I was recently asked for advice from someone whose friend is struggling with their faith, and toying with deconstruction-type tendencies, due to failures in the Christian community. I thought I’d share my response below:
One thing that I think is important: don’t downplay or dismiss his sense of disillusionment or angst over the legit problems and failings of those in the church. As someone who very much sympathizes with many of these frustrations myself, I find it incredibly frustrating when folks simply dismiss my concerns with contemporary evangelicalism. It can be very disillusioning. Of course, the “deconstructionist” trend has lots of problems. But many (not all) of the things they are reacting to are real. I’ve met some evangelicals/fundamentalists who simply don’t seem bothered by the things others of us find deeply disturbing and unsettling. And for them to simply blow off our concerns is annoying, to say the least (often because they themselves are more sympathetic to the things we find problematic). But the problems are real. Acting like they aren’t won’t provide this man any solace. He won’t find it satisfying or convincing.
For me though, what’s been really helpful is (1) recognizing a global and historic church that goes deeper and wider than the craziness that unfortunately defines much of contemporary American evangelicalism/fundamentalism. Also, (2) recognizing that the NT predicted false teachers and problems in the church. So their existence doesn’t put in jeopardy the legitimacy of Christianity, as if for Christianity to be real the church mustn’t have issues. (3) Even the early church, which we sometimes hold up as pristine, was anything but. Look at Corinth. Or look at the messages to the churches in Revelation. As Augustine said, “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.” That quote has been a comfort to me these last few years, as odd as that may seem. (4) Also, online chatter and news reporting can give a skewed sense of reality. It highlights dramatic things, or the most radical voices. Instead (5) I want to focus on the actual flesh and blood community around me, my church. Yes, we’re not perfect, and there are folks that annoy me or are immature and in need of growth (I’m one of them). But focusing on my own community grounds me from ruminating in a downward spiral on some abstract sense of “the evangelical church.” (6) I’ve become okay with not having a particular tribe. From 2015 onward, we’ve seen conservative evangelicalism fracturing. And it was pretty painful for me, as people I thought were “my circle/tribe” clearly weren’t. It felt like betrayal. This caused me to realize how much I had valued having a tribe–but maybe in a way that wasn’t healthy. I feel more over that need now, because of these last few years, in hopefully a place that’s healthier. (7) Don’t give so much stock to evangelical leaders who say stupid stuff. Like yeah, they say stupid stuff. But why should I give them that much weight over how I think about my own faith or defining what Christianity is? Why should I let them have that sort of control over me, over Christianity? And ultimately (8) I’m a Christian because of Jesus. I follow him, not a church. And (9) I’m an evangelical because I believe this theological tradition reflects a right understanding of scripture and its gospel. I’m evangelical for convictional reasons, in other words, not sociological ones (like the state of evangelicalism).
Those are the ways I’ve dealt with this.