To “deconstruct” one’s faith has become so cliche in contemporary Christian culture that Josh Harris, noted “exvangelical” and author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, is selling a deconstruction class for $275.
Entitled “Reframe Your Story” the class includes a “Deconstruction Starter Pack.” Despite the price, there’s a code for those “harmed by purity culture” to take the class for free.
What is to be made of the tendency of Christians, especially megachurch celebrities, to frame their religious struggles with postmodern sounding terms like “deconstruction”? This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon: Christians, as with Jacob, have wrestled with God, for thousands of years. But in another sense this kind of questioning of faith is different. Deconstruction entails an interrogation of religion in-line with the 21st century therapeutic approach to spirituality which prioritizes self-actualization above all else.
Without diminishing the real struggles of Christian apostates, the exvangelical deconstructionist approach seems at odds with the historical prioritization of finding Salvation in God. When Christian social-media stars are “deconstructing,” it says more about them finding solace in the dominant therapeutic spirituality of today than losing an orthodox faith. The persistent theme is a Christianity that aesthetically resembles secular culture producing Christians whose theology is more amenable to popular ideas of transcendence than a historic faith. Deconstruction, then, just amounts to these people coming to the realization that their worldview was never particularly religious to begin with.
Again, this doesn’t delegitimize people struggling with orthodox Christianity, but it does mean that the framework of deconstructionism may not be the best way to address their problems.
I recently reviewed a collection of essays from The Gospel Coalition entitled Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church on the subject of deconstructionism. A pattern arose of asking the deconstructors why they had chosen to deconstruct Christianity instead of the secular worldview they compared it against. This is the correct answer, yet it’s unsatisfying since most of those leaving their faith lacked real theological grounding to start.
How do you help someone who’s doubting their faith when that “faith” was always more rooted in modern America than historic Christianity?
This is the issue Harris seeks to exploit: as a former megachurch pastor and bestselling Evangelical author, he is a prime example of a Christianity that values personality and rapid growth over solid theology and worldview formation. Just as modern forms of spirituality, like energy crystals and various forms of neo-paganism, are subject to market capture, so too is Harris’ brand of deconstructed Christianity. The sales-pitch is basically the same as any new-age spirituality guru who, for a small fee, will help open your soul to a higher power without the trappings of old-time religion. For Christians who have implicitly adopted the postwar therapeutic impetus, Harris is a convenient guide from liberal Christianity to whatever watered-down belief feels good.
What is to be done about rampant deconstructionism present in the church? The verb “deconstruct” implies a pre-existing structure which can be taken apart, examined and put back together. Yet for many deconstructors faith is more an unsecured tent, blowing wherever is popular, than a solid building. But there’s no conference to attend, no book to read, no podcast to listen to that addresses the infinite contours of a Christian worldview and can create a robust religious framework for life. The quest for new disciples must be tempered by the knowledge that a weak foundation will ultimately collapse in on itself, as the deconstructionists are seeing. But what does proper Christian formation look like?
When I attended Wheaton College, the school president in an annual “town hall” would take questions. A student once asked why Wheaton did not offer a Christian apologetics course. The president responded that the closest class the school did offer was Philosophy of Religion. At this point I couldn’t contain myself and gave a cry of joy from the balcony, startling the president and the audience who had had no expectation of such passion. But for me, at that moment I could feel so many problems with Christian education laid bare before me.
The thinking which asks “where is our apologetics class?” and “where is our defense against deconstruction?” is the same which asks “where is the class/book/podcast to teach me to think as a Christian?” The answer is that every sermon, every class, every book and every theological conversation should draw us deeper into a tradition, worldview and paradigm fundamentally at odds with modern secularism. The intellectual development that goes into this worldview starts in childhood and never stops. But this development won’t happen if the foundation you’re drilling into has more to do with modern America than historical Christianity; like building houses on sand and stone, only one will survive.
Editor’s Note: Harris has recently taken down the course and is no longer offering it.