“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen
Thank you for your kind comments for my mom. She is in heart failure and will be in the hospital for a bit. I knew she was sick but didn’t know they would direct admit her. She is where she needs to be. The folks who work there have been so kind. It is tough getting old.
Deconstruction…This word is often used these days to signify that a well-known Christian individual has analyzed their religious paradigms and is no longer a believer. Think about the story of Joshua Harris. In fact, Harris may be the first person to attempt to monetize his deconstruction.
What do we mean by deconstruction?
I found the Merriam-Webster definition interesting since it uses what I would call Luther’s Small Catechism approach to understanding. When the students learn a commandment, it doesn’t end there. They are asked a question and must answer it. “What does this mean?” The explanation is in their catechism.
According to Merriam-Webster, deconstruction is defined as:
- a philosophical or critical method which asserts that meanings, metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions (as between key terms in a philosophical or literary work) are always rendered unstable by their dependence on ultimately arbitrary signifiers
- the analytic examination of something (such as a theory) often in order to reveal its inadequacy
What does this mean or “Did you know?”
Deconstruction doesn’t actually mean “demolition;” instead it means “breaking down” or analyzing something (especially the words in a work of fiction or nonfiction) to discover its true significance, which is supposedly almost never exactly what the author intended. A feminist may deconstruct an old novel to show how even an innocent-seeming story somehow depends on the oppression of women. A new western may deconstruct the myths of the old West and show lawmen as vicious and criminals as flawed but decent. Table manners, The Sound of Music, and cosmetics ads have all been the subjects of deconstructionist analysis. Of course, not everyone agrees with deconstructionist interpretations, and some people reject the whole idea of deconstruction, but most of us have run into it by now even if we didn’t realize it.
Deconstruction in construction
I live in a neighborhood in which homeowners are usually doing some significant work to their homes. One house was under construction for a couple of years. This process began with the destruction of much of the roof and deck area. The roof and the back of the house, kitchen, flooring, etc., were taken down to the studs. The roofline changed, there was a new room added on, the kitchen was totally redone, another garage was added, etc. The result of this work was beautiful (albeit very expensive.)
Would it be correct to say that the house was destroyed? Of course not. Was it the same after the work? In fact, the house was better or more beautiful.
I know you can see the direction that I am going in. Before I tell you my story of deconstruction, let’s look at some definitions to bring clarity to this discussion (there will be more posts on this topic.)
I am going to do my best in defining what follows. I am sure that some might disagree with what I choose for the definitions. However, if I shied away from this challenge, it would be difficult to differentiate between certain movements.
Got Questions proposed this definition
Progressive Christianity is a recent movement in Protestantism that focuses strongly on social justice and environmentalism and often includes a revisionist (or non-traditional) view of the Scriptures. Since the movement entails a number of different beliefs and views on various topics, it is difficult to label the whole movement decisively as “biblical” or “unbiblical.” Each claim and belief of any movement should be filtered through the Word of God, and whatever does not line up with Scripture should be rejected.
The Bible is replete with instructions to “visit orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27, NASB) and to protect the environment that God has entrusted to us (Genesis 1:28). Insofar as Progressive Christianity is a movement that seeks to emphasize and honor these principles, it certainly lines up with Scripture. However, there are some aspects of Progressive Christianity that contradict a biblical worldview. In general, members of this movement do not ascribe to the biblical doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, and, again, in general, do not believe that the Bible is the literal Word of God. Progressive Christianity also tends to emphasize what is known as “collective salvation” over the biblical concept of personal salvation. The Bible is clear that God redeems those individuals who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and rescues them from an eternity of being separated from Him in torment. Collective salvation, by contrast, emphasizes the restoration of whole cultures and societies to what progressive Christians believe is the correct socioeconomic structure, namely, Marxism. Marxism, in turn, is a theory of economics and politics developed by an atheist (Karl Marx) from unbiblical assumptions.
In this sense, then, the views of many progressive Christians do not fit with biblical principles. In the end, however, discretion is needed in evaluating a particular claim or belief in terms of Scripture; the whole spectrum of beliefs identified by the term “Progressive Christianity” is too broad to permit an unequivocal conclusion as to whether or not it can be labeled unbiblical. As with all uncertain issues, the Christian would do well to compare each claim of those in the Progressive Christianity movement with Scripture, asking God for the wisdom to discern truth from error. He has promised wisdom to all who seek it (James 1:5).
