Good morning again, bloggers!
Some of the news that I’ve missed while I was away from the blog was that Joshua Harris, the author of books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, has stepped away from the Christian faith. This has been a bit of a shocker, particularly among the evangelical community. Harris was a big voice when it comes to the purity culture among Christians. Particularly when I was in college, Harris was a big deal. I had friends that were a part of Sovereign Grace churches, and so I’ve had the opportunity to hear from Harris a number of times.
The shock of Harris walking away from his faith in Christ has brought up this word of which many Christians are becoming more and more fearful: deconstruction. The idea is that the faith of our childhood and teenage years needs to be torn apart, examined, and if possible rebuilt to better suit our adult years. The evangelical community has become (if Twitter is to be believed) a bit afraid of this idea, fearing that more people will end up like Harris and leave Christian faith all together.
Today, I want to argue in favor of deconstruction.
That might seem odd as a pastor, particularly one who deals mostly with teenagers, that they should need to deconstruct the faith that I have had a hand in building. But I think it’s honestly one of the most healthy things an individual can do.
Let’s look at this with a bit of an analogy. My dad, who is and always has been an engineer, told me once that when he was a kid he used to tear apart a lawnmower down to the smallest parts available, study them, and then put them back together again until the lawnmower was functional again. He did this for fun. We can come back to whether this is healthy behavior later, but the analogy holds a lot of weight for this conversation. In some cases I’m guessing the lawnmower was a total bust, and dad would need some help to rebuild it from a more knowledgeable source. In some cases I’m guessing the lawnmower worked exactly the way it had before. And in some cases I’m guessing the lawnmower got better, functioned more efficiently, got better gas milage, etc.
Faith can be a lot like that lawn mower. Sometimes you can deconstruct the systems of belief that you held as a child and you might need help getting the pieces back together again. This points to the incredibly valuable nature of mentorship and discipleship, but we’ll come back to that later. Sometimes you tear down the systems of belief that you held as a child and decide that they need to go back together exactly the same way they came apart, and that’s a beautiful thing. Sometimes you tear down the systems of belief you held, and you realize there are much better systems to hold your faith out there. You discover that you can relate to Jesus much better with a different set of practices, community, and even yes theological beliefs.
We are able to do this kind of deconstructive work when we remember and hold on to one essential truth that I think the church has lost: Jesus is Lord, not our religion. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the eternal second person of the trinity, the savior of the world. The Church (note the capital C) has been working on trying to figure Jesus out for millennia, and struggled for good reason. We have come to recognize that Jesus Christ is a much bigger person to understand than our feeble minds are capable of. That doesn’t mean we don’t try, of course we try. But it is to say that we approach religion for what it is, a system of beliefs to aid our attempt to understand, worship, and grow closer to our savior. Put another way, Jesus is the water of life. Our particular religious systems are the bowl that helps us hold him, however flawed.
This isn’t the same thing as being spiritual, but not religious by the way. We can come back to this later, but I think to claim being spiritual but not religious is to say that you’re going to try to contain the water of life by holding your hands together really tight. I think there are better ways.
When you realize that your faith is merely a container to hold on to Christ, this whole deconstruction thing gets much less scary. You’re not letting go of your faith in Christ, you’re actually working on a better container. You’re working on a better system. You’re growing closer to Christ, even when it feels like you’re walking away.
To be sure, there will be the Josh Harris of the world. There will be those who want to deconstruct the system and feel no desire at all to put it back together. This fills me with no other emotion but sadness. Sadness that the system that these folks grew up with was so toxic, so destructive that they feel the need to run from it (This example should prove particularly potent for the over-hyped purity culture among evangelicals, but that too is a separate blog post). It makes me sad when anyone’s system could be so destructive and toxic that they feel a need to walk away from the Christ who saves. That breaks my heart, not because of what these individuals have done, but because of what has been done to them.
But for the most part, deconstruction is a good thing. At least the Apostle Paul thought so: When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known (1 Corinthians 13:11-12 CEB). That sure sounds to me like someone who is always trying to understand the systems by which he holds Christ, to make sure that he is holding Christ as faithfully as possible.
And, when that deconstruction goes really south, when you aren’t sure what to make of your faith, when you aren’t sure that you can come up with a system for holding on to Christ, remember that sometimes it’s ok to let Christ hold you for a bit.