I’ve been on quite a few mission trips throughout my career in ministry. They always include an element of physical labor: repairing a home or property, cleaning, digging, etc. Most of the trips were in the summer, so it was hot and sweaty. One of the most difficult projects that I participated in was tearing down an old building in Chattanooga. It was one of the hottest summers on record; daily high temperatures were in the hundreds. I think one day it was around 107 degrees, and the humidity was around 100%. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life. Instead of construction it was destruction or de-construction. Instead of building up we were tearing down.
I can’t remember exactly why we were tearing this building down, but I think it has something to do with clearing the lot for something new. So it was a good thing, right? It was a community renewal project. But, it had a different vibe to it. We didn’t have anything to show for our labor at the end but a barren lot. There was nothing left. We didn’t produce anything. When you’re building something new, there seems to be more purpose and excitement. Tearing something apart or destroying it is kind of depressing. Someone way back in the day worked very hard, used their creativity, skill, and talent to build this building; and now we’re destroying their work.
Today, I wanted to talk about a different form of deconstruction, deconstruction as a philosophical theory of textual criticism; a form of critical analysis. Deconstruction is an approach to understanding the relationship between text and meaning that was originated by the philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930–2004). I know what you’re thinking. “Oh boy, this devotional is going to be a real page turner. Can’t wait.” But, before you jump ship, I’m just setting things up for the real topic of discussion, so here we go.
“Deconstruction” has become a new buzzword and movement for the systematic pulling apart of a belief system, in this case Christianity. “Deconstructing” or tearing down the Christian faith, doctrine, theology, and the Bible has really built up considerable momentum in recent years. Our post-Christian culture has entered a new phase. It goes far beyond literary examination or merely asking questions. In extreme cases it is the complete dismantling of the Christian faith. I’ve read story after story of Christians who have left the faith completely or changed their beliefs dramatically after going through what is being called the process of “deconstructing”. I even learned a new term for those who have deconstructed their faith, “exvangelicals”.
In her book “Another Gospel”, Alisa Childers breaks down this movement towards deconstruction. She experienced it firsthand and describes having an unquestioning belief in her Christian faith until a progressive pastor tested her by arguing persuasively against central Christian tenets. Childers ended up joining a small progressive discussion group, in which “every precious belief I held . . . was placed on an intellectual chopping block and hacked to pieces.” This “deconstruction” pushed her to examine historic Christianity, the virgin birth of Jesus, his resurrection, the Bible, atonement, and hell by “reading every apologetics and theology book I could get my hands on” and auditing seminary classes. Finally, she concluded the resurrection of Jesus happened, and he was not “simply a good teacher or wise man to imitate and that her only option is to “do it [God’s] way or not at all.”
There is nothing wrong with asking questions. The Bible gives ample evidence that God patiently/graciously allowed people to ask questions. He created us to be inquisitive and curious. Unfortunately, there are things about God that we will never know or understand, and that’s hard for us to deal with. We want to know everything. We want evidence. However, our belief system is built on faith.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible…And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:1-3, & 6 NIV
I will admit that believing without seeing is extremely difficult. Even though the Apostle Paul does say there is evidence of God’s existence in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
Our only real source of information about God comes from the Bible, not the court of public opinion or the Internet, which seems to be the principle and preferred method of forming a belief system these days. The Bible, or the interpretation of it, has always been at the heart of theological debate. It started in the early church and continues to this day. It will never stop. Is the Bible true, accurate, inherent, relevant, or to be taken literally? I can share verses like Joshua 1:7-9; Romans 1:16-17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; and 2 Peter 1:16-18 to back up God’s inspiration of the scriptures, but again faith is required. Ultimately, we have to choose to accept or deny that it is true. Paul addresses this in Romans 1 as well.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.“ Romans 1:18-19 NIV
“Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” Deuteronomy 4:1-2 NIV
Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:17-18 (NIV), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
From what I have witnessed/read there are two extremes in Biblical interpretation that are equally destructive, those who take away too much of what it says and those who add too much into it. In 2 Timothy 2:15 the Apostle Paul encourages Timothy to “correctly handle the word of truth”; another translation says to handle it “accurately”. I might add carefully. To “deconstruct” means to analyze or “handle” a text, like the Bible, typically in order to expose its hidden internal assumptions and contradictions and subvert its apparent significance or unity. Under the definition there is this example: “she likes to deconstruct the texts, to uncover (interpret) what they are not saying”. How does “she” know what they are “not” saying? I’m more concerned about what the Bible IS saying, than what it’s not saying. I have no desire to assume or “subvert” the significance of anything God has to say, plus my mind reading skills just aren’t what they used to be.
Hope you have a great Memorial Day weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management