If You Don’t Like Deconstruction, Don’t Teach People to “Fall in Love with Jesus” in the First Place

I hear it all the time. People explain their devotion to Christ by referring to having “fallen in love with Jesus.”

I get it. They’re trying to describe the intense existential experience of gratitude and admiration they have for Jesus. They’re trying to say, “I’m not just a casual or unconscious Christian, I’m really emotionally invested in my faith.”

It’s like the way people used to refer to having an “assurance of salvation.” Back in the day, when it seemed like everyone was a Christian and churchgoing was the thing to do, evangelists would say, “You might have been baptized and you might attend church regularly, but that doesn’t make you a Christian. Do you have assurance of salvation?” They meant, do you have the kind of intense, overwhelming feelings that indicate a heartfelt experience of God’s grace in Christ. They were referring to the inner witness of the Holy Spirit that allows a Christian to truly know that he or she is justified.

Somewhere along the line that got turned into the language of falling in love: “Sure, you attend church regularly, but have you actually fallen in love with Jesus?”

What’s Wrong with Falling in Love with Jesus?

Subjective assurance isn’t a bad thing, but using the language of romance is a problem for two reasons.

The first is that the experience of falling in love is a specifically erotic experience. And before anyone objects, you don’t refer to falling in love with your children, do you? Your love for them is intense, but you would never use that phrase to describe it. We don’t fall in love with our friends or our parents either, even though we care for them greatly. As psychiatrist-author M. Scott Peck says, “We fall in love only when we are consciously or unconsciously sexually motivated.”

That kind of language just isn’t adequate to describe our devotion to Christ.

But secondly, and more concerningly, I think, the romantic experience of falling in love is always a temporary one. Don’t believe those youth pastors who talk about still being “in love” with their smoking hot wives after all these years of marriage. That’s hyperbole or rhetoric. Or BS.

In any long-term relationship, sooner or later you will fall out of love. That’s not the same as saying you will stop loving your partner, but the feelings of ecstatic lovingness that characterize falling in love, well, they always pass. Always. And it’s then that a couple has to decide whether they are willing to undertake the beautiful work of love.

Back to M. Scott Peck, he defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” In other words, it is an extension of one’s limits or boundaries for the benefit of another. Peck writes,

“When we love someone, our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion — through the fact that for that someone (or for ourself) we take an extra step or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.”

Falling in love, on the other hand, is not an extension of one’s limits or boundaries; it is a partial and temporary collapse of them. To fall in love with someone is not the same as loving them. It is the gateway to true love. Counselors often say, when the joy of being in love passes, then the opportunity for real loving begins.

Falling Out of Love is Like Deconstructing Faith

And all this brings me to the vexed process of deconstructing faith. While some Christian leaders think of it as a dangerous abandonment of all that is true, I see it as the period an adult “falls out of love” with Jesus.

All those lovely, gooey, butterflies-in-the-tummy feelings we have for Jesus when the concept of grace drops from our head to our heart don’t last. And neither should they. They are the feelings we have when everything we’ve learned as children from our family and our church finally rings true. We feel as though our faith isn’t just something we inherited. We own it. In our heart.

The problem is that many churches pat us on the back for getting to that point. They baptize us and then leave us to our own devices. We have a children’s curriculum of Bible knowledge and we’ve fallen in love with Jesus and we’re good to go.

But we’re only good to go for so long.

The feelings abate. And what we’re left with is a middle school level of understanding. We begin to question everything, which only makes people uncomfortable. What we need is a safe, nurturing environment in which to ask questions, have deep discussions, and be welcomed no matter what. Instead, we get slammed for deconstructing our faith.

Melanie Mudge defines deconstruction as “the taking apart of an idea, practice, tradition, belief, or system into smaller components in order to examine their foundation, truthfulness, usefulness, and impact.” Or, as Rachel Held Evans put it, deconstruction is about undertaking a “massive inventory of [your] faith, tearing every doctrine from the cupboard and turning each one over in [your] hand.”

