Deconstruction's Three Phases

I said this last week: 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 creationismn 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.

I was grateful for the responses, and I want to quote one of them, by Ryan:

What do they want? Social relations/communion over against atomistic individualism, a way of knowing that is embodied and in communion where reason may assist in understanding over against rationalism which devalues or denies particularity (see McGilchrist’s Master and Emissary), knowing the self as storied from somewhere over against knowing the self gnosticly from nowhere, acknowledgement that I am social constructed without being socially determined over against (obviously) social determinism or self determinism, a community where awareness of an ideal being situated, awareness of the failure of practice to meet the ideal, and awareness of confession and forgiveness is necessary to balm the tension over against ideals which demand eradication (cancel) or subscription to ideals as sufficient in lieu of practice. So much more, but here’s a start.

I have observed what I will call here three “phases” of this deconstruction.

First, liminality.

Deconstruction for many is something like a half-way house between confining church experiences, release, preparation and eventually resocialization. Many state that they have negative church experiences. They are still convinced the church ought to be something different and better. But they can no longer being genuinely present in a church, participating in the systemic direction of a church, and thus they see any kind of participation as a form of hypocrisy. They have put that behind them. No more pretending. They are dissidents of the system. At this point they know what they don’t believe more than what they do believe. With respect to the church, they are in a liminal space, a space between faith and no faith, between belief and apostasy (in its classical sense).

My studies of conversion theory and apostasy concluded that those who occupy this liminal space walk away from the faith, or they linger in liminality, or they move into reconstructing faith on a different basis with a different kind of church.

Many in this phase are ambiguous, anxious, wounded, and wondering.

Second, elimination.

What many “deconstructors” do is begin to eliminate elements of their previous church life’s beliefs. They discard things like creationism, dispensationalism, Christan nationalism, inerrancy, original sin, evangelism (as commonly practiced), etc.. They enter this phase of not only knowing what they don’t believe but they decisively chuck some things aside. They will say things like “I’m not an evangelical any longer” or “I don’t affirm the institutional church” or “church leadership is nothing but a power game.” Many don’t know what will survive this period of elimination. In this phase the deconstructors have not left the faith and have not totally given up on church either, but they are so “de-constructive” in approach they have a hard time participating in any positive way in the life of any church.

My experience with this crowd finds them searching intensively. They are reading for a new vision, they find Tom Wright or Aleksander Schmemann or Thomas Merton. They are searching for the gold of Christianity but not knowing exactly where it will be found. They can be easily irritated, even angry, and not a little bit cynical.

Most that I encounter today who say they are in a “deconstruction” phase in their faith are in this phase of elimination.

Third, liberation.

Many deconstructors find a new way, and their new-found confidence in their new way mirrors their former confidence. Their personality type comes to expression again: if they were feisty fundies, they become feisty fundies again; if they were moderates before they become that again; if they were intellectual before, they remain intellectuals.

These deconstructors become, in other words, re-constructors. They reconstruct their Christian faith from the foundations up and they slowly, carefully lay one brick on another until they form a Christian faith that they find consistent with Jesus and what the church should and can be (all over again).