The Case for Reconstructing Faith While on the Path of Jesus

The Case for Reconstructing Faith While on the Path of Jesus April 21, 2023

Woman on top of mountain peak
Reconstructing faith can be extremely rewarding. Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay.

The trail of deconstructing toxic faith can be a long climb. It often begins with noticing red flags of cognitive dissonance that reveal contradictions within religious beliefs that make God out to be discriminatory, retributive, and violent. These epiphanies lead to uncovering harmful faith-based practices that many churches and individual believers follow. I cited some of these in an earlier post in the section, Top Ten Elements of a Harmful Faith. Because most of us who come out of conservative Christianity have been religiously programmed to believe certain doctrines, we don’t change our mind about them overnight. Moreover, part of deconstruction is learning why certain damaging beliefs are not true to the historical record of the first-century Jesus Movement. These take time to learn. Or put another way, detrimental beliefs take a while to unlearn. In fact, peeling off the layers of largely unexamined beliefs by putting each one under the light of history can and should be a fairly long process. For example, in deconstructing and reconstructing faith (or a philosophy of life), I recommend finding answers to these critical questions: 21 Key Historical Questions that Should Drive Your Faith Shift.

Reconstructing Faith with an Historical Eye

I suppose many people do not take the time to delve this deep. I know people who have deconstructed evangelicalism, exposing all the disturbing doctrines and practices, but haven’t come to terms with an alternative view based on history. I wish to make the case that a good study of history leads us to reject such doctrines but not to the extent that we leave the path of Jesus. Whereas I don’t believe in telling folks who deconstruct where they should land (and will forcefully defend anyone who lands post-Christian, agnostic, or atheist, as long as they embrace a rational love ethic), I really hope anyone who deconstructs will at least take these historical arguments seriously when they begin to rebuild something. Staying on the Jesus path can lead to some incredible views.

History Shows Us the God of the Bible is Two-Faced

First, history tells us that Jesus, his first followers, and the Jews of his day did not believe in the doctrine of inerrancy of the Bible. There was no canon (definitive list) of books that made up the scriptures for all Jews until at least the 2nd century. This is why in Jesus’ day some people (the Sadducees) only accepted the Torah, others accepted the Greek Septuagint (the prophets, writings, and 14 books that are not in Protestant Bibles), and still others (the Essenes) had additional scriptures, e.g. I Enoch and books of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Second, Jesus entered into this debate of the day regarding the Hebrew scriptures and picked and chose what passages to cite in a way that uncovered a two-faced god. E.g., he rebuked the disciples for wanting to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans, an idea they got from a story in 2 Kings. He taught people that God is naturally merciful and told his audience to be merciful the same way God the Father is, even to his enemies. This was a stark contradiction to the other face of God in parts of the Old Testament that specifically told the Israelites not to have mercy on their enemies in the Canaanite conquest. When Jesus did cite the Old Testament, they were passages that reinforced a loving, non-discriminatory God. He rejected the violent face of God and therefore repudiated any view that the Bible was altogether true and that God is two faced. He reconstructed a faith true to reality.

Jesus Was Deconstructing Retribution and Reconstructing a Faith Based on Peace

In doing this, Jesus was deconstructing retribution. For instance, when he said, “you have heard eye-for-eye retribution [in the Torah], but I tell you don’t use violence to resist evil.” He rejected the retributive character of the God of the Old Testament, when he taught, “…love your enemies.” The Torah, specifically Numbers 25:17, and the book of Joshua had taught the Israelites to kill their enemies. He rejected retaliation (the 2 Kings story), capital punishment (the woman caught in adultery story), and taught people to go the extra mile to love their adversaries. For Jesus, the solution to evil or disobedience was not retribution but rather restorative justice that leads to peace. Overcome evil with good, not more evil, befriend the oppressors to get them to repent and change (the Zacchaeus tax collector story), and become a peacemaker to be blessed.

Another point that deserves a separate post is that Jesus did not teach the doctrine of hell. His type of judgment was restorative, holding people to account for wrongdoing, but not condemning them to eternal dungeons. E.g., the phrase “eternal punishment” that most translations claim he used, is a terrible mistranslation. Scholars Dr. Ann Nyland and David Bentley Hart translate it “rehabilitation for a set period of time” and “chastening of the age” respectively. His accountability plan for evildoers was to rehabilitate them not condemn them to eternal damnation.

Jesus’ Love Ethic Matters Most, Not a Religion Called Christianity

What mattered most to Jesus? He stipulated that the more important matters of the law were justice, mercy, and faithfulness. He praised a Pharisee who said to love God and love your neighbor as yourself was more important than sacrifices. He taught that God desired mercy not sacrifice. He flatly said all the Law and prophets hang on these two love commands, as does the golden rule, “do to others what you would have them do to you.” Paul, summarized Jesus’ teaching on this when he said, “whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Paul also said: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” This love ethic is superior to following religious rules or embracing a religion, even if it’s called Christianity. It begs to be part of reconstructing one’s faith.

When You Untangle Jesus from the Bible He Comes Out Magnanimous

One of our big problems is when our society and our conservative theology programs us to believe things that don’t matter or are not true. Like believing the whole Bible is true and God calls for violent retribution. When one is able to step outside traditional views of the Bible and these types of beliefs, we see what Jesus was doing. He was untangling himself from discriminatory, retributive, and violent narratives in the Jewish scriptures. Once we see him untangled, we can see the way of life he was calling people to is quite magnanimous. Love for neighbor and enemy is what matters most, mercy is at the heart of what God desires, and nonviolent restoration can change the world. It seems it would be advantageous that we consider staying on the path of Jesus when we are reconstructing faith. As for Christianity, that’s optional.


Michael Camp tends the Spiritual Brewpub, which helps disillusioned or post-evangelicals uncover historical facts and insights that help them deconstruct, rethink, and rebuild a more authentic faith or philosophy of life. He is the author of Breaking Bad Faith, Craft Brewed Jesus, and Confessions of a Bible Thumper. To get specific help deconstructing conservative Christianity and rebuilding healthy faith, see Michael’s Religious Deconstruction Workshop. To hear fascinating interviews with leading voices in the deconstruction community, listen to the Spiritual Brewpub Podcast.

About Michael Camp
I spent twenty-five years in the evangelical movement as an ordained missionary to Muslims, a development worker in Africa, and a lay leader in independent, charismatic, and Baptist churches. Today, as an author, podcaster, speaker, Rotarian, pub theology nerd, and bad golfer, I help people find a more authentic spiritual path along Jesus’ subversive way of peace. I am also active in a Rotary Club in Bainbridge Island, WA, where I work with colleagues to help facilitate microfinance and development projects in Africa and Asia. You can read more about the author here.
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