Michael Ross offers tips for answering skeptics who doubt the existence of God.
Age & Stage
When adult children deconstruct their Christianity, it can lead to isolation and self-centeredness as they prioritize their desires or preferences over their family.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
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.
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.
As Americans, 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-centered 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.
There have been a few high-profile Christian leaders who have publicly shared their decision to deconstruct their Christianity.
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).
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.
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:
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.
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:
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-centered 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.
©2023 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.
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