people deconstruct because they no longer believe the Bible or want permission to live in ways “the Bible teaches” (in their interpretation) is sinful.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. The overwhelming number of people who have found themselves in the place of deconstructing “the house they were raised in” are there because they believe in the teachings of Jesus so much that they can’t stomach those teachings being used as weapons to keep people out, declare others unclean, or for the acquisition of power and fame. We watched people who taught us to turn the other cheek and give generously and love our neighbors begin to engage in partisanship, oppression and denigration of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ folks, women, the poor, immigrants, and others, and valuing power at all costs — even the cost of human life, dignity, health, safety, and belonging. People and places who once felt sacred, safe, and trustworthy to us became a den of thieves and hotbeds of abuse of various kinds. The cognizant dissonance of that compared with the teachings of Jesus often leads to two things: either a walking away entirely from Christianity or at least from church, or a meticulous examination and demolition and overhaul of what we believe to be true about God, the church, the Bible, our neighbors, our money, ourselves, and our role in the world.
I want to contend here for a much more encouraging approach to those who have, do now, or will one day find themselves in this deconstruction and reconstruction of their faith. In Genesis 13, God tells Abram (who has just left everything he knew to follow a God he just met and has found himself in a strange land … sound familiar?), “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever…. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
God is saying, “Look up. Look around you. This is not a tight space where you’re locked in and can’t move. This is broad and spacious and I want you to go explore. Explore the dimensions of what friendship with me looks like, what I have blessed you with, and what belongs to you now.” I say to you in the weeds of examining your faith and beliefs and practices, “Go explore the dimensions of what faith can look like. Wander a bit. Turn over every rock, play in every stream, rest under every tree if you want to. Play. Dance. Eat good food and drink from the well of living water given to you in Jesus. God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. You might just discover a long table with a feast prepared, made up of people of all kinds who have left what was familiar to find what is true, good, and beautiful. These are your people and this broad space is your inheritance. It’s yours and you’re safe here to do all this.”
If deconstruction and reconstruction find you one day, or have already commandeered your life, or if you’re here because you’re on the other side of it and Annunciation is your reconstruction, we want you to know how unimaginably loved you are. By God and by us. Jesus, our good shepherd, will not let you wander too far away. He knows each of us by name, we know his voice and will follow it. In fact, that is what you’re doing. Following the Good Shepherd, forsaking all others who have spoken in his name but whose voices you were not made to follow. We believe Jesus is the way to the Father - to God and life and freedom and ultimate joy and resurrection - but there are many paths to Jesus and on which you can be met by Jesus. Explore. Examine. Eat. By God’s love, you will endure. And you’ll know the lay of the land for the next weary sojourner who doesn’t know the expanse they find themselves in.
God's blessings of peace and perseverance to you in this season.