What to Do When Someone You Love Deconstructs, and Walks Away from Christ and His Church

Note from Randy: It seems that there’s not a month that goes by that we don’t hear about another prominent Christian adding their name to the long list of ex-evangelicals who have deconstructed their faith. In a sense, I get it when they are disillusioned by some churches, because let’s face it—many churches deserve criticism for infighting, politicization, pride, loss of perspective, materialism, indifference to the poor, and man-centeredness. But the baby keeps being thrown out with the bathwater. When the baby is the Church that Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against, that’s sad. When the baby is the One born in Bethlehem it is tragic beyond words. But there is a day coming: “Yahweh will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Yahweh, and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:9).

Ironically, there is a broad online church-like fellowship of ex-evangelicals, where their commonality is not in Christ but in their sense of hurt and betrayal and need to recover from wrongs done to them by churches. Sometimes those wrongs were very real; sometimes not. But even when they have been truly wronged, to reject the only worthy object of Faith, the One who did no wrong and took all our wrongs on Himself, is the ultimate heartbreak.

The Deconstruction of ChristianityI recall many Christ-centered conversations with men and women I know personally who at one time professed to love Jesus, and now have walked away from Him and the church. Sometimes I wish I couldn’t remember our conversations, but I’m not giving up on them. God isn’t done with them yet. He remains sovereign, and as it says in Daniel, “Heaven rules” even when it’s not easy to see. To the arrogant King Nebuchadnezzar God said: “The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules” (Daniel 4:26).

If you have friends and family members who have walked away from Christ, this subject is likely deeply personal, and you may be wondering how to respond to them. The following article, from Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett, offers advice for those who have a loved one who is deconstructing. (They are also the authors of the new book The Deconstruction of Christianity: What It Is, Why It’s Destructive, and How to Respond.)

Help! My Loved One Is Deconstructing.

By Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett

“Our daughter is deconstructing her faith, and she has cut us off. She even wrote us a letter explaining that we’re unsafe because we have toxic theology. What do we do?”

Sadly, this is a common sentiment we hear as we travel to speak about deconstruction. We’ve heard countless stories from concerned parents, siblings, spouses, and pastors. They’re desperate to understand what’s happening to their loved ones, and they hope to find a way to engage and reconnect with them.

Understand Deconstructors

In today’s culture, “deconstruction” is defined in many ways. Regardless of the definition, it’s important to remember that without a deconstructor, there’s no deconstruction. Every faith deconstruction story is about a person who has unique experiences.

While the Bible doesn’t use the word, it does offer significant insights into faith deconstruction. Scripture gives an accurate description of who we are as people and how we relate to God. Therefore, if we want to better understand our deconstructing loved ones and how to relate to them, we should pay attention to five ways they’re described in the Bible.

1. Deconstructors as Image-Bearers

There are some things we know about everyone who has deconstructed his or her faith because they’re true of all human beings. Every deconstructor—regardless of age, race, gender, sexual attraction, or social status—is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Therefore all are intrinsically valuable and worthy of love, dignity, and respect.

2. Deconstructors as Sinners

Sin affects everything about us—our relationships, our desires, our emotions, and even our beliefs. Our sin nature isn’t something we simply put on the shelf until we feel like sinning. It’s always with us. And so deconstruction isn’t a morally neutral process. Whether we like it or not, we all experience a pull away from God. That’s why the apostle Paul reminds us to “put to death the deeds of [our] sinful nature” (Rom. 8:13, NLT).

3. Deconstructors as Seekers

Writing to the Romans, Paul says, “[God] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rom. 2:6–8, emphasis added). Notice Paul puts people in two groups: self-seekers and truth-seekers.

There’s a temptation to think that if we can provide enough evidence, our loved one will change his mind. But for many, it’s not an evidence issue; it’s a heart issue.

While ridiculing Jesus as he hung on the cross, the chief priests said, “Come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32). The implication is that they’d believe in Jesus if they could see the evidence. However, Jesus had already provided plenty of evidence to warrant belief. The problem wasn’t a failure to provide evidence. The problem was a failure to accept it.

4. Deconstructors as Captives

The Bible describes how some people are “captured by [the Devil] to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). One of the snares Satan uses is deception. That’s why Paul warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

Sadly, many false ideas are propagated in the deconstruction online space. Just scroll through the hundreds of thousands of posts tagged with #deconstruction and #exvangelical.

For example, one deconstructionist posted, “#EvangelicalismIsUnreformable because any way you slice it, the primary belief is that child sacrifice saved the world.” Whether intentionally or not, this completely mischaracterizes Christianity. When our loved ones are held captive to false ideas, we respond with truth. We must “put on the whole armor of God,” which begins with “the belt of truth” (Eph. 6:11, 14).

5. Deconstructors as Rebels

While many deconstructors are captives of false ideas, some are simply rebels against God. Paul describes those “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). These people have the truth, but they actively suppress it. Later in the same letter, he says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law” (8:7).

For many, deconstruction is about self-rule. They refuse to bow their knees to the sovereign Lord. No one, including God, gets to tell them what to believe or how to live. In a candid post on Instagram, a deconstructor sums it up:

Part of my deconstruction has included no longer allowing the opinions or expectations of others to determine my self-worth, my choices, or my identity. I no longer look to anyone else to define me. Not God, not people. I am my own person.

Love the Deconstructor

When faced with the reality of a loved one in deconstruction, we recommend doing triage. That’s what hospitals do when there’s a major accident on the highway and people begin to flood the ER. Doctors assess each injury and treat them in order of urgency. A punctured lung will receive treatment before a broken wrist.

Similarly, when engaging a deconstructing loved one, we recommend responding to the most urgent situation first. In the deconstruction space, traditional Christian doctrines (like original sin, penal substitutionary atonement, and the doctrine of hell) are seen as toxic. That means your loved one likely sees you as an unsafe person, and you may have a fragile window of opportunity to stay in her life. The most urgent need might be maintaining the relationship.

Then, if there’s an open door for communication, seek to understand where the deconstructor is coming from. Remember the different ways deconstructors are described: image-bearer, sinner, seeker, captive, and rebel. Try to discern what heart posture is driving his deconstruction. It’s only after we understand a deconstructor’s perspective that we’re able to engage him.

And never underestimate the power of prayer. God can open any hard heart. We’re never powerless unless we’re prayerless. Seeking relationship, living out the beauty of the gospel, and devoting time to prayer is critical in loving those in deconstruction. And have hope! Acts 16:14 tells us that God opened Lydia’s heart to hear what Paul had to say. He did it for her, and he can do it for your loved one too.

This article originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition, and is used with permission of the authors.

Photo: Unsplash

Alisa Childers is an American singer and songwriter who writes at alisachilders.com, an apologetics blog for doubting Christians and honest skeptics.

Tim Barnett is a speaker and apologist for Stand to Reason (STR). His online presence on Red Pen Logic with Mr. B helps people assess bad thinking by using good thinking.