A review of the book 'The Deconstruction of Christianity: What it is, Why it’s Destructive, and How to Respond''

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A review of the book 'The Deconstruction of Christianity: What it is, Why it’s Destructive, and How to Respond''
Clair Musters' review of the book The Reconstruction of Christianity by Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett

Deconstruction is sweeping through our churches today – there are so many social media posts by people saying they are deconstructing their faith, often declaring they are leaving evangelicalism. What does that mean for their loved ones, their churches – and indeed for themselves, as it is often a painful, lonely process?

Written by someone who has gone through her own faith crisis (and written a book about it) as well as an apologist with a ministry dedicated to training Christians to think more clearly about their faith, this thorough book is a helpful guide to understanding what deconstruction is and isn’t, examining it against the plumbline of the Bible and also sharing gentle, pastoral ways to respond to someone who is deconstructing.

As the foreword (written by Carl R. Trueman) explains, ‘Here the reader will find the current Christian deconstruction movement set against the broad background of postmodernism and explained both in terms of contemporary idiom and issues and basic biblical foundations.’ The authors themselves set out their own objective for writing the book: ‘to analyze the phenomenon of deconstruction and provide a biblical analysis and critique of its methods, trends, messages, and impact on the church’.

The book is written in three parts. To begin with, the authors define what deconstruction is and how it has grown into such a large movement today (in fact they say it is more like an explosion that seeks to celebrate leaving a belief system people have come to regard as toxic and oppressive). The second part then analyses it more closely, looking at who is going through deconstruction, what they are deconstructing, why and how, to see how there are some prominent voices who are actively attempting to dismantle Christianity and discredit the church. The authors also provide what they believe are better solutions to the doubts and questions so many have. Part three then focuses on how we can love and help those in our lives who are deconstructing.

I found it really helpful to consider what deconstruction is and isn’t, as so many use the term in different ways that it can be confusing. The authors are at pains to emphasise how healthy it is to engage with our questions and doubts, and rethink our faith as and where necessary. However, there is much within our culture that draws us away from traditional Christianity, with the promise of greater freedom while actually entangling people in falsehoods. Ultimately, they say, deconstruction is at odds with Christianity, because it is based on a person tearing down anything that seems wrong to them as an individual, rather than them aligning themselves with the word of God, despite their personal feelings or beliefs. Therefore the authors stipulate that when they use the term ‘deconstruction’ they mean a ‘postmodern process of rethinking your faith without regarding Scripture as a standard’.

There is a lot of detail in the book, as the authors chart the beginnings of this deconstruction, and the birth of the hashtag #exvangelical, which is now a movement of its own. They dig down into what it is exvangelicals say they are leaving, and then painstakingly explore each point to see if it truly is a bad doctrine or not (showing that while, yes, they acknowledge there are definitely reforms that need to be made, it isn’t true that all evangelicals adhere to white supremacy, patriarchy and literalism, for example). They explain how mistaken those who believe this is a God-led movement are, as deconstruction ultimately moves people away from, rather than to, God. The ideas behind it are nothing new, they say, charting deconstruction right back to the Garden of Eden, the story of the Israelites and throughout history, stating, ‘We are all prone to imagine a god that is more like our culture (or ourselves) than who God truly is. If we’re not careful, this can distort our view of him.’ In today’s culture, this has played out in the arenas of gender, sexuality and affluence, as we are encouraged to live by our own feelings and desires. Viewed through this lens, doctrines are seen in terms of power rather than truth, which is why they are often labelled toxic by those deconstructing.

The authors acknowledge the various triggers that can lead people to deconstruction (such as suffering, doubt, purity culture, abuse) but show how it isn’t inevitable, as not all who are faced with such triggers end up losing their faith. The difference? ‘Rooting our understanding of Christianity in the authority of the Scriptures, not in the authority of the self.’

I really appreciated the final section of the book, as the authors provide ideas on how to thoughtfully and lovingly interact with those deconstructing. They also offer stories of hope (including a summary of Alisa’s own journey), as well as encouraging us to offer safe spaces within our churches for those who have questions – and teach people how to doubt well, as we all doubt at times. The book ends with a prayer for those going through deconstruction.

This is a thoughtful, in-depth guide, helpful for anyone confused by the deconstruction explosion and probably particularly pertinent for anyone who is feeling pain while experiencing the fallout of a loved one rejecting the faith they hold dear.


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