“For every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” H.L. Mencken
My mother still hasn’t turned the corner and so I stayed later than usual. I’m a bit tired and hope my reasoning on this is understandable.
On November 9, 2021, The Gospel Coalition posted a simplistic view on the ‘cure’ for deconstruction: 4 Causes of Deconstruction by Joshua Ryan Butler. I took a look at Redemption Church Tempe which he pastors. When I find a treatise on church discipline within one click of going to a church website, I become concerned. It might seem, to a casual inquirer of the church, that discipline is applied joyfully and often. There is another view I have of church discipline within the Neo Reformed crowd. It often appears to be a simple way to make someone do what the church leadership wants, be it right or wrong.
One only has to look at Todd Wilhelm’s story to understand the simplistic nature of this discipline. That view shows up in his four simple reasons for deconstructing. This author also has the simple cure for the destructive type of deconstruction which he diagnoses in as few words as possible. I found him to be shallow and somewhat out of touch with reality but perhaps that’s a bit too harsh.
Please note that the author uses the word “deconstruction” to mean that a person is walking away from the faith.
1. The person who ‘deconstructed’ did so due to church hurt.
The author claims:
Many who deconstruct have been wounded by abusive or manipulative church leaders or generally unhealthy church cultures.
The author points to the following problems.
You grew up under the influence of leaders like Ravi Zacharias, Carl Lentz, or Mark Driscoll—whose teaching and charisma powerfully inspired you and formatively shaped you—but then the curtain got pulled back. The betrayal can make the whole thing look like a sham. The pain can be excruciating and disorienting.
The hurting person needs to simply lament.
You don’t need to ignore the church’s problems to protect its reputation.
Instead, bring the problems boldly to God—like David did—and encounter a deeper intimacy with him as you’re honest about your wounds. Deconstruction bypasses this deeper healing. It’s a shortcut that internalizes grief rather than bringing it before God.
He goes on to say that no community is perfect. The solution is easy peasy. Yikes!
Diagnosis: church hurt
Cure: grief and lament
I doubt this individual has met a person who has been sexually molested in the church. Some folks have been molested as children. Where does he express an understanding of such pain? Where does he discuss the need for the church to walk beside the individual, offering counseling and guidance? Butler’s lack of compassion in this area is concerning. TWW started EChurch for people who have been so wounded by the church they can’t even walk into a church building without experiencing PTSD. The process towards healing may be years long and the author can be darn sure that they are lamenting but not in the easy, curative way that he imagines. Does he realize that many people may not heal for decades or even ever? They don’t reject the faith easily. and there is no easy answer to their pain. To say they must simply lament is almost painfully glib.
2. People ‘deconstruct’ due to poor teaching.
I always get worried when I hear this as a problem. It usually leads to “If you listened to me, this wouldn’t have happened.” And I was right. TGC has the solution.
But if the problem is bad teaching, the solution is good teaching. There are great resources out there (such as TGC’s recent book, Before You Lose Your Faith, and video series “Gen Z’s Questions About Christianity”) and many wise pastors are walking patiently with those who wrestle with hard questions. Good teaching and good teachers exist.
…We need to take good teaching seriously. Our refrain should be, You have heard it said, but Jesus says. . . . I’ve written books on hell, judgment, holy war, sacrifice, wrath, and atonement, and I’m writing one on sex and gender. I’m often trying to confront popular caricatures of the Christian faith and replace them with a healthy, biblical, historic understanding. That’s one of TGC’s goals, too.
This is the “stupid sheep” explanation. It is assumed that the average churchgoer, who becomes upset and begins to deconstruct, has no idea that there are good books at TGC and by this pastor which will make all things right if they read them.
It’s easy peasy.
Diagnosis: bad teaching
Cure: good teaching
I hate the “stupid sheep” theory. We live in the information age. The average person knows where to go to get good information. Even I knew that when I went through my own time of deconstructing and reconstructing. There are a gazillion books out there. Some are good, some are not so good and that includes TGC books. Most people that I know, who walk away from the faith, know exactly why they are doing so and many of them are more well-read than I am.
Once again, the solution offered is simplistic. The “stupid sheep” theory is downright shallow and needs to be revisited.
3. People deconstruct because they have a desire to sin.
This is the “guy wants to have sex with girls or guys” explanation.
