Reckoning with deconstruction stories (with Amy Auten)
How should we respond to Christians “deconstructing” their faith? We’re joined by God’s Big WORLD editor Amy Auten to explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of deconstruction.
KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, learning and laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. My name is Kelsey Reed. I’m here again today with Jonathan Boes and Amy Auten from God’s WORLD News.
JONATHAN BOES: Hello!
AMY AUTEN: Hello.
KELSEY: We’re so glad to model a conversation together with you, where we seek to apply tools that you can use at home or in the classroom. As always, we invite you to rate review, subscribe, share with your friends, and share your questions with us, that we might better engage the things that are on your mind. Record or write in your questions to email@example.com.
JONATHAN: Today, we have a topic that kind of starts in the realm of church news, but has really gone on to shape culture and become a cultural trend we are observing that is really affecting all sorts of people. This is the trend of deconstruction. Specifically here, we’re talking about deconstruction of faith—people who were vocal members of a church, of Christianity, coming out and saying “I’m deconstructing.” There have been really notable examples of this, people like YouTube stars Rhett and Link. If you don’t know them, your kids might. But today, we’re just going to dive into that and see, well, what is deconstruction? Where does this term come from? What is our personal experience with this topic? What do we see in the data—survey data—about why people are deconstructing? What do we see as reasons for that? And of course, what can we affirm or challenge? And then how do we respond in this place of parents and educators where, I guess you could say, it’s really—the battleground of this issue is often in this realm of education.
So our response here today is going to be so key. And so Amy, I’m so glad we have you here with us today. This is a topic where I so value having a multiplicity of voices, hearing different perspectives, because this can be such a tricky issue that engages our heads and our hearts. We need to have such a multi-layered response to this, I think. And so I’m anticipating our discussion today.
KELSEY: And we’re so glad to have Amy back again. Amy Auten is our editor of our God’s Big WORLD, but also our teaching resources, our teaching guides that we release every month that correspond with our gorgeous, developmentally leveled magazines. And I have been so struck by the intentionality with which you engage each of your areas, and therefore your heart, your mind, are so wonderful in our process here at Concurrently. Thank you for being with us.
AMY: Thank you so much for having me.
KELSEY: So friends, today, we are dealing with a very, I think, unwieldy topic area. And as we have had our preliminary conversations and written to one another about our thoughts on these things, and shared so many resources, it just becomes more and more apparent how complex an issue this is. Folks, I really am going to rename this podcast. It’s going to be “Concurrently: It’s Complicated.” So welcome to another very complicated conversation or topic of conversation, rather, and we hope that we’re able to demystify a little bit, be arrows to some important resources, ask some questions that we believe really help to distill things into a way to engage the heart, engage the mind, engage the outward action with our kids, representative of that whole-person growth. That is a part of our life’s experience for as many days as Lord gives to us. And so, we’re not going to be able to tackle everything, but we do hope we can point you to some great places to continue this conversation at home or in the classroom.
Now, you heard some of the structuring ideas already coming out with Jonathan. We’re going to loosely follow SOAR. But we’re going to touch on some of those important areas of the Five Common Topics, as always starting out the gate with definition, because this is one of those terms that, because it is becoming more and more popular as a term in our current culture, it deserves some careful handling. So I want to ask each of you guys to help us to define—I mean, you Jonathan, and you Amy, you had some great succinct ways of defining deconstruction, and I particularly want to name, as we do this, what we can affirm and what we challenge right out the gate in definition. So be listening for that as we define the term.
So Jonathan, would you start us with some of your thoughts on defining this term?
