In the final instalment of this series, I want to share the most important truths I’ve learned while deconstructing faith. I hope these will give you the tools to navigate your own voyage of discovery, and find your way to a better, more welcoming destination.
Everybody deconstructs, whether they admit it or not
Every time the world changes, Christianity moves with it. When slavery was abolished, the Church had to rethink its understanding of texts about the attitudes and lives of slaves. The book of Philemon, which concerns Paul’s return of an escaped slave to his master, necessarily needed to be looked at again. Prior to that, exhortations about slaves serving their masters as unto the Lord would have been taken as simple instruction. Afterwards, a more nuanced interpretation was required. A simple message became deeper and more complex, under the deconstructor’s penetrating gaze.
After women got the vote, and discovered their power and self-determination, the Church had to respond to societal change. Passages instructing women to be silent and cover their heads in the congregation needed a fresh interpretation, and Paul’s embargo on female leadership/authority became increasingly out of date. The Evangelical movement, which prides itself on faithfulness to scripture, made the necessary adjustments of interpretation, arguing that the instructions sent to Timothy, for example, or to the Corinthians on this matter, didn’t need to be followed to the letter, because of contextual circumstances in the early church.
This is deconstruction, plain and simple, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Even the Reformation, which was the very basis of Protestantism, was a reconstruction of Catholicism. Everybody does it, and yet certain groups are blind to their own acceptance of deconstructed faith, coming down on others when they ask uncomfortable questions. My advice – bypass the hypocrisy and get on with what you need to do, honestly and before God.
Focus on the heart of faith
What is the heart of faith, for you? For me it is Jesus, as the perfect expression of the loving nature of God. Throughout the process of deconstruction and reconstruction, I’ve kept him at the centre, returning to the Gospels again and again. In him, I find my spiritual home.
Find out who your friends are
There are plenty of believers ready to walk away from friendship, when someone asks questions they don’t find comfortable, but there are others of a more admirable stature– kind, loyal, supportive people who will always be in your corner and love you as you are.
When I first began the process of deconstruction, perhaps 20 years ago, I spoke about it with two people only, asking them – ‘if I stop being a Christian, will you still be my friend?’ The first person was my youngest brother, and the second was a friend called Dave, who’d been a fellow missionary and shipmate, back in the day. Both gave an identical, heartfelt answer – that they would always love me, come what may – lending me the courage to do what I needed to do, in the knowledge that though some might reject me, I would not be completely abandoned.
Develop new intimacy with God
Knowing the power, presence and leading the Holy Spirit is indispensable, for any believer. Whatever tradition you come from, I encourage you to dive deep into the river of God, especially if you lack regular, tangible experience of the divine presence. If you can’t discern the leading of the Guide, how will you safely navigate the journey of deconstruction?
God has no favourites, unless we are all his favourites, and has explicitly promised rich and satisfying closeness with him throughout the New Testament. If you don’t know where to start, get alongside someone who already walks closely with God in this way, and ask them to pray with you. Pray regularly, seek God, hunger and thirst, knock and the door will be opened. God longs for closeness with you, even more than you do with him.
Don’t seek a guru
The believer’s eyes are first and foremost on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. He is our perfect example and the express image of God. In him we live and move and have our being; through him the worlds were formed and are sustained. If we walk closely with the Holy Spirit, we don’t need to rely on someone else’s connection with God, or their interpretation of the Bible. In my view, that’s replacing Jesus with someone lesser.
It always frustrates me when believers quote another human being more than they do Jesus. I offer no criticism of Richard Rohr, for example, and have on occasion found his writings of use, but he has been idolised by many in the Progressive movement, or at least that’s how it seems to me. Read Richard Rohr, by all means, but keep your eyes on Jesus.
It’s ok to reach your own conclusions
Certain progressive friends get mad at me for retaining some orthodox ideas. Sometimes I perceive a pressure to embrace a new kind of unquestionable orthodoxy in its entirety, but how is that an improvement? Surely the purpose of deconstruction is to seek God, and develop a better understanding of him. The Holy Spirit guides us, if we stick close to him – we don’t need to follow the crowd. For me, truth is most often revealed in the presence of God, with my Bible open. I have found him to be enough, and do not feel it is necessary to embrace every aspect of other peoples’ outlooks.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
Hold onto the precious revelations that have given you life, over the years. From the Pentecostals, I learned the joy of worship and the importance of being full of the Spirit; from the Word of Faith movement, I learned that God is good all the time; from that same movement, I learned the extraordinary power of the word of God, and the principles of seed-time and harvest; from a wacky church in Alabama, I learned the power of meditation as a discipline, and the value of understanding the complexity of the Bible. Most importantly, I’ve learned wonderful, life-enhancing truths on my knees, in the presence of God.
Deconstruction doesn’t require that we throw our treasures away. Hold to what you know, while asking the question you need to ask. The Holy Spirit will lead you through the process. As for me, much of my original faith is still intact. I love Jesus, and worship him as the Name above all Names; I meet him at the cross, and exchange my brokenness for his wholeness; I treasure the Bible more than ever, and spend a lot of time absorbing its wisdom; I greatly value times of communal worship and prayer; I celebrate the fellowship of other people of faith; I use the gifts of the Spirit, and love watching God transform people’s lives.
I hope this will be your experience too, and that your faith will get stronger, more robust, more flexible, wiser and more transformative. I pray that the shackles which have held you back will fall away, and that you walk into freedom, side by side with Jesus.
What if you need help?
I’ve practised as a personal development coach since 2005, helping people with their careers, relationships, spirituality and goals, and currently have availability for a few new clients. If you want the support of a coach through the process of deconstruction, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a free consultation.