A Question for Deconstruction
One of the noticeable controversies of the past year or two of Christian history is the rise of deconstruction. There has been a lot of debate over what this process is. Is it a loss of faith or a way of growing in faith? I want to use a simple and broad definition: deconstruction is critically engaging long-held beliefs. It could lead to reaffirming beliefs, rejecting them, or seeing them in a new light. Under this definition, deconstruction does not necessarily lead out the door of Christianity, though it could. It could also be a healthy relearning of the Christian faith that produces a strengthened commitment. In many ways, I fit the deconstruction trend and am in that process now, but this also isn't my first rodeo. I have deconstructed my beliefs several times throughout my life. In this blog, I want to give one question to help focus our processes of deconstruction.
For many, deconstruction begins with a moral crisis, whether that be church leadership and abuse scandals, positive encounters with groups of people the church has long vilified, or feeling intense cultural pressure to rethink a belief taken for granted in our faith communities but never really explained. The deconstruction question is then usually, "Is the Christian sexual ethic all it's cracked up to be?" "Are people that vote differently from my church really the enemy?" "Can I actually say all the good people I know are 'unsaved'?" We could think of many more examples. These are all important questions, but they do not specifically focus on Jesus Christ, the center of Christianity. And usually, the crisis that provokes deconstruction has more to do when church leaders focus on institutions over Jesus or on how people behave or vote rather than discipleship. Deconstruction happens for individuals when our faith communities lose their focus on Jesus, and we experience sharp dissonance between the culture of our faith communities and the culture of our neighborhoods without a central focus.
I am finding that, when we deconstruct, it isn't helpful to begin with the question that feels most immediate. What does the Bible say about same-sex marriage? How do we know we can trust church leaders? What's the deal with hell? Again, they are necessary questions, but they are not the center of Christianity. Often, if we are deconstructing, it was precipitated by our faith community turning its focus off Jesus and onto politics, celebrity, and the group think of social media.
So before we ask the question the crisis triggers, there is a more basic question to ask first. What's the deal with Jesus? We need to take a fresh look at Him. Who is He? Who did He claim to be? Did the resurrection happen? What did His death accomplish? Is He worth following? If we answer any of these with "no," don't bother with the rest of deconstruction. Skip to the end and walk out the door to develop a coherent philosophy of life based on another foundation. But if the answer is yes, we have someone to focus on and follow. When we return to the questions we have, they will still be complicated and require a lot of searching and reflection, but we will have a direction. We will point toward the face of Jesus. If we do not, we will end with just as distorted an answer to our questions as those who triggered our deconstruction.
In the comments, for anyone deconstructing, what have you discovered about Jesus that has helped you love Him more?