A Thought for Those Deconstructing Christianity
A Thought for Those Deconstructing Christianity
Today’s lead topic is something I’ve been thinking about the last few days. I want to give some thoughts for Christians who feel that they’re deconstructing. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, it has been used a lot in the last several years to describe people who are radically reevaluating their Christianity. They’re asking questions like, “Is it true what I’ve been taught? Can I really trust the Bible? Are Christians and churches trustworthy? Is it really worth it for me to give my life for this thing called Christianity?” In the eyes of some people, their deconstruction is a radical reevaluation of their Christianity.
In some ways, everybody’s deconstruction or reevaluation story is the same, and they share a lot of parallel lines. Yet I’m very aware that, in another sense, each person’s deconstruction story is their own. They have their own personal influences, their own experience, and their own observations. So, there’s something common in stories of deconstruction, and also often some element that’s particular to the individual. Therefore, in no way do I think that I’m speaking to every individual who claims that they’re deconstructing. If this doesn’t apply to you, if the shoe doesn’t fit, then don’t wear it. But there is something in this that I think is helpful for us.
One thing I would want to say is that if you are reevaluating your faith, deconstructing your Christianity, and sort of “tearing it down to the studs,” in the metaphor of a building renovation, so that you can rebuild, that’s not a bad thing at all. It is a good and healthy thing for us to evaluate our Christian life, what we believe, what we practice, and for us to ask questions about it. How much of our Christianity is genuinely from the Bible? What comes from the Bible, and what is simply cultural or traditional? Those are very healthy questions to ask, because friends, I want to have a biblical Christianity.
There’s no doubt that each person’s practice of Christianity is influenced by their culture, including my own. First of all, we need to make sure that those cultural flavors or aspects of the Christianity are not in contradiction to the Scripture. Secondly, it’s possible to elevate those cultural expressions as being something universal for all Christians at all times. So, it’s not a bad thing to ask the hard questions. Can I really trust the Bible? Is Jesus Christ really who He said He was? Are the people of God something good in this world? All those kinds of questions are valid to ask.
But there is a principle that has come to mind in some of my observations as a spectator of the deconstruction dialogue that’s been going on in the Christian world over the past few years which helps us put things into perspective. There were times in Jesus’ ministry when He felt that He had too many disciples, and He was discouraging people from following Him. Let me read to you from Luke 14. There are some radical words from Jesus in this passage.
Keep in mind that there were a lot of people who followed Jesus in the larger group of His followers. He had His twelve disciples, as well as a larger group of disciples around who were committed followers of Jesus Christ, but who weren’t numbered among the twelve. Beyond that, there was the crowd or the multitude, who were attracted to Jesus, perhaps for what He taught, perhaps for the miracles that He worked, perhaps for the feeding of the 5000, or other such things. They were attracted to Jesus, but maybe not completely committed to Him, as disciples would be. That’s the context for this Luke 14.
Luke 14:25-26 – Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
Do you see what Jesus is doing here in these verses? He’s saying, “If you’re going to follow Me, the love and commitment you have for Me must be so far above the even the good loves of your life. The love of father and mother is a good love, the love of a wife or your children or brothers are all good loves. But your love and commitment to Me must be higher than all of those. If you can’t handle that, you can’t be My disciple. Jesus continues in verse 27.
Luke 14:27 – And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
This was a radical statement, friends. The cross was so horrific that it wasn’t commonly spoken of in polite society. People understood that the cross was something terrible. It’s not only a form of execution, but it was also a horrible, torture-filled form of execution. And yet, Jesus said, “If you’re not willing to follow Me, like a man carries his cross to his place of execution, you can’t be My disciple.”
Luke 14:28-30 – For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it — lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
Jesus was saying, “I’m not asking for people to follow Me with a light, superficial commitment. If you’re not going to be invested, then you’re not ready to be My disciple. You’d better count the cost ahead of time.
Luke 14:31-33 – Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
I like the analogy Jesus gave about a king who’s making war. He sees that another king is coming against him, and the first king has to soberly consider, “Do I have the resources necessary to defend myself against this king? If I don’t, I’d better surrender. I’d better appreciate the cost in fighting against this king that’s opposing me. And if I don’t have the resources to win in that battle, I should surrender.”
In this analogy, I believe God is the King who comes against every person. Each of us must soberly consider, “Am I willing to bear the cost of rejecting God?” Do you have the resources to endure that?
