I have been open and transparent about my own journey in the faith. I’ve spoke at length about my religious heritage, and about how I walked into a revelation of the Father’s love for me. I speak of this as an ongoing process of transformation, like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, or of the resurrected man being released from his grave clothes. Like so many others who have had a revelation of grace and of the finished work, I too have undertook the process of tearing down so much of what I held to before; a sort of deconstruction if you will. And as you are aware, I have worked rather meticulously to build up something in place of those structures. I’ve replaced the sledgehammer with the framing hammer, to use another metaphor.
I want to take some time this month, to look at the value of deconstruction, and also at the structures themselves. It’s obvious that some things must go. Once a structure has met its usefulness, it stands in the way of progress, and must be demolished. But not everything needs torn down. Some things stand only as a monument, like a house in the historical register, or a statue that honors a hero. They serve no other purpose than to inform us of our history, and that purpose alone is worth attention.
Some of our spiritual journey stands as a monument to those who have gone on before. We are not still feeding at that table, so to speak, but we can honor what it meant to us in that season. I wouldn’t want to have service in the manner that I came up in in my early days of ministry, but I can still find the value in some of the things I saw and that I experienced. In some instances I am left with the knowledge that I don’t want some things, but even that is a lesson worth learning.
Other things are torn down, or deconstructed, because they have no value to us in the future. They are structures that held something for the moment, but the moment is gone, and their presence now can only serve as a reminder of condemnation, or as stumbling blocks to progress. In many cases, these deconstruction zones are in regards to doctrine or philosophy. Sometimes they are picked apart line by line, as we receive fresh revelation, and the previous structure starts to crack and crumble, and ultimately, fall. Other times, things fall over wholesale, as we step into a light so bright that it shines on the flimsy structure we have left behind, and like a spiritual earthquake, the ground gives way. In these moments, we feel like Hebrews 12, where, that which is shaken is shaken, so that that which cannot be shaken will remain.
What is left is typically the foundation for our faith. The other stuff reveals itself as chaff, blown about with the winds of change, and destined for the fire. We find a stronger, more stable version of ourselves in that moment. The world we know has changed, but the new earth we inhabit is a fresh Garden of Creation, full of possibility and promise.
I commend those who have dared swing the sledgehammer of deconstruction. It is not easy to face down all you have ever known. In the church world, it is practically frowned upon to dare question the so-called fundamentals. Due to the modern church’s obsession with last days events, there is a general fear of deception, as the Scripture says that the last days will be the undoing of many, “even the very elect.” Any shaking of the theological structure is looked at as an attack of the enemy, and evidence that the status quo is indeed correct after all.
But we need to be honest about deconstruction. One can only deconstruct what has first been constructed. One cannot deconstruct what has been created. Yes, you can cut down a tree, and chop it up and even shred it. But you can’t destroy what it has created. You can’t account for how many shoots it has produced in the forest, or how much of its fruit has been picked and consumed. It had life before you, and even when you tear it down, it has life you know nothing of. Jesus spoke of his ministry in much the same way, telling the Pharisees that he had sheep they knew nothing of. It’s a way of saying, “You can silence me, but you can’t stop me. I live on, and I always will.”
The more poorly constructed an edifice is, the easier it is to deconstruct. In some ways, some of my theological underpinnings were so easy to deconstruct because they were so poorly constructed. Many were built on conjecture, opinion, emotion, or a flimflam of verses thrown together, out of context, out of time, and out of desperation to solve problems and answer questions. So flimsy was some of my theology that the entire structure could fall, with one good poke.
So I say, poke away at the structures you hold so dear. That which is built on the sand is destined to fail. The sand can be anything from tradition that clouds relationship, to opinions not based upon Scripture. Don’t fear scrutiny, for the rock that is Christ and this faith we call Christianity either stands on something firm or it does not. Let fall what will fall, and hold fast to that which is worth holding onto.
These conclusions have not hurt my confidence in Scripture, or theology, but have in fact, solidified that which matters. I hold the Bible in the highest esteem. It has survived centuries. It has endured attack and scrutiny. It has made it through poor translations and even poor hermeneutics, and yet, it still contains the world’s greatest idea: that life is worth living, and living well; that each person matters, and that God truly cares. Wherever there is conflict, or contradiction, or controversy inside it’s pages, I’m okay with that. I believe I have encountered its heartbeat, and that’s a structure that cannot fall.
My theology has survived the sledgehammer, though not all facets of it that’s for sure. I can now look at some things as monuments, but not as shelters. I don’t condemn people for where they are or for what they hold dear. Their journey is unique, and need not look exactly like mine. Some things I thought were so essential have fallen away, and I have found that I’m okay without them. I neither judge others for what they have retained, nor do I accept judgment from others for what I hold dear, and for what I have abandoned.
I know I am being ambiguous in this essay, and that is by design. I’m not listing individual things that I used to believe but no longer do, nor am I piling up Scriptures to support ideas and knock others down. I’m handling it this way so that you feel no impetus to attack what I might have attacked, or to knock at what I’ve already knocked at. Your structures are yours; they are yours to live with or to pick at. In many ways, you are already rallying around the voices that support your structures or pick at them. It’s most likely why you are listening to this essay today. This ministry has either helped construct a concept or an idea that you find life in, or it has been instrumental in knocking down that which was useless. Maybe even both things are true. We have an almost natural inclination to embrace those messages and ministries that speak to where we are, not to where we aren’t. But we also lean into those that speak to where we want to be, that give voice to the best version of ourselves. To stick with the metaphor, we gravitate to the builder that lays out the blueprint we want to see built, and we hold on as construction happens.
All that is to say that I’m proud of you, and I’m proud for you, dear listener. You have went with me on the journey, and you have been experiencing your own adventure in the process. We are not done. In fact, we’ve only just begun. So swing away at what can’t stand the scrutiny. It will fall. And swing away at what can stand it, for that will be what is worth embracing. As for me, the resurrected Jesus still stands as a rock and a fortress. As the old song says, “All other ground is sinking sand.”
Grace to you.