Is Deconstruction Necessary For All Believers?

Is Deconstruction Necessary For All Believers? April 9, 2024

Deconstruction has become a major buzz word in Christian circles, whether progressive or conservative. For some, it is an exciting journey into new wisdom, for others, the shedding of dead weight, and for yet others, something to avoid for fear of dismantling their faith entirely.


Today, I want to explore whether or not deconstruction is a necessity for all believers. First of all, what is deconstruction? Is it the same process or set of questions for everybody? I would argue that deconstruction is first and foremost a response to cognitive dissonance – the kind of mental anguish we live with when our beliefs and value system no longer align. If ignored, cognitive dissonance becomes increasingly painful, even torturous, until dealt with courageously by asking the questions we need to ask.


For me, the process began at around the age of 26, when the thought of Hell became a spike, jabbing at my mind. As a young, passionate Charismatic, I could quite happily go about my days full of faith, enjoying fellowship, worship, and ministry, until somebody mentioned Hell, and then I’d mentally flinch, feeling intense discomfort. I couldn’t bear the thought of even one person burning forever and struggled to understand how believers in Heaven could be content, knowing that people they’d known and loved were being perpetually tormented.


I was still very much in the Evangelical mould at this stage, and so figured there must be something wrong with me (rather than with the idea of Hell itself). To fix my ‘problem’, I attended a healing retreat at a ministry that helps people through prayer and counselling, but was greatly disappointed when no breakthrough came, and even more so when my counsellors told me that they too had great difficulties when it came to Hell.


I was in pain, but I wasn’t yet ready to face the truth – that the doctrine of Hell is utterly obscene. It took several years to face it head on, because I was fearful that in rejecting what was perceived as a Biblical doctrine, I would open the door to a world of uncertainty. My faith was precious to me, and I feared losing it, but if I’d never gone where I needed to go, it would have died a slow, painful death anyway.


Around the age of 30, I gathered my courage and asked the questions I needed to ask, committing myself to accepting any answer. That was the key – complete surrender, total honesty, and a willingness to face any outcome.


I’d say that, for me, deconstruction was a necessity, because I couldn’t have continued to live authentically if I’d shut down my mind and refused to engage in honest query. My faith would have become a shell, empty of substance and integrity.


Dismantling a package of beliefs


Religion presents believers with a package of beliefs, the unspoken assumption being that you have to accept them all as an indivisible unit. Within that package are life-giving truths about the person of Jesus, which for any believer are infinitely precious, but along with Jesus, we are supposed to accept some truly harmful ideas, including the doctrine of eternal conscious torment (an obscenity), Biblical inerrancy (the end of independent thought), and an identity as a filthy rotten sinner (the death of healthy self-esteem). Deconstruction is dismantling whatever package of beliefs we’ve inherited and examining each part of it on its own terms – something that is actively discouraged in the Evangelical Movement.


I’m conscious that there are those for whom this is already well-understood, but I’m writing this for Christians who are on the edge of deconstruction but who are afraid to go there. From personal experience, I know how exposed and vulnerable a person can feel in that place. I remember what it’s like to live with painful cognitive dissonance but fear to take the first step on what you’ve been warned is a slippery slope. I know the empowerment of taking that step, and discovering the landscape that lies beyond.


Tips for healthy deconstruction


Deconstruct in the company of God


Deconstruction isn’t about leaving your faith; it’s about refining it. The painful truth is that we’re all dragging cartloads of religious junk – man-made doctrines that have polluted the message of Jesus. The process of deconstruction can be unnerving at times because you’re questioning beliefs you’ve held to for years or even all your life, but God doesn’t abandon us while we figure stuff out. Personally, I clung to him tightly throughout, asking questions with an ear to the Holy Spirit.


There are those who close the door on God while they deconstruct, but that is not the best way to proceed, in my view. Dumping religious junk is something God approves of and helps with, and I’ve seen believers throw the baby out with the bathwater too many times – they deconstructed on their own, using their reasoning alone without leaning into the counsel of the Holy Spirit. My first and most important bit of advice for the believer on the verge of deconstruction, is to stay close to God and let him lead.


Recognise that you’ve already deconstructed


The truth is, your average Evangelical has already accepted a considerable degree of deconstruction and reconstruction. Take the New Testament teachings on women’s silence in the church, for example. I’ve never attended a church that enforces Paul’s instructions to the letter. Instead, entire denominations have accepted the argument that the cultural context of the time makes those practices something we can reinterpret and overlook. In all honesty, the contextual reasons I’ve heard are a massive overclaim, but I’m glad that people were willing to accept the shift, however poorly it has been justified.


In my view, the real reason for this change of heart was women’s suffrage, followed by the long (and ongoing) battle for women’s rights. Over time, the Church came to understand that silencing women was immoral, changing its application of explicit Biblical passages as a result.


This significant shift in Christian thinking loosens the lid on biblical inerrancy – we reframed clear scriptural instructions because they clashed with the morality of our own, modern culture. For me, this shows that the Evangelical movement is more willing to question the scriptures than its pastors and teachers are comfortable admitting. So, even if you’re yet to take a single deconstructive step, you are part of a movement that has taken several but denies doing so.


If any reader is interested in freeing themselves from the harmful doctrine of male headship, I wrote an article or two on this last year. Here’s another on the ludicrousness of biblical inerrancy, along with a piece on how Jesus interpreted scripture.


Be ready for some wonderful surprises


To my enormous surprise, deconstruction allowed me to draw closer to scripture rather than push it away. I understood that some of the fundamental ‘Christian’ doctrine I’d believed in my youth was, in fact, not Biblical at all! Take limited salvation, for example. The church of my youth taught Calvinist doctrine, which states that only some will be saved. Deconstruction allowed me to examine scripture with an open mind, listening intently to the Holy Spirit, and lo and behold, the Bible is overflowing with statements of universal salvation. Here are a few for your contemplation:


1 Corinthians 15:21-22,


For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.


2 Peter 3:9


The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.


1 John 2:2


He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.


1 Timothy 4:10


For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.


Romans 5:18-19,


Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.


Romans 11:32


For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.


So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


John 12:32


“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”


Colossians 1:20


And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.


Let’s be frank – it’s everywhere! Deconstruction allows us to see the life-giving truths that have been hiding in plain sight, obscured by heavy, man-made doctrines, the abandonment of which brings tremendous freedom.


Step out in faith


I won’t go into the myriad of poor doctrines deconstruction has either released me from or significantly reframed, as this is a personal journey, and God leads every one of us. Each person is in an individual set of circumstances, carrying a unique set of religious burdens, and though there is common ground to be found, deconstruction varies from person to person.


Returning to the question asked in the title, is deconstruction necessary? If a person is happily pursuing their faith without cognitive dissonance, then perhaps it is not necessary for them, or at least not at that point in their life. As previously stated, deconstruction becomes necessary when our beliefs and values are out of line with each other, causing painful cognitive dissonance. At that stage, sweeping difficult questions under the carpet is a form of self-harm, and deconstruction is the road to mental wellbeing. If this is you, I encourage you to ask the questions you need to ask in the company of God, and to do so with a commitment to accepting your authentic answers. Growth is guaranteed.

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