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Why 'Deconstruction' Might Be the Most Misused Word in Christianity Today
Posted by Temmy
Sat, May 11, 2024 2:21pm

Variations of the word “deconstruction” have been used to describe everything from deconversions (like Kevin Max from DC Talk and Joshua Harris of I Kissed Dating Goodbye?) to soul searching (for example, Derek Webb) to theological revisioning (like Jen Hatmakerand Rob Bell).?When used descriptively, the word can be helpful, describing what has become common features of evangelical celebrity-ism.

Increasingly however the term “deconstruction” is used prescriptively. It is something that comes recommended to those questioning the faith they grew up with as being a courageous thing to do. This approach, to applaud or even recommend deconstruction, is unhelpful and can even be dangerous.?

It’s one thing to describe doubting, questioning and, ultimately, shifting faith commitments as “deconstruction.” It’s another to prescribe it as the means of coming to terms with Christianity’s unpopular truth claims or the baggage of a Christian upbringing. Simply put, the word carries too much worldview baggage.?

Scripture (especially in the Psalms) offers plenty of space for doubting and questioning and describes how God meets us in our questions and doubts. Doubting need not mean deconversion. And we should be very careful about political allegiances or other elements of American culture becoming corruptively bundled with Christian identity. We must constantly practice discernment.??

However, the word deconstruction is not the best term to use in these contexts given the much better words that are available. Not to mention, Scripture offers words such as conversion,?reform, repentance, and renewal as ways of keeping God’s people squarely within a Christian vision of truth: that it is revealed, not constructed; and that it is objective, not subjective.

The problem with the word deconstruction, at the risk of committing an etymological fallacy, is that it carries the philosophical baggage of postmodernism, particularly the denial that truth can be known. It also carries the assumption of permanent doubt and the skepticism of authority. That’s why, when applied to Christian faith, so much deconstruction is about severing links, between the Church and Jesus, Christianity and Jesus, moral teaching and Jesus, and (especially) the Bible and Jesus … as if the Church isn’t His Bride, Christianity isn’t His worldview, morality isn’t His teaching, and the Bible isn’t His Word. That’s why, when applied to Christian faith, deconstruction so often ends in the taking apart of faith, especially the theological necessities of sin and penal substitutionary atonement.

Deconstructing faith rarely ends at merely rejecting corruption or jettisoning historical baggage. Instead, it culminates in an entirely new faith. Abandoned along the way are essential doctrines of Christianity (such as the deity and exclusivity of Christ or the authority of His Word), and essential moral teachings (especially those having to do with sexuality and abortion).

On the other hand, words like reform and renewal point to things once held but lost. We remember what our memory lost, retake what we once held, revisit places we’ve been before. Reform and renewal assume that faith and knowledge exist outside of ourselves, into eternity.?This is why the New Testament contains so many appeals to recover the truth once believed and the faith once loved, and why Old Testament prophets continually called God’s people to restore right worship and ethics.

Simply put, “de-” words are very different from “re-” words. Deconstruction is about tearing down, opposing, and moving away from rather than towards anything or, for that matter, Anyone. At stake is whether we live in a world where it is possible to truly know truth and its Author, or not.

Next Tuesday, May 14, at 7 p.m. ET, Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett, authors of the definitive book describing deconstruction, will join me for the next Lighthouse Voices event. They will help us understand how deconstruction became such a trend, what it means, and how we can help those who are deconstructing find what it is they are actually looking for. Sign up for the livestream at colsoncenter.org/lighthouse.

Describing deconstruction is, tragically, sometimes necessary in our skeptical age. Prescribing it is not, because truth does exist. In fact, I know Him.


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