How I Have Deconstructed?

Today, in response to a comment I made on Twitter, I was asked just what I’ve “deconstructed” in my Christianity. I thought that was a great question. I’ve never undertaken to list all the ways my thinking has changed in the last few years, so I welcomed the chance to do so. But it got too long to reply on Twitter, so I thought it would make more sense to address that question here on my blog.

Here’s what I posted on Twitter:

I’ve been accused of trusting my own individualistic view of doctrine as superior to the creeds written by the consensus of thousands. Yet those making that accusation ignore that there are many, many thousands deconstructing and coming to agreement against those older creeds.

If you’re going to appeal to the popularity of an interpretation as proof of its correctness, you need to think carefully about what you’re asserting. As your parents probably told you, “if everyone jumps off a cliff, would you do it too?”

And in this case, your very argument falls on its face in light of the very breadth of deconstruction which you’re decrying so vehemently that you need to stand on the corner and shout doom to those who deconstruct. It’s become obvious to many that there’s something very wrong.

It’s true that there’s not yet universal agreement on what the RIGHT should be. But many, many, many have stood up and nailed their own theses to the church doors, proclaiming the injustice and evil that is rampant on the other side of those doors. We may not yet have a creed,

but it’s being discussed just as actively as during those church councils in the 300’s and 400’s AD. I’m not sure we’ll soon see a consensus on what IS, but I’m absolutely certain that the new creed is about what ISN’T, and sometimes, that’s enough for the moment.

First, a few general notes.

1) I was reacting to the too-frequent answer from conservative Christians, in reply to any discussion of deconstruction or challenges to doctrine, that we’re abandoning the creeds, or how people start quoting the creeds as if they’re The Word of God themselves. That’s unhelpful and it gives man’s interpretation far too much credit. Creeds are simply man’s attempt to summarize the essentials of their faith, and they change from time to time as the Lord pours out new wine on His people.

2) For that reason, it’s critical to realize that the various creeds and manifestos cited by Christians are quite diverse. There are some very common themes but not universal agreement. So I strongly object to a general assertion that all “true” Christians believe the same things. That’s just a intellectually-dishonest way to shut down discussion.

The simplest answer to “how have you deconstructed” would be to point to this entire blog. If you browse the articles in my Deconstruction or Growth categories you’ll get a pretty good feel for my current thinking. But here is a list of the various changes in my views.

I Don’t…

I’ve been studying soteriology/salvation/hell pretty hard, and finding that the evangelical insistence on eternal damnation is nowhere near as universal as I had been raised to believe. Even within traditional Christian denominations there is significant variation. But I am finding I’m a long way from the fairly-universal belief in eternal punishment. Richard Rohr’s “The Universal Christ” is a good but challenging book. “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem” by Bradley Jersak is another excellent and very readable book about the topic.

I’m no longer a pre-millenial, pre-tribulation rapture believer. “Left Behind” is, in my opinion, directly inspired by the spirit of the antichrist, as ironic as that is. It’s led too many Christians down an ugly path that rejects the truth of God’s Kingdom as manifest here and now on the earth, instead believing that everything good and pure only exists in heaven someday.

Specifically regarding the rapture, I grew up naively believing there was no other belief. I have since learned that a relatively small segment of Christianity insists on a rapture, and it’s largely confined to white upper-class American evangelicals within the last century. I now consider the rapture to be a deadly-false doctrine. It has caused a ton of really dangerous beliefs and practices to seep into evangelicalism, which have corrupted many other doctrines and resulted in some pretty ugly fruit.

Along those lines, I no longer believe in the idea of “going to heaven when we die” as understood by most evangelical Christians. I used to be convinced it was utterly scriptural, but I’ve since found that a careful reading of the Bible never describes Christians living forever in mansions in heaven, walking some gold-paved streets, insulated from a dead and decaying earth and the wretched sinners in hell below, sent there eternally upon the singular last day of judgement. Instead, the Bible pretty clearly teaches that believers’ glorious eternal purpose as the Body of Christ is to rule and reign with Him here on a renewed new earth, in a metaphorical city with gates that will never be shut, and the kings of the earth will continue to stream to its gates – which implies that even in that end state of Christ’s rule, there will be unbelievers outside the gates who continue to be welcome to change and submit to His rule as He wins ALL to Himself. How? It’s a mystery. But the doctrine of leaving the self-destructing earth in a rapture, and spending forever simply standing around the throne singing His praises while unbelievers languish forever in hell, simply doesn’t exist in an honest reading of the clear writings of the Bible.

“No man comes to the Father, but by Me.” Yes, but I am of the opinion that “but by Me” is probably far less restrictive than evangelical Christians have asserted. Jesus can sovereignly draw in or approve people from any religion or non-religion, as even the great evangelist Billy Graham asserted some years ago (to howls of protest from evangelicals). When I discuss universal salvation, I don’t believe Islam is just another way to God. But I do believe that a committed Muslim who’s never knowingly rejected Jesus, yet lives according to the Holy Spirit’s prompting in their heart to love their fellow humans in a Christlike manner, can certainly be welcomed into the Kingdom. Truth is truth, no matter what falsehoods it’s wrapped within, and speaking a very modernized English version of a ancient Hebrew name (or having the right mental assertion of something related to that name) isn’t a magic spell to transport us to heaven. It’s about how we lived out Jesus’ commands, even if we didn’t know that was what we were doing.

