6 Times Deconstruction Really Is a Good Thing

6 Times Deconstruction Really Is a Good Thing

Does faith deconstruction have a place in the Church? A quick Google search reveals a variety of opinions on the subject, with articles ranging from harsh criticism to strong praise.

What is faith deconstruction? Where did the concept come from and how can we be sure we’re talking about the same thing?

What Is Faith Deconstruction?

Defining deconstruction is tricky because there’s no agreed upon definition. The term first appeared in the fields of secular literature and philosophy. Britannica describes deconstruction as the process in which modern readers dissect older works to examine the language and logic, often leading to a reinterpretation of the pieces in question. In this context, truth is considered relative, merely an expression of the writer’s experience and understanding.

When viewing faith deconstruction through this lens, many Christians are concerned. If we deconstruct the Bible based on the assumption that it was written by fallible humans and not through divine inspiration, we lose the foundation of our faith. The Creeds of Christianity are rooted in the belief that Scripture is divine truth. For two millennia, Christians have looked to the Bible as our authority for faith and practice. Based on this understanding of deconstruction, many believers equate it with deconversion. 

Another line of thought, however, views the process in architectural terms. Grace Ruiter explains it this way, “If you think of Christian faith as a home, pursuing tough questions about your faith is a bit like tearing away the carpeting and knocking out the drywall to see the bones that lie beneath. It pulls apart your beliefs to reveal what they’re made of and what holds them together.” In this context, other Christians see faith deconstruction as a positive endeavor.

For some, this type of deconstruction may look like remodeling a single room. For others, it may resemble the complete renovation of an entire structure. In both cases, though, deconstruction can honor the value of faith as people invest time and energy to see it restored.

Because the term can be used in many different contexts, it’s wise to begin our discussion of faith deconstruction by agreeing on how we will use the term.

My Experience with Faith Deconstruction

I first heard the term faith deconstruction in the architectural context. At the time, I was several years into my own spiritual renovation. I didn’t have a word for my experience. I just knew my faith needed a complete overhaul. A series of life-changing events caused me to question everything I’d believed and practiced for decades. I didn’t want to abandon faith, but I knew I couldn’t live in the faith structure I’d built without full reconstruction.

Barnabus Piper's definition put words to my experience: “The word ‘deconstruction’ implies intentional process, a disassembling of something in order to examine its parts. It is different than ‘destruction’ or ‘dissolving’ … Actual deconstruction allows for something to be examined and reassembled or remodeled (hopefully better and stronger.)” 

When my faith crumbled, this is exactly what God led me to do — to systematically evaluate my beliefs using Scripture as my guide. I slowly worked my way through the Bible, primarily looking for who God is and who he says we are as his children. Along the way, I studied other theological and practical faith topics. I learned about Biblical culture using study tools. I compared various Bible passages with each other. I considered commentaries and articles written by Bible scholars across denominations. 

For me, deconstruction was a time of deep healing and spiritual renewal. Ultimately, it made space for God to rebuild a stronger faith structure. 

When Is Faith Deconstruction a Good Thing?

1. When It Leads Us Toward Christ

Deconstructing can be very painful. Most who set out to deconstruct don’t decide to do it on a whim. Contrary to a popular line of thought, many Christians who chose this process are not looking for license to sin or an excuse to abandon faith.

Most begin deconstruction from a place of deep pain. Some of have been hurt, abused, or manipulated by people in the church or by harmful church systems. Others have experienced life situations which simply don’t fit within their theological framework. Still others wrestle with questions or doubts they feel unable to voice within their faith circles.

Faith deconstruction is a good thing when it helps people encounter Christ. Jesus welcomes those who are hurting. He’s not afraid of doubts or “unspiritual” questions. He loves to reveal his heart and he longs to heal the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

2. When It Strips Away What’s Rotten and Unimportant

In my city, our downtown district recently gained a beautiful new theater. Actually, it’s a historic theater that lay in disrepair until it was meticulously restored. Restorationists combed through the building, removing what was rotten and salvaging, cleaning, and polishing all that was worth saving. The result is a stunning performing arts theater that speaks of the glories of Art Deco design.

Faith deconstruction is a good thing when it leads to a similar renewal. God desires to restore as he strips away what’s rotten, tears down the extra trappings that don’t express his heart, and rebuilds faith as he intended — life-giving and soul-mending through his Spirit (Luke 10:41-42).

3. When It Corrects Misunderstandings about God’s Heart

As I began my deconstruction, I was surprised to sense God’s favor and acceptance. My faith was in pieces. My spiritual disciplines were mere shadows of what they’d once been. I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what I believed.

Yet throughout that season, I never felt condemnation from God, only grace-filled welcome. I sensed his patience as I wrestled with doubts, his compassion as I worked through my pain, and his hope as he began to reconstruct my faith.

He dazzled my weary soul, and I realized I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did. Though I’d been a Christian for decades, my view of God needed renovation. He beckoned me into Scripture to discover his heart and he healed mine along the way.

