*Gasp!* Not the D word!
Deconstruction is a big buzzword in the Evangelical world.
We can dance around it, pretend it doesn’t exist, throw stones at it or curse it to obscurity, but it is here. It is present. And it must be addressed. Somewhere between believing that deconstruction is a badge of honor for some great awakening or the big bad wolf in Christian circles, perhaps there is a resolute place of truth and understanding that allows us to see it for what it is.
First, what is it?
Within the Christian context and in evangelical circles — deconstruction is viewed as a re-examining of Christian beliefs, concepts, practices and traditions to decide how truthfully it aligns to the original intent of the text, namely the Bible.
With regards to the faith, deconstruction is not a contemporary term or practice. People have been deconstructing their belief systems since Jesus ascended. The Jews had to reconcile the law with the teachings and the example Jesus gave. Gentiles had to deconstruct their human philosophies with the spiritual ones Paul preached as he shared the gospel of salvation through Christ. John Calvin deconstructed, and Martin Luther did too as he took issue with religious practices the church of his day in his 95 Theses. And it appears here we are again in a period of deconstruction.
“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11 ESV).
Digesting the D word
Modern deconstruction, when approached like the Ancient Bereans, is simply holding a fire to modern day Christian practice and examining if or how they measure up to what the Scriptures say and what Jesus taught. The Scriptures are clear in that God is not offended by questions which lead us to desire a deeper knowledge of His Truth. Asking questions is trusting Jesus when He said that we are to “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7) and believing Paul when he tells the Thessalonians to “test and prove all things” (I Thessalonians 5:21).
The dangers of deconstruction
There is a distinction between running towards the Truth and running away from God entirely. There is a difference between holding institutions and individuals accountable and publicly scandalizing sin for the purposes of shame and humiliation.
Though we are allowed to ask, and doubt is as much a part of the Christian walk as faith, there is a slippery slope when it comes to the practice of deconstruction. Criticizing Christianity in favor or humanism, relativism, or as a reason to be your own god and moral compass is dangerous territory that is neither helpful, nor godly. Pointing out every moral failure of the church (and the people in it) with the intention of demonizing the entire faith-based community at large is diabolical.
And to be clear, this is not where every “deconstructor” is. Most are not wanting to be free of Jesus’ yolk entirely; they simply want to make sure it is in fact Jesus’ yolk, not one of tradition, custom or habit.
In this regard, it is important to note that Jesus stands. Scripture stands. The gospel stands. It is not so feeble that God would not allow it to be tested, as it has been many times in history. It is not so weak that we should be afraid to ask questions, even when those questions are counter cultural because what will not stand is culture that directly opposes Biblical doctrine.
The benefits of healthy deconstruction
Healthy deconstruction might sound like an oxymoron, but it can be done. Historically, deconstruction took place when there was evidence of contradiction between scripture and practice. Today is no different. For example, the current discourse of deconstruction unveils how certain American Evangelical practices and ideology may be more a result of American enculturation than biblical doctrine. We get the opportunity to course correct, be more inclusive, and explore the possibility of something better because while the gospel itself is free from culture, the gospel is still experienced through the lens of culture. Seeing more Christians embrace conversation around cultural contextualization of the gospel is refreshing, but that does, in fact, require a deconstruction.
Deconstruction is not the big bad buzzword many have deemed it to be. On the contrary, challenging worldview and the belief system that stems from it has always been part of the Christian walk. For leaders to completely dismiss and disengage in the dialogue of deconstruction, the who, the what, the when, the why, the how, is to put the faith-based community at risk of being anemic at best, and tone deaf at worst.
While there is no participation trophy in deconstruction, neither should there be a scarlet letter plastered on those who find themselves on a journey. We are allowed to wrestle. If you are, may you find the love of God reflected back to you in His truth. For those of us who are not, may we all find wisdom and compassion as we seek to serve those who are.
Dr. Tracy Timberlake is an Adjunct Professor of Leadership at Trinity International University- Florida. Visit tiu.edu/florida
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