JONATHAN: I think right here in definition is where we find already the complexity. In my observation of the way this term is used, “deconstruction,” it can mean either simply doubting, questioning your faith, or walking away from your faith entirely. So it kind of contains within it two different historical ideas that we find in the faith: The idea of doubt and the idea of apostasy. And since you kind of gave us permission to get a little bit into the affirm and challenge already, I think one of the things that makes this term a little—it leaves me with a little bit of a sour taste. I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever use this term. But what gives me a little bit of a sour taste is, by lumping those two things—doubt and walking away from the faith—under one term, it almost presupposes that questions are going to lead to leaving the faith. And the term “deconstruction” also, I think one of the reasons why it is immediately distasteful to people in the church, sometimes at least, is because it has roots in a very postmodern mindset. Most people trace this back to Jacques Derrida, the philosopher who questioned the idea of the possibility of meaning, deconstructing language and saying, once you take it apart, there’s no center of meaning there—the idea that there really is no truth, to put it succinctly. And because that is where we derived the term “deconstruction,” it kind of still carries some of that baggage. And so it sounds really scary when we apply that term to faith. Because again, it’s not a term that’s arising from Christian history, as much as it’s a term that’s arising from kind of an atheist philosophical perspective. And so even if some of the things that are called deconstruction are things that people in the church have done for a long time, like simple questioning and doubt, it becomes scarier when it takes on this label.
KELSEY: As you even describe it, I think about how many of the ways that we set up our apologetics in our current day are definitely in response to some of those very specific ideas. Because we’re trying to figure out, how can we have confidence? Where is meaning? And we’re talking about theory of knowledge, or epistemology, when we’re thinking about those areas. So it very quickly becomes very challenging to wrangle these things. If we can add anything to the conversation and culture right now. That is regarding these ideas of deconstruction, I think that this is it. What we are seeking to substantively offer to this conversation is to point to these two different ideas. What is a healthy doubt process? And what is that which might lead to harm? And so I’m going to pose those categories to you, as I asked you to add some color to our definition. Amy?
AMY: I mean, yeah, the term “deconstruction”—the first thing I think of is somebody with a sledge hammer just demolishing a building, right? And so that image is scary for us. However, as we’ve been sitting here, one of the first things I thought of was that passage where Jesus says, when the rains came, and the storm came, a person can either find they’re standing on the rock or everything’s washed away. And so He doesn’t say “if.” He says “when.” So it’s a loaded promise of, the storms are going to trash the house. But what is it standing on? And so that opens up a powerful redemptive perspective of, the storms are going to come. It’s going to reinforce your faith, after you’ve gone through the rubble and said, “This is what I was standing on all along,” or He’s going to give you something to stand on. And so I want to stress that I think deconstruction doesn’t have to be a demolishing so much as an uncovering, a revealing. And in scripture, that’s what happens to the saints. So Job, David—the crisis exposes what the final bedrock is. And Jesus says that we’re all going to stumble on Him, the Rock, and you will either be crushed or you’ll survive it. But His language is this cornerstone—we’re all tripping up on it. Even someone like John the Baptist, when the crisis hits—he’s in jail, his death is imminent—he sends a messenger to Jesus. “Are you the one who was to come? Or should we look for somebody else?” That’s a crisis. He’s really reevaluating his entire calling. And Jesus is so gracious in His reply. “Go back and tell John: The lame walk, the blind see, and the good news of the word is preached to them, blessed is the man who doesn’t stumble.” And the word stumble in the Greek has a root of “scandal” in it. Jesus is scandalous, the way He functions. We’re never getting what we expect. In the Christian life, it’s scandalous. You’re going to have to wrestle with that scandal. It’s an upside-down gospel. It should not surprise us if things get smashed and the storms hit.
KELSEY: I am so thankful that you use that crisis language. Again, I’m referring back to our great conversation about suffering. You identify three crises in that, or three maybe chapters to the crisis, or even some of those responses. And so we’re talking, then, about faith crisis. And I like that, as another color to add shade and definition to our work here, we do we see those faith crises across scripture. And we see the way that the gospel turns us upside down and inside out. And so you’re talking about the fact that this undoing of ourselves, that we might be rebuilt into Christ—that is very much central to the discipleship process. But it’s scary. A storm is not a peaceful, calming thing. You know, Jesus’ disciples went through a storm with Him, in which He said, “Peace, be still,” and only He had the authority to still that storm. That physical storm is such a good metaphor for us in terms of what is going on, this crisis of faith.
And so going back into those categories of the crisis in a healthy sense, versus a crisis that, in educational terms, we would call falling into miseducation, or the one that has the arc upwards and the one that really is a spiral into despair, kind of the ultimate outcome of deconstruction—and this also gives us, maybe, a chance to identify another way we may talk about it a little bit today, where we’re talking about the good—what we can affirm, what is healthy—the bad, and then the ugly—which I want to say again, is related to those outcomes of a decimating deconstruction process, the type that is towards meaninglessness and despair. And so the good, the bad, the ugly will come up again as we address these themes.