But isn’t that what we do in marriage as well? After the feelings of being in love pass, we find ourselves turning everything over in our hand, re-examining every aspect of who we are, who our partner is, and what this marriage is all about. It can be a painful time for a couple, but it’s the true (and difficult) work of extending one’s boundaries to nurture the spiritual growth of the other.

Helping Deconstructors Like We Help Marriages

People have swallowed all kinds of myths about romantic love — myths presented to us by Hollywood and popular music — that we need to divest as we grow into a mature, lifelong marriage. So, what if we treated people who are deconstructing their faith the way we treat people going through marital struggles? What if we held regular “deconstruction retreats” to support people as they fall out of love with Jesus and their old childhood faith? What if we provided “deconstruction counseling” and “faith enrichment courses” in the same way we do for couples?

We need to acknowledge that developing a grown up faith isn’t easy, especially when all the children’s and youth ministry we consumed taught us to fall in love with Jesus. We can’t offer people no help when they are deconstructing their old faith and then complain if they abandon that faith altogether.

And what if we stopped encouraging new generations of Christian kids to fall in love with Jesus and instead developed a curriculum of learning that allowed them to grow into an adult faith, a faith that develops by degrees, accommodating the peculiar challenges we face at different stages of life. What if we took mentoring and coaching more seriously? What if we stopped singing romantic love songs to Jesus? What if we scheduled regular opportunities for us to refresh our understanding of Jesus?

Grown-up faith is difficult.

We need all the help we can get.

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37 thoughts on “If You Don’t Like Deconstruction, Don’t Teach People to “Fall in Love with Jesus” in the First Place

  1. AMEN.
    Thanks Mike.

  2. Thank you Michael. My own season of deconstruction & reconstruction has been more lovely than it has been long and lonely. I stepped out of and away from vocational & church-based ministry as part of that process & found Jesus to be bigger and better than I ever imagined & my own capacity to connect with, include & love fellow Aussies enhanced. Deconstruction has not for me been a denial of Christ but a deepening of my love for Him, & my life in Him. It has been a discovery of real and robust fellowship with others who are on a similar pilgrimage.

    1. That sounds beautiful. Thanks for sharing part of your story.

      1. I don’t agree with your assessment when you propose that deconstruction of the Christian faith is equivalent to the “falling out of love phase” of a romantic partner.

        I had a period where I was madly in love with Jesus and devoted to Him.

        Then I fell out of love with Jesus, but still loved Him and wanted to obey Him for many years.

        Recently, I deconstructed, and it IS very different. Literally, I am unconvinced that I have every truly heard from God, or that He even exists at all.

        I am unable to bring myself to love Jesus, as I don’t even perceive Him as being any more than a historical figure turned to legend at best.

        It is possible that I may never be a Christian again, until at least there is first presented adequate evidence.

        It is unhelpful to over simplify and rationalize the notion of deconstruction simply to put other church goers minds at ease.

        Mark my words… deconstruction can and often does mean the complete abandonment of faith. It’s best to be honest about that.

        Thanks for listening.

        1. Thanks for this, I’m in the sand boat, and it definitely seems for Christians nothing can ever be a good reason to deconstruct your faith. If your belief was emotionally damaging and preventing you from growing as a person then you left because your faith wasn’t built in good reasons, or you didn’t trust enough. If you left because you looked at the facts and evaluated your epistemology then you left because you didn’t leave enough on your faith and trust God. If you left because you found faith and hope in another religion then you left because you were led astray by the evil alternatives of the world that promise a false hope.

          I get why this happens, it is one of the many ways the Christian faith is set up to be unfalsifiable, and if they admitted people can leave for good reasons that might imply THEY could leave too, and generally Christians don’t want to face that thought. That’s just another problem with how Christianity is structured and taught though, in my opinion.

    2. I echo your comments. After 17 years of church ministry…. we were exhausted. We stepped out, worked secular jobs, observed people and got back in touch with life. After about 10 years became part of motorcycle ministry, very real stuff. Moved to another state, found a church and serving from the center of my heart, loving Christ and creatively reaching people wildly.

