Deconstruction is one of the phrases of the moment within church circles.
It describes the process of re-evaluating beliefs you once held dear. Doctrines are questioned; clear boundary-markers of behaviour are replaced with more nuance; black and white is replaced by shades of grey.
Many decide to reject forms of faith which they now perceive as narrow, naïve and, in some cases, dangerous and damaging.
This trajectory has affected many of the Christians of my generation. It’s a key theme of the Faith 20 Years On research that I completed last year.
Strengths and weaknesses
Much of this is understandable. It’s important for people to be honest about their faith struggles and admit to what no longer makes sense. And for those deeply embedded in church cultures, the pain of this journey cannot be over-estimated.
But, having listen to many podcasts and talked with many friends on this trajectory, I want to share three thoughts about what I perceive in the deconstruction narrative.
1. It goes with the cultural flow
We live in a context where the questioning of Christian doctrines will not see you ostracised, imprisoned or executed for heresy.
Actually, in today’s cultural climate often the safest place to be is to question anything perceived as ‘authority’. Stances which deconstruct traditional views are more likely to be received well on social media than ones that defend them.
In many ways questioning and casting doubt on any traditional or inherited perspective is the new dogma.
2. It is theoretical rather than practical
To deconstruct is to question and challenge what exists. It reflects, stands back, observes, critically evaluates. Therefore it thrives in the world of media; blogs, articles, debates and podcasts, which are essentially worlds of words.
These tendencies can attract those who prefer to theorise and debate rather than do anything practical. These people may associate themselves with causes of social justice in theory but are they actually doing anything in the real world? Rather than representing radical or costly engagement, stances can often be little more than a pose.
3. It struggles to bring hope
Cultures dominated by deconstruction struggle to create and transform. Deconstruction alone does little to build community or create change in people’s lives.
Youthwork is a good example. It is easy to deconstruct Christian youth and children’s work and critique theological simplicity or narrowness. But by itself this does little to provide the energy, commitment and enthusiasm that engages and enthuses young people.
Deconstruction can critique and dissect a message, but that does little to bring hope to people’s lives. It easily hardens into cynicism about any form of transformation.
Half the story
Deconstruction is an important and inevitable part of a journey for many. But I think it should only be half the story.
If we want to be people whose lives are full of faith, hope and love then need to reconstruct what this actually looks like in our lives. We should not settle to be defined by what we are not.
To be authentic, beliefs must be embodied. We need to take the risk to put beliefs into action, to be committed to the change we want to see. What can we do to build and construct a new future?
The bible shows faith which is both radically deconstructive and radically constructive.
The deconstruction of Israel’s escape from slavery and liberation in Exodus is followed by the construction into a community with laws and structure.
The judges and kings construct a nation, the prophets deconstruct its idolatry and injustice. Ecclesiastes 3 says:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven…
…a time to plant and a time to uproot…
…a time to tear down and a time to build…
…a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them…
…a time to tear and a time to mend…
Jesus deconstructs traditional understandings of sabbath, temple and law and has continual conflict with the religious establishment. And he reconstructs a new form of community by renewing and fulfilling what has gone before.
Following Jesus involves both. We should not be in thrall to dried out tradition, religious habits or mindless ritual. But we also should not be seduced by what is shiny, trendy or innovative. Jesus said:
“Every student of the Scriptures who becomes a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like someone who brings out new and old treasures from the storeroom.”
If you have got stuck in a purely deconstructive mindset, go back into that storeroom of scripture. Dig out old treasures you have neglected and discover new gems.
Escape the cul-de-sac of endless reflection. Find others with common cause, take risks to embody what you do believe. Take concrete steps to put faith, hope and love into practice.
Construction Time Again.