Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg once remarked that “criticism is easier than reconstruction.” I believe that many people who encounter someone using the term deconstruction convince themselves that the person is using the opportunity as a blanket to criticize Evangelicals or Evangelicalism. Sadly, this minimizing is very often what drives someone further from the body of Christ. Deconstruction is a term broadly used within Christian circles that can have multiple definitions. In his book Faith for Exiles, David Kinnaman’s research revealed that the church dropout rate had increased from 59 percent in 2011 to 64 percent, with deconstruction as a top reason.
As the people who identify as deconstructing rise and the umbrella term expands, we must understand why so many gravitate toward this path and where the journey ends. As a community that declares “iron sharpens iron,” I believe we should encourage a journey that starts in deconstruction to pursue reconstruction. We must engage in courageous mentoring relationships that invite people to consider the true character of Jesus.
What is Deconstruction?
In truth, it’s unlikely we could pinpoint one agreed-upon definition for everyone engaging in the path of deconstruction. However, in my experience, there are two reasons people begin to doubt their faith.
- Doubting Christian belief. Something happens that causes people to begin questioning whether God is present or that Jesus really was his son. This is where biblical literacy becomes vital. Doubt can begin because someone no longer accepts a theological viewpoint, or they encounter a story in the Bible which causes them to doubt God’s character. Someone may even ask questions of a church leader only to be shut down or given answers that lead to further questions. When someone questions an aspect of Christianity (which is completely normal), they need guidance on finding the answers to their questions from reputable sources. TikTok theology is one of the most dangerous ways to find the answers to questions.
- Doubting the church. People deconstruct because the church has hurt them, or they see things in the church’s life that they identify as toxic or unethical. The most recent SBC report is a prime example of why an entire generation has walked away deeply wounded from the church. But, documented behaviors aren’t the only cause for concern. Christian friends can deeply wound someone in their most vulnerable state. Sometimes, the best choice for the wounded is the encouragement to continue to pursue understanding their faith through a new community of believers.
These two reasons for deconstruction both reveal the need for a safe church community. We must be willing to engage in humble hermeneutics and continue to abide in Christ. Matthew records Jesus’s last conversation with the disciples in Matthew 28:16-28. Commonly referred to as The Great Commission, this call isn’t limited to the disciples. All believers are responsible for making disciples, publicly welcoming them into the body of Christ, and continue teaching them what Jesus commanded. We must remember this includes those who are on the path of deconstruction.
Learning to walk through doubt and deconstruction and out the other side into the reconstruction of an honest, humble, yet deep and robust faith that can flourish with both serenity and power in a chaotic and hostile world—that is no easy jaunt.A.J. Swaboda, After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing It
How to Disciple Someone From Deconstruction to Reconstruction
Depending on where someone is in their faith journey the resources they will find helpful to answer the most pressing questions will differ. However, there are a few core books that I believe will help lead honest, Christ-centered conversations. The most important thing to remember about discipling someone during a season of doubt is that they need to know they can ask you questions without judgment. Your role is to listen with empathy and to walk shoulder to shoulder modeling respectful discussion even where there is disagreement.
How (Not) to Read the Bible: Making Sense of the Anti-women, Anti-science, Pro-violence, Pro-slavery and Other Crazy-Sounding Parts of Scripture
Dan Kimball introduces several critical principles to utilize when you open a Bible or read a verse. Then, he looks at five of the most common challenges that arise when people read the Bible today, including: the relationship between science and the Bible, the violence we find in the Bible, the treatment of women in the Bible, the odd and strange commands we find in the Bible, and the Bible’s controversial claim that there is only one way to know God. Kimball highlights several of the most common passages people find objectionable and shows readers how to correctly interpret them.
Woven: Understanding the Bible as One Seamless Story
If you loved Angie Smith’s Bible Study Seamless, you’ll love Woven. This is the chapter book version with more content included. While I always will encourage you to open your Bible and read directly from Scripture, sometimes people who are deconstructing aren’t willing to do that.
Ten Words to Live By: Delighting in and Doing What God Commands
In Ten Words to Live By, Jen Wilkin reminds The Ten Commandments are a covenant God spoke to a nation recently set free. They are words about obedience and holiness–timeless in their importance and wisdom. Wilkin clarifies the covenant by reminding us that Jesus reaffirmed the Ten Commandments in The Sermon on the Mount.
Why I Still Believe: A Former Atheist’s Reckoning with the Bad Reputation Christians Give a Good God
Why would anyone be a Christian when there is so much hypocrisy in the church? Mary Jo Sharp shares her journey as a skeptical believer who still holds to a beautiful faith despite wounding experiences in the Christian community.
At a time when de-conversion stories have become all too common, this is an earnest response – the compelling conversion of an unlikely believer whose questions ultimately led her to irresistible hope. Sharp addresses her own struggle with the reality that God’s people repeatedly give God’s story a bad name and takes a careful look at how the current church often inadvertently produces atheists despite its life-giving message.
The Sin of Certainty
Bible scholar Peter Enns explains his perspective on how Christians mistake “certainty” and “correct belief” for faith when what God really desires is trust and intimacy. With compelling and often humorous stories from his own life, Enns offers a fresh look at how Christian life truly works, answering questions that cannot be addressed by the idealized traditional doctrine of “once for all delivered to the saints.”