I minister in a college town (go ASU Sun Devils) where students regularly deconstruct when they’ve started sleeping with their girlfriend or boyfriend. Convenient timing. Others deconstruct while harboring an addiction (drugs, alcohol, porn), to release their guilt.
He has an easy peasy solution, again.
Diagnosis: desire to sin
Cure: confession and repentance
I have a dirty little secret for the author. There are plenty of “good Christian boys and girls” who are sleeping around, using drugs, viewing porn, etc. One of my young family members clued me into what gives in the Christian dating scene these days and it isn’t pretty. The new axiom is “I can believe and still do what. they want.”
What’s even more amusing is that they attend church, help lead singles groups, or are the oft-maligned youth pastor. One pastor of a large church told me that it is impossible to find a single person to lead a group who isn’t living with their girlfriend or boyfriend. Many churches turn a blind eye to this issue and, instead, find it easier to discipline the older people in the congregation. Besides, we don’t want to run away the next generation now, would we?
4. The person deconstructs for “street cred.”
In other words, they do it because it is hip???
There’s influence to be had, platforms to be built, and money to be made. It gets Rob Bell on Oprah, bolsters Glennon Doyle’s book sales, and lets Rhett & Linkhost Nacho Libre and Harry Potter on their popular YouTube channel.
A wave of #exvangelical podcasters and TikTok stars are following in the wake, with a whole cottage industry to welcome and cheer them on. There’s clout in distancing oneself from “outdated” views of sex and gender, an “obscure” Bible with talking snakes and forbidden shellfish, and “offensive” doctrines like wrath and hell.
The author claims he is not trying to say he knows the hearts of these ‘deconstructees.’ (Is that a word?)
I’m simply observing that social pressure is a powerful carrot on the stick—and not just for celebrities.
He claims this is due simply to a hostile culture that doesn’t like Christians. So many Christians simply do what? Fake it to get by? But…does that mean that they have deconstructed?
The cultural hostility is real. Whether in progressive urban centers (like my hometown of Portland), or university environments (like where I currently live), Christians are decidedly not the cool kids. It’s hard to be the awkward one sitting alone at lunch. Many of us feel the social pressure—and the release valve is a simple Instagram post away.
The “cure” here is the crucifixion of your image. The gospel calls you to mortify your love of influence and prestige—put it to death. Jesus warns of those who love “the glory that comes from man” more than “the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43). It’s not wrong to want love and affirmation; it’s just wrong to want it more from your fickle friends than your faithful God.
His cure? Simple…
Mortify your desire for street cred in order to experience union with God.
Diagnosis: street cred
Cure: crucifixion of image
This makes little sense to me. Do ‘Christians’ actually pretend they are something they are not for street cred? If that is the case, have they deconstructed, or are they under so much pressure that they go on the down-low? I spent several years lurking on ExChristian.net. Those folks found their way to that website to find support for their choice not to follow the Christian faith. I don’t remember any of them stating that they were feeling pressure from the ‘godless’ culture to change their beliefs to be “cool.’ Most of them would say that the pressure they experienced came from the Christian population like from their churches and families. Many of these folks were rejected by those kindly Christian folks…Frankly, this is a derogatory assessment from the author who appears to be determined to prove that people who deconstruct seem to do so to make their lives easy.
The author continues on his path in his closing statement.
It’s also worth recognizing: people’s real motives will often be different from their stated motives. I’ve had people come to me “with big questions about God,” only to later discover they were feeling social pressure at school or having an affair at the office.
He is determined to prove that those who deconstruct do so for simple reasons.
- They deconstruct to make their lives easier.
- They want to do drugs, have sex, and whatever.
- They are too stupid to find answers to their questions.
- The author has written several books that will surely help those who are deconstructing.
- He downplays the pain that many people who leave the church due to serious abuse.
- He overlooks the long-term, intense pain of sexual molestation.
- His solutions are painfully shallow.
Finally, I can’t say this enough. People don’t need to leave the faith to sin. There is plenty of sin going on in the church today, whether or not the author notices. It isn’t onlu going on in the pews. Pastors have had plenty of exposure in this area. Look at all those SBC pastors who molested children. Read a few posts here.
In the end, his solutions are too easy peasy which means he’s missing a whole bunch of issues. That, Lord willing, will be the subject of my next post on the matter. In the meantime, Todd is working on another post on Sovereign Grace weirdness.
This is one of my favorite Christmas songs. The second verse says something that I, at times, have said.
And in despair, I bowed my head. “There is no peace on earth I said.