I’ve always had mixed feelings about all the talk that we hear about deconstruction. On the one hand, there’s a lot about it that I can relate to: about twenty years ago, I was forced to face the fact that there were a whole lot of things that I’d come to believe and put into practice that were not only wrong, they were doing me a lot of serious harm. There have been various ways of thinking, teachings and doctrines that I’ve had to discard or challenge simply to be able to function properly in the workplace and in life in general, and that led to me asking a lot of questions about just about everything.
But at the same time, I’ve generally had the impression that talk about “deconstruction” often takes things too far. It suggests to me something that goes beyond just discarding unnecessary and harmful baggage that you’ve been forced to discard, and has overtones of much more proactively jettisoning as much as possible of your Christian faith as you can get away with while still calling yourself a Christian, and whose endgame is very often losing your faith altogether. This is something that I’ve wanted to avoid: I’ve been quite concerned to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and it’s been a bit of a worry to me over the years if I’ve been discarding things that I shouldn’t have, or taking things on board that I shouldn’t have. But I haven’t had a better word for it up until now.
The other day I came across this short video by a pastor from California who proposed that instead of talking about “deconstruction,” we should use the old-school term “reformation” which has been used by Christians historically for several centuries. While some people may find the way he expresses himself a bit ham-fisted, I think the suggestion that he makes is a good one. There’s a need to distinguish between deconstruction whose end-game is deconversion, and “deconstruction” whose end-game is remaining in the faith while just clearing out the unnecessary baggage, and using the word “reformation” instead of “deconstruction” seems to fit the bill for that rather well.
I’d even encourage someone who is struggling with the Bible, but are rooted in Christ, do a little research and read the NT as a generally reliable historical document written by the first Christians. I think they’ll be surprised at what they find when they read it with a clear set of eyes.
If they are not rooted in Christ, I don’t think the term deconversion is even appropriate. But that’s a whole other subject.
Good question. The terms we come up with for things like this may reveal something of the “end game” behind what’s going on. To reform something does sound more hopeful and redemptive to me than deconstruction. Still, I have deconstructed a lot and am glad I did – I’m curious why this pastor sees it as having a lack of self-awareness, as many who have deconstructed would probably perceive themselves as gaining awareness on many fronts.
Unfortunately, part of deconstruction means reassessing that and it’s generally not the consensus position in historical or New Testament scholarship today. And “generally reliable” hearsay from 2,000 years ago is hardly good enough to believe a man rose from the dead or walked on water. Reading the NT as a generally reliable document is not a good epistemic foundation for faith. It just doesn’t follow. Once you lose historical apologetics and the Bible as an inerrant authority on what it plainly narrates, you are stuck with that “all or nothing” mentality. And only 7 letters of Paul (and maybe a few more) were written by 1st stratum Christians and even if the Synoptics give a generally reliable historical overview of Jesus, the same cannot be said of the Gospel of John.
I like the term deconstruction better based on personal experience. Reformation doesn’t do justice to the reality or magnitude of one’s entire world coming crashing down. It’s not like I went from pre-trib to post-trib. The whole system came crashing down and the floodgates were opened. But I think deconstruction hits some people harder than others. Honestly, this borders on whitewashing the process to me and the negative effects of William Lane Craig and Josh McDowell type apologetics which are bankrupt.
And I don’t think of say, going from thinking Genesis 1 is literal as plainly written to it’s “not literal” as deconstructing. While that can be a big shift for many people it is just changing how you see the genre of Genesis 1 which is still viewed as God’s inerrant word.
For me, deconstruction is when the whole system comes down and you have to reevaluate everything (why do I believe this miracle, why do I believe God did all this immoral stuff, why do I really accept these 300 Bible error harmonizations… I mean shouldn’t I just admit what they are?).
In my experience, when the deconstruction happens faith becomes vulnerable and what you once deemed “good apologetics” become very bad cases of special pleading, you start recognizing that it was confirmation bias that previously convinced you and you are now are in a state of cognitive dissonance.
I think most of us who wind up staying in Christianity do tend to go through reformation more than deconstruction and reconstruction, so not a bad term to use. It is interesting how I seem to see a lot of interest in deconstruction lately, possibly due to religious leaders trying to make sense of the rise of the “nones” in recent years.
I guess I prefer the term deconstruction because to me that is what is is. It’s a major overhaul to your faith, not just how it affects your actual life and the choices you make, but how you even relate to God and view the Bible. Deconstruction is not positive or negative. Some deconstruct and never build it back and fall into atheism. Some rebuild it in a way that is not Christ centered and become disciples of another faith and yet, many also begin to reconstruction ( rebuild their faith in Christ ) and continue to live out their faith in a new way.