Enns offers a model of vibrant faith that views skepticism not as a loss of belief, but as an opportunity to deepen religious conviction with courage and confidence. This is not just an intellectual conviction, he contends, but a more profound kind of knowing that only true faith can provide.
A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing
The sad truth is that churches of all shapes and sizes are susceptible to abuses of power, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. Abuses occur most frequently when Christians neglect to create a culture that resists abuse and promotes healing, safety, and spiritual growth. In this book, Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer explore the concept of tov, the Hebrew word for good–unpacking its richness and how it can help Christians and churches rise up to fulfill their true calling as imitators of Jesus.
The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth
This book moves the conversation about biblical womanhood beyond Greek grammar and into the realm of church history–ancient, medieval, and modern–to show that this belief is not divinely ordained but a product of human civilization that continues to creep into the church. Beth Allison Barr’s historical insights provide context for contemporary teachings about women’s roles in the church and help move the conversation forward.
Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope
At a time in which some within the African American community are questioning the place of the Christian faith in the struggle for justice, New Testament scholar McCaulley argues that reading Scripture from the perspective of Black church tradition is invaluable for connecting with a rich faith history and addressing the urgent issues of our times. He advocates for a model of interpretation that involves an ongoing conversation between the collective Black experience and the Bible, in which the particular questions coming out of Black communities are given pride of place and the Bible is given space to respond by affirming, challenging, and, at times, reshaping Black concerns.
The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values to Root Us in the Way of Jesus
Rich Villodas’s first book offers an expansive, interconnected vision of spiritual formation comprised of five key pathways:
The monastic value: What does it mean to unplug everything and listen to your soul? How do you do it in a world full of noise?
The multiracial value: Bringing a spiritual internal understanding to the work of racial justice.
The emotional health value: Our interior lives are disconnected, and emotional health requires deep love that can’t come from shallow wells.
The healthy sexuality value: Christians need a new understanding of the connection between their physical bodies and their spiritual ones.
The missional value: Bringing richer understanding to what a spiritual life is instead of a consumerist, disengaged spirituality.
Apps and Online Resources
Helping people experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus through videos, podcasts, blog posts, and an app with guided readings.
The Bible Recap is a short daily podcast (~8 minutes) hosted by Tara-Leigh Cobble that guides you through reading the Bible chronologically in one year. Cobble highlights and summarizes each day’s Bible reading in a casual, easy-to-understand way. The Bible Recap will not only help you read scripture but help you love reading it!
She Reads Truth
She Reads Truth Bible + Devotional app is a beautiful, functional, and accessible Bible-reading tool created to help women from around the world to connect with God’s Word and each other, anytime and anywhere. Interact with other women in the community on each day’s Scripture text and devotional content.
A free app developed by Proverbs 31 Ministries to help you give God the First 5 minutes each day. Study with an online community, in a small group, or alone.
The Darkroom series provides a safe and engaging context for teens to explore 14 key issues of faith with caring adult leaders in church or small group settings. Get access to direct downloads of videos, study materials, discussion guides, and more when you sign up. All of the tools you will need to lead and engage students in discussions on key faith questions are available to you now, free of charge. Each Darkroom episode is a standalone topic interwoven with student stories and can be used in any combination.
He Gets Us
The HeGetsUs.com campaign is a diverse online conversational tool that allows people to engage with the Bible through video, blog, or online chat. The ministry is multidenominational and focused on Gen Z and Millennial communication preferences. The group is not targeting the churched which makes this perfect tool to use with someone walking through deconstruction.
“We hope that all churches that are aligned with the He Gets Us campaign will participate,” said Jason Vanderground, president at Haven. “This includes multiple denominational and nondenominational church affiliations, Catholic and Protestant, churches of various sizes, ethnicities, languages, and geography … ultimately, the goal is inspiration, not recruitment or conversion.”
Deconstruction and Discipleship
If you’re still confused about the deconstruction or you’re finding it difficult to express empathy you’ll also discover it’s challenging to build trust with people who need a supportive community. It’s best to learn about something rather than assuming you have the answers. The most compassionate book I’ve read is A.J. Swoboda’s book After Doubt.
After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith without Losing It
Drawing on his own experience of deconstruction, Swoboda offers tools to help emerging adults navigate their faith in a hostile landscape. Doubt is a part of our natural spiritual journey, says Swoboda, and deconstruction is a legitimate space to encounter the living God. After Doubt offers a hopeful, practical vision of spiritual formation for those in the process of faith deconstruction and those who serve them.
I hope this list has been helpful for you. If you have additional resources to suggest please comment below!
Looking for a Discipleship Resource?
As Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), we’re all called to “make disciples of all nations” wherever we live. God invites us to partner with him and live on mission every day, even in the mundane moments of life. We do this when we love people as Jesus taught the disciples to do, without stipulations.
Embracing Holy Interruptions: How Jesus Used Mundane Moments to Love People Deeply is a six-week Bible study that teaches people how to develop a disciple-making movement.
This is not a step-by-step instruction manual.
Jesus modeled using mundane moments to love people, build tension, and point them to God in a way that caused many of them to step from a curiosity about God to a fully surrendered faith. We can adapt his methods and learn from the examples in the Gospels today. This study aims to help people keep their eyes on Jesus and improve their inductive Bible reading skills while also learning to love their neighbors to the best of their ability. This 6-week study is available in both print and Kindle formats.