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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: deconstruction

How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 3

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McLaren, in the interview I mentioned earlier, talks about how this deconstruction works.   I mentioned that the emerging church is a kind of "back to the Bible movement," even though many see it as unorthodox.  It may be, in some ways, but that might not be bad.  Reforming - including Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and many contemporaries - is about going back to the Bible, deconstructing how culture has influenced us, and "reforming" to the word of God - which is the norming norm (to use Grenz/ Franke language).  Here is one way that McLaren says it:

...mentioning different lists of names isn't that important, but what's really important is that this stuff has been simmering in the biblical text itself, and we've been very well trained not to see it.  We've been trained to look for certain things and not for others... "What you focus on determines what you miss."

Deconstructing your faith is not about losing your faith - or at least it doesn't have to be.  It's about discovering where the things we believe come from and how we ascertained them.  It's about discovering what "eyes" or through which "glasses" we see the world, the bible, and ourselves.  Then, it's about trying to figure out what God is really saying both contextually and extra-contextually.  That's just normal exegesis - discovering what is enculturated and what's not, and how God incarnates himself in our own culture, in these times.  When we admit and understand our cultural, theological, and personal biases, we can compare those to the biases of others, and we can try to understand what God speaks outside of those, as well as to them.  Then, we begin to reconstruct our faith - keeping some of our biases, and shedding others.

Although he doesn't get into the technical side of this (and I would nuance this much more), I like how Olson says it in "How to be Evangelical without being Conservative":

For me Scripture (including Jesus Christ as the interpretive center) trumps tradition, reason, and experience.  To be more precise about how I do theology, I recognize Scripture and tradition as the two sources and norms of theology (with Scripture primary adn the Great Tradition of Christian belief secondary) and reason and experience as interpretive tools to help us sort out and understand Scripture and tradition. [p. 145]


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Response to Henry

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Henry asks some great, probing questions.  [see his comment under "How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2] And just as an aside... Henry... I really appreciate how you've written these questions and challenges to myself and to the emerging postmoderns in the church.  You show your concern, raise real issues, and do so in a way that is not condemning, hostile, or out of fear.  How I wish more people would approach conversation in such a careful and honorable manner. I've struggled with your questions, too.  I address a few of the issues you're asking about in a limited manner in the follwoing posts:

The question really is, what can we know for sure?  What is true?  What doesn't change?  And how do we know what is truly true?  What is orthodox, and aren't there certain, base objective truths?  I hear in some of your questions some of the key concerns that some are raising around the Emergent church like the virgin birth, the atonement wars, the wideness or narrowness of salvation, etc. 

The first thing that I would say is something I've said briefly before:  truth is personal.  Not relative, and not "this is my truth" personal, but instead, truth is personal because Jesus is the truth, and he is a person.  Knowing Jesus is knowing the truth.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me."  I believe that.  Do I know it for sure?  I know Jesus, and I trust what he says.  I trust that the Scriptures are God's word and that it's true and that it tells me about Jesus and that I can encounter him through the Scriptures.  That means I also trust the virgin birth.  I trust that my sins are atoned for and covered by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Can I say those things are objectively true?  You see, here is where I get stuck.  I believe - have faith - that it's true.  I put my trust in it.  I believe it is "objectively" true, I suppose, but more and more I don't really care much about objectivity.  I don't really care much about proof.  I don't mean to be glib, but what I mean is that what I think is objective, someone else will likely see differently.  Is there an unmoveable reality out there that is truly true?  Yes.  Do we have access to that truth in a way that is "descriptively" true for everyone?  If we did, we wouldn't be having this discussion because it would be clear.  But I don't think that means I can't say someone is wrong.  You see, because we cannot ascertain what is true on our own because of our cultural embededness, our biases, and even more - our sinfulness, we rely on the personal nature of God as he speaks to us in individuals within communities of faith.  The community of faith - throughout the ages, and in our current context - is really important as we discern what God has said and is saying.  

