There is a lot of talk about deconstruction of faith. There is a growing movement among notably younger evangelicals in North America who are disenchanted with their faith. The questions they ask remain largely unanswered and they are leaving the fold in droves. So much so that even bastions of faithful adherence to Calvinistic theology such as the Gospel Coalition now see a need to address the issue.
I want to briefly address deconstruction pointing out a few important things that help frame the conversation.
1. What is deconstruction?
Deconstruction is a term coined, described, and practiced by philosopher Jacques Derrida. As with many of Derrida’s terms, deconstruction is an ambiguous conjunction of two terms: construction and destruction. It is basically a backward construction of intellectual concepts and ideas with which we surround ourselves to give meaning to the world. Building block by building block of thought is taken away from the mental edifice, as it gets examined, cleaned, inspected, and reassigned if needed.
Derrida’s idea is that we believe certain things about the world in a certain way because we were taught to assume them to be true and because we have become accustomed to them. They help us see the world as it is without us realizing that it is but one way of seeing the world.
Somewhere hidden in these edifices of culture are the reasons why our forbears have done so and why we continue to embody them. These reasons are largely forgotten and because of that, we are not able to understand why we see the world the way we do. By letting these reasons speak we can correct the way we think and construct reality. They may yet reveal something about us and our culture we were not aware of.
2. You can only deconstruct what is constructed
It is perhaps somewhat self-evident, but you can only deconstruct something that is constructed. When evangelical theologians are up in arms because deconstruction is taking place among their ranks, the answer should be: Relax, we only do this because it was constructed in the first place.
Of course, this is where the conservative theologians and philosophers get very uneasy. This is not what they want to hear. For them, the doctrines of the evangelical tomes in the evangelical seminary libraries are not constructed but faithful responses to divinely revealed truth.
Indeed, the Church is alarmed not so much because believers are deconstructing but because the notion is getting through that what was until recently considered absolute truth is now exposed as another mental construct that is in need of critical evaluation.
3. If you can deconstruct it you better do it
How unsettling and yet true this assertion is, becomes clear when, for instance, you take a closer look at the evangelical claim that the Bible is the Word of God. The origin of that claim is actually found in tradition, not in the Bible itself (and insofar claims in the Bible itself hint at any corroboration, remember that this is circular reasoning).
Ecclesial tradition, however, is the very thing evangelical theology wants to dispense with in accordance with the evangelical interpretation of the Reformation rejection of papal authority. Yet, it is that same Bible that says that the Word became flesh and that Jesus is, therefore, the embodied Word of God who has fulfilled whatever it is that was considered God’s Word before (e.g. the Mosaic Law). According to the Bible’s own testimony, the Bible itself cannot possibly be the Word of God.
This is just the beginning of some glaring problem in evangelical theology. But here it begins for the Bible as God’s inerrant Word is the foundation of all evangelical theology.
4. Deconstruction is not primarily intellectual
Yet, people who deconstruct their faith usually do not do so for logical reasons. It’s not that they possess superior intellectual skills that lead to places the theologians of the past simply could not go. No, people are hurting in churches. The church’s complicity in authoritarian abuse, misogyny, racism, and economic exploitation of the non-Western world, to name a few issues, can no longer be ignored.
As Western philosophers after Word War II started shooting holes through the modernist self-assurance of the West, as emerging voices in the non-Western world and minorities within the West started gaining a voice of dissent, the West’s modernist hypocrisy was exposed. Imperialism and colonialism became things to be ashamed of. As deeply enmeshed with Western culture and its programs, the Church has been found wanting too.
Perhaps we could say, as Christians, that the Spirit is speaking to the church today. Oddly, the church is called to account by the world. The place where the Spirit ought to fill the hearts and minds of the believers, needs an address from outside, the world, the very place the church was originally sent to in order to save it.
The first shall be the last indeed!
5. Deconstruction is a spiritual movement
And that brings me to my last point. Our Western societies have made some changes. Perhaps not nearly enough, but something is happening and certain discussions are happening (think of the #metoo movement, civil rights, equality for all kinds of minorities, etc.) However, with a false sense of right doctrine, conservative churches have persisted in the old ways.
The glaring discrepancies between a changing culture and an unchanging church increasingly show how precisely in its insistence on right doctrine and absolute truth, the church is woefully falling short in its task to live out the love of Christ for this world.
Abuse victims are speaking up, young people are no longer surrendering their lives to someone’s untenable claim of absolute truth. The church’s authority no longer holds sway. People are deconstructing their faith.
New forms of spirituality are being developed. Deconstruction is so much more than saying goodbye to the church or restructuring one’s intellectual paradigm. It is to allow the winds of change to blow in. It is listening to what the Spirit is trying to tell.
It is too late now for the evangelical church to stop this process. People are deconstructing and leaving the faith into all kinds of directions, some perhaps not as healthy as one would wish. Yet, as people deconstruct their faith they often do so with a spiritual motivation that goes a lot deeper than the shallow and artificial foundations of right doctrine of their former faith.
Does this mean the end of the church? Maybe it’s the end of the church as we know it, but deconstruction certainly isn’t the end of what God is doing in the world today. As idols are toppled, room is created for a new work of the Spirit for this age. People will discover the message of Christ anew and will invest their lives in living it out. But Christianity is going to look very different from now on.