Many years ago, my Christian beliefs were challenged intellectually by a progressive Christian pastor. It threw me into deconstruction that took several years to fully come out of. I found out later that he himself had already deconstructed and had hoped to propel his congregation into deconstruction so he could convert them to progressive Christianity. He was very good at it. In fact, he was almost totally successful. A few of us came back around to a historically Christian understanding of the gospel, but most did not.
Because of this, when “deconstruction stories” started popping up in my social media newsfeed, along with hashtags like #exvangelical and #deconstruction, I paid attention. I’ve been following along, seeking to understand what people mean by those words.
I witnessed a hashtag turn into a movement.
From Hashtag to Movement
As of today, there are 293,026 posts on Instagram utilizing the hashtag #deconstruction. The vast majority are from people who’ve deconverted from Christianity, become progressive Christians, embraced same-sex marriage and relationships, rejected core historic doctrines of the faith, or are on a mission to crush the white Christian patriarchy. There are a few photos of deconstructed clothing (apparently this is a thing?) and a scant few sneaky posts from evangelicals attempting (mostly unsuccessfully) to convince the deconstructors that Jesus is the way. A plethora of insults, mockery, and anger are hurled at the church, along with memes stating, “I regret saving myself for marriage,” and “Good morning! It’s a great day to leave your nonaffirming church.”
Online, there are countless deconstruction therapy and counseling sites which will facilitate your deconstruction and reconstruct you with mindfulness or the contemplative practices of progressive Christian favorites like Richard Rohr. There are conferences you can attend, one for which I personally paid good money (for research purposes) to be taught how to break free from toxic religion, reject Christian dogma, and learn to embrace what basically added up to warmed-over Buddhism. Phil Drysdale, a deconstructed Christian and deconstruction researcher asked people on Instagram to name the accounts that have helped them through their deconstructions. A quick scroll reveals that the leaders and guides the vast majority are looking to are accounts and people like Lisa Gungor, Audrey Assad, God is Grey, Jesus Unfollower, Your Favorite Heretics, Jo Luehmann, The Naked Pastor, and a plethora of others dedicated to providing a space for Christians to examine, reinterpret, and even abandon their beliefs. None of these accounts encourage Christians to look to Scripture as the authority for truth.
My Kingdom for a Definition
In my book, which chronicles my own deconstruction journey, I define deconstruction this way:
In the context of faith, deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with. Sometimes the Christian will deconstruct all the way into atheism. Some remain there, but others experience a reconstruction. But the type of faith they end up embracing almost never resembles the Christianity they formerly knew. (24)
I would add that it rarely retains any vestiges of actual Christianity.
Over the past year or so, it has become common for Christian leaders to refer to deconstruction as something potentially positive. I get it. When I first heard that take, I thought, Hmmm. That could work. Just deconstruct the false beliefs and line up what you believe with Scripture. I was operating from the foundational belief that objective truth exists and can be known. But as I continued to study the movement, this understanding of deconstruction became untenable.
[Deconstruction] has little to do with objective truth, and everything to do with tearing down whatever doctrine someone believes is morally wrong.
That’s because the way the word is most often used in the deconstruction movement has little to do with objective truth, and everything to do with tearing down whatever doctrine someone believes is morally wrong. Take, for example, Melissa Stewart, a former Christian now agnostic/atheist with a TikTok following of more than 200,000. She describes how lonely and isolated she felt during her own deconstruction, and how discovering the #exvangelical hashtag opened up a whole new world of voices who related to what she was going through. Her TikTok platform now gives her the opportunity to create that type of space for others. In an interview on the Exvangelical podcast, she commented on the deconstruction/exvangelical online space:
My biggest experiences with it were people talking about what they went through—their stories—and it was very personal and it focused on the human beings who have come out of this, rather than on whether a certain kind of theology is right or wrong.
From my experience studying this movement, I think she hits the nail on the head. Deconstruction is not about getting your theology right. The word itself is built upon postmodernism and carries the baggage of moral relativism. For example, if your church says a woman can’t be a pastor, the virtuous thing to do would be to leave that church and deconstruct out of that toxic and oppressive doctrine. Deconstructionists may even say they are simply rejecting cultural beliefs that have become entangled with Christianity. But these “cultural beliefs” often include doctrines like penal substitutionary atonement and biblical marriage. But deconstructionists do not regard Scripture as being the final authority for morality and theology—they appeal primarily to science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history.
Life of Its Own
Now, the narrative is evolving. I’m seeing more and more posts, including an article on this site, that portray Martin Luther and even Jesus himself as deconstructionists. This, in my view, is irresponsible. If deconstruction means nothing more than changing your mind or correcting bad ideas, then I can say I deconstructed by switching from AT&T to Verizon. No one (until about five minutes ago) would have referred to Luther or Jesus as people who “deconstructed.” Martin Luther was trying to reform the church to get back to Scripture. Jesus is the Word made flesh. This is most certainly not what the deconstructionists are doing. In most cases, the Bible is the first thing to go.
We’ve certainly seen many abuse scandals hit our newsfeeds, and there are very real people who carry the wounds, doubts, and trauma caused by those experiences. Many survivors are left with an injured faith and may wander online only to be met by a massive community of exvangelicals who triumph deconstruction and publicly shame anyone who speaks against it. This can feel like a safe place to process those hurts, but there’s a specific end goal: to dismantle beliefs one subjectively thinks are oppressive or morally dubious, rather than conform our beliefs to Scripture, even if those beliefs are counterintuitive.
Rejecting any unbiblical beliefs with the goal of living more authentically as Christians should be a daily reality. But this isn’t deconstruction.
As Christians, the process of evaluating our beliefs, traditions, and church culture in light of Scripture, and rejecting any unbiblical beliefs with the goal of living more authentically as Christians should be a daily reality. But this isn’t deconstruction. It might be rightly called “reformation” or “restoration” or even “healing.”
Deconstruction has taken on a life of its own, and now is the time to accurately define our words. After all, if the word means everything, then it means nothing, yet it carries the potential to suck unsuspecting Christians into a dangerous vortex of influences from which they might not return.
For a fuller version of this article, see Alisa Childers’ blog. Correction: An earlier version of this misspelled a name.