Hey, Calvary Fremont –
This is a bit of a technical post, but I wanted to get it out to you because in one way or another you are connected to Christians struggling in this arena. This is a bit of a rant, but please, let me rant.
Every week we hear of this pastor or that worship leader who has deconstructed their faith. Some who do so retain an orthodox, historic form of Christianity, whereas others come to a place where their social ethic or their sexual ethic looks nothing like the historic teaching and practice of the church. Some deconstruct themselves out of the faith. Deconstruction leaves us with evangelicals, post-evangelicals, and post-Christians.
The stated purpose of deconstruction is to purify faith and practice – to rid it of all theological toxins, cultural contaminants, traditional barnacles, and social accretions. The premise is that the church should always be reforming, seeking the purity of Jesus and the unencumbered word of God. And from one angle, who can argue with this? I grew up in the Christian Church, Church of Christ and yet today find myself with a different soteriology, eschatology, ecclesiology, and pneumatology than what was taught and practiced by these denominations. And then there’s the toxins of sexism, racism, homophobia, nationalism, and other contaminants that masquerade as healthy components of the faith once delivered to all the saints.
My contention is that Christians who use the language of deconstruction, those who say that they are deconstructing their faith don’t know what they’re talking about. The conception and practice of deconstruction was developed by Jacques Derrida and is so weighted with philosophical assumptions as to make it an illegitimate word to describe those who are in the process of questioning the faith of their youth and desire to reform and purify that faith. To deconstruct a text is to delegitimize it, destabilize it. To deconstruct something isn’t to purify it, but to show how it is contaminated. Deconstruction is not a process of purification, but of contamination and destabilization. Those who argue that they are deconstructing their faith are not using the word with its philosophical assumptions. A deconstructed text is not a purified text, but merely a string of pure assertions that in themselves are subject to deconstruction revealing their inner contradictions and contamination. To deconstruct anything is to jump from one sinking ship to another sinking ship.
It’s one thing to radically rethink your faith using various filters – and we should always be seeking the purest form of our faith and practice. But it’s another thing altogether to say that you are deconstructing your faith. Again, my contention is that you don’t know what you’re talking about. But, in your defense, you’re probably just following someone you respect who says that he or she is deconstructing their faith. They don’t know what they’re talking about! It’s one thing to light a Piccolo Pete on the 4th of July for the family to enjoy. It’s quite another thing to light a stick of dynamite!
Deconstruction asserts that every text is culturally conditioned and socially constructed – there are no eternal truths. Nothing escapes the limitations of cultural conditioning and social construct. To deconstruct your faith isn’t to put it through a series of critical filters, but to take a chainsaw to it. Deconstruction literally decapitates a text, a faith. Deconstruction cares nothing for authorial intent – a text means what you want it to mean. Deconstruction is one of the many expressions of post-modernism. Post-modernism is the triumph of the subjective over the objective. It is the collapse of the objective into the subjective.
Deconstruction is the child of post-structuralism and anti-foundationalism which are fancy words meaning that there is no trans-cultural truth, no transcendental truth. There are no universals. Everything – every ‘truth’ is culturally conditioned and socially constructed. The Bible teaches that there are truths that are valid for all people, in every culture, in all places, through all time. Deconstruction says NO – there are no universals. The philosophical assumptions of deconstruction render truth an impossibility. Deconstruction cannot lead to truth, to universals – it only leaves someone with a culturally conditioned and socially constructed set of assertions which in themselves have no stability or legitimacy. Deconstruction leaves one empty and uncertain. It’s one thing to scrub your face and remove any trace of previous make-up and do a total makeover. It’s another thing to splash acid on your face!
This is why I contend that Christians who say they are deconstructing their faith don’t know what they’re talking about. Those who have ‘deconstructed’ their faith would tell us that they are now standing in a better place. Had they truly deconstructed their faith, they would be in a place of uncertainty, unbelief, and despair. As Christians rethink their faith and ask the hard questions in order to arrive at a theologically healthy faith and practice, many will continue to use the language of deconstruction. Please don’t! Rant over.
Be blessed and stay healthy and follow Jesus – Pastor Tim