taking the words of Jesus seriously

Why are so many people my age deconstructing Christian belief and practice?

The Main Reasons for Faith Deconstruction

  1. Idealism and Perfectionism: 

Much of this comes from the church itself: spiritual pride; moral superiority; self-righteousness; and a pretense of spiritual perfectionism can permeate church culture. Some church leaders represent themselves as God-like figures who can say no wrong and can do no wrong—creating cult-like environments. This produces false expectations. When Christians are exposed to some of the uglier sides of church ministry—which demonstrate that churches and the people who lead them are messy and flawed—it can damage their faith: “The church isn’t perfect! It’s not what they claim! They’re phonies and hypocrites! I was lied to and deceived!”

Some parishioners may even experience personal abuse at the hands their leaders—whether sexual, physical, verbal or otherwise. Personal hurt—personal pain and trauma—plays a big part in all of this, as those who have been wronged and mistreated in the church often carry the weight of those experiences with them for the rest of their lives: “I thought I would find healing here, but I was wounded and scarred instead; I thought this would be a place of refuge, but instead it’s a house of horrors.”

Outside of traumatizing experiences in the life of the church, people can sour on Christianity for a variety of reasons: Christians might gain a greater appreciation for the checkered past of the church (you can’t erase it from history!); believers who actually read their Bibles might discover some unpleasant truths in the midst of their studies (especially if they are studying the Old Testament!); Christ-followers may also find that their theology doesn’t always make sense of their experiences.

Idealism and perfectionism are not just church constructs; they are often our own constructs. Sometimes we enter the church—and the Christian faith—with an unrealistic and idealistic expectation of perfection: “If it’s not perfect, then I can’t accept it; every minute detail of Christianity needs to be flawless in order for me to receive the general, overarching message of the church.” As soon as we become aware of any blemishes or imperfections in the nooks and crannies of the faith, we discard it all.

The contemporary deconstruction movement tends to focus heavily on the failings and hypocrisies of the church. My process of deconstruction was never really focused on these things. I was always more concerned with beliefs than with behavior, more focused on the doctrine of the church than on the leaders and congregants of the church. I never expected Christians to be perfect. I was never surprised by stories of moral failures. I expected that kind of thing, partly because I was quite familiar with the biblical narrative. In Scripture, the great “heroes” of the faith are all tragically flawed. The Bible actually intimates that God chose them for this very reason! For example, Noah was a drunk; Abraham was a liar; Moses was a murderer; Aaron—the first high priest—was an idolater (yes: there is biblical precedent for wicked and corrupt priests); David was an adulterer; and the list goes on and on…. In Christianity, Christ is the sole object of faith—not one’s pastor, priest, or worship leader. So, when your church leader falls, and it shakes your faith, I would ask you this: is your faith in your church leader or is it in Jesus Christ?

Misconduct doesn’t negate truth. Some deconstructionists act as if religious hypocrisy is an automatic “defeater” of religious faith, but it’s most certainly not. There is a difference between poor character and poor doctrine. Truth transcends behavior. Just because a person acts like a jerk doesn’t mean that his beliefs are unsound; his bad attitude may cause the truths that he proclaims to fall on deaf ears, but this doesn’t mean that the truths themselves are untrue. We seem to acknowledge this fact in the political dimension of life but have a hard time accepting it in the religious dimension. When a political leader from our favorite political party commits adultery or lies under oath, we don’t treat the politician’s actions as an automatic invalidation of their political positions. Instead, we recognize that the sporadic moral failings of individual leaders in our chosen political party do not discredit the beliefs and policies of the party as a whole. Why do we seem to understand this in the political realm but not in the religious realm?

  1. Poor Thinking & Poor Communication: 

This reason for deconstruction has to do with both the doctrine of the church itself and the way that it is taught—with both what is communicated and how it is communicated. In the church, it is not uncommon to hear very simplistic, unnuanced, and superficial lessons taught in a very closed-minded, objective, and dogmatic environment. Questions are discouraged; concerns are dissuaded. When a moral law or precept is presented, no explanation is given as to why the precept exists. There’s no attempt to answer the “why” question, which is—more often than not—where one will find the heart of a loving God. The letter of the law is taught with no mention of the spirit of the law. The heart of God is concealed under the dryness and coldness of a rule.

