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Sean McDowell on How to Respond to Christians 'Deconstructing' Their Faith

Photo by Phil Hearing/Unsplash
Photo by Phil Hearing/Unsplash

In the age of social media, we’re often made hyper-aware of the machinations of the faith journeys of complete strangers, some famous and others not. While some of that is certainly good, it can also be a bit unnerving, particularly when a once-esteemed believer abandons his or her Christian convictions.

Most recently, author Paul Maxwell, a former writer for theologian John Piper’s DesiringGod.org, announced he is no longer a Christian.

Others, like former Christian recording artist Jonathan Steingard, have concluded they “no longer believe in God.” Or, as is the case with Piper’s son Abraham, that ultimate meaning just “doesn’t exist.”

***As the number of voices facing big-tech censorship continues to grow, please sign up for Faithwire’s daily newsletter and download the CBN News app, developed by our parent company, to stay up-to-date with the latest news from a distinctly Christian perspective.***

Then there are those like the late Ravi Zacharias, whose egregious actions — many of which were revealed in detail after his death in May of last year — expose a heart seemingly untransformed by the Christian faith he spent his career defending and promoting.

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During a recent interview with Faithwire, Christian author and apologist Sean McDowell said it’s normal and even appropriate to “grieve” these losses, but argued it shouldn’t shake our convictions.

“I’ve got to be committed to believing because I think this is really true,” McDowell said. “So I ask myself, ‘Who do I think God is?’ ‘Why do I think the Bible’s true?’ ‘Who do I think Jesus claimed to be?’ And, as best I can answer those questions so my faith is not rooted in my emotions when things around me change; it’s rooted in what is true.”

“It’s not enough to just know it’s true,” he continued. “I’ve got to apply it to my life and live it out. It’s one thing to know God is a loving Heavenly Father; it’s another thing to experience God’s grace personally. I want to logically know it’s true, so my faith is grounded in truth, not in a human person, because, if we know anything about people, they’re all going to let us down. … So we’ve gotta know it’s true, but we’ve also gotta live out our faith, which makes that truth become real.”

If that’s the case, he added, we will be “less tempted to jettison our faith because we have a good biblical theology, namely the sinfulness of human nature and our capacity for deception.”

McDowell went on to point out that, more often than not, at the core of many believers’ faith “deconstruction” journeys is a secondary or tertiary issue made primary. Within Christian culture, he said, there’s often the pull to redefine “very important questions” as “salvific essential questions.”

“Let’s just keep the main thing the main thing,” McDowell said, “so when people come across these challenges to their faith, they’re not tempted to just bail on the entire ship.”

He further acknowledged his heartbreak at learning from people who “deconstructed” that their questions and sincere doubts were dismissed or condemned by their Christian communities.

“If there’s any religion that’s OK with questions,” the apologist said, “it should be Christianity because it’s actually true and we have a powerful history of brilliant thinkers … offering thoughtful answers.”

McDowell said this wave of believers “deconstructing” their faith makes clear dismissing Christians’ valid questions has “devastating consequences.”

For Christians confident in the faith but who want to come alongside their friends and family members who are “deconstructing,” McDowell urged honesty. Rather than being fearful of discourse, he encouraged Christians to “learn together” with loved ones experiencing doubt.

“Then the Christian is learning, they’re showing, ‘I’m not threatened by your questions. I love you no matter what,’” he said. “[I]f you have a friend who has questions, this is a chance for you to go deeper in your faith, relationally, because now you know it matters. So just tell that person, ‘Gosh, I wish I knew more, but I’m gonna read and think with you and help you through this.’”

Watch our full conversation in the video above.

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