I was reading a book the other day for a podcast interview I’m helping a friend with. It is a book by one of my favorite Christian thinkers, Bradley Jersak. It goes extremely deep into the journey of spiritual deconstruction (and even reconstruction). In short, that’s the idea of breaking down different aspects of your faith. At best, deconstruction can lead to personal growth, saying good riddance to toxic teachings/behaviors/groups, and even owning your own faith. At its worst, deconstruction can lead to emptiness and permanent bitterness, arrogance, and cynicism. There is a huge spectrum between those two extremes to consider as well. I know I’ve been on that journey on one level or another since I was a teenager. I have really felt the pressure lately, though. Maybe you have too. As I was reading, I came across this (somewhat triggering) language:
“Simone Weil regards the uprooting you underwent as the most violent thing that can happen to anyone. Worse than rape. No, it IS a rape. Or arson. In his novel, The Possessed, Dostoevsky saw how progressive deconstruction can feel like freedom from shackles (at first), a real exodus from the bondage of bad religion…but in his world, deconstruction itself soon became an act of spiritual arson.” – Dr. Brad Jersak, Out of the Embers, p. 62
Wow! What a statement! Brad makes the argument where he encourages de/reconstruction, but he also reminds us that, even in this age, we are not in a vacuum. We shouldn’t be that arrogant. If we miss the wisdom of deconstructionists from days gone by, we can feel emotionally, spiritually, and mentally violated. We could feel isolated, hopeless, and depressed. Nobody is saying that means we shouldn’t go on the journey and trust that, if there is a God, God will guide us back home. Nobody is saying to judge someone who does not have the same faith as we think they should have. However, the arrogance of assuming this is a new dilemma can easily take us to a place of detachment from anything fulfilling and good.
I plan to write in more detail about Brad’s book after I finish it and we do the interview. But I was thinking about the average Christian going through some type of reconstruction right now. Different sources say that something like roughly 60% of those who are millennials and younger are leaving organized religion with no plans of returning to the institutionalized version of the Church. Still, roughly half of those who leave say that they continue to believe in the person, way, and character of Jesus. They still consider themselves Christian, even if they do not necessarily use that language anymore.
Furthermore, many of those who stay (the other 40%) still desire a more open-minded environment where it is safe to ask questions without their motives, faith, intelligence, and character being looked at with suspicion. That means that most of those raised in Christianity or who were converted to it as a child or young adult want to love Jesus and have a Jesus community but not while leaving their ideas, questions, doubts, hearts, and brains at the door.
The average person reading this who is 43 or younger is someone who would like to be part of a spiritual community if it isn’t legalistic, arrogant, toxic, and cultish. They aren’t atheists or even agnostics most of the time. They might label themselves as “nones” or “unaffiliated” to separate themselves from the institution, but they want Jesus community. They just don’t think it’s really out there without necessarily being coupled with groupthink, canned answers, irresponsible literalism, coercion, and/or an unspoken marriage to certain political ideologies. But practically speaking, they don’t know where to begin looking for something different. They don’t know much about other denominations and how they might fit the paradigm shift. They don’t have the emotional, mental, spiritual, or even physical energy to look for that kind of community.
In my next article, I’m going to give a practical and general overview of different denominational movements to give you a rough idea of what’s out there in case you want to try something else. But first, I want to end this particular article with some acknowledgments.
First, I went through both an atheistic and agnostic transition. I still wrestle hard with my faith. And some of the people I love and respect most in this world are atheists/agnostics. They are searching for truth. That’s always holy, in my opinion. Why? Because I believe Jesus is truth, whether we understand that or not. They lovingly laugh when I say that, and I lovingly remind them that they wouldn’t be able to reason well enough to laugh at me about that unless their brains were designed to reason. And how is a solely accidental consequence (our brains), caused by a solely accidental beginning, able to be trusted when what we see as reasoning is really nothing but a chemical illusion brought about by natural causes, not design? We have a good time picking at one another (lol)! But we genuinely love each other too. My point is that if you are on that particular trajectory, I get it, and I love you.
Second, it could be that, right now, you are still recovering from some toxic baggage you received from your faith tradition. Maybe it was something you assumed, something you taught yourself, or something that someone taught you. Maybe they were toxic on purpose, or maybe they were just doing the best they knew how. Either way, you feel like right now (and maybe even for the foreseeable future), a formal church setting isn’t where you need to be. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it isn’t. Regardless, I love you, I am sympathetic to your situation, and I hope you find some type of community (even a Jesus community). You aren’t alone.
Third, perhaps you are open to going to a church community, but because of a family situation, or a job, or even because of your geographical location, there is nowhere for you to go. There are people who are in relationships that make it difficult to go anywhere else. There are people who live in places where a free-thinking Jesus community doesn’t exist in any kind of obvious way. That has to be lonely. Know that there are resources, virtual groups, and even virtual churches you can be a part of. It isn’t exactly the same, and I think that a physical Jesus community is always best, but maybe these resources, coupled with something like volunteer work at a local non-profit, can give you enough of the feeling of spiritual community to get you through the wilderness. Perhaps you can even start a house church. I’m praying for you. Seriously!
Finally, as I said above, many people want to try something new, but they don’t know where to start. To give you a list of every group and every nuance about those groups would take a book. I can’t do that. But what I can do is give you a general overview of what the major American denominations believe, their structure, their history, and their personality. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t particular people or congregations or ministers in these churches that are unhelpful. You might have to try different places. Be patient, be graceful, and be reasonable. These are still human subgroups of the greater unified group of Jesus. They are not Jesus Himself.
I look forward to giving you an overview of the denominations and how to navigate them tomorrow in my next article. Have a great day! – Jesse