A few months ago while invited as a guest on a podcast, the host asked how I’ve navigated my journey outside the evangelical church while still considering myself a Christian. “How do you not throw out the baby with the bathwater?” I hemmed and hawed; I think I said something like it’s okay to throw it all out, if that’s what you need to do, and then proceeded to babble about how I still haven’t gotten to that point. (The podcast episode never got released, by the way. Thank goodness, I was so rambly in it.)
Now that I’ve sat with that question more, I think I’ve figured out how I would answer it.
“Don’t forget the basics,” is a common phrase thrown back at those who are trying to work out and grow their faith, both in practicum and perspective. When I started being more open about my spiritual journey on my personal social media account, I was met with a lot of “But what does the Bible say?” or “Don’t give up on Jesus because he’s never given up on you.”
Perhaps at some point I’ll write a post to in-church Christians about what not to say to those deconstructing. But that’s for another time. Anyways.
After having some time to think about it, my approach to this question addresses two groups – the church and those who are deconstructing.
To those in the Church:
Even though the concern is that those wrestling with their faith don’t throw it out the window entirely, ironically, I think the modern evangelical habit of needing everything to be true all the time in a very specific way only contributes to the potential of one leaving their faith altogether.
The modern evangelical paradigm has little-to-no flexibility, places its faith in how certain it is, and leaves very little room for tension and mystery. It is brittle. When all of its contents must be true, or none of it is true, that is practically a guarantee that it will all come falling down the second you start to notice the inconsistencies. It enables “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
To have a structurally-sound worldview, it must include intellectual flexibility, a self-awareness of what you don’t know and what can never truly be known, and the ability to observe new information without being thrust into a state of fight-or-flight. The fruit of critical thinking is growth beyond what you’ve always known or accepted. Furthermore, the ability to maintain a set of beliefs without turning them into your identity is, I think, the key to maintaining the freedom to ebb and flow wherever your growth takes you.
Since taking apart my evangelical upbringing, I have managed to build flexibility into my spiritual pursuits, and perhaps another time I’ll get into what that looks like for me. It is possible to maintain a level of orthodoxy while prioritizing spiritual freedom and personal growth. And it starts with the humility to accept that all of spiritual life is faith and conjecture, not a tidy list of pre-approved stances and creeds.
To those deconstructing:
I remember asking this question when I first started tinkering with my belief system. “Is there some hope of maintaining a semblance of ideological security in this whole mess?” I completely understand and empathize with the query, but I would gently suggest that it falsifies the point of deconstructing.
The specific eye-opener can be different, but in general, we all arrived here because we felt a tectonic shift in our perspective. We could no longer bear weight on a floorboard of our worldview. So we did some inspecting and turns out, there were cracks in the foundation.
You wouldn’t continue with cosmetic remodels on your house if it was discovered the foundation was sinking.
Same goes with deconstruction. Without examining your root system, you’re simply expecting health, healing, and growth from a potentially rotting and dead vine. If you fear to question it, therein lies your answer as to the security of that long-held belief, value, or tradition.
A sure foundation will not be moved. What is meant to remain will be. What proves important may be entirely different than your original expectations, but your inner life will be one of authenticity, autonomy, clarity, and freedom.
Being made new requires some upheaval. Be at peace.