Where Did We Get the Idea of Deconstruction?
Deconstruction has become a buzzword in the evangelical circle as of late. It leaves some to question, What does it mean? That’s a healthy question. The late Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) began forming the idea of deconstruction as a complex way of evaluating psychological constructs and their effects on society.
His philosophy of deconstruction suggested that human language in all its complexities communicates an individual’s conception of truth versus absolute truth.
In essence, he upheld that people who consult history to find the truth are not seeking the truth but ascertaining other authors’ understanding of truth. Thus, the further away from that culture, the more likely we are to misunderstand the true meaning. Derrida surmised that “deconstruction” is necessary to properly digest what an author of antiquity meant by what they wrote.
There is no absolute truth, only a construct of how one interprets that truth.
Deconstruction, according to Derrida, then becomes a process or a literary criticism that analyzes the author’s use of language to understand the meaning. Derrida’s whole philosophy boils down to one phrase: “There is no absolute truth, only a construct of how one interprets that truth.”
Modern Christians and Deconstruction
Current evangelical Christianity has taken the approach of deconstruction as a way to dismantle and evaluate contemporary tradition. In and of itself, this is not bad. However, the residue of Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction has assimilated into Christian culture rapidly.
The threat that we must address is adopting a deconstructionist approach without finalizing one’s view of truth. Is it absolute? Is it relative? What is one’s motivation for deconstruction? This will determine where one will ultimately arrive in their pursuit of meaning.
Overall, I’ve seen many people attribute deconstruction as meaning that people are leaving the faith. But, on the contrary, leaving the faith is the outcome and not the process. So, deconstruction just gets lumped in with a departure from church, faith, and God. Deconstruction is not the leaving. Deconstruction occurs prior to an abandonment of one’s faith. Many Christians are experiencing a dark night of the soul that causes a deep reflection of one’s beliefs. I think this is good. It was the apostle Paul who said, “examine yourself to see whether or not you are in the faith.”
Admission, Permission, and Immersion
Examination, then, is a very good thing. But, how do we reflect and probe in a way that draws us closer to Jesus and his beloved community?
First, there must be an admission that you are in a place of deep evaluation. Without that understanding of the process, then, the whole journey becomes convoluted. The goal is to create a culture, an environment, where there is openness and honesty about questions and concerns, because that’s how we grow. Leaders lead people into the fertile ground of honest reflection and evaluation.
After we explore admission, we must then move to permission. Those we lead must know that it’s OK to ask questions. The apostle Paul did it on the road to Damascus when he was knocked off his horse by Jesus. He said, “Lord, who are you?” At that moment, Paul leaned into a valuable lesson in biblical deconstruction. The ability to permit yourself to be curious about a subject matter or person. At that moment, Paul was open to a new way of thinking. After all, Paul thought he was right in his understanding of spiritual matters. This experience set a precedent of deep reflection not only in Paul’s life, but it also gave permission for the same reflection within the church body. The questioning that led to conversion, not only in Paul’s life, but in the lives of the Apostles, did not stop—it continued on in their lives, as it should in ours.
The last step in biblical deconstruction is immersion. Paul’s approach to “the Way” had been persecution, disruption, and malice. As he immersed himself in the community, he connected the dots. He was able to see that Jesus was the Messiah and that the resurrection of Christ happened. It was Barnabas who took Paul under his wing and encouraged his new found zeal. Paul had deconstructed his life as “Saul” but now was immersing himself into the church and the teachings of Christ. In many ways, Paul moved beyond his contemporaries in deconstructing Judaism as he clearly saw the gospel including Gentiles. Barnabas stood with him and befriended and encouraged him.
Barnabas is someone we must take note of. All of us must continue upholding the exhortation found in Hebrews to “encourage one another daily” and live it out. I believe that a healthy dose of encouragement in our pursuit of biblical deconstruction is the best way forward.
Dark Night of the Soul Can Lead Us to a Resting Place
The process of admission, permission, and immersion, then, can serve as a framework in helping all of us arrive at Peter’s conclusion, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”
If, as Hebrews 11 says, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen, then is it truly a deconstruction of faith? Or, is it, more accurately, wrestling to find the true core and foundation of my faith?
In processing this forward with a friend of mine, the question arose, “If, as Hebrews 11 says, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen, then is it truly a deconstruction of faith? Or, is it, more accurately, wrestling to find the true core and foundation of my faith?”
I love this question, because it takes the idea of deconstruction and turns it on its head. Here, the dark night of the soul is experienced within the context of a biblical and loving community that has cultivated a culture of permission for wrestling and questions, knowing that, in the end, they will lead to the revealing of Christ, the Son of the living God.
Dark nights of the soul lead to a resting place for our doubts and questions. Mary’s “How can this be?” and Zachariah’s response to Gabriel’s announcement demonstrated a faithful unbelief. The exciting thing is that, in both cases, God is big enough to handle the “I believe, but help my unbelief,” and bring us to a place that the hymn writer testified about:
My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the Ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.
I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.
(“My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” by Lidie Edmunds)