“Deconstruction” may be the buzzword these days, but I wonder if “collapse” better captures the sentiment for many Christians. Collapsing loyalties, collapsing certainties—the collapse of confidence in institutions, leaders, and churches. And what’s worse, a collapse of confidence in the beauty and goodness of Christian truth (or the idea we can ascertain truth at all).
Surveys and polls show not only the rise of secularism and the unaffiliated but also a steady erosion of trust in religious institutions. We think we can face the world’s pressures on our own, without the structural supports of a strong church or a close-knit family, but our individualist assumptions betray us. And people who experience this collapse of confidence remain, for a time, more uncertain, less confident.
Vacuum of Allegiance
But this uncertainty can only last for a time. As Robert Nisbet explains, “Human beings cannot long stand a vacuum of allegiance.”
We will pledge our loyalty to some project or another, even if it’s the shrunken desire to satisfy our immediate appetites. Allegiance will return. We will find something to capture our hearts—a cause to get behind—and today, for some of the Christians who adopt “deconstruction” terminology, certainty and confidence return. Except this time, the collapse of confidence in historic Christianity becomes the rock-ribbed assurance of another position—that the Christian faith has been hopelessly compromised and must be altered or abandoned.
Rebuilding from the Rubble
There’s a good kind of deconstruction—what Hunter Beaumont calls “disenculturation”—that calls on the church to distinguish authentic Christianity from its cultural trappings and to strip away floors and walls that have rotted. This kind of deconstruction is a demonstration of repentance and humility—the willingness to acknowledge the church’s waywardness and to return to Jesus, begging him to remake us in his image so that we display his glory among us.
Unfortunately, too often in conversations about deconstruction, conservatives betray conservatism by defending rot. And progressives betray progress by blowing up foundational pillars.
So, let the rotting portions of a building come down! May we unlearn the falsehoods we’ve taken as truth, scrape away any accretions that block our view of the Savior, and change our minds when the Scriptures confront us with our myopia and selfishness.
But the basis for rooting out rot must be the Scriptures on which we stand. We strip the moldy floors because we care about the house and because there’s still a firm foundation underneath. The right kind of deconstruction is the first step in a project of reconstruction, of rebuilding, of restoration.
For that restoration process to take place, we must resist the current mood that finds pleasure in unsettling all convictions, that pushes us to question everything we’ve ever been told, as if progress demands we reject the faith of our grandmother, or sneer at whatever we find silly in the church that first showed us Jesus, or untether ourselves from the wisdom of the church through the ages.
Restoration begins with deconstruction as a roadway of repentance, filled with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unshakable goodness of Christian truth, hope for the day the church will better reflect the beauty of grace, and love for the stumbling people Jesus died to save.
Time to (Re)Build
In the years to come, as we survey the apocalyptic destruction left in the wake of God’s decision to humble and expose our sins, as we recommit ourselves to removing rot wherever we see it (in our own lives as well as in the church), we will be called on to build. To reconstruct. To restore.
In two insightful articles about the proper role of a Christian professor, Brad East explains why he sees his task as one of fortification—securing and grounding the faith of his students. “Deconstruction is a razing,” he writes, “but I’m in the business of raising homes to live in.”
This doesn’t mean avoiding hard questions or never grappling with doubt. It doesn’t mean accepting without question the assumptions we’ve inherited from the communities that formed us. In fact, this fortification process will often lead to harder questions. But we ask these questions with the goal of returning to the Scriptures and the great Christian tradition for answers, acknowledging that we’re not the first generation to wrestle, nor will we be the last.
There’s a difference between the questioner who delights in excoriating our Christian communities for their missteps as a way of discrediting them and disregarding their authority and the questioner who acknowledges sin and evil by drawing us closer to the foundation of those communities, by relying on a shared commitment to the authority of God’s Word as the standard by which we course-correct.
An example? Brad writes about students entering his class having imbibed from their churches an implicit pseudo-Marcionite posture—a “tacit skepticism of Israel’s God, Israel’s Scriptures, and Israel’s God.” In order to deconstruct those Marcionite beliefs, the professor could take an adversarial posture to the homes and churches of his students, telling them again and again how their pastors and teachers failed to do justice to two-thirds of the Bible and the story of Abraham and his descendants. But what if, instead, the professor seeks to dismantle Marcionite beliefs by going back to the foundation of those churches’ convictions, showing how an implicit dismissal of the Old Testament is unfaithful to the very beliefs his students have always held dear?
It’s that restorative sensibility that reminds us we’re in the business of “building, not tearing down—all the while allowing that building sometimes involves rebuilding, or removing this slat for that one, or securing walls or foundations in a more reliable way, and so on. The end is the edifice, which is why St. Paul calls for edification.”
A Future for Spiritual Replenishment
The future of Christianity in the West does not belong to those whose “brand” is deconstruction. It belongs, instead, to the poor in spirit who mourn the fallenness of the world and church, the humble who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart whose pursuit of peace leads to the reviling of Pharisees within the church and scoffers who have left.
Spiritual replenishment will require work—the Spirit’s work through us—as we seek to inhabit and love the church, so the beauty of Christ shines again through the smeared stained glass.
The ultimate purpose of deconstruction is not to bomb the rubble, but to rebuild.
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