A recent article caught my attention. Written by Alisa Childers, and published on her blog, (with a condensed version on the conservative Gospel Coalition’s website), the article is titled “No, Martin Luther Was Not a Deconstructionist;” (within the piece, Childers added, “and neither was Jesus).” The article also serves as a promotion for her book, “Another Gospel.” I have not read her book and will address only her article.

As you might imagine, as an ordained female, anathema in many conservative Church circles, I have a few thoughts/comments.

The title alone gives the reader an initial understanding of Childers’ stance regarding “deconstruction,” a recent, popular term Christians (and some no-longer-Christians) are using to describe their faith journeys – including doubt, sincere questions regarding their faith, as well as their understanding of Scripture. Believers are often thrown into deconstruction as a direct result of spiritual trauma, but also as a result of their theological and spiritual growth.

Definitions matter, and Childers’ understanding of “deconstruction” is:

“In the context of faith, deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with. Sometimes the Christian will deconstruct all the way into atheism. Some remain there, but others experience a reconstruction. But the type of faith they end up embracing almost never resembles the Christianity they formally knew.”

The author posits a definitive distinction between progressive Christianity, and the historical understanding of the Gospel, although progressive Christians claim that their understanding of Scripture is more “biblical,” more Christ-like, than their conservative counterparts, which begs the question, is it true that the two – historical Christianity and a faith that has been deconstructed, often called “progressive Christianity” are poles apart? Unfortunately, what evangelicals mean by progressive Christianity is Christians who are not really Christians because they believe differently than we believe.

In light of her definition, Childers claims, “Deconstruction has little to do with objective truth, and everything to do with tearing down whatever doctrine someone believes is morally wrong.”

Further, she claims, “Deconstructionists may even say they are simply rejecting cultural beliefs that have become entangled with Christianity.” Some of the issues include penal substitutionary atonement, biblical marriage, abortion/what is pro-life, LGBTQ issues, patriarchy, nationalism, and Scripture and its meaning/interpretation/application. A dangerous subtext being, “If you know Christ, study Scripture, pray, and come to a different understanding of these issues than me, then you’re not “saved.”

In what is, in my opinion, the bottom line of her anti-deconstructionism, the author states,

“But deconstructionists do not regard Scripture as being the final authority for morality and theology – they appeal primarily to science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history.”

Some of us believe that science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history are not antagonistic to Christianity or to sacred Scripture since God created it all! Pitting them all against God, against Scripture, betrays a lack of understanding.

The use of sacred Scripture as a rule book, incapable of being in error, not merely divinely inspired, but viewed as the actual written words of God, has caused the Bible to be morphed into a type of idol for much of conservative Christianity, rather than the sacred story of God’s creation, the life, teachings, and salvation provided in Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (the birth of Christ’s Church). A rule book that you can see in black and white is easier to follow than the Holy Spirit who lives within each believer, not so easily seen.

Childers relates that her story, her understanding of “reconstructionism,” comes from an experience when she was young and challenged by a “progressive Christian pastor.” Said pastor wanted to “propel his congregation into deconstruction so he could convert them to progressive Christianity.” She related, “A few of us came back around to a historically Christian understanding of the gospel, but most did not.” No specifics were given, just her belief/assumption that progressive Christianity and traditional Christianity were somehow at odds.

Deconstruction is an attempt for the believer to face difficult issues that they have faced, as well as what they have found within Scripture. When I was a child and would ask questions, I would be told, “We don’t question God.” As an adult who has grown in the faith, I would now respond that I believe God is able to handle any and all questions brought to Him in sincerity.

Additionally, the Gospel can stand up to “intellectual challenge,” including issues that were not faced during biblical times.

In her book, Childers makes a claim that is totally on target:

“If more churches would welcome the honest questions of doubters, and engage in the intellectual side of their faith, they would become safe places for those who experience doubt.

I believe that “deconstruction” is simply the newest term for what the author describes as, “the process of evaluating our beliefs, traditions, and church culture in light of Scripture, and rejecting any unbiblical beliefs with the goal of living more authentically as Christians…” To which, I add a heart-felt, “amen!”

Childers argues that “this isn’t deconstruction. It might rightly be called ‘reformation’ or ‘restoration’ or even ‘healing.’” But in fact, before we can do the hard task of rebuilding, we must do the equally hard, if not more difficult task of tearing down what we find in our faith that is not of Christ.

Perhaps “deconstruction” isn’t the best word, but it is a term born out of toxic theology (often involving spiritual/emotional/sexual abuse), and it must be respected, heard, and addressed. Hopefully, it is only the first step in drawing closer to Christ and becoming authentic followers who represent Him well. As Christians we should not be offended by the word. We should be asking ourselves why so many people feel the need to deconstruct their faith. And our churches should be safe havens where questions can be asked, issues raised – even tough issues – really, really tough issues – and no one is made to feel they “aren’t Christian” because of their struggle.

Back to Childers claim regarding Martin Luther and Jesus. Luther was absolutely involved in deconstructing his faith, to the point of reframing the basic tenants of Christian belief and practice, ushering in a new theological era, triggering the Protestant Reformation. Perhaps we should call deconstruction, “Reformation!”

As for Jesus, the One on whom our faith rests, He absolutely deconstructed, tore apart, and did away with the toxic faith of His day. To those who lived “by the law,” He gave new marching orders, saying, “You have heard it said…but I say unto you.” Included in this new understanding of God’s grace was the radical command for us to love our enemies! Jesus updated and expanded their understanding of Scripture, and gave us the two most important commands, to “love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength,” and “to love our neighbors as ourselves.” Love takes precedence over Scripture.

In Christ, there was room for deconstruction, for doubting, for questioning. In Christ, there was compassion, and there was grace. Surely, His church, filled with His Spirit, could offer the same, regardless of whether we call it deconstruction or some other word.

In that vein, here is my “definition” of spiritual deconstruction:

The theological/spiritual “study” of the faith practices and beliefs handed down to us, in order to determine if those are consistent with God’s love, as presented through Jesus Christ. Assessing and sometimes wrestling with what we have been taught in order to determine if our foundation is sound, and if there are additional teachings that are not consistent with God’s love, the life and work of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual deconstruction reminds me of the story of Jacob literally wrestling with an angel, striving to go forward, persisting in that pursuit until the angel tells him that he has successfully struggled with both God and man. The angel then gives Jacob a new name, “Israel,” meaning, “he who wrestles with God,” and allows Jacob to pass.

As Christ-followers, sometimes we need to struggle with God and man, to deconstruct, that is, identify what has become flotsam and jetsam in our faith. Once identified, we must do the hard task of rebuilding our faith, not based in worldly values, but on the rock that is Christ.

Deconstruction is actually the beginning of reformation, the essential first step in our Christian growth. May God grant us the wisdom and strength to ask the pertinent, challenging, and hard questions, so that we may grow in His love, and the courage to reject compassionately and unswervingly, what does not represent nor bring glory to Christ. Amen.

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Kim Chafee

I am a lover of the God who sings! I am a Christ-follower and an ordained minister married to the other Rev. Chafee (Scott), with two grown children and a multitude of pets. And, I love chocolate. Read more about me and the reason for this blog on my ABOUT page.

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