From Deconstruction to Reformation

“Temba, his arms wide.” “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” “Shaka, when the walls fell.” “Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel.” 

These statements may seem like gobbledygook. If you know Tamarian, you’ll recognize the story of how Captain Picard and Captain Dathon fought a dangerous beast in an isolated region of planet El-Adrel in order to forge a friendship between two people who spoke vastly different languages. Though they used the same words, the structure of the language was so different that Picard and Dathon could not understand each other. This episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation1 brings to mind a passage I’ve read in the Bible many times but recently stood out to me. Genesis 11 starts with the statement “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” Communication with another person requires not just using the same words, but also that those words mean the same thing to both parties. Also, the structure of the language must match. This requirement seems especially relevant when trying to discuss the deconstruction phenomenon in American evangelicalism, so let’s start by trying to get on common ground.  

Defining Deconstruction 
The term deconstruction seems to mean many different things. Do we take the philosophical approach of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida where words no longer have inherent meaning within themselves but only in contrast to opposing ideas? Is deconstruction the process of evaluating our beliefs and traditions to affirm biblically based ideas while rejecting any unbiblical notions? Or, do we mean the process by which many people prominent in Christian circles (authors, artists, and even pastors) dissect their beliefs and usually end up walking away from historic Christianity? 

Honestly, when I first started thinking about how to define deconstruction, I thought it would be amusing and effective to take my cues from the television cooking show MasterChef. A deconstructed dish makes sure that all the essential elements are included but allows great freedom regarding how to present those essentials. However, such an approach does a disservice to Christianity as well as to those who choose deconstruction. I need to do a better job of clarifying the language rather than confusing terms with cute gimmicks. In that vein, Alisa Childers, in her book Another Gospel?provides an insightful definition:

In the context of faith, deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with. Sometimes the Christian will deconstruct all the way into atheism. Some remain there, but others experience a reconstruction. But the type of faith they end up embracing almost never resembles the Christianity they formerly knew.2  

Childers’s definition highlights a key worldview difference between a Christian approach to examining our beliefs and what deconstruction entails. Christians should routinely evaluate our beliefs and traditions to ensure they align with the Bible. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Deconstruction does not entail evaluating beliefs against an objective standard. Rather, deconstruction inherently incorporates the postmodern relativism articulated by Derrida. And unfortunately, faith deconstruction today usually comes with a vocal chorus encouraging Christians to join the movement. 

Why Do People Deconstruct?
This question has no quick or easy answer. Since most of us will encounter deconstruction through someone we know, we can use the opportunity to understand the person rather than argue against the social phenomenon. More than likely, you’ll hear stories of how people encountered Christians who behaved hypocritically, or how unbiblical or distorted beliefs were mixed in with Christian doctrine, or how Christians have avoided answering difficult (but legitimate) questions, or how someone simply doesn’t like what Christianity truly teaches, or a myriad of other reasons. If you encounter someone who is deconstructing their faith, the first way to connect should be to understand where that person is and how they got there.

The Need for Reformation
Too many Christians are transitioning from deconstruction to deconversion. Thus, from an apologetic perspective, when we encounter someone in the midst of deconstruction, we should help them transition from deconstruction to reformation. Deconstruction holds little to no hope of finding the essential truths of Christianity and building a robust belief on that firm foundation. In contrast, reformation takes a current expression of Christianity (e.g., doctrine, traditions, cultures, etc.) and works to sort out the essential parts to keep while discarding—or at least minimizing and allowing Christians to hold different positions—the rest. 

We see a potent example of this process in Scripture. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas were spending time in Antioch ministering to the church. Some Judean men came and started teaching that the church members in Antioch needed (according to the method of Moses) to be circumcised to receive salvation. We may look back and think what a silly thing to argue over, but circumcision was a central practice among the Hebrews—having originated in God’s promise to Abraham. This was not a trivial matter. Paul and Barnabas had heated arguments and debates with the Judean men. 

Eventually, the brothers in the church convened a council of Jerusalem elders to resolve the matter. As Paul, Barnabas, and the Judean brothers traveled to Jerusalem, they ministered to the churches along the way and saw God work in mighty ways. Ultimately Paul, Peter, James, and the Judean brothers resolved that circumcision was an unnecessary stumbling block to Gentile believers receiving salvation. But they relied on the revelation God had already provided rather than making up a new doctrine to suit the perceived needs of the time. That’s our desire as well—to let God’s revelation through Scripture and creation provide the foundation by which we and the entire church decide the essentials of Christianity. 

Always Reforming
For two thousand years, Christians have been working hard to understand what God has revealed, what that revelation means, and how Christians should live in light of that revelation. History shows the messiness of the process, but it also provides numerous examples where the church veered way off course before reforming its beliefs and re-anchoring its doctrines to God’s revelation instead of the wisdom and folly of humanity. It’s a reformation that includes the human heart. As people struggle with deconversion, let’s make sure the church and each of its members are diligently working on reformation. 


1. Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 5, episode 5, “Darmok,” written by Gene Roddenberry et al., directed by Winrich Kolbe, aired on CBS September 28, 1991.

2. Alisa Childers, Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2020), 24.