The Gift of “Deconstruction”

The Gift of "Deconstruction"

Deconstruction doesn’t actually mean ‘demolition;’ instead, it means ‘breaking down’ or analyzing something to discover both its inadequacies and its true significance.”  (from Merriam Webster online)

The word “deconstruction” takes on different meanings depending on the field in which it’s being used. For our purposes—that is, regarding religious faith—we’ll define it as the taking apart of an idea, practice, tradition, belief, or system into smaller components in order to examine their foundation, truthfulness, usefulness, and impact. Or, as Rachel Held Evans wrote in her book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, it is taking a “massive inventory of [your] faith, tearing every doctrine from the cupboard and turning each one over in [your] hand” (p. 50).  (from Melainie Mudge, “What is Deconstruction?”)

Here, lately, I given some attention to Christianity Today’s podcast, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.”  In the words of host, Mike Cosper, “it’s the story of one church, which grew from a handful of people to a movement—and then collapsed almost overnight. It’s a story about power, fame, and spiritual trauma—problems faced across the spectrum of churches in America. And yet, it’s also a story about the mystery of God, working in broken places.”

In the final episode, Cosper speaks to various aspects of the aftermath of Mars Hill’s fall–including the counseling and the “deconstruction” which many ex-staffers and congregants have had to be about on their way to a recovery of faith and life and Gospel.  

It’s a Paul David Tripp interview that speaks most directly and forcibly to this point.  (Tripp, by the way, was a counselor which the board of Mars Hill hired from late 2013 until the end of July 2014 – in an attempt to try and bring about reconciliation and restoration inside the congregation and staff.)  Writes Tripp—about the ways deconstruction is an essential dynamic in our faith journeys (across our spiritual-cultural landscape… and not just in the wake of experiences like that at Mars Hill):

I think there are two things we need to do.  We need to understand the experience of deconstructors.  [And], we should understand the trauma of these experiences. 

But, I want to say something else.  We should all be deconstructing our faith. We better do it.  Because our faith becomes a culture– a culture so webbed into the purity of truth that it’s hard to separate the two.  And we better do some deconstructing or we’re going to find ourselves again and again in these sad places….

You know, I celebrate the church of Jesus Christ.  I celebrate the places where it’s a “city on a hill that cannot be hidden.”  I love the Gospel.  I have no other wisdom than that. 

But I’m sad for the church.  And I’m sad [because] we become so loyal to this culture [that] we’re afraid to deconstruct—in places where it’s lost its way, [in places where] it’s harmful, [in places where] it’s producing things that allow the world to mock and cause young people to walk away and leaders not to be rescued from themselves and ministries to explode.  

And so there is a devastating humility that comes when you’re really willing to deconstruct something you’ve given your life to.  I mean that in a positive sense.  I’m not talking about apostasy here.  But, [being] willing to step back and say, “where do we just need to take this apart, abandon our loyalty, stand with courage and say this is not good enough.” (Episode 12, “Aftermath,” 37:00 mark)

I wholeheartedly agree with Tripp that “deconstruction” is an essential part of (indeed, to me, it is a key, recurring dynamic) in our journeys in and to God.

John Cooper is the lead vocalist, bassist, and songwriter/producer for Skillet, one of the best-selling rock bands of the 21st century… (from https://johnlcooper.com/bio/)

You might think that’s a pretty safe affirmation.  But, probably not overly surprising, are  detractors who debunk and demonize deconstruction.  Here, as an example, is a sample of John Cooper (lead singer for the band, Skillet), speaking at a Winter Jam concert in January of this year—a snippet that has had its share of press the last few months:

In spite of such opposition, I am convinced that deconstruction has its place in—indeed, it’s an inevitable part of–the spiritual journey which is our coming back home to God, true self, and true neighboring.  Even, I might add, when that deconstruction seems most anti-Christian (as when someone leaves the Church and “the Faith”).  (Allow me to return to that notion—of leaving “the Faith” and Tripp’s line about “I’m not talking about apostasy* here”–in a minute.).

*a·pos·ta·sy
[əˈpästəsē]

NOUN
   the abandonment
   
or renunciation 
   of a religious or 
   political belief

To undergird this position (that deconstruction is more a gift in the journey than a curse), I might draw upon two quick references from my own spiritual formation studies.  In all “stage of faith” discussions (as, for example, Janet Hagberg’s The Critical Journey), there is an acknowledgement of a hard side of life and living.  Call it the “Wall” or the “Dark Night of the Soul” or whatever, it’s a time when former constructs no longer work.  Discouraging as it can be (tempting some to despair and walk away), hold on!  On the other side is the birth of a deeper, fuller faith and notion of God and Life–one which eclipses the narrow confines and limits of the boxes we were first given and have carried through the years.  Deconstruction (followed by reconstruction) happens. 

It’s akin to what Bruggeman teaches in his works on the Psalms (cf., Spirituality of the Psalms): that we, like Israel of old are ever going through cycles of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.  But, beware: the reorientation is not simply a return to the first orientation but a newly seated orientation/position–one that is informed by the faith nurtured in and through the disorientation.  Again, deconstruction (and reconstruction) happens.

Keith Gile’s “Why Is Deconstruction So Hard?”  is just one of many posts you will find out there–engaging deconstruction of faith and church in a healthy and balanced way

“But, what about those who end of leaving ‘the Faith’ (“apostatizing,” in the words of Tripp)?,” someone might ask.  “How can there be any good in that?!?”

Even here, I trust and believe and have hope and faith—that what they are leaving is not “the Faith” as much as faith as it has been conveyed and contained (or perhaps, as the case may be, not contained) in an incomplete (and fallen) package. 

Jesus has suffered black eyes and betrayal before.  And here, let’s be clear: the betrayal I am talking about is not the deconstruction and/or departure from the Church which some are about these days. Rather, the betrayal I have in mind is that of those who—with judgement and insensitivity and narcissism (i.e., the trinity that constitutes self-righteousness)—further turn souls off of and away from Christianity.

Yes, Jesus has been through it all before.  And He has a way of coming back.  In this regard, I have no doubts that he’ll bring all his lambs home.

Oh, that we would all see and claim the place of reorientation in spiritual formation—embracing deconstruction as one aspect of God’s gift in and to a broken Church and world.

Leave a Reply