It’s also part of the game. Years ago I saw theistic evolution as the main term. Then I saw evolutionary creationist. Now I’m beginning to see and hear more and more use Christian naturalism ( not to be confused with nationalism). New coined terms will arise and old ones will come back and so on. Negative and positive connotations to a word may not be the same for everyone.
“Words are just pegs to hang ideas on” was a sentence that I read a long time ago and still remember. The sentence came from someone called Henry Ward Beecher, if I remember right.
We are free to chose the words we use but may end up in communication problems if my definition of a word differs from that of others. Is it a big problem if someone uses the word ‘deconstruction’ and another the word ‘reformation’?
I like the quote about pegs. I use the same concept with the term “hooks” all the time. It comes from when I was teaching. The more of them we have, the more ideas we can grasp and the more connections we can make.
I think we see from the video as well as the discussion, that the terms deconstruction and reformation have different meanings and implications. Unfortunately, the fellow in the video seemed not to understand what many people experience, who describe it as deconstruction. Or perhaps he was creating a strawman in order to blame people, who have experienced genuine deconstruction, for deliberately dismantling their faith.
Vinnie and others around here have given powerful and reasonable descriptions of what they have gone through, how and why. None of them seem to have gone in with the plan of dismantling their own world view and bringing on what follows.
A quasi-philosophical description that I think fits the concept of deconstruction is over here. It’s not a pleasant thing, I understand.
Many of us are doing something more like reforming. And even that feels dicey. Listen a bit, and that’s where some deconstructions have begun, trying to figure out why one thing doesn’t fit or what a better answer is.
I’m not lobbying for one path or another, rather for an accurate assessment of our ability to understand, much less judge, someone else’s conscience or experience. Everyone has a different need for and understanding of “uncovering (the) truth.” Everyone has to decide for her/himself how to go about that, if at all.
In my humble opinion, Reformation is not adequate enough to describe the level of change needed in classical Christianity. With that said, one could argue that deconstruction (followed by some type of reconstruction) is simply going further on what the Reformation started. I guess this is a worth conversation to be had.
I think it’s fair to say that his description isn’t an accurate reflection of what everyone goes through who describe their experience as “deconstruction.” It is certainly unfair, tone-deaf and lacking in empathy to describe someone in the early stages of the process in particular as “hypercritical, lack of self awareness, shallow thinking when it comes to theology and stuff like that.” If you assume that he is referring to everything that flies under the banner of “deconstruction” in that way, then yes, his description is inaccurate and unfair.
But there are some people for whom, as far as I can tell, his description is completely accurate. In particular, there are people who have deconstructed all the way beyond atheism into actively promoting an approach to deconstruction that is exactly what he is describing—hypercritical, lacking in self awareness, and shallow theologically. You see this in particular when you get people sarcastically describing the Bible as being all about talking snakes and talking donkeys, or continuing to insist that it demands a young earth and cannot be interpreted otherwise, and using such assertions as reasons for not taking it seriously—showing the same disregard for such matters as cultural and historical context, literary genres and figures of speech as young earthists do. It’s also an attitude that they’re going to find in spades on some of the pro-deconstruction forums on the Internet, such as the “exvangelical” or “ex-Christian” forums on Reddit, the “nonreligious” and “progressive Christian” channels on Patheos, or the videos that YouTube’s algorithms start recommending to them.
The problem is that we’re using the same word—“deconstruction”—to refer to both the genuine and honest questioning that many of us go through as Christians where we’re trying to clear out the baggage while holding onto what is good and pure, and to the no-holds-barred approach leading all the way to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We need to help people who are deconstructing to avoid the latter while honestly helping them through the former, and that is probably going to need a different word to describe it, whether “reformation” as he suggests, or something else. And I think that’s the point that he’s trying to make.
I feel that reformation can maybe capture a different type of re-evaluation and shift. I found my transition from a very transactional and law-based Church of Christ to a charismatic, faith-focused, yet still very conservative and evangelical Anglican church to be a reformation of sorts.
The subsequent re-evaluation of evangelical systems of theology and preconceptions formed a definite deconstruction. It was not demanding to throw out all things, but rather to serious search all those things and the meta-narrative itself.
It is frustrating how he basically equated questioning the text as deconversion. The evangelical/Chicago statements approach vastly overstate and promote a certain idea about the text and then tie it into almost a requirement of “genuine faith”.