I think this speaks to at least some who are in the process of deconstruction. I’m speaking about the sort of detached attitude which says, “I’m going to sit back and evaluate Jesus, Christianity, and the church, but if they don’t really measure up to my specifications, then maybe I’m better done with it.”
Now, I know I’m putting it in an exaggerated, light way. For the people undergoing that process, it may not be a light thing for them at all. I recognize that. But my exaggeration is meant to draw some attention to what I believe is a bit of the absurdity in all of this. It is absurd to think that we are in a position to judge or cast judgment upon Jesus. Friends, He judges us. We need to soberly consider that.
If you’re deconstructing, it’s good to reevaluate your faith and to see what is truly biblical and what isn’t. That’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing. Jesus isn’t tired. He doesn’t despise your hard questions, not one bit at all. But don’t ever approach it in a detached sense where you sit in judgment upon Jesus Himself. He judges us.
You would think that after Jesus gave such a stern message in Luke 14, people would flee from Him. But read the very next verse after this section:
Luke 15:1 – Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.
I recognize that maybe, at the end of the day, you don’t think you need Jesus. You think that, for you, Jesus doesn’t measure up, that He didn’t have the stuff, that He’s not worthy of it. Look, if that’s the case, then that’s the case. It doesn’t give me pleasure to say, but the Bible itself says that you can’t be His disciple. You can’t. You’re not of the disposition. Now, you could repent. You could change your mind. You could surrender to Jesus and how He reveals Himself to us in the Word. You can do all that. But we must come to Jesus in terms of unreserved surrender. He is our Lord. If deconstruction leads you to that, then it is a wonderful, marvelous gift. If it leads you away from Jesus, then I don’t mind saying that you’re going to regret it for all of eternity.
Is it sinful for a man to be effeminate and/or flamboyant? How would you address someone like that in your congregation?
This is a very relevant question to the present day. My perspective is a short answer that requires further explanation. I pray that people will listen to the further explanation and not just the short answer. But the short answer is simply this. Yes, it is sinful for a man to be a feminine and or flamboyant. Let me explain why.
There’s a principle given to us in the Law of Moses that men shouldn’t wear the things women wear, and women shouldn’t wear the things men wear. Men shouldn’t act as if they’re women, and women shouldn’t act as if they’re men. Now, the way that law was specifically prescribed for Israel doesn’t apply to believers today. We’re not under the law. But God reveals His heart, His will, and His thinking to us through the law. There are many places in the Mosaic law where we would say the specific law doesn’t apply, but the principle of it reflects God’s heart. As believers, we’re interested in pleasing God that way. The general principle is that men shouldn’t act like women and women shouldn’t act like men.
Here is the complicated part. God has created humanity with a tremendous diversity of personality. It is not a diversity of gender. Friends, there are two genders: male and female. God creates people from the womb to be male and female, except for a few exceedingly rare malformations that I’m just going to leave to the side right now. In the overwhelming majority of people, God creates people male or female in an unambiguous way.
Now, that’s their gender, their chromosomal makeup. However, people have all different personalities. Where does the personality come from? Part of the personality is given to a person from birth, and part of the personality is an effect of experiences, or a person’s training, or what a person wants to do. A person chooses how they want to express themselves. So, people are of all different personalities.
I can’t tell you exactly where the line is. Let’s say there is a Christian man who is a bit softer, and just not as rough and tough. Where’s the line between that being an acceptable variance of personality, and that which would be a sinful rejection of what God has called that person to be as a man, or vice versa when dealing with a woman? I don’t know exactly where that line is. I don’t know if anybody can say. But there are certainly many cases in which we can say, “Look, I don’t know where the line is, but I know that this person has crossed it. They’re deliberately pursuing an effeminate or flamboyant kind of persona.” And I would just say, that is not God’s will for that individual as a man.
Again, I want to give allowance for differences in personality. We’re not trying to imply for a moment that there’s literally like one personality of a Christian man, and every Christian man has to correspond to that personality. But even though I can’t tell you in every case exactly where the line is, it’s often quite obvious where that line has been transgressed. This goes back to the fundamental principles in the Bible, that in the beginning, God made humanity male and female. In the Law of Moses, God said in principle that men shouldn’t try to be women and women shouldn’t try to be men. So, that’s the principle we’ll go on.
The question was also asked about how to address someone like that within a congregation. This is an exceedingly difficult thing. It needs to be handled with a lot of love and a lot of grace. We must distinguish and try to come to a Spirit-led understanding of whether it is an appropriate expression of a person’s personality, or a result of confusion and rebellion in their life. Confusion and rebellion explain a lot of the gender weirdness in our culture today.
