It has been 10 years today since the Night With the Grace Killers and I am not where I thought I would be.
Jonathan David Faulkner
Deconstruction is a painful process; it is one that has been in the media a lot lately too as many have come and announced their “deconversions” from Christianity. Some have even written that Deconstruction’s natural end is a deconversion from all forms of faith altogether. I have many friends whom I still love dearly who have gone through this process and deconverted from faith altogether. It is easy to understand why, especially if you are deconverting from a cultural Christianity that is built on a relationship with the church and not on a relationship with Christ, why one might abandon faith altogether. You are deconverting from a civic religion, not true, biblical Christianity. But still others go through deconstruction from that cultural faith, or a cultural faith that at least hinted at the real thing, and we do not deconvert from the faith. Many of us have been hurt deeply by the church and we have seen firsthand the hypocrisy that is often perpetuated in the church, and often in pastors’ families. We see a faith that is not in Christ, but in cultural practice or we become the victims of abusive leaders who Lord their power over us, or parents who infantilize us, who never let us grow to adulthood. Instead of answering the questions that arise from these things we end up being told not to question and if we do we are in rebellion.
Most of you know that this is largely my story. Raised in the culture of “easy-believism” that so vibrantly marks both evangelicalism and general conservative Christianity. The kind of Christianity where all you must do is believe and you’re good to go to heaven. The what is generally perceived to be Jesus or the Bible, or God or even just what your parents or the church tell you. Then you go to AWANA and memorize a bunch of verses that are disconnected from their context and your good to go. Of course, everyone is a Christian and questioning that statement is tantamount to losing your faith. On top of that, my chosen medium for expression of my faith, rock music, was viewed as “not edifying” or “dark” by parents whose own parents leveled the same critique of their own music in the 60’s and 70’s. The music I write for now, Folk Rock, does not fit the current idea of worship prevalent in CCW (Contemporary Christian Worship) today. Even though I made a profession of faith in middle school and had been baptized, looking back it always felt like Christianity was something you did more than something you were. You always did all the “good Christian things” like instantly obeying every word that came out of your dads’ mouth or not smoking, drinking or having sex before marriage. Consequently, these were the things that most of my friends were sneaking around to do before and after youth group.
Then of course, was the infamous “Night with the Grace Killers” that happened 10 years ago tonight, the night when everything I had learned about scripture got tested and if it were not for my pastor and professor at Sterling, would have been the last night I ever stepped foot in a church building. After all the accusations, the lies about me and my family circulated by that pastor, being told to “shut up” because I was just a first semester college student who knew nothing about pastoral ministry and church discipline. Told that I was not “Jesus” or “Paul” or “Peter” and had no right to question the inexcusable actions of that senior pastor against my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the youth group. I walked out of that building that Wednesday Night vowing to never step foot inside a church building again. As I said, I probably would not have had it not been for those two men. In that moment, everything I had ever thought about God before I was converted in Middle School, (I still believe I was converted in Middle School but came of age and a deeper understanding of Faith on that mountainside in Denver). In that moment I was either going to become what David Kinnamen calls either a: Prodigal, those who leave the church and the faith altogether after making professions of faith, or an Exile: One who feels they have not place in the organized church because of their music or artwork or whatnot but still retain and active and vibrant faith that they live out outside of the organized church.
God though, had other plans, and the fact that I am a Pastor today is a testament to His grace and healing work.
For the next two years after the night with the grace killers though I wondered aimlessly in my faith. I was having regular meetings with counselors and relearning everything I had ever been taught about Christianity. That was when I really started reading and reading and reading. Systematic Theologies and introductions of the Old and New Testament. I started learning not just the bible but about the bible. In the process I did not just learn about Christ and God, I learned to be in relationship with them. Then this hurting and broken kid went to serve the homeless in Denver Colorado for 3 months as part of the requirements for his bachelor’s degree and God literally met Him on the side of that mountain that cool July 4th as he prayed and walked the labyrinth. It was then, for the second time in my life, God broke through the noise of the pain in a powerful and mighty way and did a major healing work. Three week’s later as we prepared to finish up my time in Denver, as I was praying one morning, God gave me the definite and undeniable call to Pastoral Ministry.
I have many friends and family going through or who have gone through deconstruction. ba Whether that be from a legalistic fundamentalism or the libertine “easy-believism” that says so long as you believe in Jesus, do whatever you want except for smoking, drinking or having sex out of wed-lock. The truth is this is a painful process, it requires us to come to the realization that the Christianity we have inherited is not the Christianity of the bible which needs to be thoroughly thought through and which it is okay and even invited to ask questions of. Like the church member who, after hearing me preach on the cross of Jesus where I mentioned the two sections of the cross, one carried and one already waiting at the crucifixion site said: “I learned that the whole cross being carried all at once was an invention of the Italians in the eighth century. Who knows what to believe anymore?” This was after a trip to Israel. That is why we have to avoid a “Thou Shall Not Question” mentality, when someone does go through deconstruction they can do so in the safety of the Church with Church Members and leaders who are going to sit next to them, walk with them and help them reconstruct a deeper, biblical and Christ-Centered faith rooted in the history of Christianity and Christian Witness.
