When I first became a Christian, I swallowed everything hook, line and sinker. I was taught premillennialism, young-earth creationism, and that the Bible was always meant to be read literally unless there was an excellent reason to read it otherwise. Of course, anyone else was wrong and against the purest form of our Faith. These days as I’ve gone through my own sort of deconstructionism, I find myself in a very different place. I’m now an amillennial, an evolutionary creationist, and I’ve learnt to read Scripture according to its literary genre and context. Some of these things might sound fairly mundane to some of you, but for me, even the most basic of these concepts set me on a trajectory that would radically shape the way I relate to God, the Word, humanity and creation. So, rather than walking away from Christianity (which so often happens with people who go through things like this) I pressed forward trusting that God would conform me to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29).
So what is Deconstructionism? Philosophically, it is the idea that there is no fixed meaning in a text. Instead, everything in any given text is subjective and open to rigorous interpretation (originated by Jacques Derrida 1930-2004). As all things often do, this idea spilt over into a popular Christian movement in the West where traditionally held to beliefs like I’ve listed above (among others) are challenged and pulled apart (deconstructed) and are held up to scrutiny. Once plainly understood verses and passages are now challenged, reinterpreted and reapplied. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. One author defines deconstructionism like this:
“Let’s say our faith was like a sweater. Yarn: our ideology. Weave: our tradition. This is how you wear it. Don’t change it, even if the sweater doesn’t keep you warm any more. Even if it’s too tight or the threads cut off oxygen at your neck. This is the way. Doubts and questions mean disrespect, and those are the seeds of evil, so just don’t.
But over the years, a thread comes loose and you try to just tuck it in alongside the others. You can cover the fraying up. You can pull the thread and think, ‘Oh, I don’t need this one, because it is harmful to me; it’s itchy and gets caught on corners.’ It comes out easily. And the sweater stays together. Then you pull another, and another, and soon you find all the yarn is gone. You have deconstructed the entire thing. You are left naked. People gawk and run away, and you feel two opposing things: the freedom of glorious nakedness, and the fear of the same.”
Lisa Gungor, writing in The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen (Zondervan)
I have to admit I have felt the freedom of being naked and the fear that comes with change and the judgement you often feel from the people around you who still hold firmly to their traditional beliefs (God bless ’em). Deconstructing one’s Faith is a beautiful, liberating endeavour where (at least in my experience) it has led me into a deeper faith than I ever had before. However, that hasn’t been true for everyone. Unfortunately, people stay naked and join a commune (if you’re still tracking with the metaphor) and never come back. Over the years, there have been a few famous people who have fit this category. Rob Bell started off fairly conservative/ fundamental went through his own deconstruction and now (as much as I love the guy) is hardly even a Christian. This process needs to be walked with wisdom and discernment. That’s ironically a little subjective I know, but my point is that the human heart, while we often mean well and strive for goodness, it’s quite deceptive and easily led astray. Human nature is a chaotic mess that needs order which takes time and patience under the hand of God. Deconstructionism coupled with dedication for reconstructionism can be either a beautiful part of this process (which we usually call sanctification) or, if done without wisdom it can be destructive.
So here are a few thoughts and perhaps guidelines for people going through this or for people watching their loved ones going through it:
1. Christ-like humility. Whether your a black and white fundamentalist or a Christian who is wrestling with some of the hardest questions of our Faith, it all must be done with extreme humility. That is to say, if you’re worried about your friend going through deconstructionism, remember that at some point in your walk with God you didn’t have all the right answers either and I’m sure you still don’t. Don’t let your dedication to guarding that which you’ve been bought up in cloud your ability to love your brother or sister in Christ.
If you are deconstructing, remember that tradition is wisdom. There have been dozens if not hundreds of learned scholars and theologians throughout church history who have tackled the same things you’re wrestling with. You aren’t a lone wolf. Humbly seek the advice of the sages and saints who have gone before you and of those who are around you.
2. The centrality of God’s Word. God speaks, and He does so primarily through the Scriptures. If you’re watching your friend go through deconstructionism trust that God will work through His Word and through His people (even you). If you’re going through deconstruction, remember that God’s Word is trustworthy and good. You might be struggling with the idea of inerrancy (I’ve been there) or inspiration, but there is a reason why it’s the most popular book in the history of humanity.
The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
– Psalm 1:1–4
3. Finally, as you deconstruct your Faith do so prayerfully and with the expectation that God will work in you good things. Invite God along for the ride, continuously examine yourself, making sure that you’re deconstructing with the right intentions and attitudes. Some use deconstruction as a way out of the Faith, seeking to justify other lifestyles. Instead, let the Spirit move in you as you work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Oh and remember, take every question to God no matter how heretical or silly it sounds. God wants to work at it with you.