So we’re moving out of that definition that has had a little bit of philosophical, historical, and even theological color added to it. I want to go a little bit more into our observation and analysis work while we pivot towards some more, what do we see through the generations of history as a part of the circumstances and the context for where we are today, regarding deconstruction?
JONATHAN: So the Barna Group is a great resource. For anybody unfamiliar, they do such solid work gathering survey data and analyzing that data, specifically about things in the church, things having to do with Christian faith. They have a survey they did about reasons young people are leaving the church. And so this really gets into some of the younger generation’s reasons for deconstruction. And they isolated six top reasons from their research.
So really briefly—reason number one: Churches seem overly protective. They seem to demonize everything outside the church and become insular. Reason number two is that teens and twenty-somethings have experienced a shallow Christianity that does not seem relevant to their career or interests. Reason number three is that churches come across as antagonistic to science—the perception that Christianity is anti-science. Reason number four they found for young people deconstructing: Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic and judgmental. So there’s so much conversation now about sexuality and gender, and young people are sometimes finding the church’s response to be overly simplistic and tinged with judgment. Number five, they wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity. Where culture around us is becoming constantly more diverse. Christianity can seem kind of exclusive. And number six, the church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. People feel that they’re not being allowed to ask their most pressing life questions, and that they have doubts about their faith that they can’t safely express within the church. And so those are the top six reasons Barna found for why young people are leaving the church—we might say, deconstructing,
KELSEY: As you talk about this, they seem like the current flavors of the day. And bear with me as I say this, because I’m not meaning this in a derisive manner. I’m not meaning to be critical of these responses, but to say that these are the flavors of the day, the external things that are causing people, these experiences that are causing people to doubt the core. So we have talked about how Derrida—you know, if you break it all apart, and you find that there’s no central core meaning to life, to words, whatever that happens to be. In this case, this experience of the church, the experience of these external ways of dealing with the challenges of our cultural times—in the dissatisfaction of the way that the church deals with these externals, it caused them to look for the core and sometimes find that it is not there. Whereas a healthy core speaks to whatever flavors of the day are there, whatever struggles of the day—and I’m going to bring some historical context into this, for example, the tragic, violent global wars of the 20th century, what that propelled all of humanity into regarding a general despair and quest for meaning. The church in Europe in particular, but it was generally so, that the church was found wanting in how it spoke to the problem of pain and suffering and evil in the human experience and the human condition. And so our current externals of the day are those litmus tests by which we’re discerning, does the church have a central core, intact, healthy for speaking to these troublesome, challenging areas of the day? I think, Amy, you have some wonderful things to add to this.
AMY: I know you guys have the same awareness that, like in C.S. Lewis’s generation, apologetics looked so different, and defending the faith looked different. I don’t want to be too broad sweeping with that, because I still feel like the old apologetic methods are very, very much useful, and we need them. But when I see people like Rhett and Link, or Lauren Winner—I think when she was just coming out of kind of an somewhat nominal Jewish background, entering into Christianity. I think she said she read the classic apologetic texts and was just shrugging, because the apologetic kind of assumed you embrace a concept of objective truth, whereas now, we’re way more utilitarian. It’s not so much about what’s true as what’s useful and practical and works for me. And so you start to see the shift in how you make appeals. And in this generation, relationship with people is a huge catalyst for crisis, or for redirecting people. So I would say, what I’m seeing around me, the people I’m seeing who are saying, “I’ve deconstructed,” is their marriages have fallen apart, their children have come out as transgender or gay, they’ve made relationships with people who are not in the church, who are either atheist or homosexual or transgender, and they found them way more winsome and relational than the people they met in the church. And so the crisis doesn’t so much come from, “Is God there? Is the record of Jesus historically sound?” The crisis is relationships. That’s the pattern I’m seeing with people I personally know who’ve deconstructed, and who I’ve read about online, the big, the big players who have huge platforms with lots of followers. The catalyst is relationships, then finding the relationships in church wanting, and then finding relationships outside the church as more endearing. And we need to acknowledge the component of sexuality is what frequently propels people away from the church. It’s, from their mindset, a liberation of sexual opportunities, not only for themselves, but for the new relationships and friendships, the people they love.
