The danger of reactionary theology

The online world of deconstructing Christians is a sad one. In private Facebook groups and DMs, I read story after story of adult children being disowned by their parents for coming out of the closet; rape victims being forced to apologize for “adultery” before their congregation; abused wives told by pastors to endure beatings like martyrs being led to the lion’s den. The Church isn’t perfect, that much is obvious; some are downright toxic and in desperate need of reform. 

It was my secondhand grief after reading these stories, in addition to my own experiences of church hurt, that made me question orthodoxy. Not careful study of the language and context of the Scripture it came from. I started questioning everything from homosexuality and premarital sex to who really goes to heaven and whether there is even a hell. For a time, my beliefs resembled universalism more than Christianity. 

I think I avoided studying the Bible about these topics because I didn’t want to be proven wrong in my “truth.” I didn’t want the perpetrators of “toxic theology” to win. 

There are too many churches out there communicating truth without love or grace; that was a common denominator in many deconstruction stories. It certainly was for mine. 

Saving The Baby, Disposing The Bathwater

Christians can be hurtful, but does that make the gospel any less true? Just as a broken clock is right twice a day, faithful teaching can still come from unhealthy churches.

But a church that encourages emotion-based faith in the form of “living your truth” or “doing what makes you happy” is no more loving than the church that cruelly turns doubters away. When we let emotions, politics, or the surrounding culture be our hermeneutic, our theology becomes reactionary rather than biblical. 

Writing for The Gospel Coalition, Caleb Wait says,

Scripture is clear that Christianity is not merely about believing the right things; it’s also about placing faith in and following the right person…Our ‘spiritual journey’ will be a directionless wander unless we have a deep and abiding knowledge of whom we are journeying toward, and why.

Without the definition of doctrine…one’s spiritual journey too easily veers into a subjective, fit-to-me thing where the focus is less on truth than on preference (what parts I like) and pragmatism (what works for me).

The gospel message is a beautiful story that begins with goodness, endures centuries of tragedy, and ends in redemption. Our imaginative subplots will never be as compelling.

Let Truth Drive The Bus

With the wisdom that comes from hindsight, I understand that my deconstructionist theology was purely reactionary. I may have said at the time that I questioned essential doctrines because the Holy Spirit directed me there. But as I read through my journals from that period, I realize that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t the Holy Spirit, but rather my emotions driving the bus. As blogger Phylicia Masonheimer says, reactionary theology is not sound theology.

My personal experiences led me to view God as small and incapable. Thankfully, Scripture tells a very different story.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash


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