The deconstruction of Christianity: Survival tips for parents of adult childrenWritten by Rhonda Robinson
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Scrolling through Facebook, an image with this phrase popped into my feed: “If you haven’t deconstructed your parents’ faith, then you have no faith of your own.” Normally, I would dismiss it as just another cultural bumper sticker. Not this time. It was my son-in-law’s post that pierced my heart. It was also a clear message from a struggling generation. The deconstruction of Christianity is rampant. It is a cultural undercurrent pulling young adults out of the mainstream church while polluting their faith. These are not fringe radicals. Most are adult children who have grown up in Christian homes like yours and mine.
Data tells us that the majority of teens and adults are open to deepening their faith. And yet, many of these same adults are deconstructing the Christianity they grew up in. Or they are twisting it into a culturally compliant derivative, leaving their parents feeling helpless, betrayed and confused.
If you have been shaking your head, wondering where all this is coming from, you’re not alone. Millennials are leaving the church in astonishing numbers, and publically deconstructing their faith.
We need to understand where this movement came from. Only then, will we be able to keep it from taking the next generation captive.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is playing a major factor in the deconstruction of Christianity among young adults.
Deconstruction refers to the process of dissecting your belief system and examining it through a critical lens. Which, for today’s young adults, means they are viewing their faith through a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) filter.
MTD is a cultural phenomenon that has infiltrated, and influenced the faith of young adults today. It refers to a custom-tailored Christianity that emphasizes individualism, self-esteem and moral relativism. It has no theological depth or historical context.
In North America we think of individualism as a good thing. However, in the context of faith, it holds the presupposition that each individual is free to define his or her own beliefs and values, rather than relying on the authority of Scripture. It emphasizes the importance of personal experience and feelings over objective truth. This leads to a subjective approach to faith, where each person’s beliefs and values are seen as equally valid. There is no room for accountability or challenge.
Again, we are told self-esteem is something our children must have. And yet, when self-esteem becomes part of a belief system, it leads to a focus on personal happiness and fulfillment. This creates a self-centred approach to faith, where the individual’s desires and preferences are prioritized over their obedience to God.
The moral relativism component in MTD leads to a rejection of absolute truth and a lack of concern for moral absolutes. This includes the Ten Commandments and Christian standards of morality. This is a watering down the Word of God to a subjective faith, where each person’s beliefs and values are equally valid. Here again, there is little room, if any, for accountability or challenge.
All of this leads to a shallow and incomplete understanding of Christianity that undermines the authority of Scripture. With MTD as their foundation, the deconstruction of Christianity is the natural next step among millennial and Gen Z generations, which, in essence, means this phenomenon is two generations deep.
High-profile Christian leaders who publicly deconstruct
There have been a few high-profile Christian leaders who have publicly shared their decision to deconstruct their Christianity.
Joshua Harris – a well-known pastor and author of the #1 National Bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In 2019, Harris announced that he was leaving the Christian faith. Harris wrote on Instagram: “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus, the popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
Marty Sampson – a former worship leader and songwriter for the popular Christian band Hillsong United. In 2019, he too announced that he was “losing his faith” and was struggling with doubts about the existence of God and the truth of Christianity.
Jen Hatmaker – an influencer, popular author, speaker and podcast host who has been known for her progressive views on social issues.
- Lecrae – Christian recording artist, with a track in his one of his albums titled “Deconstruction.”
It’s interesting to note that both Hatmaker and Harris publicly embraced the LGBTQ ideology as they let go of their faith. Lecrae blames politics and westernization of the Bible among other factors.
It’s easy to blame ideologies and culture. However, we will fail to make a difference if we don’t look within our own homes and churches (Matthew 7:5). This is not to point fingers, but rather, that we may be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).
Ideologies and culture in the church
Celebrity pastors and the prosperity gospel: MTD has influenced the rise of celebrity pastors who preach a message of prosperity and success, often emphasizing individualism and consumerism over Scripture. These pastors promote a “health and wealth” gospel that promises material blessings and financial prosperity to those who have faith.
Christian musicians and worship music: In the world of Christian music, MTD slips easily into our songs that focus on individual feelings of happiness, joy and love, rather than on the reality of sin, the need for redemption. While worship music is a powerful tool for expressing and deepening our faith, it’s important to ensure that it is grounded in biblical truth and reflects the fullness of Christ.
