This is the sixth and final part in a series on apologetics that I’ve written with my friend Doug Espie over at Bride and World. To view earlier articles in the series, click on the following links
and this is Part VI on Deconstruction and Reconstruction. Enjoy!
Deconstruction is the scary and sometimes liberating process of taking apart traditional theological ideas and seeing if they hold up under scrutiny. Reconstruction is the reformation of those ideas, and where they end up are sometimes different and sometimes the same. For me, a big de-reconstruction was around the age of Earth and debates on Genesis 1-2. When I first became a Christian, I was told by many people around me that the Earth was roughly 6000 years old. Genesis 1-2 was a proof text that God created the universe out of nothing in 6 literal days, with a literal Adam and Eve being our first two parents and that no one else existed until they had Cain and Abel. I attended seminars and was taught that evolution was one of the biggest enemies that the Church faced. We had to protect the Church and future generations from this scientific and biblically false worldview. There were nights during street evangelism where I would spend hours debating atheists, agnostics, and people with an evolutionary/Darwinian worldview believing that if I could poke holes in their arguments just enough, it’d save them from Hell. Unfortunately, in my time during those arguments, I never succeeded in converting anyone to Christianity. I went home week after week feeling deflated and frustrated that these people couldn’t see the world as I could. Eventually, I stopped debating with atheists and others from outside of the Faith. Instead, I endeavoured to learn more deeply about my own, to grow in wisdom and knowledge so that I could know more about the God I claimed to worship, myself, and the world around me.
In 2014 I entered into the wonderful world of biblical studies. I knew right away that my experiences at bible college would profoundly affect me in ways I wouldn’t even anticipate. My academic and spiritual mentors, coupled with other influences like the Bible Project (and books I was reading and podcasts I was listening to), unravelled an entirely new world of thought and personal development that I thirsted for. It was scholars such as Tim Mackie, John Walton, Tremper Longman III, John H. Sailhamer, Walter Brueggemann, J. Richard Middleton and even classic giants like Augustine of Hippo made me realise that Genesis 1-2 wasn’t so cut and dry as I had once been taught. Some of these scholars were evolutionary creationists (or theistic evolutionists) and trusted in mainstream science. Organisations such as Biologos facilitated collaboration with these faithful biblical scholars and Christian evolutionary scientists. Needless to say, my world was turned upside-down. Slowly, reluctantly, but surely, I began to embrace that a faithful reading of Genesis 1-2 didn’t need to be at odds with anything mainstream science advocated for. All in all, I fell head over heels in love with Genesis and after much wrestling, reading and praying, I finally settled on two things. 1. Genesis 1-2 isn’t a scientific retelling of the material origins of the universe. Instead it’s a theological narrative that makes sense of the purpose and meaning of the world the author was in. 2. Eventually, and even somewhat unwittingly, I became convinced that evolution made the most sense of the scientific data.
It’s a little strange for some; I suppose to end a series on apologetics by seemingly advocating for evolution. To be clear, I’m not. Evolution may come and go, and I’m definitely not a scientist. My point in this is that there are good deconstruction stories out there. Just because someone takes a different position on these ideas doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned the Faith. Yes, some do. Too often, we hear stories of once faithful Christians rejecting the Faith and even ferociously attacking it. These stories break my heart. My experiences with deconstruction (and I’ve had a few) have only deepened my faith and love for God. I would eventually become committed to reconstruction rather than letting the doubts and questions destroy everything I loved and held dear. Deconstruction can be a friend to the Christian, not a scary foe. During your time with serious apologetics, many questions that might challenge your faith will come your way. So here are some of my suggestions around dealing with deconstruction.
- Embrace the doubt. Don’t run away from doubt or use it to fuel some crusade against any particular brand or tradition of Christianity. List down your questions, and make sure they’re logical and concise. It is essential to know what it is you’re wrestling with and deconstructing. Don’t let abstract feelings and ideas cloud what it really is you’re wanting answers to. Do you struggle with the idea that people will burn for eternity in Hell if they reject Jesus? Great! List it down. Let the question sit with you. Don’t let your emotions around the idea (many of which may be valid) lead you to dismiss anything before seriously considering it.
- Research! Read widely and deeply. Listen to podcasts. Go to a bible college or seminary. Books are your friends. Don’t just Google it and find a random blog on the idea by some theological hack (ironic, I know). Go to reputable sources on both sides of the debate and weigh them. Give them time to work through you. A single question might take months or years to properly work through. That’s ok.
- Meditate on the Word. The Scriptures are the foundation for everything. It’s how we know who God is and what the Gospel is. “Blessed is the one who… delights in the law (teachings) of Yahweh. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither…” (Psalm 1). You may have questions about the Bible, about how to interpret it, about its validity. Good! You probably wouldn’t be human if you didn’t at some point. The Bible is meant to be wrestled with throughout your whole life. So sit with it. Let your questions bounce off the Scriptures and give it time to work. God is not afraid of your questions.
- So pray. I’m not very good at prayer. There’s something about talking into the air that feels unnatural to me. Nevertheless, some of the sweetest times of prayer I’ve ever had have been me looking back at when I felt God wasn’t there, but in hindsight, I saw Him working even when I couldn’t at the time. Suffering, pain, and brokenness often cloud our experiences of God (I’d also say so can joy and excitement). Yet, often they are the times when God does His best work.
- Time. I can’t stress this enough, time is your friend here. It can be very tempting to allow your frustrations and angst to get the better of you. “Idiots! how can they not see what I see? are they blind?” Probably, but you could be too. The best advice is, to be honest with yourself, allow the questions to sit with you, and let God do His work. Treat everyone around you as though God is using them to teach you. Slowly, with grace and love, ask questions with those around you whom you can trust. Go to your pastor and let God use the church to sanctify you (that’s its job, after all). Don’t have a point to prove or an agenda but let time do its thing. Let this be a season of growing in wisdom rather than a season of growing in bitterness and rejection of the beauty of the Gospel.
- Friends and pastors, chill out! In my experience, the most isolating experience in the world is having those who love you, the church God has called to grow you, push you away because you’re asking a few scary questions. The absolute worst thing you can do is dismiss and reject the deconstructing person. The church should be the safest place for these things to occur, not the enemy (as it is often perceived). These doubts and questions don’t happen in just a rebellious vacuum of heresy. They’re real people with genuine reasons and stories behind these burning doubts that they’re wrestling with.
- Commit to reconstructing. Pushing through the doubt (that never really leaves you – that’s fine) and reconstructing will, and I promise you this, leave you with a more robust and deeper faith than you ever had. It might take some time for you to get here. That’s to be expected. I can say without a doubt that I am more Christian than I have ever been on this side of my experiences, and I thank God for every one of them.
Apologetics is about defending the Faith and giving good reasons why we believe what we believe. One cannot defend a Faith that they haven’t genuinely wrestled with themselves. For those of us who wrestle harder then others, it’s my prayer that your deconstruction would be fruitful and Spirit led.
A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.– Tim Keller