A View from the Pew: Deconstruction is Only Half of the Job

A friend and mentor I quote often liked to say he was “unencumbered by a theological education.”

That joke has always resonated with me because although he said it tongue-in-cheek, at multiple points in my life I contemplated it seriously. His quip gave me an out and helped me communicate that I don’t have all the answers.

But I have handled the public relations for a seminary and worked as a communicator for a faith-based nonprofit that supported 15 theology schools. I have been seminary-adjacent for many years. That experience taught me the first year of seminary is all about deconstruction—taking apart your faith, systematically examining your core beliefs and getting at the root of your spiritual journey.

So what do the rest of us who are “unencumbered by a theological education” do? How do we process our questions and doubts and examine our understanding of scripture and the nature of God, the mission of the Church and the purpose of our lives?

Listening to sermons, studying the Bible, and engaging in personal prayer help, but when “doubts arise and fears dismay” it’s easy to give up, feeling hopeless and devoid of faith.

Faith formation isn’t always linear. For some, deconstruction happens in cycles: periods of questioning and doubt are followed by renewal and confirmation. However, for too many people, deconstruction appears to be the end of their faith journey. They take the engine apart, scattering the pieces around their garage and leave them there, believing that there is no way they can reassemble it and get it running again.

Maybe they lack the will to re-engage their faith with a different set of assumptions, or it could be the task just feels too overwhelming. The other, most prevalent reason pilgrims on the journey lose their way is a catastrophic life event that upends their faith system, and continuing to be a person of faith means coming to terms with trauma.

People leave the Church and abandon faith for lots of reasons, only some of which have anything to do with deconstructing their faith. While there are atheists who either have never had faith or have abandoned faith, there are also those who want to believe but just can’t. I hear their longing echoed in the paradoxical cry of the father in Mark 9 who wanted Jesus to heal his son of seizures: “I believe! Help my unbelief!”

I don’t have a concrete, road-tested 12-step program to bring Christians into and through a deconstruction of their faith. I can only offer that it is hard work. If you have entered a season of questioning and doubt after a life of accepting everything you’ve been taught, you don’t have to give up. It is hard work, but there is a payoff for the effort.

It does not happen all at once. Your process of faith formation will be lifelong. The idea you will arrive at a state of knowing or sainthood is a myth. We’re all struggling and wrestling with Scripture, tradition, teaching, and our experience. Honest faith exploration never ends.

Deconstruction is only part of the seminary journey. Reconstruction is the longer, more difficult part.

Reconstruction is also a humble pursuit. How often do you hear Micah 6:8 quoted? “To walk humbly with your God” is a good description of reconstruction. I like to think of reconstruction as encountering challenging circumstances and biblical texts, and as my friend Mark says, “I don’t know if I believe it, but I don’t disbelieve it.” Be careful that your certainty doesn’t lead you to arrogance. That can truly leave you bereft when you confront life’s hardships.

If you’re reading a blog about church, you have likely not stopped at the deconstruction phase or have never entered it. Before you step off the cliff, remember that deconstruction is only half of the job. I encourage you to keep at the reconstruction. And if you have loved ones who have stopped halfway, gently and lovingly remind them they can pick up the second part of the journey at any time.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications and writes a blog at newsouthessays.com.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email