- Christian authors and literature: Christian literature, particularly in the realm of popular devotional books and self-help books has seen MTD creep in. While self-help overall is a good thing, many of these books promote a message of personal empowerment and self-improvement, emphasizing individualism and relativism over the teachings of Scripture. These are books that promote a “feel-good” message and promise happiness and success to those who follow certain principles or techniques. While self-improvement can be a valuable aspect of Christian growth, it’s important to ensure that it is grounded in the teachings of Christ and reflects the fullness of Christian theology.
It’s important to remember that this does not come as a surprise to God, as we read in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”
Another factor that contributes to the appeal of MTD is the influence of consumer culture on religion. This is a generation accustomed to a world where they can customize their experiences and choose from a wide range of options to suit their preferences. They, in turn, expect the same level of choice and flexibility from their religious beliefs. MTD offers a version of Christianity that can be tailored to their needs and desires. How often have you heard the term “shopping” for a church?
The problem with MTD, of course, is that it is not true Christianity. As sociologist Christian Smith has noted, MTD is a “pseudo-religion” that bears little resemblance to the biblical faith that has been handed down through the ages. It is a shallow and sentimental faith that lacks theological depth and moral clarity. Ultimately, it fails to provide a meaningful foundation for life.
For many who have grown up in the church, the experience of deconstruction can be a painful and disorienting one. They feel as though they have been deceived or misled by their parents, pastors and Christian communities.
In reality, the battle within is trying to reconcile two opposite forces, MTD and Christianity. The Judeo-Christian faith is incompatible with MTD, and so they begin the deconstruction process.
To combat the deconstruction of their Christianity, parents can take several steps to help their adult children come back to their faith.
Michael J. Kruger looked closely at some of the high profile Christians who publicly walked away from their beliefs. As they deconstructed their faith they create, what he calls, a deconstruction testimony. He observed that while all of these stories may have different details, they come from the same playbook, or repeating pattern:
- recount the negatives of your past experiences within the church
- position yourself as the offended party, who bravely fought against the establishment
- portray your opponents as overly dogmatic while you are just a seeker
- insist your new theology is driven by the Bible and is not a rejection of it
- attack the character of your old group and uplift the character of your new group
Although this is not how we would write their life story, it is not ours to write. God alone is the author and finisher of our faith – and the faith of our adult children. What we are responsible for is holding to our faith, standing firm in truth, and the love of Christ.
And above all, praying for them daily.
Praying for our adult children and trusting in the power of God to work in their lives
MTD and the deconstruction of Christianity is a significant challenge to parents as well as church leaders. However, by understanding the cultural and psychological factors that contribute to these trends, and by taking proactive steps to nurture our children’s faith, parents can help their adult children to rediscover the beauty and truth of the Gospel. Only then will they experience the transformative power of Christ in their lives.
It’s important for churches and Christian organizations to address the issue of MTD and the deconstruction of Christianity among young adults. Churches can address the issue of MTD:
- by emphasizing the importance of theological education
- by providing opportunities for young adults to deepen their understanding of doctrine and practice
- by equipping them to navigate the challenges of the deconstruction process with confidence and humility
- by offering classes, seminars or workshops on theology, history and apologetics
- by providing mentorship and guidance for young adults who are struggling with doubts and questions about their faith.
For Christian parents, watching our children deconstruct is a painful process
It involves questioning deeply held beliefs that often results in feelings of guilt, confusion and alienation. It’s important for Christian parents to recognize the unique challenges and opportunities of contemporary Christianity. MTD and the deconstruction of Christianity is a source of grave concern. Nonetheless, it can also be an opportunity to engage young adults in a meaningful and transformative conversation about faith, life and truth.
By trusting in the power of the Gospel to transform lives we can find hope and peace even in the midst of the challenges and uncertainties of this tumultuous culture.
In a society that values self-expression and self-fulfillment above all else, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many have turned to a more self-centred religious expression. Many are drawn to a form of Christianity that promises to make them feel good about their choices. By deconstructing on the foundation of MTD they have a faith that is flexible and adaptable to their lifestyle rather than a radical commitment to a transcendent God who challenges their assumptions and calls them to repentance and obedience.
Pray daily for your adult children and trust in the power of God to work in their lives. No matter how difficult the journey of deconstruction, God is faithful. By trusting in his grace and provision, we can find hope and peace even in the midst of our children’s struggles.
Rhonda Robinson is a content producer for Focus on the Family in the U.S., an award-winning author, mother of nine and grandmother of 34. Rhonda lives with her high school sweetheart in Colorado Springs, where they are trying to adjust to an empty nest.
© 2023 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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