Suppose a friend informs you they are deconstructing their faith and now identify as a postvangelical. How would you engage them with biblical counsel?
First, take time to listen. Postvangelicals often begin their journey with sincere questions and a dose of doubt, but they go astray if they have built their faith on a foundation besides God’s inerrant Word (Matthew 7:24-27). According to Alisa Childers, “Deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with.1Alisa Childers, Another Gospel? (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2020), 24. All Christians must continually test our faith and evaluate the strength of our beliefs (1 Thessalonians 5:21), yet biblical truth should remain our standard for discernment (Psalm 19:7-9). You cannot rebuild if you tear down the foundation along with the house.
As you listen to your friend, seek to understand their heart’s desires. Why have they encountered this crisis of faith and embraced a journey of deconstruction? Postvangelicals often deny the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture, yet many did not start out that way. Their abandonment of the Bible most likely happened gradually as they distanced themselves from the historic church and its teachings.
For this reason, doubt and unbelief are usually the result, and not the root cause, of departure. Many postvangelicals once belonged to churches like ours. They professed the same truths, attended like-minded institutions, and engaged in similar types of ministry. Some were even popular writers, speakers, and influencers in the Christian world. Believers who once professed Christ rarely began their journey intending to deny Christ or abandon the faith, but instead followed a more gradual slope (1 John 2:19). So, what motives might lie at the heart of deconstruction?
Hurting people can lose their faith when they encounter personal suffering. Some have walked away from the church after witnessing moral scandals, financial impropriety, or spiritual abuse. Others have abandoned the faith after witnessing the moral bankruptcy of professing believers. Many more will turn away from God in the midst of hardships and trials. Instead of making them stronger, their difficulties lead them to deconstruction (James 2:1-12).
Another person might wrestle with social issues over which the church and culture appear to be in conflict (i.e., racial justice, abortion rights, same-sex marriage). In their desire for the approval of others, they fall away from the church and embrace the culture’s values. They might cringe with embarrassment over traditional church teachings that have fallen out-of-style in our modern world (i.e., hell, creationism, substitutionary atonement). Parents whose son comes out as gay might alter their previous stance on homosexuality or a person who marries an unbeliever might slowly drift from the faith (2 Corinthians 6:14). A beloved university professor can sway a student’s thinking and all of us are constantly bombarded by peer pressure (Proverbs 13:20). Too many are influenced by the ridicule and arguments of others instead of establishing their convictions on Scripture (29:25). Thus, people-pleasers often reinterpret God’s Word to fit societal views (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Some depart from the faith over relational conflict in church. This root cause might include prideful unrepentance, an unwillingness to seek forgiveness, or a stubborn refusal to pursue peace (Romans 12:18). Others claim that the church is filled with hypocrites who don’t measure up to the standard of Christ. Sometimes pride manifests itself in a young person’s desire for self-dependence such that rebellion becomes a badge of honor (Proverbs 15:5). Rejecting their parents’ authority gets lumped in with rejecting their parents’ faith. Prideful people place themselves above Christ, church unity, and the call to humble repentance (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Another common factor is the popularity gained by going with a different crowd. Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus were false teachers who departed from the church over a conflict of ideas and a refusal to repent of blasphemy (1 Timothy 1:19b-20; 2 Timothy 2:17-18). Surely, they took their followers with them. Although well-known postvangelicals have lost book deals and their previous following, many have actually grown in popularity for raging against the Christian faith (Matthew 24:10-12). Some have also made a fortune telling their deconversion stories. Social media celebrates those who take extreme positions more than those who uphold traditional beliefs. An entire community even exists now to remove the former stigma from those in the process of deconstruction. Popularity-seekers love the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:43).
One more root cause involves the desire for pleasure among those who abandon their faith to excuse moral wrongs (Matthew 24:12-13). For example, a man pursuing sexual pleasure may turn from his former faith that calls him to purity and marital commitment (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; Hebrews 13:4). At first, his conscience informs him that his thoughts and behavior are sinful, but he ignores these warnings and stops paying them attention (1 Timothy 4:1-2). In like manner, Demas fell away because he loved the things of this present world (2 Timothy 4:10). Too many apostates are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (3:4).
Perseverance in the Faith
A postvangelical may start on their path of deconstruction for various reasons, but the journey always ends in a denial of God’s Word. So how do we hold fast to the faith and help our loved ones to stand firm as well (see Jude 3)?
First, we must fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). For if we love Jesus, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15) and cherish His Word (Psalm 119:97). Our desire to please Him will overshadow any desire to please others (Galatians 1:10). We will endure persecution and ridicule for His sake (1 Peter 4:12-14). We will pursue peace for the unity of His body, the church (Ephesians 4:1-6). We will find forgiveness for our stubborn pride and seek repentance in order to be right with God (1 John 1:9).
Second, we must find a place to belong in our local church (Acts 2:42-47). The church has been charged with making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and preaching God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-4). So we strengthen one another like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17) and stir up one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). We help the weak when they struggle and rely on the strong when our own faith needs help (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We share our doubts and talk about our differences within the healthy confines of Christ’s body (e.g., Acts 15). We also welcome those who once strayed, but eventually returned (James 5:19-20). In fact, we go out of our way to restore such a one “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
Finally, we must affirm Scripture as God’s living and active Word (Hebrews 4:12). We trust these biblical truths to form our faith and guide our interpretation of culture and society (Psalm 119:105). We then cling to God’s Word as sufficient for all matters related to life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Pet 1:3) and delight in the gospel (Psalm 19:10) as we build our lives on its foundation. We do not merely listen to God’s Word, but persevere in doing it as well (James 1:22-25). For this reason, I prefer the phrase “biblical renovation” over “deconstruction” because many will demolish the true faith itself instead of stopping at human traditions. Jesus warned that such tearing down will actually result in our destruction (Matthew 7:26-27). Therefore, we are wise to keep the foundation in place even as we knock down walls and frame the new additions (Romans 12:1-2).
May our words and exhortations continually build each other up as we battle the temptations and root causes of deconstruction (1 Thessalonians 5:11). May we confess our own failures that have shaken the faith of others. May we offer hope in Christ to postvangelicals who find shifting sand and empty lives in the aftermath of deconstruction.