In the late ’90s, Joshua Harris burst on to the Christian scene with a book titled I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a treatise on dating and courtship. The book sold millions and made him, in one observer’s terms, an “evangelical boy wonder.” At 29 years old he became the lead pastor of a Maryland megachurch as well as a principal player in Sovereign Grace Ministries.
But when that movement was torn apart by, among many other things, accusations of a systemic coverup of child abuse, he found himself “deconstructing.”
The idea of “deconstruction” is when you look at what had been “constructed” in your life in terms of faith and belief and lifestyle, and then you take time to “deconstruct” it by examining what you now believe and embrace.
To some, the term “deconstruct” can mean rejecting Christianity entirely while others describe the process as rebuffing certain cultural beliefs associated with Christianity. So “exvangelicals” can mean both those who have rejected the label “evangelical,” aspects of the evangelical subculture, the evangelical church, or those who have rejected evangelical faith altogether.
But now, back to Harris…
He left the ministry in 2015, and in 2019 he announced that he no longer identified as a Christian and that he and his wife were divorcing. He told Newsweek that it was problems in his church and mistakes he made as a church leader, among other experiences, that led to his fall away from Christianity.
As Harris put it, “That was all part of my deconstruction process—questioning the things I built my life around.”
Besides Harris, other high-profile evangelical leaders who have recently publicly announced their “deconstruction,” whether partially or in full, include former Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson, Baptist preacher and theologian John Piper’s son Abraham Piper, former Desiring God writer Paul Maxwell and Kevin Max of the Christian pop group dc Talk.
As Carl Trueman has noted, throughout time people have lost their faith. The difference is that “now it’s used with this pseudo-intellectual language of ‘deconstruction’ in order to describe it. It’s old thinking packaged in trendy postmodern language.”
I find that a bit dismissive, but no matter how it is termed or described, there seems to be a lot of it. Which has led many parents into a new season of interest in methods to effectively pass on the Christian faith in the midst of a post-Christian world that is at war with having faith at all.
It’s also led many church leaders into deep reflection on what it is about the church that is causing so many to disengage, largely through disillusionment.
The good news? There is new research on what sets effective parenting apart in terms of the passing on of faith. Further, the church can look at what is causing so much deconstruction and address it in ways that are, well, constructive.
Okay, here is where I stop. This was a shameless plug at getting you to consider registering for the 2021 Church and Culture Conference where, I might add, an entire session is devoted to this very issue: What parents can do, and what churches can do, about the deconstruction wave.
We’ll also tackle the hot-button issue of gender—how churches should be engaging the transgender issue, and what parents and church leaders need to know about the new wave of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” among teenagers, particularly young teenage girls. Throw in sessions on the realities of the post-COVID Church and the dynamics of actually having an online campus, and hopefully you’ll see time well spent.
It’s livestreamed this coming Thursday, September 23, but available to registrants for two additional weeks on demand. Click HERE to register for the conference and to find additional information.
James Emery White
“I Kissed Christianity Goodbye: The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” Christianity Today Podcast, listen online.
Carly Mayberry, “Josh Harris Launches Course on Deconstructing Faith, but Some Theologians Question His Motives,” Newsweek, August 13, 2021, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.