I’ve heard it said a few times that if the you of five or 10 years ago could see yourself today and not think you’re a heretic, then you’re stuck.

Growing as a person of faith is one of our goals as Christians. My greatest passion in life is to be more like Christ each day. That will often take me further away from what much of the church says being Christian is all about.

Man in a field 

While deconstruction is talked about a lot in some Christian circles, Nils von Kalm says it should be followed by a process of reconstruction. PICTURE: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

At John Smith’s funeral a couple of years ago, U2 singer Bono recalled in a statement that he said to John once that he was often regarded as a heretic. John apparently looked at Bono, smiled and said, “you mean like Jesus, mate?”.

Growth in our faith often involves unlearning what we have been taught in our earlier years. Richard Rohr says this of the second half of life. More than learning new things, we spend most of our time unlearning what we were taught by the church.

"Growth...is not just a matter of what we know. In fact, I don’t think it has much to do with knowledge at all. Our theology and relationship with Christ is shaped by many things, not least our life experiences. I have been through a lot in the last 35 years, including a divorce and mental health concerns. Those things on their own continue to shape my image of God."

I have been a committed Christian for about 35 years, and I no longer hold to some of the theology I held to way back then. Would the me of 35 years ago be concerned that the me of today was well down the slippery slope to liberalism? Probably, and I’m perfectly OK with that, because if I knew then the Jesus I know today, I would probably be more Christ-like today.

Growth, though, is not just a matter of what we know. In fact, I don’t think it has much to do with knowledge at all. Our theology and relationship with Christ is shaped by many things, not least our life experiences. I have been through a lot in the last 35 years, including a divorce and mental health concerns. Those things on their own continue to shape my image of God.

I have also been fortunate to have had a number of very good examples and teachers in the faith along the way. John Smith is the most influential through his passion and lifelong, unwavering total commitment to Jesus. Then there have been people like the aforementioned Bono, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr, Mother Teresa and a host of others, be they public figures or people I have known personally.

All of these people and factors have contributed to the person I am today and the person I am becoming. I am so thankful for them. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have come across such wonderful examples to guide me.

Through all these years I have deconstructed my faith to the point where, at one point about 15 years ago, I went through a period of intense doubt, really wondering if all this God stuff really is true.

That was a difficult time for me, considering the idea that this life could be all there is. I remember looking up at the sky one day and wondering if there was (spiritually) anything beyond. 

Eventually it came back to faith for me. But it was my own faith, not the faith of any church or other person. It wasn’t conservative and it wasn’t liberal (I still don’t care for such labels). I found myself living out what Paul said in Philippians 2:12 about working out your faith “with fear and trembling”.

There is a lot of talk in certain Christian circles about deconstruction. That’s a good thing, because it means Christians are thinking for themselves. It also means, though, that many people are leaving the church because they find themselves no longer being able to hold to what the church has taught them. Many people then join the growing throng of people who call themselves Christian but don’t attend a church.

But for all the talk of deconstruction, I hear less around the idea of reconstruction. How many of us have deconstructed and come out the other end with our faith intact but just different to what it was? 

There is much more to growing in our faith than just deconstructing it. If we leave it there, we can become disillusioned more than we possibly were when we began our deconstruction process. And, as has been said, if we are disillusioned, it just means we had illusions to begin with.

A reconstructed faith must be one that centres around the person of Jesus. It shouldn’t even centre around the Bible, as important as the Scriptures are. The ultimate purpose of deconstruction and reconstruction is to become more confirmed to the image of Christ.

Many people have been so abused by the church though that they can no longer go back. Their deconstruction is not just of their faith but of their very ability to see the God of Jesus.

Richard Rohr makes the point that your image of God creates you. How you see God shapes the person you are becoming. The church has both a good and terrible record in shaping people.

"There is much more to growing in our faith than just deconstructing it. If we leave it there we can become disillusioned more than we possibly were when we began our deconstruction process. And, as has been said, if we are disillusioned, it just means we had illusions to begin with."

One of my biggest concerns about the church has been the appalling lack of Biblical literacy in the flock, including among church leaders. What are we teaching from our pulpits? While I have seen an encouraging shift to a more Christ-like faith in the time I have been a Christian, I have also seen an alarming decrease in Biblical literacy.

Spiritual abuse is unfortunately alive and well in the church. I don’t blame people who walk away from their faith altogether because they have been taught, and more tragically, shown, a God who doesn’t care about them. Jesus had harsh words for these types of abusers; He said it would be better if they had a millstone tied around their neck and they be thrown to the bottom of the sea.

Reconstruction for people who have experienced such abuse is very difficult indeed. Yes, the aim should be to become more Christ-like, but the irony is that people who experience such difficulty are the very ones who I believe Jesus has a special compassion for.

A Christian leader told me many years ago to respond to the light you’ve been given. That’s all any of us can do. If you can, don’t stop at deconstruction. Seek the real Jesus with all you’ve got. In the end you will find him, and you will be on your road of reconstruction.