There’s a story in the Gospel of Matthew that is both comforting and haunting. It’s the story of John, the Baptist. For years, John faithfully served as a prophetic voice in the wilderness preparing anyone listening for the coming Messiah. Then one day he sees his cousin coming to the waters of the Jordan. Confused but willing, John baptizes Jesus. Immediately, heaven tears open and 400 years of silence are ended by a voice that says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”1 At this point in John’s journey, it would be hard to argue for a better example of faithful and fruitful ministry. But as they often do, circumstances quickly change for John; he finds himself in prison for speaking truth to power.2 In a dark cell, John begins to experience increasing disorientation. He begins to experience doubt. So he decides to send some of his followers to Jesus with a loaded question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”3 In other words, there is a huge gap between what I am experiencing and what I hope to be true. Just a few scenes later at the vengeful whim of Herod’s wife, John is beheaded. That’s it.
In a dark cell, John begins to experience increasing disorientation. He begins to experience doubt
It’s a tragic ending for the one Jesus describes as the greatest born of women.4 This story is strangely comforting for me as I wrestle with troubling circumstances because I can look to John as a present companion. Yet, it’s a haunting story since faithfulness to Jesus did not guarantee a triumphant ending. The experience of John the Baptist is not an anomaly. From Joseph, the husband of Mary, carrying confusion surrounding the reality of his betrothed’s pregnancy, to Jesus’s disciples questioning his resurrection moments before they received the Great Commission, doubt is everywhere.5
In the Western Church, doubt and its close relative, deconstruction, are common subjects of conversation happening over lattes and lunch spots. In fact, entire digital platforms have been created to explore and monetize these themes. As Summit Ministries desires to embrace God’s truth and champion a biblical worldview, it is essential for students, parents, and ministry leaders to be equipped with healthy ways to navigate the cultural currents around these complex topics. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions, but I believe there are three biblical pathways to follow.
Doubt is a Doorway
The first pathway is to see doubt not as a deterrent, but a doorway to deeper faith. In many cultures around the world, there are elaborate initiation ceremonies that mark transition points in a person’s journey. For example, many cultures have a rite of passage for boys to become men. The experience for these young boys is often harrowing. It involves real risk, abandonment, pain, and increasing dosages of disorientation. In the middle of the process, many wonder: “What is going on?” You could describe these experiences as liminal spaces. The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limen, which means “threshold.” In other words, these moments are doorways into deeper maturity and growth. You could argue that the entirety of Jesus’s ministry was about creating liminal spaces for women and men to bring their doubts and confusion to the surface, and then be invited to cross the threshold into his upside down Kingdom. Read any of the Gospel accounts and follow closely alongside the disciples as they wrestle with their expectations and confusion while following this subversive Messiah. At each moment, whether through a parable, encounter, or dialogue, Jesus invites them to see their doubt as a doorway into the Kingdom that has come near.
Deconstruction Is a Means, Not an End
The second pathway is to shift from seeing the process of deconstruction as a means and not an end. Jesus was a master at deconstructing the assumptions and activities of his day. For example, one of the most repeated phrases in the Sermon on the Mount was: “You have heard that it was said…. But I tell you…”6 Here, Jesus obliterated the neat categories God’s people had put in place around a number of social and cultural practices. He deconstructed their faith but sees this process simply as a means to an end. This is why he doesn’t just abolish the saying “eye for an eye,” but invites those listening into a new vision of radical love, even for enemies.7
Jesus obliterated the neat categories God’s people had put in place around a number of social and cultural practices. He deconstructed their faith but sees this process simply as a means to an end
Marie Kondo in her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, asks readers to enter into a process of “decluttering” their homes. She advises that instead of taking a few pieces of clothing out of the closet, you are to remove all of the clothing and only put back items that “spark joy.” If you have followed this method before, the removal of all the items from a space can be overwhelming; but it’s a necessary means to a more minimal end.
As someone who has experience pastoring a local church, it saddens me to see much of the deconstruction work focused on helping people “remove” what they have stored in the closet, but leaving them paralyzed looking at the mess and not knowing what to do next. Like a caterpillar who enters into the metamorphosis process, the goal is not to remain in the cocoon forever, but to be transformed into a beautiful butterfly. This is and should be the goal of every Christian journeying through a deconstruction process.
Faith Is neither Blindness nor Brilliance
Lastly, the pathway to biblical faith is neither irrational blindness nor luminous brilliance. To put it simply, faith is living at the precipice of the Kingdom being here now but not fully. Jesus has not left us in utter darkness, but shadows do remain even in the light of New Creation breaking in. Rich faith is cultivating hope as you stand in the gap between current circumstances and what you know to be true about God. But here is the liberating good news. As we carry our doubt and disorientation as Christians, we can look no further than the Passion story for courage and comfort. Our King Jesus wrestled with the gap between his current circumstances of carrying a bloodied cross while clinging to what he knew to be true about the Father and his plan of redemption for the entire world. And in light of his Resurrection, Jesus invites us to do the same.
Doubt is a doorway.
Deconstruction is a means, not an end.
And faith is neither blindness nor brilliance
Would each of these pathways become paradigms for Christians everywhere in our cultural moment.
Charlie Meo serves as a pastor with Missio Dei Communities and as the curriculum director for the Surge Network in Phoenix, Arizona. He also contributes as a curriculum creator for City to City North America. He is married to his wife Keaton and together they are raising three kids.