When I first entered the world of ministry over 20 years ago, most of my time was spent helping people deal with difficult issues and trusting God’s goodness. However, they were solid in their walk with God. Now, I would say at least half my time is consumed with defending Christian doctrine from people who are, whether they realize it or not, deconstructing their faith. This is percentage is probably different for other pastors, 🧐 but in my context it is every where. Let’s define this term and then talk about what my experiences with it.
Deconstruction- a method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language which emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression. (wikipedia)
In the real world, that means people who once believed and received Jesus as their Lord. 🙏 But, in recent years they have started doubting everything they use to believe. Their walk with God has not kept up with the realities of life and it has left them feeling as though Christianity is hallow and not able to cope with the demands of life. Sound familiar in your world? 🤷
Most of the people I talk to have not come to this place with bad motives. It is a crisis point that has left them reeling, scared, and depressed. 😬 They don’t want to admit what they are feeling, but cannot deny what’s happening in their hearts. This is the danger point because they become very susceptible to anyone who legitimizes their doubts. They don't look to see if these arguments have any validity. I've heard people say they like the idea of a grand conspiracy or something that sounds like it is out of a movie. 🤦 It’s in this moment where Christians must show grace, mercy, and walk along side people with love.
The honest truth is a lot of what people are experiencing is the church's fault. After listening to many different people, here are three areas the church has probably done more harm than good and led people to these crisis moments in their faith:
1- The "Church" has prioritized good feelings over the clear Gospel. 📣
Everyone likes to feel good and laugh. Perhaps the only thing better is helping someone else do these things. Life is hard so it’s important to grab as many happy moments as possible. The Christians, we love this... maybe too much. We have also grabbed onto a lot of the consumeristic mentality of our culture. The end result is many of our Sunday morning environments look like concerts and pep-rallies where we get hyped up and ready for another week. I know of churches who pay people great salaries to curate each Sunday experience to be as positive as possible. There is a part of this that is awesome. I love the idea of creating a great experience where people can be encouraged and motivated. The problem is when this causes us to compromise the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is actually extremely offensive. It says that we are sinners. We live in a world of sin. We encounters evil everyday. We have to face this reality so we can then know how good God is and how we can overcome all this. There needs to be a tension we balance between grace and truth. We love you and want to encourage. But, we also need to tell you where God's Word warns us about our sin and brokenness. Sometimes people need to have their pain spoken to directly. When we act as though bad times don’t exist and everything is butterflies and rainbows, people eventually begins to realize we are not living in reality. This causes people to think God is hallow and unrealistic.
2- The "Church" has prioritized hyper-spirituality over clear doctrine.
I’m all about the “feels.” I love a great worship song that inspires me to see God in a bigger way. I love telling a story that leaves the congregation in tears and hugging their neighbor. That's my jam. Gimmie the feels in church. 🤣 However, this can never come at the expense of clear doctrine. I cannot live a healthy life if I am controlled or manipulated by my emotions. I can live on truth. When we prioritize emotion, we short-circuit the power of the Gospel. The Gospel is full of hope and joy. The Gospel is also logically sound and objective. If we based our Christianity on emotion, we lose proper perspective. Life doesn’t always feel good and if we think that emotion equates God’s favor, we will never have a solid relationship with God. We can be going through the worst storms in life and still know God's loves me. One of the worst things we say in church is, “Can you feel the presence of God?” I get why but it’s actually a pointless question. Whether or not I feel God’s presence has nothing to do with the truth of God’s Word. A better question would be, “Do you believe God’s Word and God's promises are true?”
3- The "Church" has prioritized “my truth” over God’s Word.
Everyone has an opinion and that’s great. Express yourself and be your own person. The only problem becomes when we validate each person's opinion as equally valid. When we over-validate people’s opinion to the level of truth we are setting people up to failure. I am thankful that my opinion doesn’t supersede the Bible. I need people who are smarter than me to tell me when I am right and when I am wrong. If my truth is always true… that’s too much pressure. In the church world, many times we have been worried about telling people they are wrong or being offensive. We love people and don’t want to be hurt their feelings. The problem is we have allowed people to think they are right too much and now they struggle to think they might be wrong concerning whether or not God is real.
So. What how do I handle all these doubts and concerns? Do I just turn a blind-eye and hope for the best? Do I just walk away from God and the church? No Way! However, do you need a couple of ground rules to keep you moving in a healthy direction. Here are a couple I have watched work and have worked for me during doubting seasons...
