Deconstructing Faith and the Theology of the Cross? (Part 2)

Deconstructing Faith and the Theology of the Cross? (Part 2) August 5, 2022

Yesterday we posted about James Walden’s essay Deconstruction and a Theology of the Cross, which sees a connection between Luther’s distinction between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory with today’s phenomenon of disillusioned Christians “deconstructing” their faith.

As I said, Luther’s theology of the Cross does indeed correct many of the pathologies of contemporary Christianity, such as the prosperity gospel, overemphasis on politics, many church growth tactics, and works righteousness.  But this is not what most of those who are practicing “faith deconstruction” seem to be engaged in.

First of all, to think in terms of “deconstruction” carries with it the notion that faith is a “construction.”  That gives the game away from the outset.  If Christianity is nothing more than a social or personal construction, subject to being reconstructed according to one’s likings, then there is not much point to it.

Christianity purports to be true.  It teaches that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to redeem us from sin, working a salvation that we receive by grace through faith.  Christianity purports to be a revealed religion, in which God communicates Himself and the truths we need to know through the human language of His Word.

That is to say, Christianity has to do with what it claims to be objective reality.  Postmodernism, on the other hand, denies that we can know much about objective reality.  It is “constructivist,” seeing truth itself–or, rather truth claims–not as something that we discover, but as something that we–or the culture, or the group in power–“construct.”  Such constructions can be deconstructed, as we expose the power relations or other factors that gave rise to them.

Deconstructing your faith entails looking at how you came to believe in certain things, how your background or people imposing their power on you formed your faith.  As a result of this exercise, you might reject your faith altogether or, more positively, make it your own on your own terms.

This is not the theology of the cross.  Rather, it is a textbook example of the theology of glory.

Let’s go to the source.  Consider what Luther says on the subject in the theses of the Heidelberg Disputation, in which he develops these distinctions:

18. It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.

19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have happened.

20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the things what it is.

22. That wisdom that sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.

Thus, attempts to understand God by means of the intellect, reason, experience, and our own perceptions will be futile.  And this is what the faith deconstruction movement calls for.

For a person to know God through the theology of the cross, on the other hand, one must “despair of his own ability”; that is, to be utterly broken by the Law, convinced of his failure to be righteous and realizing to his horror that he cannot save himself.  In this state of weakness and suffering, he can hear the Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners as good news.

I do not want to denigrate Christians who struggle with questionings and doubts.  Those may indeed be part of becoming a theologian of the cross.  But this is not what deconstructing the faith, properly speaking, entails.  The posture of making oneself a critic of one’s own faith–saying that “I only believed that because of my parents,” though the vocation of parents is precisely to bring up their children in the faith; or that “my pastors were all right wing hypocrites,” making oneself morally superior–and otherwise judging Christianity according to our own perceptions can only make us “puffed up, blinded, and hardened.”

And I am not criticizing James Walden’s essay.  I appreciate how he describes the theology of the cross.  (See my long quote in yesterday’s post.)  Notice what he says:

Through the weak and foolish word of the cross, quietly powerful through the indwelling Spirit among the community of God’s people, Christ himself deconstructs our deep-seated theologies of glory. . . .

This is the deconstructive work of the cross. It is far more radical than any “deconstruction” we could undertake ourselves, whether by our own individual efforts, by some ecclesial tradition, or by any alleged internal mechanism of history or language. It is the secret work of God, in which the church reformed is ever being reformed.

We don’t deconstruct the faith.  The faith deconstructs us.

 

Photo via Pexels, CC0

 

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