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Deconstructing Deconstruction

Updated: May 8

Historian, theologian, and Evangelical Expert Dr. John G. Stackhouse, Jr., explains what is going on with the deconstruction trend of people who formerly identified with evangelical Christianity now undergoing processes of questioning, doubt and even outright disillusionment in the mini-course: Deconstruction 101. Many of them are opting for a new form of faith. But is that new form still evangelical? Still Christian? Below is an excerpt from Deconstruction 101


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A prominent Christian magazine recently warned against “deconstruction”—and it sounded pretty bad.


Deconstruction 101 Mini-Course by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

“Fire,” “demolition,” and “ashes”—these were the disquieting words associated with “deconstruction.” In fact, deconstruction was linked to so-called exvangelicals and seemed to be simply a trendy new synonym for “apostasy.”

Deconstruction, however, is not just de(con)struction. And it isn’t to be avoided at all costs. In this series, we’ll look at what it is, where it came from, and how to respond to it.

This original use of “deconstruction,” however, has nothing to do with its use among evangelicals nowadays. Nothing, that is, except perhaps that Derrida’s deconstruction is linked with postmodernism, and a lot of evangelicals seem to think that anything postmodern is bad.

So what about deconstruction among current evangelicals? I encountered a second use of the term in the early 2000s at Regent College in Vancouver. As we faculty members taught our adult learners the basics of the Bible, church history, theology, and more, those students one by one and piece by piece examined the religion each had brought to us. As many of them modified or set aside elements of their respective versions of faith, some testified to an experience of “deconstructing” their Christianity.

“Deconstruction” for those Regent students, therefore, was a generally healthy exercise in critique: setting aside perhaps the white nationalism of their American evangelical church, or the tribalism of a black African community, or the sexism of an Asian Christian tradition—or the smug superiority of a Canadian congregation! What needed to happen next was reconstruction.

Alas, the term now seems to mean, at least for many evangelicals, a third thing: truly the dissolution of authentic Christianity. What starts as an appropriate questioning of this or that strange dogma, or odd devotional requirement, or dubious ethical norm—the kind of questioning that, say, a John Wesley or a Søren Kierkegaard would have rightly leveled at the conventional Christianity of his peers—can end up with an individual composing a religion on his or her own.

Now, “Do-It-Yourself religion” has been noticed by sociologists of religion for a generation or more. Friend Reginald Bibby joins others in calling it religion à la carte. Some of this, plus some of that, and a little of the other—there! My own form of spirituality.

Such mixing and matching has gone on in the so-called New Age, of course. But it has also been common in liberal Christian circles, in which a thinned-out version of the Christian religion is augmented and even corrected by insights, devotional practices, and even doctrines derived from other religions and philosophies. (Reincarnation, Bibby has shown in his national surveys, is a particularly popular accessory.)

So is deconstruction just the latest version of religious syncretism?

What’s new is that deconstruction is happening among evangelicals—and, yes, among Roman Catholics as well. What’s new is that people aren’t just leaving orthodox Christianity for another religion, a secular humanism of some sort, or sheer hedonism, but instead embarking on the distinctively modern (and postmodern) project of deciding what elements of Christianity to keep, what elements to discard, and what elements to modify.

What’s also new is that these folk are deciding each on their own, but usually in the context and with the impetus of loose, but compelling, social-media networks. Bolstered by sympathetic “likes” and by the testimonies of others from all over, individuals now feel freer than ever to pick and choose what makes sense to them and “what works” for them, displaying a confidence previously unavailable to solitary individuals disillusioned by their church experiences and fumbling toward an alternative.

Instead of arriving at a sound and solid Christianity shorn of mistaken human traditions—deconstruction in the second sense—this deconstruction means each person devises a religion matching his or her highest aspirations and deepest intuitions. Cynics would say, instead, a religion tailored to his or her own preferences. Either way, no wonder that American magazine was alarmed!


After this mini course you will understand:

  • characteristic convictions of exvangelicals: their overall identity, religious stance, and the way they decide what to believe.

  • how personal testimony can connect to religious dissent

  • how to construct theology and ethics

  • the nature of Christian fellowship and

  • how to deal with deep difference . . . and division.


 

Speaking of Controversies...

Woke by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

We're giving away 100 copies of my new book, Woke: An Evangelical Guide to postmodernism, liberalism, Critical Race Theory, and more on GoodReads until May 20 2024.


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"I know of no other book that explains so clearly, with so lively a pen, and with such economy the various intellectual currents that are now disturbing our cultural peace. What is even rarer is that the author grinds no axes, treating both sides of the culture wars with thoughtful charity and a deeply Christian intelligence. 'Woke' has important things to say and it does so in a highly readable manner."

— Nigel Biggar, Ph.D., Regius Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, U

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 Mini Courses 

 

Understand key ideas in important Christian theology, ethics, and history in 30 minutes (or less!) in ThinkBetter Media's mini-courses, created by award-winning theologian and historian Dr. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. 

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