Book Review

What can you do when doubt and discouragement creep in?

Wrestling well with deconstruction

April 28, 2021

On Easter, rapper Andy Mineo tweeted a thoughtful thread capturing a significant mood in the American Church. In the thread, he noted:

I feel myself & many others are in a spiritual ‘Saturday’-the day after Jesus died & the day before he rose. The in-between. Still saddened by the loss of what they thought Jesus was going to be…To parallel, I still feel like I am grieving the loss of a version of Christianity & “Jesus” that didn’t turn out as I hoped.

For believers who share this disillusionment with their experience of Christianity, abandoning faith altogether can seem like the only viable option.

Burdened for those wrestling through doubt and deconstruction, The Gospel Coalition released a collection of essays called Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in The Church. The book features chapters from regular contributors to the organization’s blog and ministry. The essays are written with the hope they will “give perspective, answer questions, or at least help you understand that you’re not alone” in wrestling with deconstruction.

Facing the issues behind deconstruction

The last few years have featured many forces contributing to doubt, spiritual weariness, and reconsideration of personal faith: disappointment in Christian leaders and the Church, social isolation, political and cultural division, and a competition of grand ideas fighting to frame a societal narrative forward. Each chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith addresses a question or social issue common to the current deconstruction conversations within American Protestantism. The essays also include encouragement and guidance rooted in confessional Christian belief. 

The first section of the book is titled “Deconstruct Deconstruction.” It features essays that ask critical questions of deconstruction narratives, parsing out the beliefs and assumptions that drive doubt and deconversion. The second section, “Deconstruct the Issues,” examines social and theological issues often at the crux of faith deconstruction. The final section, “Reconstruct Faith,” offers guidance and suggestions for a healthy reconstruction of Christian faith and practice.

Inviting thoughtful reflection through critical questions

Traditional faith communities often lack room for questions, nuance, and complexity, driving congregants elsewhere to answer their questions. Yet, deconstruction dialogue can simplify and reduce complex issues in a similar way. Before You Lose Your Faith engages with doubt and faith with a refreshingly thoughtful approach. The authors recognize the fruitful impulses and questions behind deconstruction. They also carefully highlight the contradictions within popular deconversion narratives.

Hunter Beaumont’s chapter “Don’t Deconstruct—Disenculturate Instead” affirms that there will always be elements of religious culture that need to be analyzed and culturally deconstructed and that the Bible provides a framework for “disenculturating” belief while holding firm to the gospel. In another chapter titled “Deconversion Is Not As Countercultural As You Think,” McCracken notes that while contemporary deconstruction is often framed as a subversive act, it is deeply rooted in consumerist, Western individualist, and “bourgeois” cultural assumptions. The chapters raise new questions that may be challenging to both orthodox believers and those walking away from traditional faith. Those questions invite thoughtful reflection that will edify readers.

Understanding doubt

While much of belief formation can be unconscious and fragmented, deconstruction stories tend to emphasize a journey of conscious choices an individual makes to abandon faith. Before You Lose Your Faith brings unstated influences like culture, affections, and philosophical assumptions to the foreground of understanding the deconstruction process. As such, readers will gain clarity on the unstated assertions of deconstruction and acquire vocabulary to reflect on their experience. Readers may also walk away realizing that deconversion is not a mere rational dismissal of faith but rather an exchange of one set of faith claims for another. 

A helpful resource within relationships

Deconstruction and doubt may manifest in intellectual or social ways. Still, they are often triggered by church hurt, personal trials, or broken relationships. Even those philosophical or social issues surrounding doubt can cut to the core of a person in painful and confounding ways. Before You Lose Your Faith focuses almost exclusively on intellectual and social issues. Some follow-up resources on how to process the more personal and emotional aspects of deconstruction would help those struggling with their faith and others responsible for their care.

Because the content is primarily intellectual, the resource might be most useful within established relationships and spaces where it can be processed with others. Individuals walking alongside those wrestling with deep doubt will find the book a helpful resource and reference for common themes at the center of contemporary deconstruction.

The issues the Church faces at this moment are challenging, but not without hope. Andy Mineo concluded his tweet thread:

As I read of the resurrection today – I was assured that there was a real resurrection. And that there will be a spiritual resurrection coming. One that I won’t expect. One that will be far greater than my original idea of faith in Jesus. One that I desperately need. 

Doubt and deconstruction can feel dark and frightening. But the gospel has proven to be a reliable resource for our most profound challenges and questions. Many will walk out of this challenging season with a renewed and refined understanding of their faith. It wouldn’t be surprising if Before You Lose Your Faith plays a role in that.

Andrew Bertodatti

Andrew Bertodatti is a minister in New York. He resides in New York City with his wife, Karen, and their son. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24