KELSEY: I am so thankful that what you are doing is showing how the cultural seasons change. And what was once a very intellectual exercise for apologetics must needs become a relational exercise of apologetics by the church. It doesn’t mean that we opt out of that which feeds the mind. We need a whole-person apologetic. And by “apologetic” what I mean is the way that we represent the faith outwardly as the church, the way that we give reason for our belief, and the way that we represent Christ. So maybe reason and representation need to blend together in this season, but we need to ensure that we’re highlighting a relational apologetic as our means by which we connect people to Christ, that we are His hands and feet. And I love that we’re actually pivoting in this cultural seasonal identification, and the need for our exercise of the apologetic, towards the personal, where we can even talk about some of our personal experiences of deconstruction stories to help illustrate some of that maybe relational apologetic.
JONATHAN: Definitely, that relational aspect. And I’m glad you brought us to that place, Amy. And I definitely echo seeing some of the reasons for deconstruction that you are observing. I would add to that observation that I’ve seen some people who walk away from the faith because they are dissatisfied with the historical teachings of the faith on a subject like gender and don’t feel like it creates space for them to affirm their LGBTQ neighbors or their own desires. I also see a lot of deconstruction—and I would say probably primarily in my circles—the deconstruction I’ve seen is related to real harms done in the church, to ways denominations have handled issues like abuse, or have allowed racism within their ranks—things that are real issues, that are not matters the historical teaching of the church, but are harms that have been done or ways that relational, again, community has failed to support them. And in my experience, a lot of the prompting towards deconstruction begins in that place.
KELSEY: I would just want to very briefly say that this is a part of where the church has actually been steeped in a secular philosophy that diminishes the matter of which were made, and so treats bodies as though they’re passing, they’re not important, and then can excuse things like those abuses in the flesh—sexual abuse, physical abuse—instead of treating with honor that physical representation of the Lord in the image-bearer, and treating matter as though it matters. And so just the world around us, who has somehow shed some of those philosophies, in some ways, or maybe, in other ways, amplified matter so much that it’s anathema to them that the church would not care for that part of the human person well and seek justice, when it hasn’t cared for that person well. Because that’s another thing that I’m observing, is that place where the church has failed to do what is just and failed to engage mercifully, that that has been another thing that blows the mind of the world—just looking at the church and going, “How can you not engage with justice and mercy, as your scripture says that you are meant to do?” So where the church needs to ensure that is guided by that scripture instead of becoming characterized by the philosophies of the world—because it’s in those places that my own experiences of friends who have deconstructed and left the church, and who are borderline on leaving some of those friendships, shutting out the friendships in their lives that might represent anything to do with the church—that’s where my own experience has been personally and relationally.
JONATHAN: And I’ll say, in my own life, I certainly have friends who have walked away from the faith or deconstructed. I definitely have felt those feelings of—I don’t know, maybe in some definitions, people would say I’ve deconstructed in some ways, just like evaluating my faith. I don’t like to call it that. To me, it’s more of like an excavation, because I do believe there is a core of truth under some of the cultural muck that has been piled on top. But I feel like I just—I intimately understand the urge to deconstruct, because without getting into too many of the dicey details, in my generation I hear a very, a very similar cry from a lot of hearts, of feelings of almost betrayal. Things that have happened in evangelicalism specifically over the last half a decade, in response to issues like justice and politics, things that seem to really rub against the truths we were taught as children, and authority structures that have seemed to be willing to ally with things that don’t seem to be of God for the sake of power, or saving face—there is a very deep sense of hurt in a lot of people in my generation and under, at what is perceived as a betrayal of values on the altar of things that we don’t see in scripture. And I have definitely felt those feelings, and those feelings—I know it’s driven some people way afar from the church. In my own life, it’s driven me more to try to dig into, “Okay, what did I grow up with that is truly part of the Christian faith, and what did I grow up with that more so came from the culture around me, or the politics of my community? What is actually of God in this and what is just absorbed from around me?” And some people might call that deconstruction, but I feel like there’s an aspect of that that’s just making your faith your own, that naturally everyone who grows up in the church kind of goes through at some point. I don’t want to call that deconstruction, because to me, I’m not trying to tear something apart as much as I’m trying to dust something off and figure out, “Okay, what’s the actual thing here, versus what have I allowed to accumulate that is not truly of the faith?”
