My Reconstructed Faith
Among the ever-growing list of controversies and threats to Christ’s church, the disturbance of deconstruction looms large. Over the past two years, we have all seen and listened to many stories of deconstruction from authors, musicians, and even YouTube personalities. Sadly, these stories are celebrated even by some Christians — the same Christians who then mock those who raised alarm over deconstruction.
What I don’t often hear are stories of those who have reconstructed their faith. Since I couldn’t find many, I thought I would offer my own story of reconstruction after I abandoned Christianity for progressive Christianity.
Dynamics of Deconstructed Faith
Most deconstruction stories start with a crisis. This was certainly my experience. I spent 2006-2008 attending a progressive Christian church in my college town. I read leading progressive theologians and pastors: Paul Tillich, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Barbara Brown Taylor, Phyllis Tickle, and Phillip Gulley. I no longer believed the Bible was inspired, let alone authoritative. I denied miracles, the virgin birth, the incarnation, and even had deep doubts about the resurrection. I affirmed homosexuality, universalism, and social justice.
My crisis started on the first day of classes in the fall of 2008 at Andover-Newton Theological School just outside of Boston. One of my first classes was a required course for all the new MDiv students. The professor was the Dean of the school and an influential queer-feminist theologian who had recently left Harvard. She spent a good deal of time talking about the intersectionality and the task of the minister to affirm and support all the identities represented in a church. Here was where my crisis began. We did a class assignment where we took an inventory of our identities: race, sexuality, gender, etc. Some of us were confused, so she clarified, “What are your strongest identities? The ones that define you? For example, my primary identity is a lesbian woman in a 20-year committed relationship to my partner.” As progressive as I was, I thought that a Christian’s primary identity would be Christian — certainly for those Christians preparing for ordained ministry.
When we were done with the inventory, the professor showed us a pyramid of oppression. She started at the bottom with the most oppressed identities and worked her way up. This was what I wanted; I wanted to speak truth to power, fight oppression, and labor for liberation. However, after the class I felt empty and bothered. The pastor was presented as a problem solver for the culture. My mission would then be to create a more just and equitable society, not to care for souls. It struck me that we always talked about sin at the structural level but never at the personal level.
It also made me think back through all those authors I read. I don’t remember a single one mentioning the problem of personal sins. These people claimed to follow Jesus, but Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23). Why shouldn’t we follow Jesus when he said this? I could feel a knot in my stomach. The crisis had begun.
Meeting Jesus Again
My last class that day was a New Testament elective on the historical Jesus. The professor began class with a statement that I firmly believed when I woke up that morning:
“The Bible is an ancient document written decades and centuries after the events they record. The Gospels are early Church stories about Jesus and have very little value as historical evidence of Jesus. He never claimed to be God and in fact, probably died in a shallow grave somewhere close to the crucifixion.”
I saw my classmates’ heads shake and confirm their agreement. I realized at that moment that there was no point in me continuing at the seminary. If this was what these progressive ministers believed about Jesus, the Scriptures, and the Church, then what was the point? Why not simply be a “good” person and enjoy lazy Sunday mornings? What was I supposed to say to a wife in my congregation whose husband was leaving her? What was I supposed to say to her husband? If there is no resurrection hope, how do I comfort someone at the hour of their death? I deconstructed my faith for over two years, and now found myself in an empty pit of despair. I wanted to be at a progressive seminary, and God allowed me to be there — and I only lasted a day.
* * *
All this happened back in 2008. By 2010, I was attending Covenant Theological Seminary. I am thankful for the work the Lord did in my life during those two years. Since the Fall, it seems we all have a desire to destroy that which God creates. Thankfully, there is nothing we can destroy that God cannot rebuild.
Here are three means the Lord used to reconstruct my faith:
I Read More
God’s rebuilding project in my life began when I read more, not less. When I began deconstructing my faith, I read all the popular liberal, progressive, and evangelical-left authors and theologians. I thought I was open to all the research and literature. I thought I was doing the work necessary to unhitch the cultural baggage of my childhood faith. In reality, I had narrowed my reading to only those who supported my deconstruction. I barely ever read an author with a different view, and I never cross-examined or investigated the claims of the progressive authors I was reading. I was blindly accepting them because they were affirming what I wanted to be true.
“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Pr. 18:17) A week after I left Andover-Newton, I ordered N.T. Wright’s book, Jesus and the Victory of God to counter what I had read in John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. My confidence in the Word of God had been shaken from reading Marcus Borg’s Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, but it was restored when I read Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. More than simply reading books on the Bible, I returned to reading the Bible devotionally and — most importantly — going to hear it read in public worship. I remember being completely captivated by my pastor’s sermon series on Colossians, especially his exposition of Colossians 2. One Lord’s Day, I spent the afternoon reading and rereading Colossians. I was especially convicted when I read Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” I realized I had been taken captive by a movement that replaced revelation with philosophy, the promises of God for the lies of humans, and the Word of God for human traditions.