In many churches, theology is also taught in a very rigid manner, in a way that restricts God—putting him in a box and limiting his freedom: “God only does things this way”; “God always acts in this manner.” When these external expectations, which are projected onto God, are not met, the faith of believers can sometimes be shaken. See, this god is too small; this view of God is too narrow. People need a “bigger God.” All of this is very Pharisaic. It is both sad and ironic that many American Christians more closely resemble the enemies of Christ than Christ himself. A Pharisaic perspective distorts the message of Christianity.

Poor thinking and poor communication are not just pervasive in the church; they are also rampant outside the church as well. For example, perversions of the Christian message that are sometimes propagated by the church itself have a tendency to evoke straw man arguments from zealous deconstructionists who might think that they are deconstructing Christianity, but, in reality, they are actually just deconstructing a misrepresentation of Christianity. We also have a tendency to universalize or absolutize our subjective experiences, to view our personal experiences as normative when they might not be. I’ve seen this a lot in deconstructionist circles: “because my pastor didn’t have the answers, no pastor has the answers” or “because my church leaders failed me, all church leaders are unfaithful” or “because I was exposed to false teachings in a Christian church, Christianity as a whole is false.” My subjective experience represents an extremely small sample size in the grand scheme of things.

  1. Conflict in Values: 

So far, we have mostly discussed conflicts between church members or former church members and imperfect church leaders, and between Christians or former Christians and distortions of the Christian message, but what about natural tension between people and Jesus of Nazareth himself? Jesus was a countercultural figure in his day, so much so that he was nailed to a cross. If he was countercultural in his time, how much more countercultural would he be in our time? To say that there is natural conflict between the values, practices, and beliefs of a deeply-religious, 1st-century Palestinian rabbi and the values, practices, and beliefs of 21st-century Americans is an understatement!

I would argue that there is tension between Jesus and all people, both people inside the church and people outside the church. I talked about the conflict between Jesus of Nazareth and evangelical Christians in my podcast episode, “Cultural Christianity,” but much of what I said in that episode also applies to those outside of evangelicalism and outside of the church. Without rehashing everything that I stated in that episode, I will just leave it at this: people tend to make Jesus in their own image. So Jesus becomes the conservative Jesus or the liberal Jesus—the fundamentalist Jesus or the progressive Jesus—but the Jesus of history was neither. Jesus transcended all categories and all labels, for he was wholly other.

Today, especially in the West, we tend to approach Christ and approach Christianity from an ego-centric and self-centered perspective. I think this is true for both evangelicals and non-evangelicals, for those outside the church and those inside the church. I make Christianity about me; we make Christianity about us. It’s about what I believe, what I think, what I feel, what I want. But Christianity isn’t primarily about me; it’s about Christ. It’s about what he believes, what he thought, what he felt, what he wants. Christ is the object of Christianity, the object of Christian faith—not me! There will always be natural conflict between my values, my priorities, my belief system, my wishes and his! But if anyone is to capitulate or submit in this relationship, it’s me. As a Christian, I’m summoned to conform to him, to sacrifice for him, to follow him. He’s not supposed to conform to me, to capitulate to me, and to obey me! This religion is called “Christianity,” not “Ryan-ianity.”

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, paraphrasing this statement, famously said that when Jesus calls you, he “bids you to come and die.” These are tough words, but the fact that they are difficult doesn’t make them any less true. Christianity is not an easy path; it is a trying and challenging one, but one that I believe is more than worthwhile. Now, some within the current deconstruction movement fully realize this. Others, I think, have come to realize this over time. On social media, this realization is sometimes reflected through a simple hashtag substitution, as the “ex-evangelical” hashtag is suddenly exchanged for the “ex-Christian” hashtag. I think that some people come to realize—to their own credit—that their values aren’t merely in conflict with the values of evangelicals or conservative Christians, but with the values of Jesus himself. I respect those who have come to this realization because such people are taking the call of Christ seriously and are counting the cost.

Check back in on Monday, February 5, for Part 3 of this 3-part series on Deconstruction. 

About The Author


Ryan Ragozine is the host of Thinker Sensitive. He is passionate about ecumenical dialogue, inter-religious dialogue, and worldview engagement. Ryan has always been preoccupied with big ideas and big questions. Ryan holds a B.A. in Theology and an M.A. in Philosophy. He and his wife are huge proponents of Christian hospitality, running a house church that welcomed people from all different backgrounds and belief systems for five years before eventually taking over at Thinker Sensitive. (https://www.facebook.com/thinkersensitive/)

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