This needs to be dealt with on an individual basis, with a lot of love with a lot of grace. But realize that this so goes against the spirit of our age, that it’s likely to blow up. Now, I don’t say that you shouldn’t do it. But going into it, you need to recognize that whenever believers confront the spirit of the age, they’re going to face resistance. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it; we just need to be real about it going into it. To simply say that men should be men and women should act like women, even allowing for great difference in personality, is a very inflammatory statement against the spirit of our age today.
How should we interpret Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession of Him being the Christ, as something revealed by God, with the fact that his brother had previously informed him he’d found the Messiah?
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” The disciples respond with different suggestions. Peter answers with the very direct statement, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That’s a very express statement.
Our questioner is wondering if this is the first time this has been declared that Jesus is the Messiah. Because earlier in Jesus’ life and ministry, He had been also called the Messiah. In John 1:40-42, Peter’s brother Andrew says, “We have found the Messiah.”
There are a few unique things about the Matthew confession of faith. First of all, it’s one thing for somebody to say, “Hey, I think this guy’s the Messiah” upon first meeting Him. There’s a radical difference between that and spending a great deal of time with a person and then saying, “I believe You are the Christ.” And the disciples had spent a great deal of time with Jesus by this point. But notice that Peter did not only confess that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, he also called Jesus God. He said, “You are the Son of the living God.” Now, there are more than a few academics who would contest what I’m going to tell you right now. Nevertheless, I believe that when Peter made the declaration, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Peter was declaring not only that Jesus was Messiah, but that He was God.
Friends, that was not a given in first century Judaism, or even in our present day. There are many Jewish people who do not believe that the Messiah will be God. They believe he will be the Messiah, but they don’t see any necessary connection between the Messiah and God incarnate, God in human form. Now, obviously, the New Testament teaches us very clearly that Jesus the Messiah is God. But among the Jews of the first century and even to this present day, it is commonly thought that the Messiah would not necessarily be God in human form. He would just be a great man, a great prophet.
In contrast, Peter’s confession was not only that Jesus was the Messiah. After having spent a long time hearing and observing and living with Jesus, Peter’s confession was that Jesus was not only the Messiah, but the Son of the living God. In my view, those two things really make Peter’s declaration unique and worthy of the special attention Jesus gave to it in Matthew 16.
What are your thoughts on the Book of Enoch?
The Book of Enoch is numbered among the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament. These books have been highly regarded by some Jews and Christians throughout the ages, but by great majority consensus, they are not to be included in the collection of Holy Scripture.
I don’t have any problem with saying that the Book of Enoch is an ancient writing, or that at least portions of the Book of Enoch were actually written or dictated by Enoch himself. I also believe that the Book of Enoch is interesting reading. But here’s the important point. It should not be considered on the same level as Holy Scripture. It is not God-breathed. It is not the inspired Scripture that we are familiar with in both the Old and the New Testament, the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.
Now, the book of Jude quotes the Book of Enoch, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment on the ungodly,” and so on. Some people see that and assume that since Jude in the New Testament quotes Enoch from the Old Testament Apocrypha, it must mean that the Book of Enoch is inspired by God. They think that it must therefore belong in our Bibles in the Old Testament. To that I would respond, “No, you’re not thinking through this correctly.”
Just because a biblical author quotes a source under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it in no way means that everything in that source is inspired by God. In the book of Acts, there’s a letter quoted from a Roman commander to the guy over him. It doesn’t mean that the entire writing was inspired by God. It means that the portion quoted in the book of Acts was inspired by God to be included in the book of Acts. When Paul stood on Mars Hill and quoted two pagan poets, which is recorded in the Book of Acts, the things recorded in the book of Acts are inspired of Scripture, but it doesn’t mean that the complete writings of those pagan poets are inspired. The Bible can reference, point to, or even quote something from an ancient writing without that entire ancient writing itself being inspired Scripture.
If somebody wonders, “Can I read the Book of Enoch or not?” Go ahead and read it. “Should I read the Book of Enoch?” If it’s interesting to you, read it. Is the Book of Enoch interesting? Yes. Is there at least something in there of value? Yes. Is it inspired Scripture? No, it is not inspired Scripture. It is not God-breathed, according to the standards of 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
How can we set boundaries in what may seem like a toxic relationship, without being disobedient to the Christian commandment to forgive?
This is a very relevant question in today’s day and age. People are thinking about toxic relationships in which they have suffered abuse, and very naturally, they’re asking, “How can I stop that? How can I avoid bringing that upon myself in the future?” Those are totally logical, reasonable questions to ask.