KELSEY: I like what you’ve talked about, regarding excavation, we’re going to continue to find these wonderful themes from the ideas, I think, that belong to that sector of construction. So the excavators, the foundations, the building upon, to maybe taking out the rotten wood in order to replace it, or—you crossed over into household management when you’re “dusting off.” I think I’ll be okay with that. But as we just seek to build up into Christ, you know—and I’m thinking of that “not that I’ve already obtained all this, nor have I already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of He who has made me His own, who’s taken a hold of me”—that’s not a correct quote from that, but that’s from Philippians 3. So we’re talking about the health—renovation might be a wonderful way of talking about the health side of deconstruction. We’ve pointed towards the unhealthy, the decimation side—you know, I think of “blowing up” your faith. And we’ve seen a number of those stories of just “burn it all down.” Amy, I wonder if you want to share some of the shades that you’ve experienced in terms of, what that has looked like?
AMY: You just said, “Burn it all down.” And of course, Paul has a section in Corinthians where he’s talking about different leaders, and what’s the nature of their ministry, how the strength of it will be exposed based on what they built with. Like he mentioned straw, and he starts though with something like gold, and then he moves down to more flammable objects. And what we’re saying here is, if something in your faith got burnt fast, it probably should have been burned. And Tim Keller says—he is famous for having said, “Tell me about the God you rejected, and maybe you were supposed to reject it because it wasn’t the truth.”
AMY: I just—I want to talk about, again, the importance of the flames, the importance of the demolition is, some things were absolutely—God wanted them to come down.
JONATHAN: And so just to kind of retrace some of our steps, we’ve talked about where this idea of deconstruction comes from. We’ve talked about some of the things in it that we can affirm—natural doubts that come up in every Christian walk, that I would say, doubt is not something outside of the Christian faith. I think deconstruction, as a term, can sometimes make it feel as if doubt is something you’re stepping outside of the faith to do. But really, we see that doubt is something, even in scripture, figures like you said, John the Baptist—that was so great to pull out, Amy. John the Baptist had questions and crises. And so that’s a part of deconstruction that we can affirm. Then there’s that part that we would maybe push back on—not maybe push back on, we would definitely push back on—the total obliteration of faith, the demolishment of faith. And we’ve talked about our personal experience of this and how we’ve seen it be done well or poorly, for help or harm.
I guess, maybe before we move into our section of response, where we’re going to look at how we handle this issue, how we foster an environment that can bring out the healthy parts of deconstruction—before we go there, do any of you have stories where you’ve seen something that might be lumped under the term “deconstruction” have a more positive outlook? We’ve talked about some of the ways that we’ve seen people deconstruct to the point where they are walking away from the faith—again, the Rhett and Link story. They deconstructed and now they are no longer calling themselves Christians. But if we’re saying that there is a part of deconstruction we can affirm, have we seen that play out in the lives of anyone around us, that we can think of?
KELSEY: I mean, my own life, I think that a couple of us at this table could say that we have a testimony that went through a time of doubt. I don’t like that we have backfilled the term “deconstruction” onto everything that relates to a crisis of faith, just to use another construction term. We’ve kind of backfilled and steamrolled and flattened out those stories with that negative definition. And I would say, for me, while my crisis of faith was very difficult to walk through, the fruit that the Lord has born in me through that crisis that He allowed for me to endure out of my own strong will, and deciding to run towards choices that are clearly not helpful to my heart, to my mind, to my body—I had to wrestle with the things of the faith as my family came off of the mission field. And as things that I longed for, and that I missed about that old home became so poignant and acute in my longing, that I wanted to have those things returned to me, and I was hellbent on achieving what I realize now was really an idol—and that, when I couldn’t have it, I sought any number of other ways to medicate that pain in my life. And some of that was relational. And some of that was exploring different philosophies. And some of that was exploring art and music and dance, things that made me feel like a whole person, but that did not affirm me or cause me to thrive as a whole person. And so I had to run into that brick wall in each of those areas, run into the limits of those. Pete Scazzero in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality talks about those particular ideas, the crisis of faith, the running into the wall, the finding the limits of yourself, and of all those things that you seek out as solutions. And it was in learning those limitations that my hunger for the Lord and for His goodness and fullness, and then the gospel, recognizing my need of the gospel for my sin—that all came through that process. So I am a good illustration of the beauty of a process of doubt and struggle, and even a diving towards sin. I was the prodigal.
