Bible Culture

When Deconstruction Becomes Destruction

It is, I think, an unfortunate choice of words that some speak of examining their belief system as “deconstructing faith.” It is unfortunate because the origins of deconstruction are in literary critical theory, a theory that has no particular regard for objective truth. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of deconstruction is that there is no such thing as truth, there is only culturally conditioned understandings of our world.

One should distinguish between this and revising the tenets of a belief system because we find something to be unscriptural or unreconcilable with Scripture.

For example, if I through my upbringing am led to believe that a minister of the gospel must wear special vestments while performing his ministerial duties, yet I come to see through research and investigation that such was never part of the early church, I should revise this to say I no longer believe it necessary for a minister to wear such clothes. Is this a “deconstruction” of belief? Perhaps it is, but most of the deconstruction one sees is not as innocuous as this.

The deconstruction we see most frequently is, at the core, a hermeneutical enterprise. That is, it gets at our approach to the text of Scripture, and at its authority. If I am convinced that there is no reading of Scripture that is not culturally conditioned, and that the biases and presuppositions we each bring to the text color our understanding, I may conclude that a true and accurate understanding of Scripture is not possible. Indeed, this is where some arrive when they have thoroughly “deconstructed” their faith.

But such a sharp dichotomy is far too facile an understanding of what is possible. Our understanding of language and text is rarely such that we say we understand absolutely everything, or absolutely nothing.  D.A. Carson comments on such a misconception.

“Although none of us ever knows any complicated thing exhaustively, we can know some things truly. Our confidence in what we know may not enjoy the certainty of Omniscience, but it is not condemned to futility. Even a child may believe and understand the truth of the proposition “God loves the world,” even when the child’s knowledge of God, love, and the world is minimal, and her grasp of Johannine theology still less (John 3:16). With patient study and increased learning and rising experience, a believer may come to understand a great deal more about the proposition “God loves the world” than does the child.”[1]

And it is here where many assume that through their deconstruction they are freeing themselves from oppressive or wrong-headed beliefs of their former community. Thus “Exvangelicals” point a finger at abuses within the evangelical world and stand apart from it. But it’s less often considered whether this is but an exchange of one culturally-conditioned understanding of Christianity for another. If one cannot know anything with certainty, then one cannot know that the new interpretive community is any truer than the last. Indeed, by the principles of deconstruction, one can in fact affirm it is not truer—only different.

The outcome of much deconstruction is a backdoor scuttling of both the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. The line of thinking proceeds something like this: Scripture may be inerrant and infallible (or not) but our interpretations of it are certainly fallible. For this reason, no interpretation of Scripture is to be favored or privileged over any other. They all have equal validity. The personal experience of readers then assumes an outsized role in how we understand God’s Word, or whether God has spoken authoritatively at all. But all readers haven’t done the same work or study of the text. To say that someone reading John’s gospel for the first time has an interpretive position of equal validity to one who has studying the text for decades is ridiculous. We treat no other human endeavor in such a way

There are revisions to our understanding of Scripture we can undertake. But we shouldn’t confuse the setting aside of human tradition or of cultural accretions with an embrace of uncertainty and confusion. Deconstruction leads to destruction if we think that our limitations in understanding mean that God has not given us a revelation, has not spoken with an intent that we do understand him.  John writes that “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Revelation as a basis for faith, and the knowledge of God—this is why John wrote. Luke, also, told Theophilus he was writing “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:4) None of us knows exhaustively, but Scripture is given such that we may know sufficiently and confidently. If your deconstruction leads you away from this, it’s taken you in the wrong direction.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 121-122.

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