  3. This was a great read Mike – thank you. And very timely, with some disappointment spreading over recent megachurch leadership failings, and probably some badly displaced people grieving the loss of a community they were connected to.
    I like the upbeat turn of your article towards the end – all is NOT lost, if we are willing to give up some cheap truths and entangled loyalties… and receive from Jesus, the real grace and empowerment he gives to the honest, Bare struggler, who reaches out in his or her need.
    The insistence to “stay in love” with Jesus, is a thing. It’s even built corporate churches/products/movements…. but the urge to stay in ecstasy can not last, as you say.
    It reminds me of C.S. Lewis amazing passages in the Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape discusses the dilemma that the human creatures are in, because of their “horror of the same old thing.”
    But settle into humble and mature relationship with Jesus we must, or we will fall for the distortions of movements that offer Jesus as a constant source of rapid and ongoing change. Gotta find your rhythm…

    1. Really useful response, Al. Thanks.

      1. For any who have not read Lewis in that Screwtape passage, here’s an easy way to listen to it read aloud:

        https://youtu.be/L53nVksirW0

    2. The chapter about Love in Mere Christianity is also good.

  4. Thank you Mike for your insightful commentary. I have often wondered why it is that so many Christian friends I know fail to mature in their Christian faith.
    Just recently I heard a well known conservative politician on Q&A confess his admiration of Scott Morrison for openly confessing his faith and taking a stand for Christ and yet in the very next breath I heard this very same politician launch into a hateful tirade against migrants and refugees taking away jobs from Australians; all this to justify why the coalition government is right in his estimation to deny humanity, justice and kindness to the family from Biloela.
    It is no wonder then that with this kind of shallow emotional thinking and behaviour being expressed in the public arena that so many people are becoming disenchanted, even repelled not wanting to have anything to do with churches or institutional Christianity. Such shallow confessions of faith do not honour Jesus because they ignore the liberating power of his message as recorded in the gospel stories.

    1. It’s a classic example of the poison of the “us vs them” mentality nearly all of us fall into.
      People need to read the Bible & meditate on it.
      Especially the “love your enemies” part.
      Also, read The Hiding Place by: Terri Ten Boon.
      It’s an eye opener.

    2. Oh! And, A Wind in the Door by: Madeleine L’Engle is all about loving someone you do not like. The sort of everyday “enemies” who rub us wrong & annoy us all the time.

  5. Thanks Mike,
    Some great points, especially that view of deconstruction.
    I wonder how much of the problem is in our definition of “love”? Do we use Jesus’ definition of love or a worldly definition. “Falling in love” as you said has a very pop cultural term. I wonder though if rather than throw out the concept all together (which i don’t think you are doing in this article at all) we need to actually reclaim some of the divine intention of a love relationship with God? What if its about letting Jesus define, rather than bringing our culturally nuanced understanding of a “love” relationship that may be bent to the erotic? I’m thinking Song of Songs, St John of the Cross, Augustine and how that might inform (and correct) our understanding of a love relationship with Jesus. I’m talking a love that does grow like in a marriage with intention and a beauty that is only present where there has also been pain, questioning, and the wrestle of being known and knowing another.

    I see the danger of appropriating a worlds definition of “falling in love”, but I wonder if there is also something in that statement that Jesus wants to reclaim in his relationship with His Lover and Bride which will be consummated at the wedding feast.

    Great thoughts and it’s inspired much more to ponder

    Thanks again

    1. After being a Christian for 15 years at the age of 47 I began a deconstruction ( I called it change in what it means to be human )
      Now some 33 years later I’m still on the path of examination. Learning to know, experience and apply what is good and true and beautiful
      Thanks for all you offer.

    2. John Donne’s poetry is also good & a lot like Songs of Solomon.

    3. Yes, this. Definitions matter, and this post does a good job dismantling the inaccurate use of the word love. The popular evangelical conception of love is problematic, so the solution is to teach love properly. An excellent resource, though academic, is Faithful Feelings by Matthew Eliot. Imho, when we have an appropriate view of emotion, we can also accurately understand love, and teach love in ways that do not fall into the trap this post has highlighted.
      Thanks for a stimulating original post and a very thoughtful follow-up comment.

