One of the most painful experiences of my life was the discovery that someone very close to me, with whom I had served in a local church setting for many years, had “deconstructed” and no longer considered himself a Christian. I initially responded poorly by getting personally offended and aggressively making my arguments for the reliability of the scriptures, the historicity of the resurrection and the empirical evidence for the existence of God (all of which I firmly believe to be true). At the end of a series of intense conversations, he wasn’t convinced, I was deeply hurt and our relationship has not been the same.
Due to a few high-profile and very public stories over the last few years, deconstruction has become the popular term to describe those who wander from their previously-held faith. Furthermore, there is an entire online community of “exvangelicals” who have purposed to proselytize people away from what they believe to be our “messed up subculture.” And, to be honest, Christians have made that job extremely easy these days with so many financial, sexual, racial and spiritual abuse scandals across nearly every corner of American Evangelicalism. We have made ourselves a very easy target for such attacks!
Honestly, I am suffering from deconstruction discouragement. I have begun to speculate about this apparent wave of deconstruction stories as a modern phenomenon that threatens to shake the very foundation of Christianity and finally accomplish what so many others in history (Jewish authorities, Roman Empire, Islamic Jihad, Enlightenment Atheism, Communism, etc) failed to do. I recognize that there are a myriad of factors, such as the advent of the internet, the accessibility of social media and a growing detachment from traditional communities in favor of more individualistic lifestyles that may be driving this development. But the scripture reminds us on multiple occasions that this type of thing is going to happen, and we must not be surprised when it does (See Matthew 24:10, 1 John 2:19, James 5:19-20).
Recently, I was preaching through a little letter written by the Apostle Paul to his friend Philemon and found something interesting. In his final thoughts to Philemon, Paul writes…”Epaphrus, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” (Philemon 1:23-24) Consider the stories of two men mentioned here.
Demas the DE-Constructor: The Apostle Paul mentions Demas twice in his correspondence with fellow believers in Colossae, and both times he references his faithful partnership in the gospel ministry. However, six years later Paul would mention him a final time in the following way, “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:10) Apparently, at some point along the way, Demas fell away from the faith and was no longer a part of the mission. As you read, you can feel the discouragement in the Apostle Paul’s words as he is processing this deconstruction. When he wrote Philemon, Paul appeared convinced that Demas would never fall away, yet that is exactly what he did. I know the feeling.
Mark the RE-Constructor: Many years prior, Mark was a “helper” (Acts 13:5) to Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but he abandoned the mission and returned to Jerusalem. We do not know the reason, but we do know that his departure from the mission caused such a serious disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that they had to go their separate ways over the issue (Acts 15:39-41). By the time Paul wrote Philemon, Mark had re-joined the mission and was serving faithfully in Rome as a “fellow worker.” When Mark fell away, Paul was adamant that he could not be trusted and would never be useful to the mission again. Yet, fifteen years later, Paul’s affection for and dependence on Mark is obvious.
So Demas, the “DE-constructor” and Mark the “RE-constructor” are listed beside one another in the scripture. What are we to make of this? How should this affect the way we deal with both personal and public deconstruction stories? First of all, we must realize that both of their journeys played out over 20 years, and any snapshot of their lives along the way reflected an incomplete picture. Secondly, we must remember that the Holy Spirit is responsible for drawing people to Jesus; convincing anyone to simply agree with us about God should never be our goal. Repentance is the goal, and it has always been “God’s kindness that is meant to lead you to repentance.” (Romans 2:4)
In light of this, I try to remember the following as I often lay awake at night thinking about and praying for my dear friend: his story is not complete, and God is still at work. With this in mind, I am deeply committed to passionate prayer for him and maintaining relational connection with him. This means I put my weapons of apologetics away and practice Christian love above all else which philosopher Frances Shaeffer called the “final apologetic.” Ultimately, we know that God is good, that he loves people infinitely more than we do, and that God is tenderhearted toward both the deconstructed and the discouraged. So, take courage and press on!
PS for Pastors:. We absolutely must find a way to make room in our churches for people to be honest about their doubts, disagreements and disappointments without fear of becoming anathema in voicing their concerns. One of my deepest regrets in ministry is that those who have fallen away or deconstructed did not give me the opportunity to process their doubts with them. To this day, I have not figured out how to create this culture in my church. However, I am 100% confident that as churches and pastors like me do not make space for people to process their doubts, YouTube and Twitter are more than happy to do so in our place.
Please use the comments section below to share ideas on how to best address this issue in your church.
Latest posts by John Welborn (see all)
- Desánimo Por La Deconstrucción - June 22, 2021
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