A few months ago, I was having lunch with a friend who used to be a pastor, but who had been wounded and is now undergoing the process of deconstruction. We were actually meeting to talk about me and some of the struggles I was going through in ministry. My friend heard me out, nodded in sympathy as he recognized the patterns of Christians going toxic, and then he said to me: “I don’t understand you. I don’t get why you are so loyal to the institutional church. Why do you stay?”
Honestly, there are times I consider leaving. Ultimately, I stay because of the good I have experienced in church. Mothers and fathers in the faith have invested in me—they’ve taught me the Bible and trained me for ministry. I owe who I am today to the church.
Is the church perfect? Of course not. There is much wrong with evangelicalism. But we’ve been called to love people where they are—warts and all. That includes the church. The church has failed me in many ways, but it has also blessed me and I am forever grateful. I can’t take the good without the bad.
In Death to Deconstruction: Reclaiming Faithfulness as an Act of Rebellion, Joshua S. Porter appeals to a generation abandoning the faith, urging them to choose a more nuanced faithfulness instead of outright rejection of orthodox Christianity. He structures his book around five “great predators”: biblical illiteracy, the problem of evil, a politicized Christianity, hypocrisy, and self-denial, laying out paths forward within orthodoxy avoiding each.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to work through Porter’s book and offer a response. The book is great—there is much I agree with. However, I sympathize with the deconstruction trend more than Porter does, and so I will also talk a little about how toxic streams within evangelical culture have contributed to the deconstruction movement and how often deconstruction is a rejection of American evangelicalism and not a rejection of Jesus. I also want to suggest a path forward for reform and paint a picture of what a post-evangelicalism could look like.
The fourth of Porter’s great predators is hypocrisy. In short, the church is full of hypocrites. In what is probably the best chapter in the book, Porter talks about his dad. He says that his dad was complicated: generous and hospitable, but also racist. He writes:
“To my ambitious teenage mind, my dad’s life seemed uneventful. Me? I wanted to do things. I wanted to travel the world, make art, achieve some illusory notion of lasting significance. I wanted to matter. But my dad? He’d worked at a paper mill his entire adult life. He lived on a dirt road and cared for a family. He spent most of his time doing things for other people. He dedicated much of my adolescence and early adulthood to pouring resources into my ambition to pursue my vision of becoming a poor, itinerant punk rock musician despite ridicule and condemnation from friends, family, and peers.
My dad opened his home to an unending host of touring bands with whom we traveled for many years, inviting strangers from around the world to his table, preparing meals for them. I asked him once if he felt inconvenienced by this, and he told me he felt grateful. Hearing stories of the way my brother and I had been cared for in our travels, he told me that if strangers around the world invited his sons into their homes, he would do the same. My dad told me that knowing there were kind people all over the world who had been generous and caring to my brother and me in our travels had inspired him to become the same kind of person for other people’s kids.
My dad was kind, generous, disciplined, self-sacrificial, and racist. I am convinced that all of us are, in our own ways, like my dad. He could be short-tempered, cruel, prideful, stubborn, unrepentant, and he could be caring, wise, and self-effacing. He wasn’t one thing or the other. He was all of them. I loved me dad.” (162)
Porter argues that people are complicated and so the church will be complicated. Is the church full of hypocrites? Yes. But life is full of hypocrites. Porter claims that leaving the church over hypocrisy evidences a failure to recognize one’s own hypocrisy—that we, too, are broken people. He laments our tendency to think of sin and injustice as things that happen in other people, but not us. He writes:
“This is, in my experience, the more popular way to understand the mess we’re in. It’s not that humanity is bad. It’s that some other humans are bad. Emotional health and spiritual maturity ask us to see our own brokenness reflecting the evil of others.” (178)
Again, this chapter resonated with me more than any other in the book. I am often asked by friends who have deconstructed and dropped out of church, “Why are you so loyal to the institutional church?” I think Porter captured my answer more eloquently than I have ever been able to articulate it. When you love someone, you love them in their brokenness. They love you in your brokenness.
What about you? Have you ever suffered from the church failing to live up to its calling? What kept you in the church?