One day, I stumbled across a book online called “Death Comes For the Deconstructionist” by Daniel Taylor. Never read the book. Hope to read the book which is on my overwhelmingly aspirational list of things to read. I admire Taylor for his work writing “The Myth of Certainty”. The book is compellingly titled enough to make an impression on me.
Deconstruction is a hot topic these days. As a general term, a person can deconstruct any philosophy, politic, religion or idea. Most of the time I run across the phrase today is in relation to deconstructing faith or more specifically the Evangelical faith. Entire podcasts revolve around questioning the assumptions and out right doubting the claims of Evangelical faith. An example of a popular podcast (that is good and fascinating) is “The Liturgists”. The format which involves topics related to the Bible, Christian faith, race and LGBTQ issues mixes in music as well as the perspectives of the hosts of the show: Science Mike McHargue, former Christian worship leader Michael Gungor, Hillary McBride, and another former contemporary Christian music singer William Matthews.
Focusing on two of those personalities, Gungor and Science Mike, both men have somewhat similar faith transition stories. Gungor was a Grammy-nominated Christian worship artist with his wife, Lisa Gungor. As he recounts in his wild memoir mixed with pop Eastern philosophy book “THIS: Becoming Free“, he grew increasingly disillusioned with Christianity. Peering behind the curtain at mega-churches across the world, he recounts the corruption and anti-Christ behavior he encountered. “THIS” reveals he has an overactive philosophical mind that likes to take things apart. After viewing an episode of “Homeland” in which a devout Muslim character kneels down in religious reverence, Gungor thought that he might try that posture, at a spa, to see if he experienced God. When he felt nothing, he decisively warranted in his mind that he was not going to try and believe any more. He likened the experience to desperately clinging onto a tree branch above a raging river. Eventually, he chose to loosen his grip, fall into the river, and let the watery current carry him.
Science Mike writes in his extremely good (I highly recommend- review here) memoir “Finding God in the Waves” about his life growing up as a Southern Baptist and a bullied kid. Devouring science books while being committed to a conservative Evangelical faith, he was reading “Pale Blue Dot” by the late Carl Sagan alone one day when he lost his faith. He became an atheist. He was still teaching Sunday school at the Baptist Church…as an atheist. Science Mike didn’t tell a soul about his de-conversion, not even his wife Jenny (she eventually found out while noticing something unmistakably different about him). Lots of deconstruction stories mirror “coming to Jesus” moments with people stating they find newfound freedom (one of those pesky ironies). However, Science Mike’s account is not like that at all. Raw, authentic and even gut-wrenching he painfully lays out what this transition did to him. A strange mystic experience on a beach would eventually bring him, sort of, back to a remnant of faith although he still describes himself as mostly a materialist.
There are other prominent figures who have deconstructed their faith (and those are their words). Former Caedmon’s Call lead singer turned renegade Christian solo artist, Derek Webb, has become an atheist (I reviewed his album “Fingers Crossed” here). Recently, Joshua Harris, the champion of Christian homeschooling in the 1990s and author of the best-selling book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (which we used to mock in college) posted on Facebook that he is no longer a Christian. (Informative pieces dissecting that story can be found by David French in National Review and writer Katelyn Beaty).
These are just some of the stories of deconstruction that can be found on blogs and podcasts across the internet. This brings me back around to my random opening paragraph mentioning the book “Death Comes for the Deconstructionist”. Now, I don’t mean this as a threat in any way. I literally know nothing about this book but the title resonated with me and got my mind going. If people are going to deconstruct their faith, what are they going to be left with? What is at the end of a deconstruction process? I write those questions not wanting to instill fear in anyone but to simply ask for people to wrestle with them.
To be a human being is to have a perspective. The universally quoted “I think, therefore I am” by Rene Descartes sums up a major element of the human condition. There is always a foundational worldview. A place of large assumptions that colors how we see the rest of our reality. Someone can deconstruct a foundational worldview but this would just place them on the ground of another vantage point with different assumptions. Belief in God. No belief in God. Philosophical materialism. A transcendent spiritual kingdom. Belief in Prince or Oprah as a deity. Or what have you.
I want to write about deconstruction in my typical nuanced approach, in one way to challenge deconstruction and in another way to welcome the process to a certain extent.
My challenge to deconstruction is a testimony from my own faith as an Evangelical Christian (theology only with some sentences of disclaimers after including that I want nothing to do with much of conservative politics). Since deconstruction as a term identifying a process is thrown around a lot on ex-vangelical podcasts, and within articles and books, I’m assuming that most people have heard the term in that context. Sadly in our culture, there is a growing disillusionment with Evangelicalism that results in passionate resentment and even hurtful anger. There are many people who believe the Evangelical church has sold out its most cherished and preached values for a taste of political power (this may be another future blog post by itself) and for the comfort that American materialism offers. Let me just say this: the people saying that and feeling those strong emotions related to the Evangelical Church are 100% correct.
