Beyond Deconstruction: Start Here
Our series works with the reality of deconstruction and that many today claim they are in a “phase of deconstruction.” I have not been able to determine just exactly what they mean by deconstruction but the general point is clear. They find the Christian faith as they have experienced it to be inadequate. Whether it is some intellectual problem (science vs. Genesis 1-2 and the creationism they were taught) or the hypocrite problem (well-known pastors collapsing) or social problem (why can’t the church get on board with universal health care?), they are finding the church falling short. The credibility of the church’s claims is withering for them. As one parent told me the other day, “My son is SO OVER the whole church thing.”
Last week I sketched briefly three phases of deconstruction: liminality, elimination, and liberation. We cannot dwell on each of these points in a newsletter but I do want to begin offering both what I am seeing among those who survive deconstruction with a form of Christian faith and I offer also what can be a way forward. So, I begin answering the question I have been asked, “How can I survive this deconstruction with faith in tact?” And they do not mean with the same faith but with a revitalized, reconstructed faith.
First word: Jesus.
The Christian faith for many has become something along the line of Christianity or Christendom or a philosophy or a set of unalterable beliefs (a kind of systematic theology) or a catechism (what was taught as true in their church). In this world they experienced Jesus as The Agent and as The Christ but not as the Person.
They find Jesus entirely credible and they want to hang on to him. As a person. Not as an Agent in a System but as living person who lived as a marginalized Galilean in a poor family and who along with many struggled to exist.
You may balk at posing Jesus vs the Christ and I mean no harm and not heresy. The real Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. But I want to emphasize the de-personalization of Jesus that occurs in the worldviews of some who conjure him as The Agent who got redemption done rather than a person. I grew up in a world not unlike what many today have experienced. “Jesus” was for kids in Sunday School; grownups talked about “Christ.” Paul’s letters were adult books while children read about Jesus in the Gospels. No respectable theologian believes this; many in churches, however, absorb this.
Not least the Deconstructors. They want a personal Jesus. We shouldn’t therefore give them Jesus because they want him but because the only Christ we know is the Jesus of Galilee.
A Christ who is not Jesus the Person is not the Christ but a systemic agent, and nothing more.
Not only was Jesus a person – a man with brothers and sisters and a mother and a father and neighbors and a job and learning and growing and wondering and praying and attending synagogue – but he was a Jew. This matters because he is not an American or a European. He was a Middle Easterner and from what we can tell he didn’t look like some tall Gothic Jesus but like anyone else. As a Jew he belonged to a people (Israel) in one part of its territory (Galilee), and that people had a story (the story of Israel) with important ancestors and events and texts and locations and thin places (temple).
Our theology, our creedal faith, has too often ignored the real Jesus – the person, the Jew – to make him into The Agent who functions in the System. He loses his roots and his ancestors. We have made him one of us. Like the interviewer so many years ago who told me before we go into the TV set, “Reading this book was the first time I ever realized Jesus was a Jew.” (Argh a few times over.)
Many deconstructors want to maintain Jesus – the person, the Jew – and they are willing to begin right there, with him, all over again, as if for the first time. They want the Jesus who found various settings – mountainsides, hills, lakeshores, synagogues, tables in the evening, under trees to find shade in the heat of Galilee, in the temple courts – to teach, and announce, and talk, and to converse, and to debate. That’s a Jesus worth hanging onto.
They want a Jesus who had what today we would call an “organic missional” movement. He didn’t form a lyceum or academy as was formed in Athens and the empire, or even a new synagogue or a new temple. He formed disciples who went on walkabouts with him because they wanted to be “with him” so they could watch and observe and listen and learn and follow. They ate with him because they didn’t want to go home for fear they might miss one of his stories. So they stayed at table and somehow there was enough food – in part because the Sea of Galilee had plenty of fish (tilapia). They had barley beer and wine. It wasn’t a banquet but eating with him was better than going home, and eating with him always turned into a cutting edge conversation and some kind of revolutionary ideas. Not banquets but not without plenty of celebration.
They liked his empathy. He spotted the lonely and the lingering and the lame and the lost. He had an eye for them and their eye was on him, the way our eyes are on some potential savior passing by on the walkway. When he turned their eyes met. That’s what mattered.
He talked about love and lived it in a way that the talk was only a halfway house to the experience of that love. What they knew of love from him called into question what they had known of love. So fresh was his embodied love that they all knew he was teaching a “new commandment” of love filled old wine skins with a wine that burst the old skins.
Deconstructors don’t want a Jesus who can be used.
They want Jesus.
We can start with Jesus, the Person.