Update: TWW reader, Loren, believes this definition of progressive Christianity from Wikipedia is better.
“Progressive Christianity is an approach to the Christian faith that is influenced by post-liberalism and postmodernism and: proclaims Jesus of Nazareth as Christ, Savior, and Lord; emphasizes the Way and teachings of Jesus, not merely His person; emphasizes God’s immanence not merely God’s transcendence; leans toward panentheism rather than supernatural theism; emphasizes salvation here and now instead of primarily in heaven later; emphasizes being saved for robust, abundant/eternal life over being saved from hell; emphasizes the social/communal aspects of salvation instead of merely the personal; stresses social justice as integral to Christian discipleship; takes the Bible seriously but not necessarily literally, embracing a more interpretive, metaphorical understanding; emphasizes orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy (right actions over right beliefs); embraces reason as well as paradox and mystery — instead of blind allegiance to rigid doctrines and dogmas; does not consider homosexuality to be sinful; and does not claim that Christianity is the only valid or viable way to connect to God (is non-exclusive).”
This sounds like the Progressive church I love and am a member of in Napa, CA.
Believe it or not, liberal Christianity is distinct from progressive Christinaaity although they may overlap on some points. I found a tremendous amount of bias in all of the definitions I sought. I am going to try out this one from Wikipedia. I apologize, in advance, for not fully grasping the nuances.
Traditional Protestants believed scripture and revelation always confirmed human experience and reason. For liberal Protestants, there were two ultimate sources of religious authority: the Christian experience of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and universal human experience. In other words, only an appeal to common human reason and experience could confirm the truth claims of Christianity.
In general, liberal Christians are not concerned with the presence of biblical errors or contradictions. Liberals abandoned or reinterpreted traditional doctrines in light of recent knowledge. For example, the traditional doctrine of original sin was rejected for being derived from Augustine of Hippo, whose views on the New Testament were believed to have been distorted by his involvement with Manichaeism. Christology was also reinterpreted. Liberals stressed Christ’s humanity, and his divinity became “an affirmation of Jesus exemplifying qualities which humanity as a whole could hope to emulate”.
Liberal Christians sought to elevate Jesus’ humane teachings as a standard for a world civilization freed from cultic traditions and traces of traditionally pagan types of belief in the supernatural. As a result, liberal Christians placed less emphasis on miraculous events associated with the life of Jesus than on his teachings. The debate over whether a belief in miracles was mere superstition or essential to accepting the divinity of Christ constituted a crisis within the 19th-century church, for which theological compromises were sought.[pages needed] Many liberals prefer to read Jesus’ miracles as metaphorical narratives for understanding the power of God.[better source needed] Not all theologians with liberal inclinations reject the possibility of miracles, but many reject the polemicism that denial or affirmation entails.
Nineteenth-century liberalism had an optimism about the future in which humanity would continue to achieve greater progress. This optimistic view of history was sometimes interpreted as building the kingdom of God in the world.
Traditional Christianity or what some might call Conservative Christianity.
Christians are monotheistic, i.e., they believe there’s only one God, and he created the heavens and the earth. This divine Godhead consists of three parts: the father (God himself), the son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.
The essence of Christianity revolves around the life, death, and Christian beliefs on the resurrection of Jesus. Christians believe God sent his son Jesus, the messiah, to save the world. They believe Jesus was crucified on a cross to offer the forgiveness of sins and was resurrected three days after his death before ascending to heaven.
Christians contend that Jesus will return to earth again in what’s known as the Second Coming.
The Holy Bible includes important scriptures that outline Jesus’s teachings, the lives and teachings of major prophets and disciples, and offer instructions for how Christians should live.
Both Christians and Jews follow the Old Testament of the Bible, but Christians also embrace the New Testament.
The cross is a symbol of Christianity.
The most important Christian holidays are Christmas (which celebrates the birth of Jesus) and Easter (which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus).
My construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction
I have often told the story of my conversion during an episode of Star Trek. What is important to this discussion is that, at the time of my conversion, I had a profound experience that was best exemplified by my ability to understand the general gist of Scripture, something that I could not do prior to that experience. The change was instantaneous and I was aware that I had changed. I was fortunate to find great teaching and fellowship at Park Street Church in Boston, where I met my husband, also a believer. I did not meet a Young Earth enthusiast for many years.
