I was reading a critique of the Christian deconstruction phenomenon this week (because I like to challenge my own thoughts, too, not just everyone else’s!). It seems the movement is greatly misunderstood. Several articles I read alleged that the problem with deconstruction was that people who went through it seemed determined to do away with absolute truth, or the concept of sin, or the deity of Jesus, or the authority of the Bible. They seemed to believe that the only way to be a Christian and a progressive is to erase these fundamentals in order to line up with our own changing ideals.
As a deconstructor, and as a Christian progressive, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the process of deconstruction calls us to delve further into truth. It causes us to search for it beyond dogma and beyond what we have been told scriptures mean, sometimes from the days of early childhood. Deconstruction is applying critical thinking to the concepts we just assume are true. It calls us to really look for truth, and once we find it, to wrap thoughts and words and ways of living around it.
Here’s the kicker: If what you are living by is the truth, then you shouldn’t fear to apply critical thinking to it. The truth will survive examination. If anything, it will become more meaningful because of it.
I’ve been listening to a podcast called “This Cultural Moment.” It’s been fascinating, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything these guys say (because my analysis on certain things differs), I love the process of looking at cultural moments and current affairs through the eyes of what it means to be a Christian. But a thought hit me when I was listening to it: this phenomenon of “deconstruction” doesn’t just apply to Christians. It applies to churches as well, and that’s a very needed, very good thing.
I look around church establishments these days and I see a few things (and I should note at this point that this article is wholly and solely my opinion!). I see some institutions trying to hold on to relevance by arguing old ideas, asserting dogma because “God says so” in the face of civil rights advancements, and generally bunkering down in some ill-fated attempt to hold on to influence and relevance. I see other churches trying to get hip in order to maintain relevance. Here are fancy stage designs, cutting edge music and tech, coffee machines in foyers, sermons that are less like delivery methods for spiritual and scriptural truths and more like Ted Talks. What is the “right” way, if indeed there is one? I don’t know. Some of these ways of staying hip are very much enjoyed and appreciated in my corner! But I can tell you one thing for sure:
The church needs deconstruction too.
Church attendance used to be every week. Now, to be a regular, you need to go only once every three or four weeks. (I go almost every week. That must make me a zealot. Or a musician). Attendance is deconstructing. Church used to be a moral measuring stick. Now, it isn’t. Church used to be a place where we found God, grew convicted of our sin, and sought the way forward in terms of living a more Godly life. Now, we figure out ethics and morals within the context of our own spheres of influence and our own devotion. Evangelism isn’t so cut and dried. These aspects, too, are deconstructing.
Of late, I’ve found myself asking whether it’s possible to have Christianity without the fear and self-loathing. The answer I came to is that it should be possible: because Jesus was the highest example of love, compassion, and progressive ideas when it came to the inclusion of those the religious system had shunned. He was/is the highest example of life above temptation, of grace and truth in the face of persecution and death. He is always worth following. He doesn’t require me to hate myself so that I can follow Him. He only requires me to love, acknowledge and follow Him, knowing that in my humanness I will mess up and that in those moments, His grace is sufficient.
As more people embark on this journey of deconstruction, and as modern life marches on, there are a few changing realities we can expect: digital church attendance will matter more to people, so our web presence’s need to offer more than shiny pictures and short clips of sermon highlights. Depth will matter. Preaching, being an experiential thing, will take precidence over teaching in many settings, but this does not negate the need for good teaching. If anything, it makes it more important (especially as more independent churches pop up, which has many benefits but also the ever-present risk of bad theology and cults of personality). The community of faith will maintain its importance, but the way this manifests may be faced with challenges.
These are my hunches. There are better experts with more thoughts, I’m sure. But what I’m saying is this: deconstruction is here, and it applies to groups as well as individuals. If the church doesn’t change, it is done. But Jesus isn’t. Because He is still relevant and will always be relevant. Now is not a time for digging in and attempting to maintain old structures of power, influence, dogma or even format. The structure we have now is something we have inherited generation after generation since Constantine. But even that didn’t bear any resemblance to the early church we saw in Acts. So why we have such a devotion to the old familiar format is a curious thing.
Maybe its time to reinvent it.
Just some thoughts! See ya’ll next week for something a touch more scholarly!