“Deconstruction” is a popular word these days. I see it used most often by famous(ish) Christians announcing through their social media channels that they’re leaving evangelical Christianity for “progressive Christian spirituality*”, agnosticism, or atheism.
“Deconstruction,” as these influencers use it, is a process that often begins with being hurt or disappointed in some way by Christians or a church, leads to doubting and questioning aspects of the faith they were raised in, and culminates in them leaving historically orthodox Christianity altogether.
But that’s not my deconstruction story.
HURT & DISAPPOINTMENT
For most of my childhood our preacher predicted the end of the world every other month, condemned dancing and drinking, and generally made me – a naturally anxious kid – afraid all the time of not really being saved or loved by God.
When my dad lost his job for a season, he was unable to give to the church. It wasn’t disobedience on his part, it was need. Instead of giving us groceries or helping us pay the bills, this pastor took away my dad’s leadership position.
DOUBT & QUESTIONS
As a high schooler, in a different church, loving mentors encouraged me to ask questions. And I did. I wrestled most with purpose. There had to be more to the Christian life, I thought, than waiting for the end to come so we can go to heaven.
When I read the Bible for myself I didn’t see Jesus talking nearly as much about going to heaven as the Baptist churches in East Texas did. There was also a lot of stuff Jesus talked about a great deal that they never even mentioned.
I can see now that my questions and doubts were connected to my hurts: A faith that’s all about going to heaven someday (and not dancing or drinking while we wait) has little to offer a dad who’s out of a job today.
Without realizing it at the time, I left evangelical Christianity for the Republican party. It gave me purpose and told me why people lose their jobs, whose fault that is, and what should be done about it. I listened to Rush Limbaugh all week and went to church on Sunday.
But after years of that, after 9/11, Jerry Falwell said about the terrorists, “Blow them all away in the name of the Lord!” Something in me winced. I didn’t know what, but something hurt deep inside me. I began questioning and doubting Republican Christianity.
We all question in our own way. For me, it’s through reading and writing. I started with the gospels. I outlined all four of them, summarizing what each chapter was about. I discovered Jesus – not the Jesus of East Texas, or the GOP, or the progressive American theologians, or the “red letter” Democrats, or the emerging postmodernists… I found the ancient, eastern, Jewish Jesus. He had so much to say that I’d never heard before! I was desperate to know him more.
I read everything I could on early church history and belief, ancient Judaism, the culture and politics and language of Jesus’ world, the Old Testament he grew up with and quoted often.
Some of you were around in those days on my old website’s message board. You know how obnoxious and angry I often was! I felt like my pastors and teachers had kept the real Jesus a secret. I felt like I’d been robbed. I was angry at so many people, most of all myself for wasting so many years! It got ugly, guys. Really ugly.
Deconstruction is a hard process. It often starts with hurt and disappointment. The resulting doubt and questioning can feel like sawing the branch you’re sitting on. But leaving was the toughest part of all for me.
It’s even harder for those leaving in 2021.
All the cool kids seem to be ditching evangelical Christianity (with a lot of right-leaning politics attached) for the mythological Jesus of “progressive Christianity” (with a lot of left-leaning politics attached), the limbo of agnosticism, or the nihilism of atheism. This makes it even harder – countercultural even! – to leave instead for a more ancient, eastern, historical faith (with no political attachments necessary). But that’s what I’ve left for. That’s where I’ve found the answers and purpose I’ve longed for since I was that scared, hurt kid on a wooden pew in Texas.
Jesus is not an American. Definitley not a Baptist. Not a Republican or a Democrat. And, this is so hard for me to type…not even a Texan. He never once ate fajitas.
To discover the real Jesus, you don’t have to leave historically orthodox Christianity. Because Jesus entered history. You can find him there. At the very beginning.
That’s my unsolicited advice to those of you who are hurting, disappointed, doubting and questioning right now. You don’t have to follow the cool kids. You don’t have to leave American-made evangelical Christianity for American-made progressive Christianity. Start with Jesus – the historical, ancient, eastern, Jewish, brown-skinned, impoverished, kingdom-bringing, revolutionary, compassionate, healing, serving, sacrificial, resurrected, Spirit-gifting Jesus.
*Progressive Christian spirituality or progressive Christianity, as I use these terms here, refers to a modern strain of Christianity organized around eight principles:1)Following the teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life. 2)The teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life. 3)Inclusive community. 4)The way we behave towards others is the fullest expression of belief. 5)Questioning is of greater value than belief in absolutes. 6)Peace and justice for all people. 7)Protect and restore the integrity of Earth. 8)Life-long learning, compassion, and love.
This movement is also marked by 1)Denial of the atonement 2)Denial of the authority and inspiration of the Bible 3)Denial of the sinful nature of humans 4)Denial that sin separates us from God 5)Denial of the deity of Jesus 6)Denial of the physical resurrection of Jesus 7)Denial of the virgin birth of Jesus 8)Denial of the Trinity 9)Denial of the sinlessness of Jesus 10)Denial of evangelism (encourage the exchange of ideas without claiming one idea is better or truer than another)
The earliest Christian creeds were statements of foundational Christian beliefs. Progressive Christianity generally does not insist upon any of those beliefs. No group is monolithic, but these are the general distinctives of progressive Christianity or progressive Christian spirituality.