  6. Deconstruction is such a big topic to tackle. I think you hit on one aspect of deconstruction that is going to really resonate with some people. I think your suggestions is helpful for those that are deconstructing in that specific way.

    That said, I think there are many reasons deconstruction is happening. For some it is falling out of love with Jesus. For me and many that I am trying to help, it is not falling out of love with Jesus but falling out of love with the institutional church that we are seeing not represent the Jesus we fell in love with in the first place. For that hurt I think many people are becoming dissolution that anything will ever change. But we are trying…

  7. I’m not sure love is always a “will”. People were sometimes trying not to fall in love with Jesus but when he died they banged their chest. “Disapproved???”

  8. A very small lexical rebuttal to an excellent article: I absolutely “fell in love” with my children when they were born. That was a profound psychological and physiological experience of intimacy with another creature who was one with me. I sometimes wondered where I ended and they began. I have heard other mothers speak the same way. In my case this was a temporary state that did not survive weaning. So the argument clearly holds overall, that love must shift; it would be dangerous for that intensity to last for long.
    Cheers, Māmari

    1. That is beautiful & true. Love dies change, & in a healthy love, becomes more than mere emotion.

      1. Love does change. Is what I meant to say.

  9. I liked the first half especially! After pondering ‘deconstruction’ (the second half) I think (and feel?) it is too strong a word to describe the process of examining faith, in that it assumes there may be something wrong with its premises etc. (a la Rachel Held Evans). There are always going to be nuances that modify belief as we grow in the knowledge of God, but for me, the firm foundation of the authority of the Bible remains after 53 years of pursuing God. Not ‘deconstruction’, but ‘re-examination’ is a better context for that process.

  10. Christinese speak, is not helpful, if there were a top ten of the ones I most dislike, 1 Falling in love with Jesus, 2 Loving on people…. 3 Pushing into God/Jesus, 4 I’ve been favoured by God.., but I must stop now as I need coffee.

    Thanks Mike.

  11. Hi Mike
    I’m in the interesting space of having done a podcast for the last three years called dchurched.com, I am now back in permanent full time pastoral ministry and trying to think through how to lead a church into spaces of deconstruction/reconstruction. Wittenberg Door years ago cited an accusation from a non – Christian: “Sooner or later you Christians stop thinking”. God help me to never close the door on questionning but at the same time retain the unity of the body of Christ. There’s the challenge.

    1. Great word!

  12. Sure, a lack of love for God is often a trigger for deconstruction – after all, the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind and soul.

    But, for many, a bigger reason for deconstruction is the overwhelming weight of cognitive dissonance. A ‘god of love and justice’ who wipes out all living things with a flood, commands genocide and pronounces eternal suffering on those who fail to accept the gift of his son. An ‘inerrant, inspired’ Bible full of human agendas, prejudices and, despite the best efforts of the compilers of the canon, inconsistencies and inaccuracies. A world full of Bible readers who all read it differently – emphasising some points, ignoring others, interpreting according to their biases – but all claiming to have the definitive Truth. An interpretive framework of ‘God answers prayer (but sometimes the answer is no)’ that tries very hard to explain what looks very much like random occurrence.

    For some of us, appeals to mystery and ‘just focus on Jesus’ no longer have the power to sustain the whole tottering edifice. Deconstruction is not fun, we don’t do it on purpose, but sometimes it’s important to concede that it just doesn’t make sense anymore.

    1. I think part of the problem, as Mike points out, is in many Christian circles, there is less focus on good theology, on thinking about and examining the deep logic of God, & focusing instead on feeling & emotion.
      People simply aren’t being taught how to think & examine their basic assumptions & if they make sense. Books like Mere Christianity, Orthadoxy by G.K. Chesterton, & She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson have taught me otherwise.
      God is logical. Without God, nothing is logical.