I believe that there genuinely is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is the release or the discharge of guilt I hold against you for sinning against me. I don’t hold the sin against you. I don’t harbor bitterness and hatred in my heart for the thing you did against me. No, I forgive you, I release you. That’s real. That’s forgiveness.
Reconciliation is restored relationship. I firmly believe that there are situations in which we can and should forgive, yet reconciliation would require trust. And often, trust should be earned, not automatically given. There should be trust and safety in a restored relationship. All of those are genuine concerns.
People have different opinions within God’s family, but I very strongly believe that there is a distinction to be made between forgiveness and reconciliation. There are situations in which you can genuinely forgive someone, yet not reconcile with them, because they haven’t demonstrated any reason to trust them yet. And that reconciliation would await their repentance and their trustworthiness.
That being the case, I also recognize that there’s a current in our Christian world today that has an attitude that says, “I will never allow a person to hurt me again. I’m going to be the watchdog. I’m going to set the boundaries. I’m going to protect myself. And I will never allow someone to hurt me again.”
Friends, to genuinely love anyone, you’re going to open yourself up to some hurt. I’m talking about the kind of love that there is between brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, the love there should be between a parent and a child, the love there should be between a husband and a wife. If you’re going to genuinely love, you open yourself up to being hurt. A hyper vigilant attitude toward every relationship isn’t beneficial. Now, I don’t think it’s pleasing to God for anyone to go into a situation where they will know that they will be violently abused, saying, “I’ll do it because of love.” Rare would be the case when God would call somebody to that.
But generally, in our relationships, there’s a level of emotional and personal and relational vulnerability that we have to face, just because we’re called to love. With many of these things, there is no hard and fast line, but there are principles to follow. We have to learn how to apply these principles, led by the Spirit of God. There is no real categorical answer I can give, but I can lay out those principles.
Based on Mark 10:29-30, Can missionaries rightly or justly leave their spouse to go into the mission field, if their spouse refuses to go?
Mark 10:29-30 – So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.”
I would say, No. I hold back on my No just a tiny bit, wondering if there wouldn’t be just the rarest of exceptions to it. But in general, I would just say no.
If somebody came to me and said, “God has called me to be a missionary. But my wife isn’t into this at all. But I believe God has called me, so I’m leaving her and the kids, and I’m heading out to the mission field.” I would talk to that brother and say, “Dear brother, I think you’re severely mistaken. You are neglecting, denying, and turning your back on your first ministry. Your first ministry is your family.”
Now this brother probably thinks himself to be full of faith. “Look how much faith I have. I’m stepping out. I’m following the Lord. I know this is God’s will. I’m willing to leave everything.” To that I would respond, “Brother, you think you have that kind of faith? Where’s your faith for believing that God can change your wife’s mind or heart? Don’t you believe in the power of prayer? Don’t you believe that if it was God’s will, and you prayed for your wife’s heart and mind to be changed, that God would do it?” You see, I believe that God can change the heart and mind of people and that God moves in response to prayer. To the brother or sister who’s convinced that they should leave their husband or their wife or their children to go out on the mission field and forsake their family, I would say, “You’re disobeying one command in order to obey another, and you’re just mixed up about this.”
What about the relevant passage there in Mark 10? Jesus is talking about what it means to be a disciple. Friends, you don’t have to go to the mission field to be a disciple of Jesus. But you do have to fulfill the responsibilities that He’s given you right now. I think that’s very important. Fulfill the responsibilities that you have right now. If right now you’re married and have children, you need to fulfill your responsibilities to them. That’s part of your discipleship. You’re not becoming a better disciple by forsaking your family and going off to the mission field. Why not demonstrate your discipleship by praying in faith that God would change the heart of your spouse in this particular situation?
A fair amount of damage has happened over the years because people put the ministry ahead of their family. I’ve seen pastors who put their ministry ahead of their wife, and it wreaks havoc. I’ve seen some cases where they lose both their marriage and their ministry because they wouldn’t approach things in the proper order. If a spouse needs to have their heart changed, the Bible says that the heart of a king is in the hands of God and He can guide it where He wishes. If God can do that with the heart of a king, He can do it with your husband or wife. That’s something to think about.
Why does Job 31:29 say that it is a sin to rejoice when something bad happens to our enemies, but Psalm 58:9-11 says that the righteous will rejoice when they see the vengeance?