I really like what Franke and Grenz say on this matter in which the Holy Spirit speaks in the context of our culture through the trajectory of Christian history and creates our current reality as he interacts with us in a living way.  (that's a bad simplification... but it gives a broad brush).  That is alive and relational and faith-based and dependent upon the God of history who continues to live and speak today.  He doesn't speak in contradition to himself, but He does help us to interact with a changing world.  There is, then, a historical theological continuity combined with a contemporary constructive creativity consistent with his character and unfolding plan.  We discern this in conversation with God through faith, engaging his Word within the living community which is the body of Christ.  It is this living body, grounded in the Word and birthed out of Christian and Jewish history that gives us the boundaries and rules of engagement.  And here is where the deconstruction (or reforming) comes in.  The body, because it is always embeded culturally, doesn't always get the picture of what God is saying right, and so our theology develops as our relationship with God develops as we continue to deepen in our understanding of his revealed Word as we live into new historical, cultural situations.

Does that make truth relative and not objective?  I don't think so.  Relative to God's working with a fallen community, maybe.  Certainly our ascertaining the truth is always positioned, encultured, and understood within the eyes of our times, families, language, etc.  I just don't think the categories of "objective" and "relative" are all that helpful anymore.  I'm more concerned with how we hear God, how we read the Bible with an understanding of our cultural, linguistic baggage, and really hear God's living word through the Scripture, how we find more faithful understandings of his revelation, and how we can trust him more and hear his voice more clearly. 

You ask what my gold standard is:  God's self-revelation primarily through the Scriptures (sola scriptura) and secondarily through his body, the church, as we hear, speak, and live the Word together.  I know that's not as easy to nail down, but faith and trust rarely are. 

I think things like the virgin birth, the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Trinity, the missio dei, and many more things have been clearly spoken, heard, and lived out by the church throughout the ages.  But I also share the concern of many emerging leaders that we have attached many cultural, philosophical, and historical items to these that are inappropriate and have functionally become a part of the core for many Christians - especially evangelicals and fundamentalists.

What I think a lot of the detractors of the emerging church miss is that much of the movement (not all of it... there is much wrong with the emerging church movement) is a back to the bible movement.  The problem comes when going back to the bible challenges our current biases, our current comfortable ways of life, our preferable politics, our desirable economics, or our (forgive me here) mostly upper classs suburban cultural mores. 


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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2

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I was reading an interview with Brian McLaren on his book Everything Must Change from The Other Journal, and I read something in his narrative from the early 90's that is very similar to what I was going through during 1990-1999.  Here is what he says:

[Lost people's] questions re-opened for me something I had encountered a long time ago in graduate school, and that's postmodern philosophy, and this cultural shift from modern to a postmodern culture.  So in the early nineties I started grappling with that shift, and it was really tough... If you want to use a term that comes out of that postmodern world, the word would be deconstruction.  I was undergoing a deconstruction.  Not a deconstruction of my faith as a personal trust in God, but of my theological categories and of my theological methodology.  So that's not an easy thing to go through, but once you do a lot of deconstruction, then you have to start reconstructing or else you end up with nothing but a bunch of fragments.

The difference here for me from McLaren is that I actually discovered a more personal trust in God after the deconstruction of my theological categories and cultural history.  In about 1993, I began the reconstruction even as I continued the process of theological, cultural, and denominational deconstruction.  In fact, I think today I still go through a continual process of deconstructing.  I would prefer to call it reformata et semper reformanda - reformed and always reforming.  And here is the key to so many things right now for me (and for people like Roger Olson, John Franke, Stanley Grenz before he passed, Kevin VanHoozer, Nancey Murphey, LeRon Shults, John Stackhouse Jr., NT Wright, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight and many many more people).  I could probably write a book right now about how so many people in the evangelical world are misunderstanding some new theological and practical movements in the emerging church as heretical, when what these people are honestly trying to do is reform the church according to the Scriptures.  In fact, they're trying to re-read the Scriptures in a way that takes seriously the impact of cultural and theological history upon our reading in good ways and bad.  More on this in a couple follow-up posts to come.


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How Deconstruction and Postmodern Philosophy Saved My Faith

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I know that sounds strange to many of you when you hear it coming from the perspective of a Christian Pastor.  However, I think in some ways it’s true.  I actually could’ve written, “My Conversion, Thanks to Deconstructionism”.  I’ve been playing around with an article on this topic, but just haven’t gotten to really writing it, yet.  However, I’ve gotten a little start.  So, I thought I’d drop a little of it here. Let me just begin by saying that in the evangelical church in general, deconstructionism is pretty much a bad word.  It smacks of relativism, the loss of truth, and a philosophy that pushes against the God of the Bible.  That may be descriptively true of some versions of deconstruction and of the potential of some forms, but it certainly was not true in my case.  In fact, this is why this post is written with this particular title.  A couple things are important in relationship to this issue for me:

