Do you need help navigating the waters of religious deconstruction?

Do you need help navigating the waters of religious deconstruction? October 4, 2019
Religious Deconstruction
Photo Credit: Mark Colour | Decay Dream Flickr via Compfight cc

In that podcast interview I gave last week, they asked me about my process of religious deconstruction. To use my own description, they wanted to know how my journey from evangelical to post-progressive Christian (you read that right) took place.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of “deconstruction,” it’s a term people use to describe the process of “taking apart” their belief system. This process entails critically reevaluating their existing paradigm with fresh eyes. When it comes to religious faith, some people deconstruct and become atheist or agnostic. Others emerge from the rubble with a revised version of their faith that is more compatible with their new value system.

As you might imagine, an authentic experience of religious deconstruction can be a troubling experience for most folks. It’s not easy to pass through the valley of the shadow of death when it comes to your most cherished notions about God and faith.

In fact, religious deconstruction can be such a harrowing experience that some people, like my friend Keith Giles, specialize in helping people get through it. I do a little of that work myself on an informal basis. If you’re like me, you know how helpful it can be to have someone assist you through such seasons of spiritual crisis.

The causes of deconstruction

What causes people to deconstruct their deeply held religious beliefs? It varies, and it’s not always a conscious choice. Some people experience deconstruction following an intense period of loss or even spiritual abuse. Others will go down this path after their first exposure to biblical criticism. Honestly, there are many different catalysts for this process that are all unique to the individual who experiences them.

One of the main factors in my own deconstruction has been encountering the psychological and philosophical Other. I’ll try to relate what I mean by that from within my Christian tradition. Jesus liked to show his disciples how God was active in people outside their own faith tradition and theological box. Of one man he even said, “I’ve not found this kind of faith in all Israel” (Matthew 8:10)! Imagine the blow that must have been to the disciples’ egos.

My journey has been a lot like that — being constantly surprised at the places and people among whom I have stumbled upon the activity of God. Many of whom I once believed could not be part of God’s activity because of — what, their “unregenerate” status, or the fact that they believed differently than me? The list goes on.

But God has forced me to see (I use the word “forced” with some hesitation, but I think it conveys what I mean to say well enough), and to become honest about what I see. This process has compelled me to re-evaluate the way I understand many of my old theological concepts. In other words, I’ve had to recycle a lot of the old terminology in new light.

I am still in the process of doing this, actually. I assume it will continue until the day I die.

It’s time to look outside your circle

This is the journey God will take you on, if you allow it. I say, “if you allow it,” because we are all so stubborn and stuck in our ways that it’s hard to accomplish any movement at all most days. But getting unstuck is necessary if you want to grow up, spiritually speaking. Most of what people call “spiritual growth” is just reinforcing what they think they already know and possess; however, this is not growth but religious refinement.

Although this is a Christian blog aimed at a religious audience, I will add that I think this principle applies equally well to persons of non-faith. We all get stuck in our own heads, unable to see the forest of reality for the trees of our own personal concepts. I know many atheists who would be better served and who would better serve others if they could get past their hang-ups over traditional God-concepts and religious belief in general.

So stop what you’re doing today and look at what’s going on outside your circle. To return to the language of my tradition, go visit the Samaritans. Listen to the Syro-Phoenician woman. Then get back with me, because I’d love to help you process what you see. Part of what I do, after all, is provide spiritual care and coaching for people who are navigating the murky waters of religious deconstruction.

Although it might feel like it, you don’t have to walk the path alone. In fact, it’s generally best if you don’t.

About Joshua Lawson
Josh Lawson is a pastor, writer, and spiritual care provider. He lives in southern Ohio with his wife and kids and their cat Gryffin, which is short for Gryffindor. He loves strong coffee and good books. If you'd like, you can support his work at www.patreon.com/JoshuaLawson. You can read more about the author here.

