Reconstruction Series : Pt. 2 | Reformation
This is the second article in a four-part series on deconstruction and reconstruction. You can find part one here.
To reform is to reclaim
Many people know the name Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation who famously nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. This one man's impact on the world's history cannot be overstated. Less well-known was the original purpose in Luther’s heart. Luther actually did not seek to overthrow the church but to reform it. The whole aim of the Protestant Reformation from Luther forward was to reclaim. Not to find something new but to recover something old.
Reformation, in this context, is about finding the truth that has always been there and submitting our lives to it. It does not take much for the truth to become polluted, and polluted truth is no truth at all. In fact, the book of Galatians, which many scholars believe to be the earliest New Testament book, was written for this very purpose. Galatians addresses a seemingly tiny deviation from the truth of the Gospel, and the Apostle’s reaction to this deviation is nothing short of pronouncing a curse on those propagating it.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8)
What were the false teachers in Galatia teaching that was so dangerous? They taught that you had to be circumcised to be in the New Covenant. This one small addition changed everything because truth containing the slightest bit of falsehood is no longer truth. Paul’s concern was that the message remained pure (Gal. 2:5).
Luther, like Paul, understood that believers were susceptible to these deviations and that once those falsehoods have taken root, it’s time for reformation. It’s time to reclaim the truth and bring our lives into submission to it.
We know something’s not right
In my previous article on deconstruction, I distinguished between two types of deconstructors: the ones who know what they are deconstructing and abandon Biblical Christianity in favor of a more palatable alternative and those who begin with a broken Christianity at the outset and leave a faith that was never worth having. The former, those who have knowingly left the truth, are called to repentance and faith. The latter, while also in need of repentance and faith, I am sympathetic to. In some of the popular deconstruction stories, we see a trend of people questioning and leaving a version of Christianity that wasn’t Biblical Christianity in the first place. Many testimonies reveal a common theme: individuals feeling restricted from asking challenging questions or expressing doubts, often receiving inadequate and dismissive responses. Furthermore, there are testimonies of mistreatment and abusive leadership, as well as instances of unwavering, dogmatic loyalty to a specific church. As well as testimonies of arbitrary and legalistic standards being thrust upon people’s spiritual shoulders. In such cases, people know something’s not right. The enemy uses this to convince them that their experience (and the experience of the myriad of others who commiserate with them) is what all Christianity yields. Most of these stories come from people who grew up in unbiblical church environments and gradually became disillusioned until they hit a crisis of faith. At that moment, the faith they held all this time couldn't withstand the crisis. And so they deconstruct their faith.
This really is a tragedy. As believers, it’s not too dissimilar from the relationship between our experience with our earthly fathers and our view of God, the perfect Father. We inevitably project those experiences with our earthly fathers onto our Heavenly Father. For many of us, this is a massive challenge to overcome. We instinctively see in God those negative qualities of our own fathers. Maybe we see Him as distant and uncaring or as a harsh taskmaster, never supporting, never affirming, never strengthening but constantly tearing down. This has led many Christians to the point of keeping God at arm’s length. They never enjoy a close relationship with God because they can’t see the difference. The conflation of the image of God, poorly presented in our fathers, and the reality of God causes them to reject Him for flaws that He doesn’t possess.
This is what happens with the deconstructors in the category we’ve been discussing. They leave a faith for faults that the faith doesn’t possess. They leave a caricature of Christianity. They deconstruct when they should be reforming.
Fight or flight
I want to be careful not to minimize the pain that leads many of those behind these stories to the places where they land. Some of the horrendous experiences that these people have had in the name of Christianity would likely invoke a crisis of faith in any sane person. To these, we need to express the utmost sympathy and compassion, seeking to help them heal and return to the truth. That being said, in cases where serious abuse isn’t present and the professing believer begins to doubt and challenge this form of deficient Christianity, it becomes a matter of fight or flight.
There are two options available in this situation. Either fight it out, wrestle with the doubts, pursue the truth, seek healing and restoration while refusing to blame Christ for the sins of people, or flee and let go of all of it. It’s not surprising which one of these options offers the greater temptation. We all have a “black or white, all or nothing” tendency in us. It always seems easier to just quit than to fix. But reformation is the answer, not deconstruction.
Reformation, not deconstruction
The corruption and abuses of the Catholic Church in Luther’s day could have just as easily led him to apostasy instead of to the Reformation. One factor determined which direction Luther would go. To the believer whose experience I’ve been describing, the same factor will determine which direction you go – deconstruction or reformation. It all depends on where you turn to find the answers to your doubts. The easy route, turning inward, will lead to flight. If you turn to your own heart, your own reasonings, your own self-discovery, you will find there a false god who will gladly accept your worship and require nothing of you. The end, however, leads to emptiness and destruction. Speaking of idols, Psalm 115 says,
“Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (Psalm 115:8)
Luther, on the other hand, turned outward to God and particularly to His Word in his pursuit to reconcile his broken experiences with the truth. There you will find everything you are looking for. All the wrong you sense, but just can’t put your finger on, will be made right there, in His Word and in your pursuit of Him. With His truth, you can begin reconstructing an understanding of God, Christianity, and the Church that will never let you down.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13)
For those deconstructing from a deficient Christianity, the answer is not deconstruction but reformation.
Nick Judd is the Kids Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is also the co-host of the "Everyday Apologetics" podcast. Nick is passionate about growing people in their knowledge of the Word of God and in their ability to defend it in the midst of a culture fighting against truth.