  1. Deconstructionism (and some other philosophy that could be considered related or prefiguring deconstructionism) really did help create a faith crisis for me back in about 1991.  In fact, it helped me to walk away from the faith I learned as a child.
  2. Deconstructionism helped me to see the world in a whole different light.  It “stripped the emperor,” if you will, on so many “faiths” that people put their trust and hope in – including my own.  This combined with the push on diversity in college campuses in the early 90’s was palpable.  My introduction to postmodern philosophy at this time opened my eyes to the many “framing stories” that people were living from, and caused me to seriously question the possibility of a grand narrative tying them all together.  At that point, I seriously questioned any viability of “one God” or “one reality.”
  3. Deconstruction for me was followed by an encounter with the living Christ.  This encounter was, of course, on a personal level, within my own cultural setting, and in the language I could understand.  Christ also spoke very directly to me in that conversion experience about the issue of diversity and pluralism, and spoke through it in a way that I found deeply troubling and beautiful all at the same time.
  4. My conversion through deconstruction, my immersion in postmodern philosophy, and my reintroduction to Christ created in me a deep passion that was deeply evangelical and yet still, interestingly, postmodern.

Ok, for many of you that sounds like a serious contradiction.  And here’s the trouble.  Since 1993 when I both came to know Christ and inhaled much postmodern philosophy, I began to develop an understanding of faith in Jesus Christ that I felt was still evangelical, still deeply committed to One God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), still committed to issues of truth, and yet I still considered myself both postmodern and in some ways, a deconstructionist.  And yet, I sensed no necessary contradiction.  In fact, in my own mind, I was able to work out an understanding of my Christian faith that was still biblical, faithful, evangelical, and still in many ways postmodern.  But what I heard from so many Christians was that this wasn’t possible, that postmodernity inevitably lead to relativism and the loss of truth, and that deconstructionists were truth haters undermining the faith.  I just didn’t see it that way.  But I felt quite alone.  It's one of the reasons that I've often felt like I didn't "fit".

Times have changed.  I’m 35 now (still not very old, or wise for that matter), and I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin.  I have had some unbelievable breakthroughs in understanding more clearly how and why I was not so uncomfortable with postmodern philosophy or deconstruction even as a deeply committed evangelical Christian.  I’m not afraid of the labels anymore… partly because many of the people who like to put labels on a) don’t understand what we’re talking about and are only derivatively dismissive out of fear or some other external driving force or b) won’t take the time to listen what I (and/ or others) really think.  So, if you’re tempted after this post to label me, be slow to label until you listen a bit more.


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The Future of Evangelicalism

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I've been thinking a lot for several years about the future of evangelicalism.  A number of writers over the past decade have written about both the past, the meaning of, and the future of evangelicalism.  There's no consensus. I guess I find this particularly interesting because I've always kind of wondered where I fit in the whole scheme of things.  I haven't written in a while on this blog, and part of the reason is that I've been on a journey of rediscovery for the past 4 months.  I've been returning to some roots of mine both theological, culturally, and in my own personal narrative.  It's been a fascinating ride, really.  I've had more clarity about what I believe, where I fit, how I'm evangelical, (how some people would say I'm not and why), why I'm drawn to the emerging church, why I'm drawn to the missional church, why I'm interested in the new monasticism, why I never feel comfortable with either a conservative evangelical or a liberal Christian label.  I've made peace with myself about why deconstruction is important to me and how it fits my reformed theological roots, and a lot more.

Anyway, all of this works together in me to in my concern over the future of the evangelical church.  Where are we headed?  Who is we?  Who decides who "we" is?  In the past, it seemed that our "pop" evangelicalism was lead by our pastor - JI Packer, our theologian - John Stott, and our evangelist - Billy Graham.  But with these leaders all aging and approaching the end of their earthly days, I wonder who will lead us, and whether we'll stay together.  There are certainly people vying for power over the label.  There's a resurgence of deeply conservative fundamentalism, a rise in global evangelical fruit, an upsurge of new reformed calvinists (or neo-calvinists), a hugely "successful" non-denominational mega-church movement with powerfully influential leaders, an emerging church alternative, and an increase in Pentecostal churches and much more.  So... what is the way forward for evangelicals?


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