The progressive Christian arena it scattered with the term, deconstruction. It’s often tossed around without any context. Just about every blogger, podcaster, or influencer speaking about “progressive Christianity” is using the term. There’s even a podcast called the Deconstructionists!
I was first exposed to Christian deconstruction in an interview with Peter Rollins.
Peter Rollins book, ‘The Idolatry of God’ is an approachable introduction to deconstruction in a Christian context.
The idea of deconstruction didn’t begin in the contemporary christian sphere. It’s roots are associated with philosopher Jaques Derrida and his attempt to:
“reveal structures hidden in language that surreptitiously privilege some things over others and to show thereby that what people think is objectively the case may be a pre-conditioned way of looking at it… More broadly, it’s a type of analysis that takes apart conceptual structure in order to expose logical inconsistencies (Martos ix)”.
Understanding the word deconstruction as an analogy is a helpful start.
Our ideas are built on other ideas. We have to understand basic concepts before understanding more complex ones. Imagining our current understanding as a house, built on thousands of basic ideas, we begin deconstructing, tracing each assumed truth back to its foundation. We knock out the sheet rock, pull on the insulation, rip out the wiring, and we’re left with a house of just 2×4’s. And sometimes they need to be demolished too.
Most often I see people deconstructing personal beliefs rooted in bad teachers and convoluted ideas. This is a great start but I think it’s more exciting to deconstruct the theology that our religious institutions are built on.
Growing up Catholic, many of the sacraments seemed experientially disconnected to me. As I grew older and began exploring these teachings, I found a historical disconnect as well. Catholic’s present understanding of practices like baptism, confirmation, and marriage were established at the 16th century Council of Trent, which were based on ideas from the medieval schoolmen like St. Thomas, whose ideas were based on the great fathers of the church like St. Augustine, whose ideas were based on the ante-Nicene authors, whose key words and phrases were first found in scripture, written decades after the life of Jesus.
If, for example, in the 4th century St. Augustine misinterpreted a piece of scripture and no one challenged it before the Council of Trent, the modern Catholic church could wind up with doctrines wildly different from the teachings of Jesus.
“Understanding that our preconceived understandings rest on highly questionable premises has the potential to free us to develop experientially relevant ideas and practices” (Martos). It’s this phase, the reconstruction, that Farming god will continue to be dedicated to. Come along for the journey by signing up for the newsletter below.