AMY: I’m thinking of people I owe a debt to because they deconstructed. I’ll always go back to Lewis, because he’s brilliant. C.S. Lewis had to deconstruct his atheism. But I want to go back to the relationship component. He said J.R.R. Tolkien walked with him and talked with him. The appeal to that literary mind was, what if the myths are all indebted to the ultimate myth, which is Jesus? What if all the archetypes in stories that we love were pointing to the God-man who died for ourselves? So this Tolkien was so positioned by God to be the winsome voice walking beside Lewis through that crisis. Also, I find fascinating, Lewis did not embrace Tolkien’s Catholicism. He was diehard Anglican. So just, God’s flexibility to work with the different theological voices to bring this man into the Kingdom to be such an instrument to bless me and so many others with a robust faith that has been tested, not only intellectually, but with suffering. And then you’ve got the classic examples of Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell, who did everything they could to dismantle, deconstruct all of Christendom, and found out when they finally hit the bedrock that it was Jesus, and they were confronted gloriously with the person of Christ, and then found that everything else that they had been trying to pick at still held fast to the historicity, the trustworthiness. So, that’s like God’s basically saying, “Bring it. I can handle your pickaxes. Just bring it. I’ve got you.”
KELSEY: Because when you hit the core, it breathes meaning back into all those externals that were the reasons that we ran to deconstruction. When you hit the core, it reveals that all of those are actually an outpouring of all that which is most meaningful. So my diving into art and my diving into music and my seeking meaning there, or just the responses that can be related to, you know, personhood, identity, to suffering, all of these externals have meaning, hope, grace breathed into them when you hit that core, and you find that it is there.
AMY: And that’s—we’re going to get into this in more depth in a minute, in terms of response—but you want to encourage people to be fearless with their questions. It’s so safe to ask the hardest things. I got into a great conversation with our top notch writer, editor, coworker Anna Smith. She was homeschooled all the way through. And then she went to community college and loved the diversity of opinions and age range and perspective that she got at the local community college, thrived in it, then went to private Christian College. And that’s when she sank into massive crisis. And her questions were diverse and wide ranging, but a lot of them had to do with really grappling with some of the toughest passages in the Old Testament, where there are no footnotes. It’s not easy to understand, necessarily, always what the text was trying to point to. So a book like Judges, if you’re not guiding your kids, if you’re not even like getting help with your own brain, that book will level you. It’s a hard book. But the punchline of that book is “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” So the outcomes become a testimony to that “I am my own authority.” Like you watch it play out. But if no one’s coaching you on that, that generates a massive crisis, along with some really other tough Old Testament passages. Anna got through it because she had a few godly people beside her, walking her through it, where she could safely ask and work through those questions.
KELSEY: That helps us a ton, to return to our first “Is this helpful, a healthful process? Or a harmful process?” And it reminds you of a hermeneutic that we use when looking at scripture, that was just a very broad statement that is so pithy and applies well, and reminds me of the categories we need to determine if it’s a helpful process. So this hermeneutic, as we look at scripture, is that everything of His Special Revelation reveals something of the person or work of Christ, or man’s need of it. They, every one, every man did what was right in his own eyes. That is just reinforcing, triple score underneath that, man’s need of Christ, and that that is the story of scripture, is the person or work of Christ or man’s desperate need. And it reminds me as well, that this process that can be helpful, when our ultimate reference point is always Christ, is recognizing that there is an authority over all of life, instead of canceling God. When we bring all of our strivings, all of our questions all of our wrestling’s to Him, that is what characterizes the helpful process in this doubt, or faith crisis. The alternative, when we cancel God, when we cancel the church utterly and completely—those are the things that help us determine this is not the healthful version, and we see the ugly outcomes of that.
