Answering Progressive Deconstructionists

Answering Progressive Deconstructionists

I understand the progressive’s therapeutic need for challenging popular evangelical beliefs with complaints that reject damaging evangelical beliefs. It should be remembered that evangelical belief does not constitute the majority of historic belief received and practiced by Christians throughout history. This alone suggests critiques of evangelicalism's claims should be presented. However, theology does not exclude the real possibility of new readings of scripture as we draw closer to the way of Jesus and the knowledge of Christ. It is imperative that we teach people to think critically with faith and produce constructive theology that flows through scripture with a harmonic continuity of interpretation and revelation.

Deconstructionist progressives understand the process of deconstruction to be opening one’s eyes to a reality of Christian faith that is hidden from and contrary to denominational Christianity, and occasionally historic Christianity (they are often correct in my thought). Deconstructionist progressives tend to practice a theology that supports their ideological views over the hard work of interpreting the scripture to find support for their claims and answers to their questions (this is a problem in my thought). Many of their critiques and claims can be rich with scriptural support others cannot.

I think that when challenging a teaching that is wrong, incorrect, errant, etc. it is essential to provide a correct reading of the scripture(s) that are used to support such readings. Yet, this type of direct approach is not as fruitful as a subversive approach that presents the scripture in a manner that allows the student to discover a ‘good reading’. The subversive approach allows the student to feel liberated rather than corrected.

It is my conviction that deconstruction practiced in its most healthy way begins with scripture (not complaint) and subversively takes the student through a process of instruction that opens one’s eyes to the truth in the text, in the world, and is, in effect, a revelatory experience. The need for a deconstructive practice in teaching is essential for liberating people from religious control and authorial claims that benefit only the institution, justify misogyny, and idols of nationalism, militarism, and moral superiority.

The evangelical apocalyptic fervor that profits year after year from exploiting the weak with end time books and movies is one of the many disturbing aspects of evangelicalism. Teaching people how to read apocalyptic literature is an important part of deconstructing and healing the evangelical mind. Weak souls tend to gravitate towards apocalyptic madness because learning to read scripture and take on its many challenges to create a better world can be overwhelming to those new in the faith. Simple instruction on genre and the nature of apocalyptic literature can result in a complete shift in one’s world view in relation to evangelicalism.

History is essential for the Christian faith. It is death that gives birth to history and it is God’s self revelation in history that demonstrates God is greater than death. The revelation of God in Christ is a matter of historical record contained in the writings we reference as scripture. The revelation of God in scripture is accomplished in history, meaning God enters history, this makes history communicative of both God and humanity. Our problem is not with scripture’s claims our problem is with our understanding of how to read scripture.

Reading scripture with our moral conscience alone is insufficient to find the revelatory instruction contained within scripture. The moral conscience is subject to err due to both insufficient knowledge and phenomenon like groupthink and cultural pressure. Although all readings of scripture should be moral and compassionate, each should be affirmed with a culturally informed, linguistically sensitive effort that is aware of literary design, the original languages, and instruction that exposes violence and misogyny.

Questioning Christian faith and its dogmatic claims based solely upon the moral conscience is a popular practice for progressive deconstructionists. A person who complains but offers no solution is not schooled in wisdom, is not ready to contribute to change, and is in need of a teacher.

I consider one of the principle weaknesses in the progressive deconstructionist approach to be the failure to ask better questions that enable the practice of a better hermeneutic. If the first question deconstructs, the following question should seek to think critically with faith for a better question that reveals a better reading of scripture. Often this is as simple as looking for mercy in the text, choosing a compassionate reading over a legalist reading, or applying a hermeneutic of suspicion that challenges the validity of the text’s claims — through noting the literary devices that conflict with the dogmatic reading and by considering the voice of the powerless characters.

All philosophy begins with doubt. Faith belongs to the religious sphere of our existence and begins with the calling of the Spirit through hearing. Faith is the passing on of a revelation through a verbal or written kerygma (to proclaim).  Although faith can be consistent with reason, faith can also be inconsistent with reason. Religion is not subject to reason but to faith, and faith is greater than reason because it operates as spirit. However, the discerning of the voice of God (good theology) is a spiritual exercise dependent upon scriptural reading, supported by reason, experience and the beloved community.

Often there is more faith in a question than in a dogmatic statement. Yet, a good question is constructive while questioning (deconstructing) an accepted thought about God, scripture, and our perception of life under the sun.  Learning to identify and read the subversive stories of scripture that appear to support the status quo (powers) but expose the erring ideologies of power through the presence of powerless characters is the scriptural way of deconstructing. [1] Likewise, instruction on those parts of scripture that can be referred to as a canon within the canon, is essential for the faith development of Christians. Briefly, passages such as Exodus 34: 5-8 (God’s self-revelation), Micah 6: 6-8 (anti-sacrificial faith), Philippians 2:5-11 (The Christ Hymn), Psalm 110; 1,4 (verse one is the most oft quoted OT verse in the NT), and others.

In the search for certainty on many religious issues we must acknowledge that life is complicated and requires a fluid relationship with concepts of certainty in the flux and flow of grace that is always working in a broken world. For example, we live in a world where children need boundaries; they need security, and seek for it within the confines of the family and home. As adults, our innocence long lost, we enter a world larger than all that our family experience was able to prepare us for; a world of calamity and assorted powers that govern our movement and activity, uncertainty becomes a perpetual and inescapable reality.

Certainty is a lived experience and not a position for approaching the mercy and grace of God to act in the world. Abraham asked God for certainty (Gen. 15) and received a vision of God’s faithfulness to God’s promises. Abraham learned that God’s promises are kept but not worked out as we think they should be because God is greater than us. Always God is more than…

When reading scripture we must join the divine imagination that operates within the constructs of scriptural readings. The stories of scripture offer many lessons and cannot be restrained to an absolute reading that limits the possibilities for finding meaning and life giving instruction. This does not mean scripture is without interpretive limits, it does mean the richness of scripture is grander than literalist readings. Words have meaning, stories have a setting, an occasion, characters bring complexity to a story, authorial intent is lost as soon as a story is told, but the search for understanding is greater than the search for meaning. Love is lived in our response to the complexities of life. Honesty is not lost to love’s empathy but remains with clarity of sight and moves a soul to the light of Christ or ignites anger and rejection.

Jesus learned to ‘see’ with the eyes of God (John 5:19).[2] I’m sure this was a painful experience for God to see with eyes of flesh; to see the cruelty of humanity, the gnawing power of death, the struggle of existence. Can we learn to see with the eyes of Jesus? If so, how would we live in relation to others? How would we endure the pain of love’s limitations to bring immediate change? How would we read scripture?

[1] For scriptural examples see: Phillip Michael Garner, Interpretive Adventures; Subversive Readings in a Missional School (Eugene, Or: Wipf and Stock Publishing, 2017) Chapter three pgs. 43-64.

[2] Job once questioned God on the experiential power of sight from the human perspective.  Job 10:4 Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as humans see? In the incarnation of God, the person of Jesus, Job’s question can no longer be viewed as a valid critique on God in relation to human experience.