“Deconstruction” is a religious buzzword of our time.
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Although the term is modern, the idea is as old as the Christian faith itself.
“Deconstruction” refers to a time of questioning, seeking, re-evaluating, and at times removing and/or rebuilding what one believes.
For 2,000 years of Christianity, believers have gone through such times.
The book of Acts is full of the “deconstruction” of classic Jewish theology in order to embrace the New Covenant in Christ.
For centuries, Church Councils got together to debate and challenge and discuss and pray and search the Scripture, trying to determine “why” we believed what we did, removing some beliefs and strengthening others.
The Reformation was a massive and widespread “deconstruction” of traditional Church teaching and practice.
Every current denomination started off from a season of “deconstruction,” as people questioned the status quo and felt the need to start something new that was more in line with their emerging convictions.
Even if we’ve never used the term, anyone who has walked with Jesus for any significant length of time has likely gone through such seasons of examination and evaluation at one point or another.
Sometimes people pull away from the faith altogether, which makes some nervous about the term and trend, but deconstruction can also be a healthy time for those who remain Christians to re-examine ideas, and challenge or remove unhealthy or unbiblical or unChristlike beliefs that have emerged over time.
We who lead must meet people going through such times with much grace. Jesus was never once concerned over a person asking a sincere question, no matter how tough, and we shouldn’t be either.
Some people are perfectly at peace where they are in their journey, and simply don’t need such times, and that is more than fine.
But for others, it can only be honest and authentic to have questions, to wonder “why” we believe certain things, to challenge our presumptions that we have been taught and see what sticks, to hunger for more, and to seek hard after truth.
And goodness knows, there are things that are taught and modelled in Church that could stand a good re-examination, and if necessary, even a removal or replacement from our teaching and our practices.
What follows are some thoughts on 7 such matters that could use some good deconstruction, from an orthodox Christian who loves Christ and His Word, but also likes wrestling with and challenging the faith too.
Goodness knows there are far more than 7 issues to be challenged out there, but here are some thoughts on a few:
Elevated leadership. A top-down dominating leadership structure has filled much of the Church for generations. Pastors and leaders can be placed on ungodly pedestals, often as singular leaders, and their teachings and commandments are expected to be followed, all in the name of godly submission and order. God has indeed appointed leaders in all of our lives, and I do believe we are called to honour them and follow them (Heb 13.17; 1Pet 5.5). But Christian leaders are supposed to be a team of mutually-submitted, foot-washing servants who eschew rank and title, and who prefer the worst seat at the banquet and the last place in the procession (Mt 23.1-12; Lk 14.-11; Jn 13.1-17; Ac 14.23; Ac 15; 1Co 14.9). When our Saviour walked the earth, He did not lord it over others or have His own needs served, but instead He came to serve others, to live in the the lowest place, and to lay down His own life for His people; He made very undeniably clear that His leaders are to do exactly the same (Mt 20.35-38). Christ-like leaders act like Christ.
Shame-based holiness. Oh, the damage that this has done. The wounds and the weight that people have carried! To call people to righteous living via threats, guilt trips, and other manipulative tactics that lay heavy burdens on souls without offering help or hope. Jesus would rebuke the Pharisees for doing exactly this to God’s people (Mt 23.1-4). God’s Word does call certain things sin, and calls us to righteousness, and we who revere and follow His Word should indeed take that seriously. But “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8.1) – so God forbid we ever use condemnation and shame as a motivator towards righteous action. Jesus said that those who love Him would obey His commands (Jn 14.15). The takeaway? Love and devotion are better motivators than shame. Love the Lord, know Him intimately, and obedience can actually become joyful, something we want to do for Him, not because we are being shamed into it.