JONATHAN: So it seems like we’re starting to move now into our response. And I think for today, we kind of want to break our response in two different buckets. Because there’s part of this that, we’re looking inward and asking, okay, as parents and educators, what is our posture? Looking inside of ourselves, what environment are we creating for our kids and students? How do we foster healthful—you know, if you want to call it deconstruction, call it deconstruction—how do we foster healthful process? And then moving on to questions centered around what we see in our kids and students, and questions we could ask of them.
So it kind of started in that place of introspection. If I could throw a question in there—are we keeping the main thing the main thing? By which I mean, are we keeping the core matters of the faith core, and the secondary matters secondary? Because part of my experience of seeing people deconstruct, often it feels like it’s in places where secondary matters have been elevated to primary matters. So a perspective on something like science—again, a secondary matter. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, it’s just that it’s not the main thing. So an issue about, like, your view on science, or your interpretation of a certain passage, or even the way church eldership is structured, things like that, that Christians might disagree on—if those become central, and then our kids or students start to question those things and find those things to be lacking, if we’ve made those essential to the faith, then that’s going to feel like a really significant deconstruction. Because their doubts about a secondary issue suddenly feel like doubts about faith itself. I hope I’ve been clear.
KELSEY: I feel like that was really good. And I think what you’re doing there is identifying some of those cognitive content categories. And that is so helpful to our process. The next layer that I would want to encourage as a part of assessment, as we foster healthy process, or a healthy learning environment, dives into kind of a heart level, where we’re assessing our own heart, as well as any maybe obstacles that we have put in the relationship between ourselves and our kids that make it difficult for us to do that life-on-life work that we need to do. So in terms of self-assessment at the heart level, what have I made of utmost importance in terms of my values? Is it reputation? Is it my comfort? “Please don’t disarrange my good order in this home, in our family.” And that can also relate to control—is behavior most important? Or, again, that outward expression of who we are into the world. And it’s related to reputation a little bit. Is what is of utmost importance myself and my authority, and my kids’ lives? And these are—these dig deep. The other thing is those obstacles that we might have put in between the relationship with our children or students or even our friends. Am I too busy? Am I too preoccupied with my own pain? Or maybe I have succumbed to just entertaining myself or self-medicating. Are those things obstacles, in terms of being that skin on, that “love with skin on” like you’ve talked about before, present in the lives of my children, my peers, my church, my family members? We pivot from there to talk about those external things in environment. And I just think that helps us with kind of succinctly saying, “Am I building an anxious learning environment, an anxious home environment, or one that is gracious for the process?”
JONATHAN: And that ties right back into like the top reason Barna found for young people walking away from the faith, the idea that the church seems overly protective or afraid of the outside world. And if we are creating an anxious learning environment, I think that overprotectiveness is really going to stifle growth and possibly even lead to the sorts of things we don’t want to see in our kids and teens, that unhealthy process.
KELSEY: I’m trying to multiply the language so it doesn’t feel like I’m just presenting dichotomies. But here are a couple other questions that are diagnostic towards that environment. Is this a legalistic or moralistic environment? Or has it become lackadaisical—we’re not undergirding that moral instruction in our home with grace? Am I seeking submission to the good authority of the loving Father, pointing to His goodness, truth, and beauty? And again, that is an alternative towards making my authority utmost in the home.
From there, there’s some more diagnostic questions that actually relate to looking at our kids and teens who are in front of us and, teacher, this is important for you to use in the classroom—Sunday School teacher, pastor, these are so helpful to each of us as we seek to disciple the generation behind us, or even our peers. Is the individual across from me isolating or relationally connecting? Are they acting out? Or are they asking for help? What [are] the media that they are engaging? That helps us to understand the message that they are imbibing. Are they engaging wholesome routine activities, just like eating broccoli? One of our favorite musicians, David Wilcox, says, “You’re just down inside yourself. You need to take a shower, you need to eat some broccoli, you need to run a mile.” What are the healthy routines? Are they engaging, healthy routines? Which ones? Are they engaging the spiritual disciplines, the means of grace we’ve spoken about in another episode—fellowship, word, worship sacrament? Which ones are they engaging?
JONATHAN: I would maybe put the shower after running a mile.
