McKnight on Three Phases of Deconstruction

It seems that many drift from liminality to apathy. There are many around who still check the box as Christian, but have no active involvent in a church community. They no longer see the church as relevant to their lives, and drift away. While that is often written about regarding youth today, it really happened to their parents and grandparents years ago as well.

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I guess I never knew deconstruction indicated a crisis. I’ve always just used it as explaining that I simply constructed a doctrine of mindset that I believed was true but as I grew and studied it out more I realized it was not up to “code” and so
I begin to deconstruct “ take it apart” and rebuild it.


I think that is a totally valid use, but a lot of people associate it with a faith crisis or with deconversion, so I’ve avoided using it so as not to freak people out. Someone on Twitter said, “I’m not having a crisis of faith, I’m having a crisis of trust,” and I think that resonates with a lot of people. A lot of re-evaluation happens because you realize the people you trusted weren’t really trustworthy, at least not in the area you were depending on them.


I had taken an interest in deconstruction mainly because of the discussion on speech and writing. I have felt that there are two forms of speech, one meaningful that is derived by a child from its parents (internal), and the other learnt from the community and school (from outside). Writing involved signs and the closest that can come to meaningful speech is poetry (from gifted poets).

In popular usage deconstruction often means self-doubt a critical dismantling of tradition and traditional beliefs and practices. Deconstruction has dealt with rhetoric and the relationship—and conflict—between what a text says and what it does (?), paying attention to oppositions and critical terms and of ultimate goals, with a skepticism about the possibility of objectivity. The latter has been the main cause for my disinterest in this outlook (philosophy?)

That sounds like a healthy way to go about things. I’ve known many people in my time in church who started their Christian life in one denomination and then moved to another later on, often because of some kind of doctrinal difference or newfound conviction. They probably didn’t see things like that as “deconstruction” either. The problem comes in when the thing you realize is not “up to code” (for example, hard-line YEC) is something you were taught your entire faith depended on. Then it can be very hard to conceive of what faith even looks like without it. It’s worth doing the work to sort it out, but can be very difficult.


They aren’t using the term in the context of post-modern philosophy.

Interesting read. Particularly that for two thirds of the groups deconstruction was a negative even destructive experience. Granted never pleasant, can deconstruction ever be seen positively? In some cases, perhaps, even a work of the Spirit? Genuine questions.


Great question! If we can consider such things a “deconversion,” it seems that those of us who have come from YEC to EC would find it a reconstruction/positive experience, though it’s painful.

I was interested to read McKnight’s observation that even with a paradigm shift, people keep their same personalities.

Many deconstructors find a new way, and their new-found confidence in their new way mirrors their former confidence. Their personality type comes to expression again: if they were feisty fundies, they become feisty fundies again; if they were moderates before they become that again; if they were intellectual before, they remain intellectuals.

I wonder how many of us really don’t change much over the years–even coming to faith from lack thereof.

On the other hand, it is interesting to see how people keep their personalities and relate to people around them again. Is there a part of their personality that affects where they land?

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This has no application to me in regards to Christianity… that was all construction from practically nothing for me.

Thus the only application might be with regards to liberalism instead. For I did go from the assumed liberalism with which I was practically indoctrinated as a child to a much more conservative outlook. But much of my liberalism (not all) has been reconstructed since then.


Depends on what kind of deconstruction we are talking about.

Sometimes our opinions and habits have been constructed on twisted or wrong assumptions about the world or about the will of God. In these cases, it may be necessary to deconstruct much of the ‘building’ and straighten the assumptions that form the basis of our worldview. Terrible, painful and frustrating but God may be behind this necessary deconstruction and the building of something healthier.

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Thanks @Knor, I think that is what I had in mind but couldn’t quite find the words. This has happened at least twice in my life. One was short and sharp in my first year of university, the second long and protracted as my beliefs in YEC fell apart. Neither were pleasant experiences, but retrospectively I perceive God’s hand in both of them.


The article is about deconstruction at the level of individuals. I was wondering whether something comparable happens at the level of churches?

Time scales are of course longer if we are talking about churches. Small local churches with few influential leaders can change in decades, large churches may need centuries to deconstruct twisted teachings and construct something healthier instead.

An interesting point. In my lifetime in the Southern Baptist tradition, we have gone from total abstinence from alcohol to acceptance of alcohol in moderation though abstinence is still a more holy option, no dancing to having dance classes in church, women in leadership roles etc. though there are still many fundamentalist leaning congregations that still hold to those issues. I guess the question is whether to call it deconstruction or evolution. It is change, in any case.


Yes, it is change.
Deconstruction includes the idea of taking something away. If some teaching or structure is not abandoned, then it is change but not necessarily deconstruction.

The changes you mentioned are borderline cases. The change in the role of women is perhaps deconstruction followed by reconstruction - the teaching that the leader (pastor, elder) must be a male was dropped and replaced with the teaching of equality in front of God.

I have seen similar type of changes in many local churches from 1980’s to the current situation.
Members who were quite strict during the 1980’s now speak of the time with criticism, except some very old persons.