  13. I think, too, that the ‘deconstruction’ idea smatters of skepticism. One cannot remain skeptical about the foundation of belief for very long. It will lead away from faith over time, because it becomes the prism through which one interprets. It would be better to examine the various aspects of faith through the prism of faith, not doubt. I have done that over my 53 Christian years, and it means I hold some things in full assurance; some for further investigation; some in the ‘irrelevant’ basket; and some in the ‘don’t understand’ basket. But the overall heart conviction that the Scriptures are authoritative for life, remains, and my mind and emotions agree.

  14. Helpful.

    I have gone from a comfortable, evangelical, hand-wavy place to a place of deep and ongoing questioning almost to the point of renouncing faith in Christ altogether after being a professing Christian since age 19. I am 62.

    The catalyst? Church culture and pastoral misbehaviour.

    My wife who poured her heart and soul into her lay ministry for several years was virtually shamed out of her role last year as Church Treasurer. Not because she wasn’t excellent at her volunteer role, but because the new pastor has rigid views that ‘women should not be in ministry’. He is in his 40s; my wife is 61. He practised gaslighting, was rude, shouting her down at times, verbally denigrated her, and was an emotional bully and exhibited other immature and non-listening behaviour.

    North Africa had the Moors. Evangelicalism has the Moores.

    We have left that church. She took months to transition to going to a new church. I took up Zen practice, barely retaining my faith in a thread-like form. Through this experience I have come frighteningly close to ‘disposing of the infant human with the cleansing fluid.’ However, I believe I have been held, by grace, though wriggling like mad to ‘jump out’ of the encircling arms … however my understanding of a lot of what I have believed since age 19 (I am 62) has taken on a more forgiving, inclusive, universal flavour…it is actually possible I have found to experience more inner peace in half an hour sitting Zazen than in many hour-long church services…

    I have spontaneously started writing Haiku, free-form poetry and appreciating the likes of Rumi… I am also enjoying without guilt imbibing wisdom poetry and prose from many traditions…

    I totally understand Exvangelicals. I have moved through shock, to disgust, to anger, to resignation, to cynicism to a tiny green shoot of renewal…

    However I have zero interest or desire in being involved ever again in lay ministry, hosting ‘Bible studies’ or getting onboard with ‘outreach’ campaigns – in all of which I have been heavily involved during my life…

    And after the devastating public fall of the likes of ‘MEN of God’ like Ravi Zecharias, Bill Hybels and many others, I have had enough of the adulation given unquestioningly to supposed authorities on the faith.

    There is a large overlap between Richard Rohr and Zen concepts it turns out. In fact he spent some time in a Zen monastery I understand.

    The underlying oneness of all becomes clear through consistent Zen practice, coming close to Rohr’s idea of the True Self.

    Both are predicated on letting go of the ego mask, and finding the essential essence of shared existence that we obscure with our performative or false self, which creates the illusion of separateness. All arguments about the roles of women vs men in the cultural construct we call the church become moot at that point of awakening.

    As do issues like heaven, hell and other devices designed to alternately terrify or corral children.

    This personal transition has taken exactly 11 months…

    1. “By their fruit you shall know them.”
      Those “Men of God” you mention are, so far as we can tell in our limited understanding, *not* men of God.
      They are & were, mostly likely, wolves in sheep’s clothing. And sheep have protected & defended them.
      Sheep are not smart, this is why we need a Shepherd.
      About heaven & hell, you might like The Great Divorce by: C.S. Lewis.
      Also sermons by George MacDonald, who influenced him.
      There’s a wonderful post on Tor com, titled Choosing Hell: C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, and Human Freedom

  15. A almost totally anti-Christian ,extremely arrogant and negative read.
    1.Words are tools but are also weapons.
    Starting with the title:

    …”don’t teach people to fall in love with Jesus in the first place.”
    That is an anti – Christian and destructive statement -even when placed in the context of the whole title.
    How in the world can that in ANY way whatsoever be remotely considered as a Christian statement ?
    Jesus uses the word love many times in explicitly reference to describe not only His feeling for us BUT how He wants you to feel about Him and each other.
    2.The concept of love -falling in love -romantic love -sexual love etc.-is totally subjective depending on the individua concerned.
    Yet wide sweeping generalizations about what they are AND how they apply to everyone are written as if Christian facts.
    Especially arrogant as well as extremely unintelligent and depressing are statements such as :
    “… the romantic experience of falling in love is always a temporary one. ”
    ” Don’t believe those youth pastors who talk about still being “in love” with their smoking hot wives after all these years of marriage.
    That’s hyperbole or rhetoric. Or BS.”
    ” In any long-term relationship, sooner or later you will fall out of love.”
    “… the feelings of ecstatic lovingness that characterize falling in love, well, they always pass. Always. ”
    ” But isn’t that what we do in marriage as well? After the feelings of being in love pass…”
    “… when the joy of being in love passes, then the opportunity for real loving begins.”
    ” To fall in love with someone is not the same as loving them.”
    I can honestly say ( and I can also speak for many other Christian couples whom I personally know very well) that not one of these statements apply to my 18 year marriage.
    And that is NOT ” hyperbole or rhetoric or BS.”
    Throughout the Bible humility is valued -not only as a trait of Christians but indeed as a sign of being one.
    Of this , there is extremely little in this article but rather the complete opposite.
    Especially anti -Christian destructive are the statements of :
    “And what if we stopped encouraging new generations of Christian kids to fall in love with Jesus ”
    “What if we stopped singing romantic love songs to Jesus? ”
    The way a few truly positive and helpful suggestions are skillfully woven in to the fabric of the many directly ant-Christian statements is especially deceitful and dangerous.
    Jesus’s message for us could not be more simple and easy to understand yet at the same time so hard to live by :
    To Love Him as He loves us and to love each other as we love ourselves.
    How you personally define that and apply that in your life is your journey and in times of doubt and weakness He will always be beside us to offer us His wisdom, strength , forgiveness and His love.

    1. Some sad people have no interest in actually hearing what someone says. They just want to go off half-cocked without showing enough respect to truly listen or attempting to really hear. You got triggered, mate. Try actually listening next time. Or just don’t comment at all.

  16. Whoops -made a mistake !
    I should have written :
    Jesus’s message for us could not be more simple and easy to understand yet at the same time so hard to live by :
    To love God and to love Jesus as He loves us and to love each other as we love ourselves.

    1. Are you showing love toward me? Because I’m just not feeling it, dude.

  17. This was good & I agree with the post. My only argument is, as a lover of words, to make this work we need to change “deconstruction” for a different word. Words matter.
    Maybe “reconstruction”?
    Or rebuilding, & tie it back to the parable of the two houses Jesus talks about – we’re changing our house of sand built on fleeting feelings for one built on rock hard faith & conviction.
    Deconstruction, at least in English, is a very blunt, negative word. It sounds close to destruction. The image ot provokes is, as stated, someone tearing down or breaking down a house. But torn down houses aren’t always rebuilt & made better. Often it’s something simpler &, in movies, the hopes nearly always fight against a wealthy, selfish business man trying to buy up & tear down a home.
    So there’s this common bias against the word & it’s associations, & that’s why people are resisting it. Even though the concept of deconstruction in a Christian way is, as Mike argued, beneficial & natural for growth in your relationship with God, Jesus, & The Holy Spirit.
    Also related to this, it’s clear everyday Christians need better theology. And better fiction.
    At least where I live.
    Reading both Walking on Water & the whole Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle, The Lord of the Rings, Father Briwn & Orthadoxy by G.K. Chesterton, The Princess & the Goblin and Phantasies by George MacDonald, She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson, and of course, Narnia & Mere Christianity, all helped me gain a deeper understanding & rationale for my faith & relationship in God, & still do, even if I can’t always explain it.
    So yeah. Theology matters. Words matter. Let’s try changing deconstruction.

  18. We are commanded to love the Lord with all our heart and strength and mind. Usually most of us do better in one or two of those but not all. We can learn from those who love God in ways which are less of a strength for us. Usually however, we band together with those who love God in ways which we find comfortable. LORD HELP ME LOVE YOU IN NEW WAYS AND OLD.

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