An article published by The Gospel Coalition (TGC) outlining common reasons why people deconstruct from Christianity is being criticized as lacking empathy, misrepresenting people’s motives, and minimizing the impact of trauma on abuse survivors. Author Joshua Ryan Butler counters that his critics are misrepresenting what his article actually said.
What Does It Mean to ‘Deconstruct’?
In the context of evangelicalism, “deconstruct” is a word that generally refers to the process of critiquing and rejecting aspects of the Christian faith or even Christian culture. It is important to note that people use the word “deconstruct” differently. For some, deconstructing means they leave the Christian faith entirely. Others deconstruct from certain teachings, but still maintain faith in other Christian beliefs. What the process of deconstruction looks like differs depending on the individual.
High-profile people who have announced that they have deconstructed their faith in part or completely include author Joshua Harris, musician Marty Sampson, Hawk Nelson’s Jon Steingard, DC Talk’s Kevin Max, and former Desiring God contributor Paul Maxwell.
Joshua Ryan Butler on Why People Deconstruct
Joshua Ryan Butler is lead pastor at Redemption Church in Tempe, Ariz. In his article, “4 Causes of Deconstruction,” Butler says he has talked with “many wrestling with deconstruction,” and he lists what he sees as the four most common reasons why people deconstruct, noting that the list is “not exhaustive.” The reaons are:
- Church hurt
- Poor teaching
- Desire to sin
- Street cred
At the beginning of the section under his first point, Butler acknowledges, “Many who deconstruct have been wounded by abusive or manipulative church leaders, or generally unhealthy church cultures.” He mentions Ravi Zacharias, Mark Driscoll, and Carl Lentz as examples of leaders who betrayed the trust of people who looked up to them. Such betrayal “can be excruciating and disorienting.”
But deconstruction is a “false cure,” says Butler. “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.”
Butler implies that people who deconstruct because of church wounds fail to truly seek God in their pain and instead take the easy way out. “Much of deconstruction exists because it’s easier to move on than to be sad,” he says.