Please do not hear me wrong, I am not throwing out the faith my parents handed down to me, it is dangerous to throw the foundations out if they are sound and my parents did a good job laying the ground work for the faith I have today. What I reject is the Easy-Believism that I heard preached from the pulpit on Sunday when Scripture was telling me that yes, you just had to believe to become a Christians, but then through Christ you had to become someone totally knew. As C.S. Lewis put it: “God is in the business of making old men knew” yet the Christianity of Easy-Believism taught me that “becoming new” just meant being more moral, behaving my parents and serving people. A deep and personal relationship with God seemed to be reserved for times I needed my anger checked. It was not deep, it was not wide, it was a pool, a tiny puddle. It required not actual change outside of changed outward behavior until you got angry and then you had to ask God to change your inward attitude. This is sadly nothing more than mere behaviorism, the kind popularized by James Dobson in the 70’s-90’s. It focuses on behaving as ones parents tell them to behave which may have been loosely based on scripture. Meant to make “nice Christian kids” who ate their peas and followed their chore chart.
But what almost kept me from faith altogether before Middle School and my final conversion in Cleveland at an Acquire the Fire rally was that this did not make anyone I knew any better people and in fact I saw those who believed for decades longer than I had been alive act worse than they were telling me too. Easy-Beleivism was a foundation because it’s premise is true, all you have to do to become a Christian is believe in Jesus as Romans 10:9 says, but this is a foundation and not the whole building. Behaviorism on the other hand is legalism disguised as good biblical principles but if you peel back the curtain you find a lot of verses taken out of context to demand loyalty not to Jesus but to the family unit. My parents laid a groundwork for faith, but by making that foundation all their was when the last straw was to come, when I sat before the pastor who had spiritually and emotionally abused me I had literally nothing to fall back on. Perspective is a funny thing huh.
Where was my faith nourished then? Obviously, I still do not smoke, when I do partake of Alcohol it is on a limited capacity and with the conscious of my company in mind, and my wife and I did not sleep together before marriage. I did not abandon faith altogether, in fact, today my faith is deeper and richer and my relationship with God stronger than it ever has been. My faith was nourished through reading and internalizing the words of Jesus, in Denver as I served the homeless and, on that mountainside, when God came in force during the week in silence. Through many great men of faith who have spoken life into me, introduced me to the reformed faith which introduced me to the Church Fathers. Retaught me how to think through my faith beyond the black and white legalism I ended up with by the end of High School. It was formed in conversations, both with God and brothers and sisters, it was formed in the pages of ancient books, in libraries, in cathedrals and monasteries, classrooms and cross cultural worship sessions. It was formed in the 10:31 Office, in the long conversations with brothers who were my peers, in the now three years I have been reading through the Psalms everyday. Most importantly it was formed in the pages of scripture, spending hours and hours with Jesus, discovering a faith that you enter by just believing and which exposure to the one at the center, Jesus, leaves you totally and utterly transformed, not just by the Gospel, but by Jesus himself. Someone has said: “Christianity is the only religion where its leader bids us come and die so that we might receive eternal life.” I found a faith where you die to all your selfish ambitions and your selfish desires and you become like Christ because He lives inside of you through the Incarnate Holy Spirit and transforms you into His likeness. I do not think I am perfect or have found perfect Christian Faith, but I know I have seen God’s blessings as my wife and I seek to follow Christ and raise our daughter in covenant with Him. Praying she receives the promise of her baptism and believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior.
Yes, this change has caused tension and it has not made life any easier. If anything, I am the crazy one now. I still talk to a couple of therapist friends at times for wisdom and prayer and have many counselors helping me walk this Christian Walk. Brothers and Sisters who do not tell me how great I am or how I can do anything I put my mind too, but who help me walk with my weaknesses and strengths, who help me understand scripture and my faith as a member of that family of faith whom I love so much.
In some ways 10 years later, I am still the same person who left that church building 10 years ago. I am still passionate about the truth of scripture, I am still a musician, still try to do my best to stand up for the little guy. But in many more ways I am completely different than the kid who walked out of that church building. I am not where I thought I would be that night, instead, I am not able to make sure no one else experiences that hurt and pain so much as I can help it. I can now help others who are willing heal as they walk through deconstruction and help them as they ask questions about faith and the Bible and so on and so forth. I have also been equipped with the tools and resources, by God’s grace, to do this and God has placed me where He wants me to do the work of sharing what scripture has given us all to share.
As I look out my office window at the parsonage after a long day where I had the blessing of burying a dear saint and sister in Christ. As I think of the kindness of my congregation and the wonderful relationships we are forming here with young and old. I do not regret how painful this road was and still is. I do not regret how hard it is, it just drives me to the cross and the empty tomb. I desire for others to know nothing of Christ and Him Crucified and this whole story of the 10-year journey points not to anything I have done, but everything that He has done. Praise the Lord for His incredible grace and joy.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.