1- Always seek the truth.
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 1:4
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
How could Jesus ever be worried or offended by you seeking the truth... you're seeking Him!
Sean McDowell tells a great story about a confrontation with his father, Apologist Josh McDowell. Sean was having issues with the Christian worldview and told his dad about it. He even told his dad he wasn't sure he believed in the Bible or in God. Sean was surprised by his dad’s response. Josh McDowell said, “That’s fine, Sean. I only ask you for one thing… always seek truth no matter what and follow it wherever it leads.”
It can be very difficult to untangle yourself from all the emotion and cultural upheaval going on in our world. It seems like the national American pastime is rage. Everyone is feeling something strong about something. It also seems like there are no clear-cut answers anymore. Everything has a grey area or an exception to every rule.
This is dangerous when it comes to discerning truth. Many times truth will not agree with our emotions. It’s important to let the truth be what it is and then decide what we are going to do about it. So, when beginning your journey toward honest deconstruction, let the truth be your guide and remove as many emotional biases as possible.
Here are some practical points-
- Pray before you search. Trust that if God is real, He will guide your seeking. If He's not real, you've got nothing to worry about.
- Read widely. Don’t just read what is current. People have asked questions for generations. You will be surprised by what you find.
- Read both sides of the argument. Just do it. Make sure you are giving Christianity its chance to answer the criticisms.
- Be honest with yourself. We have a tendency to find what we are looking for. So, before beginning, be honest about what you are looking for. Try to remove as much of this as possible and just seek truth.
- Take your time. If it is worth betting your eternity on it’s worth taking longer than a weekend to sort out.
2- Don’t commit the sin of recency bias.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
Recency bias is a cognitive bias that favors recent events over historic ones. (Wikipedia)
As an amateur historian, this drives me crazy. I cannot stand people thinking we are the smartest generation or that we are somehow better than all generations before us because of our access to knowledge. When you read the works of the great authors of the past you will quickly see this is not so. Knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. They may have written by candlelight, but they were no less wise. Look through history and see if you can find how people have grappled with the same questions.
Here are some practical points-
- Humble yourself. Realize our generation does not know it all. If you doubt this, spend about 15 minutes on TikTok. We are by no means the smartest generation. 😂
- Read the great thinkers of the past. Not just the atheists but also the Christian apologists. Read Bonhoffer, Dostoyevsky, Chesterton, and CS Lewis.
- Read the early church fathers. We have the writings of people who were discipled by the original apostles. See how the earliest Christians dealt with issues. You might be surprised how much we have in common.
3- Don’t blame God for broken people.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16
The verse above shows that, after receiving salvation, we have work to do. God’s people are not perfect and that, rather than proving God’s weaknesses, reminds us of His strength. Even with God in our lives, it is hard to live in freedom. This doesn’t mean God is unable to work in our lives. It means we humans are hard.
In no other context would we punish someone for the sins of another. It reminds me of a tragedy during the last election cycle. A YouTuber said he was so angry at his opponents he wanted to hit something. One of his fans went out and attacked his opponent in his honor. The media went crazy and said it was the YouTuber's fault. No, it was the fan’s fault. The YouTuber publicly apologized that he sometimes had crazy people listen to his show, but it wasn't his fault. The fan was unhinged and did something he didn't want. This reminds me of Christianity. Jesus calls us to follow Him and live as sinless as possible so we can walk in freedom. People have taken this and perverted it almost every way possible. Is this God’s fault or is it broken humans doing broken things for broken reasons? The bottom line is... God is merciful and gives us endless chances. This does not mean bad people don't do bad things in His name. When you see the grace He gives them, you can see the kind of grace He also extends toward you.
Here are some practical points-
- Hurting people hurt people. When you see a broken person doing a broken thing, remember that they are not Jesus. They are someone in need of Him.
- Show the grace you want to receive.
- Don’t see the church as a community center for the perfected. It is a hospital for the broken.
There are so many more I could add to this list, but this is a start for now. I honestly believe that if you will do the hard work of looking into Christianity yourself, you will find out there are more than enough answers. The problem is, most people read a compelling tweet and think they are done. Keep digging. God is there. He is waiting to reveal Himself to you. On the other side of this I believe your faith can be even stronger if you are willing to be honest and search. Your walk with Jesus does not have to be based on emotions or slogans, but solid relationship. It is going to be awesome!
Do you have a story to share? I would love to hear about it over at my Facebook page? If you have additional questions, send me a message. Let's process this together.