I want to also tie something back to our conversation we had a few episodes back, about education. We are, you know, we’re trying to give some positive responses here that can help create a healthy environment. But it’s also important to acknowledge that this is between our kids, our students, our teens, and God. And we can do everything right. We’re not going to do everything right, because we’re humans. But even if we did everything right, that doesn’t mean there won’t be unhealthy deconstruction. And so the last thing I would want you, listener, to hear, is any sort of guilt, or any sort of pressure to prevent that in your kids and teens. Because ultimately, everyone has to make their faith their own. And we can do our best to support that. But there is a space in there where you’re making some kind of leap, and it’s scary. And some people make a really clean landing, and some people struggle to make that jump into making their faith their own. And that’s between individuals and God, in a real sense. And really, I think that should be a freeing thought to us, because there is nobody more trustworthy than God. There is nobody who loves our kids and students more than God. We can pursue all these responses, hopefully, with a sense of resting in His love and goodness.
KELSEY: He equips us to be a priesthood of Himself towards, a representative of Himself towards the other, but we never fill His shoes. We are love with skin on. But we are not Christ incarnate.
JONATHAN: Amy, I see thoughts in your face.
AMY: One thing that stands out to me—I could go global, because the global concerns that people have with their identity crisis are very different than necessarily our little Western Southern pocket. So when I think about people’s global identity, it’s often very ethnic based or nationalistic based or politically based, and Americans can do the same thing. What I see happening in my own home, and amongst my kids’ peers, is a workaholic mentality. So we’re already grooming them to regard their identity and their value in productivity, and building resumés, so that applications to college look awesome. I would like to submit that the more exhausted a young person is, the less they’re capable of thinking clearly about God, and what He’s doing in their lives. And you watch Elijah, who’s just losing it, who’s falling apart, exhausted, and God doesn’t rebuke him. He says, “Go to bed. And here’s some bread. Here’s some replenishing space for you.” So again, the holistic perspective of, do we continue to offer winsome intellectual evidence that bolsters faith? Yes. Do we continue to be intensively relational? Yes. And I want to acknowledge, I just had a conversation with someone who had been an elder in the church, who confessed the elders were really good about pontificating all the ways they wanted to serve, and then they never did house visits. So we’re missing the relational component. You can’t just spout pretty words from the pulpit. We need beautiful, life-giving words from the pulpit, but you’ve got to get on the ground, in people’s homes, and that’s something we have to do with our kids. And for whatever reason—I’ll confess my own selfishness—my kids want to talk about the crisis stuff at 10 o’clock at night. And so I literally have to [lie] beside them in the dark and just pray, “Give me the resources and the skills, because I can’t do it in my own strength.” We’re all tired. But I want to just really caution against the workaholic mentality that even the best-intentioned Christian parents are accidentally encouraging, because we’re thinking, “build your resumé.” Our kids need a minute to just stand out and look at the stars and be reminded of God’s character. Our kids need to curl up beside us and lean their heads on our shoulders and just say, “I really don’t understand this Old Testament passage. It’s driving me nuts.” And be the safe soundboard to say, you know, “That passage drives me nuts too. Let’s dig into it.” So rest, relationship, and just an environment where curiosity is allowed to flourish.
KELSEY: We’ve addressed that, as whole persons, we have our heads as a part of this process, our minds, the health of our minds, our hearts are a part of this process. Our bodies are part of this process. How well rested, how well fed, and how well fed are we on scripture? How is it bolstering us? And so we always want to leave with the provision, the stories, the narratives of scripture. And so Jonathan, would you start us?
JOANTHAN: Today we were thinking about Matthew 13:4-8: “And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
KELSEY: And you’re all familiar with the story of the prodigal son, which—Keller does such a wonderful job unpacking that. So I want to commend his work to you. But the outcome of that very full story of a faith crisis is this, from Luke 15:32: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” Scripture gives us what we need. Parent, teacher, mentor of kids and teens: He has equipped you for this work.
How should we respond to Christians “deconstructing” their faith? We’re joined by God’s Big WORLD editor Amy Auten to explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of deconstruction.
Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.
We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.
See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.
- Read the Barna Groups “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.”
- Watch these videos by Gavin Ortlund on the topic of deconstruction.
- Listen to Trevin Wax on Reconstructing Faith.
Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.
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