It was the first week of university and our professor strides in, throws the Bible on the desk and, known for being its chief critic, asks us to bring it to every class, adding “if you can bear it.” Quiet giggles and nods rippled through the classroom. As for me, I realised I had entered the world of thinking critically, rigorously and academically about something I had always considered to be foundational truth (and still do).

Those years as a theology student were the toughest ones growing up. I relished the late-night pub conversations with friends musing over which parts of the Bible are literal, which are figurative, what to take seriously and what to discard. That was exciting and interesting. But eventually, the constant questioning about who Jesus is and if we can trust the Bible really took its toll. Abandoning faith felt like an easy way out and leaving the questions unanswered felt overwhelming.

In recent years, particularly the last 18 months, I have seen these same critical, analytic tools resurface and enter the evangelical arena, taking their place as tools to understanding faith. If you’re a church-goer or church leader, you will have likely encountered deconstruction’.

Simply put, deconstruction is the process of rethinking and dismantling everything you once believed and held as truth and reconstructing it (though not always) to better fit your presuppositions or experiences. Deconstruction is by no means, however, a new phenomenon or idea. Deconstruction began as a form of literary criticism, developed by French philosopher Derrida in the mid-20th century to expose the supposed hierarchies in language and analyse the relationship between text and its meaning.


Evangelical deconstruction, specifically, is the application of this theory to widely-held historical, evangelical, typically conservative Christian beliefs. Fernando Canale of Andrews University explains deconstruction theory applied to evangelicalism – including beliefs around biblical authority, doctrinal truth and historical events – as a critical method of analysing and evaluating the presuppositions on which theological systems have been built” (Source: Deconstructing Evangelical Theology?).

A legitimate attempt to answer uncomfortable questions, illegitimately

Having had my own turbulent relationship with deconstruction as a young theology student, I find it all too easy to understand why deconstruction offers solace and clarity to those experiencing disappointment and disillusionment. The Christian faith and apprenticeship to Jesus requires holding historical, resurrection certainty in tension with life’s mystery and ambiguity. For the self-described exvangelical” troops such Abraham Piper and Dr Paul Maxwell, deconstructing appears to provide much needed relief to the anguish produced by years of forcing oneself into a pre-determined and rigid pattern of belief.

But at the end of a season of endless questioning and picking apart, I found myself dissatisfied, wanting, longing for better answers and a better story.

I quickly realised that deconstruction was a very legitimate attempt to address those difficult, unnerving and uncomfortable questions, in an illegitimate way. To deconstruct without a compass is to ignore the fact that humans were created to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and in a relationship with someone who knows us and our circumstances better than ourselves. My humanity needed to be able to embrace this mystery and ambiguity with the revelation of a Father who loves me as His child and who could show me the ropes through the person of Jesus.

The challenge for church leaders and Christians today is how we seek to pastorally connect with those asking valid, hard questions without destroying these very foundations of truth and freedom, without discarding our compass that is Jesus. I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13 – 14 to enter the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Deconstruction at its best provided a wide, enticing, open gate, but often leads to more turmoil than before.

A way for the church to engage positively

A recent article by The Sophia Society, a community of perennial doubters” and deconstructionists, makes an excellent point that deconstruction is not a faith death sentence if we have a safe, nurturing environment in which to ask questions, have deep discussions, and be welcomed no matter what.” It is important for churches to build these cultures that welcome, not stifle, honest reflection and embrace difficult questions, especially if they are to begin their apprenticeship to Jesus authentically.

Perhaps we can take this a step further and say that it is possible, even necessary, to embrace the tension of ambiguity and mystery and ask the questions, while living out and faithfully sharing the good, true, and beautiful news of Jesus. Deconstruction reveals a lot about our very human desire for meaning, significance and purpose. We need not run from this opportunity; hiding in these seasons of life are often the moments God uses to reveal Himself more vividly than before.

For a brilliant resource on engaging with the conversation around deconstruction, particularly if you’re leading a church, see this message by John Mark Comer: Deconstruction: The Way of Jesus and The Ideologies of the World