“Billy, don’t you understand, Timothy stood as long as he could, but you made his faith disappear, more like a magician and less like a man of God.” *Fin by Anberlin
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
How many of us, growing up in Evangelical Youth Groups with RadioU or TVU blaring in the background remember the band Anberlin? If you do not remember the band name, I am sure you remember songs like “Paper-thin Hymn,” or “Feel Good Drag” and if you do not remember those songs then I guarantee you have sung along to “The Unwinding Cable Car,:” “Inevitable” and “Dismantle Repair” from their Cities record, arguably their best and the album that became part of the Christian culture Ethos, at least in my Youth Group. It was there that I was first introduced to them, and while I no longer have my original copy of Cities (I now own the anthology) it was one of the first CD’s I was given as a present. The album holds a special place in my music collection as songs from it have routinely played in the soundtrack of my life. My wedding day: “Inevitable”. Friend passing: “Godspeed.” Difficult season: “Hello Alone.” Deconstruction: “Dismantle Repair” and “*Fin.” I was not working at ARL when the album came out, I reviewed Dark is the Way, Light is the Place while I was there and while I love those later Anberlin Albums, none of them have stuck with me like Cities has.
In this season, the song that has come to mind over and over and which I have found myself, strangly singing to my newborn daughter is the albums final track “*Fin.” According to a Youtube video Frontman Stephan Christian posted the song follows four stories and they are all connected: “in the phrase “the lost causes.” The first is his story, feeling pursued by God has a kid and wishing they would both leave him alone. The second is about a couple from his teen years who prayed for a miracle and never received one. The third is of a mentor who used the guise of “missions work” to abandon his family and the final story is about a faith healer who destroyed his faith right in front of him. The song concludes with his realization that he is looking to people for security in the faith and not on Jesus himself. The song beautifully concludes the record and wraps up the themes of struggle and hope, but it also leaves the listener sober and thinking. Which I believe is the intended effect.
As you are reading this there has been a lot of noise made on Twitter about “Deconstruction.” In fact, there was even a livestream this week from CCM and Christian Rock veterans John Cooper, Alisa Grand Childers and Jeremy Camp called “Why we still believe” talking about the many “deconversions” in the CCM world that have taken place in the last 6-12 months. Cooper has made comments that indicate that he views deconstruction as the root cause of these deconversions, but he has also blamed it one “woke preachers” as recently as December. Like so many, instead of seeking to understand the phenomenon, he and Childers have both come out against it. But deconstruction is a healthy process and the majority of people who go through deconstruction do not leave the faith, instead, like me, they reconstruct into a much deeper faith focused on Jesus and His life in ours. As I have written before, it all depends on how you are discipled or who fills the discipleship gap for the deconstructing person. I had good mentors who walked with me through the process and answered my questions without dismissing or diminishing what I was asking. But if you do not take the time to understand this, then deconstruction sounds like an ominous thing. Yes, there have been some high profile deconversions like Michael Gungor and Joshua Harris, but they are not representative of what is happening among the younger Christians sitting in the pews.
Usually when people ask me about resources to help them understand this phenomenon, or to help them understand why so many young people are returning to high liturgical traditions like Anglicanism or Orthodox. I usually refer them to Matt Toby’s I Quit Church a collection of that features the haunting songs: “I Quit Church” and “The Preacher Stopped By.” but a better song to understand the phenomenon is Anberlin’s “*Fin.” because it lays out the real world reasons that lead up to someone deconstructing their faith. Wrestling with God, a family praying for a miracle that never comes, a mentor who neglects his family and a leader in the faith ruining the faith of a young person. But it also lays out the reason that we all reconstruct into a deeper faith, we find that God is real and while “the ones who carry his cross” may let us down he never will and many of us have seen that in all our wonderings, he has taken care of us and our needs. As @CalvinistBatman put it on Twitter: “I do not have a faith in God problem, I have a faith in people problem.” As young people look around and see what is happening at Bethlehem Baptist or McClean Bible Church, as I look at what happened in my own church and they think: “how can any of this be true?” As I said in my piece following the January 6th attack on the Capitol: “Why should anyone want to hear what we have to say if we are going to put the nation ahead of the Kingdom of God of which we are ambassadors.” The events in our society today leave a lot of younger Christians singing: “Billy, don’t you understand? Timothy stood as long as he could, but you made his faith disappear, more like a magician and less like a man of God, we’re not questions God, just those he chose to carry his cross.”
This has been the lyric that has been on repeat in my head in the last 18 months as Christians have turned to outrage and nihilism over the true and eternal word of God, as the news has reported on more and more leaders acting in ways that are actually more in line with the spirit of Anti-Christ than our Savior Jesus Christ. If you are worried about Deconstruction taking place, then perhaps one should act in such a way that does not cause another person to stumble away from Jesus Christ. If people are leaving the faith because of Hypocrisy, perhaps the solution is not to condemn those going through deconstruction, but work to correct or speak prophetically to stop platforming those who are using Christian Faith as a way to make money to fund their hypocritical lifestyles. When secular people or those who have been hurt by the church see our behavior as contrary to the Gospel it is another wound on top of the scars they already bear. This aught to give us pause, but it seems to be doing the opposite, when the wounded tell us they are wounded we tend to just add to the wounds, not help them heal.
I remember back in my college days I took issue with something Jefferson Bethke said in a poem about the Church being a hospital for the wounded. Looking back those comments were made in ignorance and were part of the reason that the Church was losing ground among Millennials. We were not a hospital for the wounded, we were the ones doing the wounding. We had our eyes set on heaven, but our actions were driving people away from it, we were trying to make it a members only club, V.I.P for a certain subset of Evangelicals. I made my comments about Bethke’s idea in High School, before I had experienced the wounding of the church on the level I did in college and now as an adult. Being one who has stayed within Evangelical circles has cost me dearly in the last year, but the community of likeminded individuals I have found doing the same work has been life-giving.
Perhaps when we think about Deconstruction, it is time to have a conversation about how Christian Leaders have contributed to this phenomenon. How platforming those who are unqualified or unready has resulted in scandal after scandal and how the marriage between Evangelicals and the Religious Right have led to abandoning the Gospel for the sake of political power. Until we are ready to have that conversation, we will continue to see decline, deconversion will continue to be on the rise, as will the “nones,” those with no religious affiliation. And until we have an honest dialogue about what deconstruction is and how it is being influenced not by secularization, but by failure to deal with issues in house when they are raised, we will not see the changes we want to see.
I have said before that Deconstruction and deconversion is not caused by secular people or by Christian Celebrities who walk away from the faith. That is, it is not caused by what your kids are watching on Youtube or what science magazine they are reading. Deconstruction is a natural process we all go through to some degree as we start to take ownership of our faith. Deconversion happens when we start to take ownership of our faith and we start asking questions and instead of answering those questions we are dismissed or failed to be discipled into biblical answers that align with church history. It also happens when the realization that the way things are today are not the way Jesus intended them to be within the people of God and seeing the intentional hypocrisy and grift that haunts current evangelicalism in white America, they lose their trust in their elders and then leave the faith altogether. This should bring us to a place of lament and repentance, instead we are doubling down on the callousness and indifference that got us here, as if God has hardened many hearts so that they may become like their idols.
Lord have mercy on us all.