The moment came in a church I loved (and still love) in Dallas. A theology professor was discussing the origins of Scripture and he said something that rattled me. He contended that the story of the woman caught in adultery was most likely not in the original manuscript: John 7:53-8:11. At this link, you will find mention of these verses not being in the earliest Bibles. Many of the contemporary study Bibles also make mention of this fact. It is not some liberal conspiracy! I asked myself “What else wasn’t in the earliest Bibles?”
I realized that I did not know how we got the faith transmitted through the ages and I embarked on a years-long journey, trying to understand what I did and did not know to be true. I studied the various faiths yet could not feel comfortable with their suppositions. I spent several years lurking at ExChristians.net trying to understand why they left the faith. This was a period of deconstruction during which I hadn’t left the faith but I was feeling uncomfortable. I read and read and listened.
I found myself more confused, albeit pretty well-read. I decided to try to understand the difficult parts of the Bible. I had been avoiding them. As I searched for answers, it suddenly dawned on me that there was one thing I had missed. Why not study the theologians and religious leaders who had confronted those questions yet still maintained their faith? There have been so many really bright people who have embraced the faith. I began to change, or better yet, I began to reconstruct. For example, I used to believe in premillennial dispensationalism but I found it made little sense to me. Now, I am an amillennialist (although you probably know that old saw-I may be a premillennialist since I believe that it will all pan out in the end.) It doesn’t matter when Jesus will return. It really matters if you believe that He will. It was time to give up the intermural fights of who is right, who is wrong, and who is going to hell for believing we are in the post-millennial age.
Amillennialists don’t believe in the Millennium as a specific period of 1000 years, and regard Biblical reference to it as symbolic.
They believe that the millennium began when Christ was born on earth and will end with the second coming. Amillennialists say that Christ is reigning now, both in heaven, and on the earth in the hearts of believers.
- I became able to differentiate between the state and the faith and became disturbed with the idea of Christian nationalism. I do believe that everyone should have a voice in our country but, even if we didn’t, my faith would not change. This was not always the case for me. I used to be one person who confused these issues.
- I became concerned about patriarchy and saw how women were sidelined in many churches.
- I still believed in the Apostle’s Creed, so I would be considered a traditional Christian. I have found a home in the conservative Lutheran church.
- I realized that some Christians call themselves Christians in order to cause harm or to exploit others. This would include pedophiles, domestic abusers, sexual abusers, narcissists, sociopaths, etc. I guess you could say that I became a bit more suspicious. Given that the Bible calls all of us sinners, we should be smart-trust but verify.
- I became more relaxed when I couldn’t answer a question about the faith. Instead, I asked myself. “Does the answer to this question affect my faith in any way?” Go back to my quandary about the story of the woman caught in adultery. It was probably not part of the original manuscript. Whether that story is in or out does not affect my faith one iota. It does not change my view of Jesus.
- I became more relaxed around people who believe differently than I do. I believe that God gave them free will and it is their choice to believe *X* even if I do not. God works in everyone’s life and I, not a Calvinist, believe that God calls to all and it is their choice to respond. I think back to my unusual conversion. If God called me during an episode of Star Trek (I know this sounds weird but it’s true), He can call to others no matter where they are.)
- The more I sought answers, the more confidant I became in what I know and don’t know.
- One thing I do know, abuse has no place in the church on any level.
- I see the evidence of sin in my own life and am grateful to belong to a church that forces me to confess weekly.
- I experience grace in a more profound way. I know I’m forgiven but sometimes it takes me a while to come around to this. I used to be extremely hard on myself. In fact, I believe the reason I, the daughter of Stan, have survived the slings and arrows of blogging is because of this fact. So, when difficult people call me names, I am able to say to myself “Go ahead. Try to upset me. I’m much harder on myself than you are.
- It’s alright to say I don’t know. I am still learning.
So where am I after deconstructing and reconstructing? I have stronger faith. I know what I believe far better than I did. I took things down to the studs and I emerged stronger than before. Unlike Joshua Harris, I found a stronger faith. Oh, I almost forgot. God is not done with Harris.
I tell you my story so that, as we look at deconstruction, you will see that sometimes the process makes you a stronger, reconstituted you.
I know that my walk is not the same for many. You may be in the middle of it now or you have walked away from the faith. You are welcome here to tell your story.