‘Deconstructing’ Faith: The Truth Behind the Movement

Reviewing Alisa Childers's and Tim Barnett's masterful book on the subject.

By Tom Gilson Published on April 19, 2024

Every year, it seems there’s a new top threat to Christian belief in the Western world. From outside, we’ve had New Atheism hoping to destroy Christianity. We’ve had sexual freedom virtually bumping religious freedom out of the First Amendment, with secular elites pushing it along.

While that’s done serious damage, I still would have called progressive Christianity, with its veneer of coming from “inside Christianity,” a greater threat to Christians’ faith.

Christian apologist Alisa Childers used to say that, too, and she gave good reason for it in Another Gospel?, surely the top go-to book on progressivism.

Recently, though, I heard her telling a conference audience there’s an even greater threat now. She and coauthor Tim Barnett spell it out in their recently published The Deconstruction of Christianity: What It Is, Why It’s Dangerous, and How to Respond.

What Is Deconstruction?

To hear some people tell it, “deconstruction” is an intellectually virtuous process, whereby a person takes apart their beliefs, tests them, and puts them back together in a way that makes more rational sense.

If only that were true. In reality it’s the outside sneaking inside: Ideas that would be very much at home on the atheist internet come swooping down into the Church to prey on people’s questions, give a pretense at answering, and cut them off falsely from their faith.

The deconstruction movement has been taking out a lot of believers — some of them very prominent, including musicians Kevin Max (DC Talk), the Gungors, Hillsong’s Marty Sampson, and I Kissed Dating Goodbye author Josh Harris.

New Word, Same Old Story

The word “deconstruction” has a nice intellectual ring to it, but in Childers and Barnett’s words, it’s a “rerun”:

While deconstruction is a new word being applied to faith, it’s actually an old idea. Indeed, it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. … The fall of mankind didn’t begin when the pair took their first bite. That is, it didn’t begin with a disobedient deed. Rather, it began with a deconstructed idea.

The serpent’s question was crafted to create confusion, not to arrive at truth: “Did God really say …?”

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We hear that kind of question all the time now. “Does the Bible really teach there are only two genders?” Confusion follows: “Well, no, it doesn’t even talk about gender. It says there are two sexes, but … hey, you’re right! That’s not in there! So why can’t there be more genders?” Suddenly the idea of dozens of genders almost starts making sense.

There’s a straightforward answer to that, and it begins by questioning the question: What is “gender”? Where did that idea come from, and for what purpose? Deconstruction is often a case of people settling for shallow answers to questions that themselves need questioning.

Not Such a Rational Standard

This isn’t the rational process it claims to be. Childers and Barnett show how “sincerity, not truth, became the new criterion for salvation.” The movement’s motivation is far from clean:

One of the main concerns with the deconstruction explosion is the obvious agenda to deconvert evangelicals. There are countless platforms dedicated to providing a place to welcome Christians into the process of deconstruction. They are promoted as “safe spaces,” but in many cases, they are carefully orchestrated to foster an environment of doubt and unbelief.simply

The authors cite example after example. Deconstruction “coach” Angela Harrington talks of correcting Christianity’s “imbalance of power” – in all the usual categories of gender, race, and so on. For her, it’s postmodernism and/or critical theory that decides what’s right or wrong, not the Word of God.

The word means just what it looks like: tearing faith down. Reconstructing faith isn’t part of the equation.

Others say it’s just we who decide. Deconstructionist Caleb Luehmann says, “Nobody should be able to tell you what your faith needs to look like because that’s dependent on you and the work you do.” What that means, in Childers and Barnett’s words, is, “Faith is completely subjective. It’s self-oriented, not truth-oriented.”

Truth is not the goal. According to many deconstructionists, anyone who lands on any belief system after deconstructing isn’t doing it right. Apparently for them, the point of deconstructing is to be always deconstructing.

A Believing Christian View

Strangely, in my view, there’s controversy among believing Christians about there can be such a thing as good, healthy Christian deconstruction. If it were only about examining one’s beliefs, tearing faith apart to put it together more rationally, I would say yes, that’s a great idea. The authors speak of reformation, and indeed, questioning one’s faith to re-form can be very strengthening.

They trace “deconstruction” back far enough, though, to show the word means just what it looks like: tearing faith down. Reconstructing faith isn’t part of the equation, and it only sows confusion to act as if it were.

Christians need to understand deconstruction. You may have a family member, church friend, classmate, or colleague entering their own “deconstruction” phase. If so, you’ll find the last section of Christian Deconstruction immensely helpful for that.

Or you may be thinking positively about going that direction yourself. If that’s you, you might want to read this book first. It won’t answer all your questions about the faith, as that’s not its purpose, but it will clue you in on what the deconstruction movement is really all about. Questions are good; just be sure keep yourself from dishonest ones.

 

Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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