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  • Ozark man

    I just turned 61 and actually started the process of “deconstruction” when I struggled to read “On Being A Christian” by Hans Kung in the early 80’s. Despite this initial exposure, I went on to be a faithful evangelical Baptist for several years. In my 50’s I restarted my deconstruction process again. I am still a member of a conservative traditional church but am finding it increasingly difficult to continue in my tradition. I now have a grandchild and I’m concerned about some of the toxic beliefs and attitudes she will be taught. This is a difficult spiritual process. I have friends in this church who will not accept or understand my progressive views. My wife does, which helps but I suspect I’m not the only Christian struggling with this new (or in reality “old”) spiritual journey. I’ m using a fictitious name because of fear of someone finding out who I am which is silly but there it is.

  • John Campbell

    I’m gonna be 61 in 3 months and do not remember ever not knowing that Christ lives in me. For “of His FULLNESS we have all received; and grace upon grace.” The past 40 years the Church has, I believe, gotten away from a Christ centric relationship with the Abba Father and it breaks Gods heart. The “bad Shepherds” of Ezekiel 34 are legion as misrepresenting God is falling away from Him. And Satan is having a field day unleashing these vile religious, cultic and legalistic spirits to weaken and deceive the new covenant blood bought body of Christ.
    I believe the key for authentic religious deconstruction is to see in Scripture that Jesus Christ has come to earth to inaugurate a New Covenant in His New Covenant blood. (Luke 22:20)
    If Christians wake up to the fact that Jesus blood for eternal redemption is SPECIFICALLY New Covenant blood “offered in heaven, once for all for all for our eternal redemption eternal redemption.” ( Hebrews 9). Very very few Christian leaders realize these precious truths of Scripture. The old OBSOLETE covenant God have to the nation of Israel thru Moses has been 100% fulfilled by Jesus new covenant blood. The old covenant is a carrot and stick religion. The new covenant of Jesus Christ blood has been enacted on better promises and a much better covenant and is the only way for an individual to authenticity be saved and walk in the new covenant “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” ( Romans 8: 1-3) The new covenant is the structure for the body of Christ! The blueprint and the skeleton of the Church.

    This might help you become untangled from the spirit of religion without guilt or fear: The main message of the Bible is the prophesied blood bought and glorious new covenant of grace which continuously puts the spotlight on Jesus Christ and who we are in Him. Which is a beloved and redeemed child of God and Kingdom of new covenant priests at New Birth!
    Also, ministering unto the Lord in our “ secret room” or inner court is our first ministry and ultimate destiny. It’s the best kept secret of the Christian life!
    I hope this blesses you brother.

  • Ozark man

    Thank you John for your effort to provide spiritual encouragement. Without sounding judgemental or condescending, I found it interesting the number of times you used the word “blood” in your response. I too believed that the blood of Christ had meaning in the sense that God required the shedding of Christ’s blood to atone for mankind’s sins. I no longer believe in this understanding of atonement. I feel instead that the concept of “blood atonement” causes Christians to sound like vampire christians. This idea of atonement is actually a relatively recent view of Christ’s crucifixion introduced by Bishop Anselm of Canterbury approximately 1 thousand years ago. His view of atonement was called the “satisfaction theory”. https://infogalactic.com/info/Satisfaction_theory_of_atonement

    The “ransom view” of atonement was the original early church understanding of meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. https://www.theopedia.com/christus-victor
    Bottom line is that atonement for me means “at-one-ment” with Jesus. Jesus did not die for my sins but did in fact die because of sin. Sin in the form of the domination system of Rome and the complicity of the Jewish temple hierachy. Jesus death on the cross and being raised to God in the resurrection inspires me to follow in his footsteps to help establish his kingdom on earth – justice for the poor and radical love for all people. I also do not believe in a literal hell, a personal satan, or that Christians will escape this world either at death or a “second coming”. In terms of evil, mankind only has to look at ourselves to see where the source of evil is. There is certainly an “otherness” to God as creator but He loves his creation and inspires us to help renew, preserve and restore it through the work of both our “heart” and mind. Do I believe in an afterlife? I don’t really know but I trust God as creator to make all things “right” in His/her time and pleasure.

  • Sounds like you’re in a tough spot. I can imagine that transitioning away from being a “faithful evangelical Baptist” at 61 comes with a unique set of challenges, especially if your family and close friends are still “on board” with that tradition. Grace and peace to you as you find your way, brother.