“Work-harder” transformation. This is beyond exhausting. Jesus taught that the heart was the source and the centre of all we say and do (Mk 7. 14-23; Lk 6.45). Yet so often the Christian message has been, “Just work harder at being better.” Do more external actions in order to be right and good. Failing to do this is a big contributor to the aforementioned shame that many Christians carry. Of course action is crucial, but if we would put more emphasis on a renewed, healed, and cleansed heart, then the external actions would follow from this. We don’t truly change by working harder; rather, we are changed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out (2Cor 3.18; 5.17). Outward effort without inward change will inevitably run out of gas and fall back into old patterns. Inward change leads to true and lasting outward change. So we seek the Holy Spirit and His filling, and the renewed heart that He brings as He does His work.
Christ-less Christian living. Most Christian streams would have a strong theology of Christ. But what about actually living like Him? How many times have unbelievers looked at us and said, “Why don’t you guys look more like Jesus?” As Christ-followers, we should never do anything apart from the character, life, and teachings of Jesus Christ – period (1Jn 2.6). If we are reading the written Word without framing it in light of Christ the Living Word (Jn 1.1; v.14), then we are simply doing it wrong. We can easily cherry-pick Scripture to support our views, even if those views run contrary to Christ’s life and teaching, and we can justify it in the name of “The Word says…” But what about what Christ the Word says and does? Are we followers of Him or not? If our thoughts, theologies, practices, etc., do not look like Jesus, then we have missed the mark as people who claim to be following Jesus. It is all about Christ first and foremost; our actions and our beliefs and our practices submit to Him, and need to change if they do not look like Him.
Unbalanced views of blessing and victory. By overemphasizing this, we set people up for inevitable disappointment when real life does not always live up to what was allegedly promised. We even add the shame of, “You don’t have enough faith, or else your prayers would have been answered the way you wanted!” The apostle Paul believed in a life of victory in Christ (1Co 15.57). But for Paul, that victory in his life also included poverty, pain, betrayal, persecution, abuse, chains, and ultimately death (2Co 11.23-29; Col 4.3; 2Tim 4.6-8). Yet he was able to find true joy and peace in all of it. Life in Christ is not a promise of life without suffering or life full of nothing but earthly blessings; it is the promise of peace from God, and His active grace and presence, even in the worst of suffering and even without earthly blessings, with a focus on the bigger picture of eternity (Phil 4.6-13). In His earthly life, even Jesus wept and wavered at times (Mt 26.36-42; Jn 11.35). Why would we think we are better than He? Victories and blessings do happen, all the time, and we are very grateful for them. But there also needs to be an honest and welcome place for tears, loss, lament, doubt, questions, weakness, and struggle in Christianity, or else we have completely lost touch with the way of Christ.
Conflating worldly politics with the Kingdom of God. This has been explored at greater length in a previous column, so I won’t repeat myself here, other than to recap that Jesus and the apostles barely talked about earthly politics at all. They were too consumed with the Kingdom of Heaven to be consumed with worldly kingdoms. To follow in their example is to do the same.
Hell-centered Gospel preaching. “Turn or burn!” That has been the joking/not joking cry of much of evangelicalism. By sharing the horrors of hell, we hoped it would push people to trust in Jesus. Sometimes it did. But it could also be a manipulative scare tactic that sometimes caused “conversions” that were less than sincere. The book of Acts shows us all the initial evangelistic efforts of the early Church. Although judgment is alluded to occasionally, hell is not the emphasis of the Gospel that they shared. Although the Bible does indeed talk about hell, and Jesus mentioned it regularly, the early Gospel preaching in Acts had an emphasis that was primarily about being forgiven and returning to God, starting now here on earth. Eternity was not the main focus, but rather freedom from sin, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and reconciliation with God, right now (e.g. Ac 2.38-39; 3.26; 13.3-39; etc.). This is a far cry from the “If you got hit by a car on the way home from church today, where would you end up?”-Gospel preaching that many of us grew up with. It’s certainly not to say that hell should not factor into our theology or preaching, but the heart of the first believers’ Gospel message was much greater then simply a fear-based warning. It was an invitation to reunion with God, today, and we didn’t need to wait until eternity to experience Him. Good news indeed!
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