What’s Behind the Deconstruction Movement?

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January 19, 2022

Recently I came across the following headline in the Christian Post, “Joshua Harris offers deconstruction class on Christianity for $275”. If you know the name Joshua Harris, you will easily recognize why this headline was so compelling. For those of us who were Christian teens during the ’90s, we will likely remember that Harris was one of the most popular names in the church at that time. This notoriety was mainly due to his wildly successful book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

The book was a clarion call to a generation to live their lives in sexual purity and abstinence. Many credit him for launching what became known as the “purity movement.” I can’t overstate the broad-reaching impact that Josh’s ideas had on me and my peers. I remember female friends who purchased “purity rings” and made public vows to remain virgins until marriage. At that same time, so many of the young men who were my friends decided to adopt Harris’s message, which condemned dating and instead encouraged a more extended, parentally-supervised approach called courtship.

Josh became a rising star within the Evangelical church. He was a headliner at conferences, a frequent guest speaker at churches throughout the country, and, for many parents and youth pastors, a moral role model they propped up for their kids to follow. Josh would go on to pastor a large and influential church.

Suppose you were aware of Josh’s meteoric ascent during the late ’90s and early 2000s. In that case, you could have never predicted that today he would be more prominently known for denying the faith he once professed in Christ and disavowing everything he wrote in his best-selling book. Sadly, after experiencing a deeply divisive scandal at his church and an unfortunate divorce from his wife, Josh expressed a loss of faith. His journey away from Christianity would ultimately culminate in becoming a secular humanist chaplain on a public university campus and an influential voice in what is known as the “Deconstructing Faith Movement.”

Photo by Ben Allan on Unsplash

Deconstruction, in its modern form, has gained more prominence over the past decade. There are now popular podcasts, numerous books, and a plethora of articles fully dedicated to telling the stories of those who have deconstructed their Christian faith and embraced agnosticism. In his article, “The Age of Deconstruction and the Future of the Church,” Kurtis Vanderpool describes deconstruction as “the practice of revisiting and rethinking long-held beliefs…” This practice often leads to a dismantling of one’s faith by casting doubt on one central tenant of orthodoxy after another until the core of a person’s faith has been hollowed.

The famous deconstructionist Richard Rohr once described the journey of faith as having three stages:

1️⃣ Construction: the building of one’s faith

2️⃣ Deconstruction: the challenging of one’s faith

3️⃣ Reconstruction: the building of a new set of beliefs and worldview

The popularity of the writings of deconstructionists like Richard Rohr, podcasts like The Liturgists, and stories like Joshua Harris’s confirm what sociologists have been telling us for years: many are choosing to opt out of the faith and leave the church.

However, I think there is a bigger story behind the headline. The real question we must ask of the deconstruction movement is, what exactly are people deconstructing?

I believe what we are seeing is not so much a rejection of Jesus or the Biblical Gospel. Instead, it is a rejection of the form of church that many GenXers and Millennials have experienced. While the ’90s gave us an unprecedented number of mega-churches, they also promoted a shallow, hyper-individualized faith culture that catered more to felt needs than to deep discipleship and spiritual formation. This produced a generation unprepared for the traumas of war, global terrorism, 24-hour news cycles, the harsh realities of social media, economic recession, mass shootings, and a sexual revolution.

Many deconstructionists discuss the perceived insufficiency of Biblical theology against this steady stream of horrors flooding their newsfeeds each day. Why?

Because the Western church has failed to wade into such deep waters, preferring a shallow, more palatable version of “the gospel” that robs evangelicals of Scripture’s true exposition of the pain, injustice, and death in this sin-saturated world. When sermons about love, acceptance, and blessing equate to greater attendance and fewer critiques, why kill the mood (and the tithe) with a downer like enslavement to sin or the promise of suffering? The effect of decades of such a mentality among church leadership has come to bear as deconstructionists poke holes not in the Biblical Gospel, but in the latter teaching described by Paul in his solemn warning to Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 4:1–4

Furthermore, advances in technology, often too quickly embraced by well-meaning churches, brought about a tidal wave of loneliness and isolation. This has contributed to a dramatic exodus of my generation — GenX — and many Millennials from the church, as they have become cynical and disenchanted with the “consumer Christianity” they’ve been fed. It is no mystery that, increasingly, younger Christians reject the cult of celebrity, which plagues evangelicalism. Rather, they are in search of faithful shepherds.

Studies on the attitudes of GenZ, such as Kara Powell’s “Growing Young” or David Kinnaman’s “GenZ Report,” affirm that young adults are thirsty for intimacy and community as they seek to answer the big questions of identity, belonging, and purpose. When this generation comes to church only to find a lack of theological depth, anemic social engagement, and no evidence of genuine spiritual community beyond the Sunday gathering, they often opt out of the Church altogether.

Thus, in an ironic twist, the deconstruction movement may ultimately prove to be one of the most powerful tools our Sovereign Lord uses to rebuke and reform His church. It can be used to help us return to a true fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ who worship God, carry one another’s burdens, and share the good news of Jesus to our neighbors, together. This is the cure to what ails the souls of those who have turned to deconstruction for hope.

I am encouraged by the many stories of those who’ve encountered humble communities of believers who love and sincerely seek to live out God’s Word and have come home to the faith — stories like that of author Michelle Van Loon who transparently shares about coming back to faith after her own season of doubt and disillusionment. Michelle states,

In my own struggle with the church, the thoughtful, mature fellowship of a few good friends and a couple of church leaders have collectively helped me step back from the exit and stay connected to the body.”*

I would highly recommend you read Michelle’s article, which details meaningful suggestions on the steps we can take to reach those who have walked away from the church due to disappointment and disbelief.

In addition, my challenge for you this week is to mine the pages of 1 & 2 Corinthians for an understanding of the ways the Enemy uses the weapons of cultural influence, internal conflict, false teachers, poor worship practices, and theological division within the church to incite deconstruction — and how the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to call us back.

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ…For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:3; 10:3–5

In closing, I will simply encourage you not to lose hope. When the Church commits ourselves to Worship Gatherings, Life Groups, and Serving together, it is possible by God’s grace to win back “those who wander from the truth…” (James 5:19).