I Joined the Local Church
If you’ve listened to or read enough deconstruction stories, you begin to notice patterns. One of those patterns is increased isolation (e.g. here). Maybe the person had not been part of the local church in years and is deconstructing a childish faith. Maybe they’ve been active in church their whole life and are deconstructing a more mature faith. Wherever they fall on that spectrum, part of their story is a painful experience, real or perceived, or being frustrated over a cultural issue where they think the church is wrong (racism, LGBTQ, any myriad of social issues), or anger over the church community not supporting them in their deconstruction. This causes them to step away from church membership, usually because the environment was “toxic” or “unsafe.”
Now, there are real church abuse situations that should be taken seriously. However, being told a biblical command that you disagree with does not make the church toxic or unsafe. What ends up happening is these people leave sources of community and accountability and become isolated. Satan delights in separating us from those who would love to guard and protect us so that we can easily be picked off (Gen 3). He is very much like a lion hunting his prey (1 Peter 5:8). As the Puritan George Swinnock said, “The cruel pirate Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy.”
When God began to reconstruct my faith, I realized how lonely I was and how much I needed help. I needed a community of believers to walk alongside me. I needed to sit under a faithful minister of the gospel and hear the word of God preached. I needed to receive the sacraments to strengthen my faith. I needed people to pray with me and for me, which leads to my final point.
Have you ever seen a child pick up a phone and pretend to talk with someone? I always enjoy watching my little girls do that. They have some entertaining conversations. Now have you ever seen an adult do that? No, because it is silly to pick up a phone and pretend to talk to nobody. When I deconstructed my faith, prayer became picking up a phone and knowingly dialing a number I didn’t expect to be answered. When deconstruction led me to progressive Christianity, prayer seemed to be synonymous with eastern meditation. It becomes incredibly self-centered and/or bizarrely mystical. I eventually gave up praying altogether. The first time I returned to genuine prayer I simply started by saying, “I’m sorry.” I was sorry for what I had come to believe and to teach. I was sorry for abandoning the church. I was sorry for rebelling against God. I prayed with David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps. 51:12). He did restore me and returned the joy I had in his saving power and it came through prayer.
This may not seem like much compared to the deconstruction juggernaut facing members of your congregation, family, or yourself. There is a sweetness in simplicity though. The deconstruction movement was anything but simple. It was calling me to always be “radical,” “subversive,” and a “cultural influencer.” Deconstruction never ends. There will always be some doctrine, denomination, or teacher that is deemed problematic and needs to be deconstructed if Christianity is to survive. And this isn’t new; in fact, it is a rerun of liberal Christianity ( “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”).
What I found in my reconstruction were the ordinary means of the Christian faith as stated in WSC 88,
“The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.”
If you are a minister and have a young man or woman who appears to be wandering down the path of deconstruction, I hope that this article will give you some ways to engage them. If they start reading progressive authors, say you’ll read them together and that you will recommend the next book to read. Continue to encourage them to attend worship and have community with those in the church. As Swinnock put it, we don’t want them to be found without a convoy. Finally, pray earnestly for them to be kept from deception and the lure of cultural relevancy and acceptance. Pray that they would walk in “the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jer. 6:16)
Philip Ryan is a bi-vocational pastor. He pastors Marion Presbyterian Church in Marion, AL. He lives and works in Tuscaloosa, AL.
Podcast: “The Celebration of Apostasy”
“Apostasy Lit: Why Do They Leave?” by Steve Nichols
“How Not to Fall Away” by William Boekestein
“The God That Failed” by Carl Trueman
"On Deconstruction and Loving One Another" by Stephen Unthank
"Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church," review by Louis Markos
 For an example, see the popular podcast “The Holy Post” discussing Alisa Childers excellent article from The Gospel Coalition on whether we should redeem deconstruction. Her article can be found here and the Holy Post’s ridicule of her piece can be found here.
 A small disclaimer, when I say “progressive” I mean those teachings, practices, and beliefs associated with mainline progressive Christianity as found here. I am not referring to the title used by Bryan Chapell to describe a group within the PCA found here.)
 The irony was lost on me (as it is lost on many today who deconstruct) that I became more politically motivated while I was a progressive Christian than I was/am as an evangelical Christian. See George Yancey’s excellent book “One Nation No Longer” which discusses this at length.
 Andover-Newton was absorbed by Yale Divinity in 2015 and the property in Boston sold.
 To this day I do not know what changed inside of me, other than a work of the Holy Spirit.
 As quoted in Ore from a Puritans Mine, ed. Dale W. Smith (Reformation Heritage Books, 491