Deconstruction does not necessarily denote the involvement of pain – my progression from YEC to OEC over three and a half decades ago was pretty instantaneous and pain free as was the somewhat more gradual but gentle one to my understanding (hardly exhaustive :slightly_smiling_face:) and acceptance of evolutionary science a few years ago.

It may be of note, however, that no personal Christian friends or church members other than my wife were involved. I have gotten an askance look when in a conversation I said something indicating that I believed in the antiquity of the cosmos, though, and I received some pushback in another instance. I don’t go broadcasting it among Christian acquaintances, but I have mentioned it to a couple of Christian friends.


The Church will always have problems - just read the epistles. Nothing new today because the church is filled with sanctified sinners - one day it will be perfect but not here, not now.

Sitting in the stadium seating expressing one’s opinion about the faults of the players is far easier than running on the field with the ball.


True. But this is no excuse for evil, injustice, lies, or abuse committed by the Church in the present. Additionally, the biblical picture of the church is one that is self-reflective and self-correcting (Cf. Paul and Peter in Galatians). Also, the epistles never assume that the problems are the norm, but rather expect that God’s people will strive to be better out of mutual respect and love for one another and for God. When God’s people are unwilling to do that, people get hurt and eventually walk away.

This comes across as a hand wave. However, giving the benefit of the doubt, and to continue your metaphor, the church is seeing an epidemic of deconstruction because of the pain suffered by so many ‘players on the field’. The reality is that they’ve been tripped up, or tackled by other players so many times, or become disgusted by the behaviour of the coach, that it isn’t enough to find another team, they question the validity of the game.


Liam, with the good word pictures! Precisely. And they got to the locker room one day and and found their “Team Kingdom” uniform had been replaced by one for “Team Culture War,” and there were a bunch of new players who had never been trained in any of the “Team Kingdom” plays, so they decided that wasn’t the team they tried out for. Then they found out the team wasn’t even playing the same sport anymore and didn’t need their talents, so they went looking for a new team.


Good addendum. :slightly_smiling_face:

Deconstruction – just another word for? Everybody, the spiritual battle is chaos. War is chaos. Nothing other than chaos should be expected. Each person experiences the battle personally. Quoting the Apostle Paul from 2 Corinthians 10:4, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds,” and from 2 Corinthians 2:11, " so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs." The Apostle Peter warns believers from 1 Peter 5:8, " Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Then Peter adds, " Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world" (1 Peter 5:9).

Are these references to a noncorporal, evil being, real or psychological? The answer is left to you since the experience of struggling with doubt or disbelief seems universal. Therefore, to proceed the nature of this demonic biblical world need not be our focus. Spiritual battle is real.

So far, the aim has been to establish that doubt and disbelief are expected of spiritual faith. With some, surrendering to spiritual deception ceases the warfare. For these, the spiritual warfare became so chaotic it resulted in retreat, doubt, and eventually, fleeing the field of battle. For others, such trials continue a lifetime. But for many believers, faith is never questioned.

At this point, only the spiritual conflict has been observed. Spiritual victory or defeat depends entirely upon what you want. Again, entirely upon what you want! While there are historical and rational reasons to believe, such reckoning does not lead to victory. Winning battles begin with the humble acceptance of one’s own fallibility of their sanctity and reason. This allows one to discount their doubt in favor of divine revelation. Then there is the heart, in other words, the passion. What do you desire? Is the desire for a world you understand that meets your fallible and limited understanding? On the other hand, do you thirst and hunger for the Holy Divine Presence in your life? It is your choice – human understanding or the Divine Presence. If the choice is for the Divine Presence, for some it is a choice that must be made several times each day rather than a one-time commitment. For these struggling souls there is the requirement for a desperation decision with each reoccurring doubt. With each reoccurring doubt one should ask, “What do I want! Human understanding or the Divine Presence.”

Why is the battle so fierce and victory so difficult? Could it be there is an actual war raging for you in the spiritual realm? In other words, you are not alone on the field of battle but there are two other actors. The Apostle Peter has previously been quoted as recoding, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The devil’s opponent is described many times in the New Testament. Referencing such verses is left to you, but your attention is focused on a Deuteronomy passage.

11 “For this commandment which I command you today is

not too difficult for you, nor is it far off .

12 It is not in heaven ,

that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’

13 Nor is it beyond the sea ,

that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’

14 But the word is very near you,

in your mouth and in your heart,

that you may observe it.

15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil;

19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that

I have set before you life and death ,

the blessing and the curse. So, choose life in order that you may live, you and your seed, 20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for that is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:11-15, 19-20 NASB edited to include some textual footnotes.

I can’t leave you under the Old Covenant. The Apostle Paul in Athens preached in the midst of the Areopagus. He draws their attention to the idol of the unknown God and begins to describe this unknown God.

# “24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:24-27 English Standard Version)

Under both the old and new covenants this God is close to us.

I, that is me, live with doubt and skepticism. I don’t even know if intellectually I believe, but I know what my heart desires. Every day, my desperation choice is to hunger and thirst for the Divine Presence.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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