Faith deconstruction is a good thing when it causes us to search for God and understand who he says he is (Jeremiah 9:24).

4. When It Moves Us into the Middle Spaces of Faith

The longer I walk with God, the more I realize how small the black and white spaces of faith really are. To be sure, God defines right and wrong in his Word. Truth is not relative. But there are far more gray areas than I used to believe.

In needing decisive answers for every theological question, we can forget that other Spirit-indwelt, Bible-loving Christians hold different perspectives. Deconstruction gives space to step into the middle. Into the freedom of not having an answer for everything. Into the tension of holding paradox gently.

Jewish rabbis speak of a concept called thinking with both hands. Writing about apparent contradictions in the Bible, Lois Tverberg points out that “The rabbis simply embrace the two ideas in tension with each other rather than needing to seek resolution. By doing so, they are actually being true to the text by not ignoring passages that don’t fit their theology. They see that God alone can understand some things.”

Deconstruction is a good thing when it leads us to walk with humility and curiosity in the middle spaces of faith (Colossians 3:12, Romans 14).

5. When It Cultivates Empathy and Compassion

Until my faith fell apart, I didn’t understand the pain of a shattered life. I was quick to offer platitudes and call Christians to just be stronger. Just try harder. Just be more disciplined.

Deconstruction was God’s gift to me. Through it, and through the people who walked it with me, he began changing my self-righteous heart. He cultivated empathy and compassion in my soul. He taught me the value of listening with humility, of just being present, of loving people right where they’re at. He showed me the power of a caring community in helping people walk toward wholeness.

Deconstruction is a good thing when it softens our hearts with the compassion of Christ (Matthew 14:14).

6. When It Fosters Harmony among Christians

Differences in belief can drive deep rifts between brothers and sisters in the family of God. It’s easy to think our way of viewing nonessential issues is the only right way. We forget kindness and humility as we discuss issues of faith.

God wants us to know what we believe — to study his Word, to learn from his Spirit, to be “fully convinced in our own minds” (2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Corinthians 2:13-16, Romans 14:5). But what distinguishes us as his followers, he says, is our love for one another, not our theology (John 13:35).

Deconstruction is a good thing when it leads to unity without uniformity. Faith deepens as we celebrate what we hold in common with other believers. Harmony grows as we seek to understand why others believe as they do. Humility takes root as we learn to embrace the limitations of our own understanding.

4 Practical Tips for Walking Through Deconstruction

1. Drop Anchor

Deconstruction can be very disorienting. To use a second analogy, it can feel like drifting aimlessly in a boat with no land in sight. It’s helpful to anchor yourself during this time.

Because holding onto historical Christianity was important to me, the Bible and the Creeds were my main anchors through deconstruction. I learned to apply responsible Bible study methods so I could understand Scripture in context — with itself and with the culture in which it was written. I also evaluated my beliefs in light of what the Church has taught since its inception, considering the teachings of various denominations as I studied.

2. Look for God

God invites us to walk through deconstruction with him. Far more than a mental exercise, this process can be a time of healing and renewal as we learn from his heart and grow in relationship with him.

The main practice which guided my deconstruction was a search for God through his Word. I chose a read-through-the-Bible plan that let me study at my own pace, and then I simply looked for God, jotting down everything the Bible declared or described about his heart. The journey took me seven years and five journals, and oh, how my heart changed along the way!

3. Be Gentle with Yourself

There’s no timetable for deconstruction. God doesn’t demand that we hurry up and fix our faith so we can get back to work. On the contrary, our gentle and humble Savior desires to rebuild our faith as we engage with him — bringing him our questions, entrusting him with our pain, and learning to live relationally with his Spirit.

4. Find Healthy Community

For those who’ve been hurt in Christian circles, trusting other believers can feel like an impossible goal. Yet God intends faith to be lived out relationally. He knows the importance of being loved and received by fellow humans and he often uses other Christians as his ministers of healing.

Ask God to lead you to a safe community of believers and to teach you what indications of trustworthiness look like. This process will be different for different people. It may not always be within the walls of a church building. It may take more time than you think it should. It may even require talking with a therapist who understands spiritual trauma or joining a cohort with others who are seeking to rebuild their faith.

Be patient with yourself in this process. Don’t rush into new commitments or force yourself to engage in ways that trigger you. Simply allow your heart to be open to God as he leads you into spaces where you can heal.

Faith deconstruction has an important place in the Church. Whether you are deconstructing or walking through it with a loved one, may God work deeply within you to build a strong and flourishing faith.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/RyanJLane

Meredith Mills headshotMeredith N Mills writes about letting go of the try-harder life through knowing God’s heart and resting in his grace. She’s passionate about helping wounded and weary Christians build (and rebuild) authentic, life-giving faith. You can download her 7-day devotional, Flourish: Devotions from the Garden to Help You Thrive, and subscribe for her email devotions, Multifaceted: Reflections on the Heart of God, at MeredithNMills.com/freebie-library. She’d love to connect with you on InstagramThreads, and Facebook.