I no longer believe in Biblical inerrancy. That discussion is worthy of a dozen or more blog posts, which I haven’t touched yet. But a good starting point would be any writing or podcasts with Pete Enns. His books “The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It” and “Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament” would be good starting points.

I’ve come to consider the traditional American church organization and methodology to be deeply flawed and quite idolized by American Christians. It doesn’t look anything like the model we see in the New Testament, and it’s loaded with deeply structural flaws that have led to all kinds of negatives in the Body of Christ, especially in Western nations.

Speaking of nations, I’m no longer a Christian nationalist. While I do believe that God had a significant hand in America’s founding, and there are numerous ways that He got us off to a good start, and that He did those things so that we could bless the world through His blessings of us, I also have become quite aware of the deficiencies and deep injustices in our founding, and I certainly do not believe we’re any more special than any other nation simply because He blessed us before. I’d love to see America honor the Lord in the future – but tight fascist control and book burning isn’t the way to do that. An honest accounting of our history would go a long way to some humility. The book “The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism” by Paul D. Miller is a good read.

I no longer believe that “faith” is defined by clinging tightly to what we were told or taught by our elders. It’s the “why did Mom cut the roast in half” problem: Mom doesn’t really know either; it’s just “always” been that way. But if we reconsider what we believe, we’re then considered apostate by those who refuse to be curious. That’s wrong.

An obvious change in my doctrine is my stance on LGBTQ. Becoming affirming was probably the thing that made me most questionable to my family and many of my former church acquaintances. I’ve written extensively on that, including a >50 page paper on why I changed positions.

I’m no longer complimentarian/patriarchal. My wife and I led a Young Married Couples group for our church for well over a decade, and looking back, I’d teach it very differently today, and I’d avoid some of the authors and resources we used. I now see it as harmful and unrighteous. We did good things in those marriages, but at the same time, there’s a lot of danger in the specific teachings.

I’m no longer invested in purity culture. While I strongly support marriage as an institution (although I now would include gay marriage as acceptable), and I consider fidelity within marriage to be deeply scriptural and valuable for society, purity culture itself is bad. There’s just too much evidence of bad fruit in the lives of those who grew up under it.

I’m no longer staunchly anti-abortion. Abortion should absolutely be minimized, and I and believe that human life is deeply valuable, but at the same time I recognize that the pro-life movement has had a number of horrible effects, and there are many legitimate reasons (other than “because I want to”) where abortion is necessary. It’s important to have a good idea when “a clump of cells” becomes a true human being – which requires understanding when God breathes the spirit and soul into the body. For further discussion, I wrote extensively about this change in my position.

I Still Do

Along with the “I don’t still believe” topics of deconstruction, I should note some “I still believe” items.

I still choose to believe in the virgin birth, the sinless life, the death on the cross, and the resurrection of a historical man we call Jesus. I have not felt any pull to tear down those issues, so at the moment those are a matter of faith, of a willingness to believe without reason.

I still believe that the Christian trinity of the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is the correct understanding of “God.” And I believe the truth of “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life,” and “no man comes to the Father but by Me” – but as limited by what I wrote above about that verse.

I still believe that the Bible is truly the word of God and it contains the most important truths for our world’s salvation. (But I don’t believe it’s worthy of the worship that it’s given by fundamentalists, and I believe the Living Word is superior to the written word.)

I still believe that Christians need community and communion, and so relational living with fellow believers, what the New Testament calls the church (as opposed to all that Western religion has wrapped around it) is essential for a life of faith. But it doesn’t have to look like American Churchianity.

At the moment, I have not changed my understanding of atonement, about Jesus’ sacrifice for us, although I am finding my views do not appear to have as solid a foundation as I used to believe. That’s one of my next topics for personal study.

While it’s not a matter of deconstruction per se, I still believe that capitalism is generally better than socialism in its eventual outcome, although both systems have serious pitfalls that require careful boundaries. I think today’s youth are too quick to abandon current systems without having a rich awareness of the dangers of the alternatives.

The Creeds

Given all of the above, where do I actually stand on the creeds?

I do affirm everything in the Apostle’s Creed. But I would probably differ from some Christians on the specific interpretations of various phrases in that creed.

I generally affirm everything in the Nicene Creed, although as with the Apostle’s Creed there are various ways to interpret some of the phrases. Also, I’m beginning to rethink my understanding of “was crucified for us” and what that really means.

So it’s interesting to me that one can have significant differences with “traditional” American Christianity’s beliefs, and yet still fully affirm the specific language in two main creeds. This shows how important it is to define the terms, and not simply assert “you don’t believe the creeds.”

Beyond that, there are many dozens of less popular creeds, and some more modern-day things like the Nashville Statement (which I strongly disagree with, by the way). So when someone simply says “the creeds,” it’s really hard to know what they’re thinking, and it’s critical to recognize that we really cannot reach either agreement or disagreement without being very specific. Furthermore, since there are so many possible creeds, it’s sort of a diversionary tactic to simply claim that someone doesn’t agree with “the creeds.” Let’s stop using that language, and simply talk about what we believe.

I hope this listing has been informative. It certainly was useful to me to gather all these ideas together into one place.

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1 thought on “How I Have Deconstructed?”

  1. Victoria Meredith

    Thank you for sharing so much of your personal story about your deconstruction. I found it really helpful and gave me a lot to think about. I’ve never really given creeds much thought, but I plan on diving into the topic now. Please keep writing!

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