The American Church has failed abysmally in living up to the worthiness of our calling. The light has been snuffed out (Matthew 5:15). Perhaps the lampstand is in the process of being removed (Revelation 2:5) or was taken away awhile ago. Kyle Keating, in writing a blog for the Christian Research Institute, writes about the appeal of deconstruction while asking Christians to have empathy for the process. Largely discussing Webb’s exit from his Christian faith he says, “Perhaps we might find their reasons for deconversion persuasive: what are we to make of the atrocities committed in the name of Christ, the hypocrisy of God’s people, or a worldview that can seem overly restrictive? My newly agnostic friend starts to seem all the wiser as I hear the way she talks about faith with a refreshing skepticism and openness instead of a closely guarded adherence to one God whose followers often don’t seem very Christlike. These are understandable objections, and at least part of their attractiveness is rooted in the honesty with which they are confessed.”
This statement sometimes sounds cheap as it is shared a lot but the American church is not Jesus. To me, this is not only a crucial distinction but is one of preeminent importance. As Jesus declared in his life-changing sermon on the mount, the wise person constructs his house upon a solid foundation, the rock, as opposed to another person who built their house upon shifting sand (Matthew 7:24-27). We all have a foundation where we reside that is layered upon our beliefs, assumptions and experiences in this world we find ourselves in. As human beings, we cannot escape this fundamental condition. Many of the big layers include:
-Does God exist?
-What do we know about God and how do we know?
-What happens when we die?
-What is hope and where is hope to be found?
-What is right and wrong and how do we know?
-Where can I find a place of peace in my soul?
To the deconstructionist, I would say that Jesus as Divine is the answer to these questions. The foundation of the Son of God who so loved the world unconditionally (John 3:16) is indeed a place to stand in a world that is an unending shopping mall of ideas (and many of those ideas are bad and destructive). To stand atop immovable layers based on a God who not only is near to humanity but became a human baby, incarnate, and experienced the astounding highs and devastating lows that characterize a person’s life. Jesus’ ask to His disciples (followers) is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 26:36-40). What better foundation to be upon then seeking to love the Creator of this mind-blowing universe we find ourselves in and to seek to love each person (even one’s enemies) with the same unconditional love that Jesus’ shows toward us? At the heart of Evangelical faith are these life-giving ideas that bring peace at the same time they challenge us to greater communion with God and fellow people.
Now for the second part which is mainly geared for people within the church (like me). Deconstruction can be a good and healthy thing in certain contexts. If we consider various ideas that the Christian church has had for two millennia, we find a lot of beliefs and doctrines that have little to no support in Scripture. The canon (or measuring rod standard) for belief and practice is the Bible. What happens when we discover that a considerable amount of teachers and books and sermons have imposed ideas upon the text rather than letting the text breathe out its truth within the historical and cultural context that it was written in?
For example, I used to be a dispensationalist wherein I believed in different epochs of time where God unfolded His revelation. According to the most common version of this teaching, we would be living in the church age right now and expecting a rapture (soonish) where all true believers in Christ get called into the sky. When that monumental event happens, a seven year tribulation is ushered in that involves massive cataclysmic events on earth and an anti-Christ with a 666 number. I no longer believe any of this. Why? Because when I studied Revelation I became convinced that none of those beliefs were in there. Charts, graphs and doomsday preachers had imposed a bunch of gobbledygook upon Revelation (and other parts of Scripture) that was never the intent of the authors who wrote those books (letters) to begin with. Therefore, I deconstructed this belief as I came to have a perspective that there wasn’t any basis for it.
Deconstruction is constantly needed. The church should rid itself of the perspective of God being a cosmic genie that we bribe by doing a bunch of good works. Or that God is obligated to give me things or heal me based upon an arbitrary level of faith that I possess (like the word-faith preachers). There is a lot of bad teaching out there. Perhaps we should ask ourselves about our views of hell. How much of a view of hell is based upon Biblical teaching vs Dante’s “Inferno” or John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”?
What are we left with? All of us need a sturdy, spiritual foundation as to which to see ourselves and others within our lives. I believe that the person and gospel of Jesus is the best place (and an exclusive place as He claimed to be the way, the truth and the life) of which to love God and love others and gain a vital vantage point on navigating the complex highways of our lives. Deconstruction can come in as a healthy and welcomed fiery judgment that burns away the chaff of meaningless, trivial and non-anchored beliefs to reveal more of the foundational jewel of Truth.