Why Deconstructing Your Faith is Good For You
Have you ever had a crisis of faith? I’ve always thought that meant questioning whether you believe in God anymore, but for some people like me, it’s not exactly that. It’s more that you begin to doubt the specifics of what you believe. You wonder whether what you’ve built your faith upon can hold up to your experiences and the inner voice that’s telling you something isn’t right. And unless you’re willing to throw it all out and walk away (which hopefully you aren’t,) that’s the point you begin deconstructing your faith. It’s a dissection. For some, it’s more of an autopsy, a post-mortem to find out the cause of death of your old belief system.
The recent, tragic passing of Rachel Held Evans brought the topic of deconstruction to the forefront in mainstream media. Chronicling her own journey through it in Searching for Sunday and Inspired, Rachel shone a spotlight on the various ways religion and church often hurt their followers. She gave a name and validation for what many are experiencing, and even more importantly, she empathized with them. Because the damage done is often deep and severe, people need help and healing in order to move on from it—and they’re not finding it in the next church they attend. If they ever attend again. The incongruity of what the Bible teaches and how Christians behave is driving people out of church at an alarming rate. And so far, the church doesn’t seem to get why.
The problem is, most of us don’t begin deconstructing our faith before we experience a crisis. We go to church, hear the teachings, plug in, and serve. We engage in worship, in our small groups, and in the relationships we’ve built on Sundays. And as long as we basically feel good about it all, we aren’t challenged to examine what we believe or how we’re living that out. And as a result, we become complacent. That’s where deception, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness can creep in unnoticed.
And just because we aren’t aware of those things, doesn’t mean we aren’t still accountable for them.
My own deconstruction began a few years ago, before I even knew that’s what it was called. Reeling from my own devastating church experience, I began sorting out what I had learned and believed that was biblical, and what was not. I had to identify people and ideas I had (unwittingly) constructed my faith around rather than on God. And probably most importantly, I began to question who I really was apart from who I was in the context of church. Because what we believe about ourselves directly correlates to what we believe about God, and directly impacts those around us.
And I’ve learned a lot so far. For starters, how many factors influence our belief system. They are many and complicated, and it has been a challenge to untangle them from each other in order to assess what I actually believe. I don’t think I’ve quite finished the process of deconstructing my faith, but here are a handful of “discoveries” I’ve come across along the way:
Culture plays a significant role in what we believe
Though many churches (and Christians) feel at war with the culture around them, it’s necessary to recognize that culture exists within the Church as well. Every individual church has a culture of its own, as does each stream or denomination within the Christian faith. Our countries and regions affect our church culture as well. All of those cultural components influence what we think, how we think, and how we behave—just like culture does out there “in the world.” We have our preferred way of doing things, our buzz words and “dialects”, even our preferred style of Sunday attire. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, but if we fail to acknowledge the impact they can have on our belief system (or how they’ve arisen out of it) we are deceived.
Loyalty and allegiance to our church culture, leaders, and the fellowship cloud our perspective
This is a big one I see play out in so many realms. Any gathering of people under a common purpose creates a sense of belonging—something we intrinsically desire. It’s how we were created. And in that, belonging to something (or someone) is extremely powerful and sewn into the fabric of our identity. When our identity is in people, places, or groups, all which are subject to change over time, we feel threatened when anything comes in to disrupt the security we’ve found there. So often, we fight to keep the status quo to protect ourselves. Because we aren’t aware that’s what we’re doing, we can then overlook or turn a blind eye to things we normally wouldn’t in a different context. What’s more, that same loyalty and allegiance can create an “us vs. them” mentality that is completely contrary to what the Bible teaches.
Whether or not you believe Scripture is infallible, all Scripture has been interpreted by fallible people
At the end of one of my theology courses in grad school, I was faced with an interesting question. I studied every stream and denomination of the Christian faith–what they believe, what they don’t believe, what are the most important tenets of that denomination, where they stand on all the issues that are often up for debate. Included in my study were also the big-name theologians, the great teachers, the founders of different ministries throughout history. I closed my enormous textbook after finishing it and asked myself, “Well…who’s right?”
Now think of the teachers, pastors, and leaders we follow, all with different levels of scholarship, revelation, and experience. They have interpretations as well. That’s not to say we shouldn’t believe anything we are taught, but we need to recognize that everything we are taught by people is filtered through their own imperfect lens. Our own reading of Scripture is filtered through our personal lens, too. We can’t help that, of course. But in every case, it highlights the need for an ongoing dialog with God to allow His spirit to testify to yours. Don’t rely solely on the teachings of others to inform your beliefs.
Emotional health (and the practice of pursuing it) is necessary for spiritual health
If you aren’t regularly challenging yourself to grow and mature emotionally, your judgement will remain impaired. It impacts all areas of our lives, including our faith and belief systems. Your discernment about right/wrong, healthy/unhealthy, Christlike/unChristlike are all tied to your emotional health. Your relationship with God and with others are either limited or facilitated according to your emotional health as well. Churches, leaders, and faith communities that don’t value and practice the discipline of emotional growth make it an unsafe place for people that do. On top of that, those who are emotionally unhealthy (or not growing) often don’t recognize when they are in an unhealthy place. Things only become clear after they’re out of that situation.
I’m sure there are other things that influence the constructs of our faith and belief systems, but these are the major areas I’ve landed on while deconstructing my own faith. As I said, that process isn’t done for me, but I have reached a place of greater peace and understanding about my faith and, ultimately, a deeper reliance on God. It’s been a hard-fought battle for me to reach this solid ground. But I’m grateful.
Grateful for what I’ve been taught, grateful for the teachers and churches that have helped shape me.
Grateful for the endless resources out there that inspire me to pursue God and all He has for me.
But the greatest win of all is finally reaching a place where my faith isn’t dependent upon anything but God Himself.