Job 31:29 – “If I have rejoiced at the destruction of him who hated me, or lifted myself up when evil found him…”
We’re often quick to make universal laws about things that we find in the poetic books in the Bible. But these books contain principles which can be applied to many different areas of a person walking in their life with God. If somebody were to ask me, “Is it right to rejoice in the downfall of an enemy?” I would say the answer is yes or no, depending on the circumstance. Certainly, it’s wrong to do at certain times. That’s what Job is referring to, in explaining that he was so filled with love for others, that even when his enemy was ruined, he didn’t rejoice in it. That’s a demonstration of love. Yet, there are other times when things are so just transparently wicked and evil, that when those people are overthrown, especially when they’re taken from their positions of power, the people of God rejoice.
There is a contextual element to this. I know in some cases that makes us a little bit uncomfortable. It would seem easier if it was always one way or always the other. But it just isn’t like that. You’ll see this principle especially in the Proverbs. People like to take the Proverbs and make universal principles out of them, while really, they are pieces of wisdom that have application in a very certain context at times, and not in another context.
So, there are instances when it’s a godly thing to rejoice in the downfall of the wicked. There are other times when it’s ungodly. And may the Holy Spirit give us discernment to do what’s right in those particular situations.
Would “deconstruction” from Oneness Pentecostalism be a bad or a good thing?
That would be a good thing. The conception of God in Oneness Pentecostalism isn’t biblical. It doesn’t match up with the Scriptures. From that aspect of Oneness Pentecostalism, it would be a good thing to deconstruct. I won’t say that every aspect of the theology of Oneness Pentecostalism is corrupt or bad, but certainly that particular aspect of their teaching isn’t biblical. And it’s a good thing to deconstruct from that.
Have you seen the “Jesus Revolution” movie? Thoughts on this film?
I have not yet seen the “Jesus Revolution” movie. I’ve been invited to special screenings, but I’ve been traveling a lot, and just haven’t been able to see it. I was hoping to be able to see it tonight in a theater, but then we had another special engagement come up. So, I have not seen ti, but my wife has. And I recommend it with all my heart. Go out and see it. From everything that’s been reported to me, I think it’s an amazing movie. It’s not a documentary. It doesn’t tell the story with historical precision. But in general, it’s historically accurate.
I’ll admit, I’m biased in this. One of the main subjects of the movie, a man named Greg Laurie, was the man who led me to Jesus Christ. I responded to an invitation that Greg Laurie gave when I was 13 years old, at Rain Cross Square in Riverside, California, on Easter Sunday night. I gave my life to Jesus Christ, and I’ve never been the same. I’m very grateful to Greg Laurie, not only for that, but that the first church experience that I had was in Calvary Chapel Riverside. It was later renamed Harvest, but it’s still part of the Calvary Chapel broader family for sure. Calvary Chapel Riverside taught me so much about ministry and the Word. Greg Laurie has been an amazing initial pattern for me in my ministry and in my walk with God, and I’m very grateful for that. So, maybe I’m a little bit biased, but I say see that movie, Jesus Revolution.
Do you still lead trips to Israel?
In the last few days, I’ve been speaking with the man on our board who handles this stuff. We are planning an Enduring Word Israel trip in probably October 2024. Put it on your calendars. We’ll come out with news when we have it.
This year, we’re leading an Enduring Word cruise of the Mediterranean, seeing sites like Ephesus, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Galilee, Alexandria, and Athens. It’s going to be amazing. But not only is it sold out; the waiting list is about 100 people long. You’re not going to be able to get on the cruise for this year. But next year, we’re going to propose an Enduring Word Israel trip, and if enough people want to go, we’ll do it. Look, if there’s not enough interest, that’s okay. But if enough people want to go, we will definitely do it. Keep your eyes open for that.
Luke 22:3 says Satan entered Judas. Is Judas still at fault for betraying Jesus, if Satan caused him to do it?
Luke 22:3 – Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.
Yes, absolutely. Satan was able to do what he did in and through Judas because Judas wanted it. Friends, I’m here to admit that there are mysteries of the spiritual realm, especially when it comes to the demonic, that we don’t quite understand. I can’t tell you all the reasons why a person is troubled by the demonic realm. I think some things are knowable, while other things aren’t.
But I will tell you this, that Judas wanted to betray Jesus. Judas did it out of the motive of greed. Satan definitely entered Judas. Satan definitely was there to make sure it got done. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. But I can say very simply and straightforwardly that Satan did not have to convince an unwilling Judas to do what he did. Judas wanted to do it. And he did it for the sake of greed, which makes his sin and his tragedy all the sadder and more tragic.