Thursday, November 4, 2021

Deconstruction Isn't Cool

It's not a new word or idea by any means, but it sure feels like "deconstruction" is the new, trendy word in Christian circles today. Social posts on the idea are everyone, books on the subject are hot off the press, deconstruction programs are being sold, and most of what I'm seeing lately at least somewhat glamorizes the deconstruction process.

Memes like this are a good example of what I keep seeing. (Please scroll down and read it if you haven't already.) They're not completely ignoring the difficulty of deconstructing one's faith, but they're also not being completely honest about the excruciating pain that so often comes when one reevaluates everything.

And I'm not trying to say that one shouldn't partake in this long, arduous process of rethinking one's faith. I went through that journey and am glad I did. But if you're glorifying deconstruction, then I don't think you properly understand deconstruction. I love the faith that's emerged from my long pilgrimage of stripping things to the studs, but "enjoy the ride" is not a phrase I find realistic or helpful when thinking about this incredibly difficult process. That wasn't my experience at all. I rarely felt like I was the driver of my own deconstructive process. Instead, it often felt like the wheels were falling off and my world was crumbling around me.

Deconstruction is a massive risk that's almost always painful and costly. I've personally watched marriages fail, pastors quit, theists become atheists, parents disown kids, kids write off parents, seminary students never attend church again, and tons of people just stop caring about faith. Deconstruction is lonely and scary. You feel crazy and sane simultaneously. You feel like you're finally being honest with yourself, and yet everyone else thinks you've lost it. And you often have to do this important work in isolation because to share this journey publicly would be too costly.

So, in my mind, you deconstruct your faith only when you have to; when to not ask these questions would mean denying everything you feel stirring in your soul; when keeping the status quo is just no longer an option; when you're finally willing to give up the comfort and security of the old system for the tantalizing-yet-uncertain hope for a better future.

But there's no celebrating. There's no buckling up and enjoying the ride. There's no manual to work through. It's not a program with six easy steps. You read and talk and question and cry, but somewhat just have to let it happen naturally. There's no forcing this sort of work. There's no rushing this sort of growth. There's no easy way out of one way of thinking and into another.

So if you're going to rethink your faith, count the cost and prepare for pain. And then do so slowly. Do so in community. Give yourself grace. Don't do it because it's trendy, but do so with a commitment to moving all the way through the questions and doubts and uncertainties to a new place of beauty and faithfulness. There's goodness on the other side, so keep going. Don't just tear things down, critique everything, and then quit your faith. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. If you're going to go through the pain of deconstruction, make sure you keep moving through the hopeful goodness of reconstruction. Because if you press on, the new thing that emerges will be beautiful and good and liberating -- a life steeped in the grace and peace of God.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Christian of the Future

Back in 1971, author and theologian Karl Rahner stated, "The Christian of the future will be a mystic or nothing at all." 

That's a prophetic, thought-provoking phrase, but while Rahner was ahead of his time by a number of decades, I think he was right. We've been steeped in the modern world of the scientific method for over 500 years, which has altered the way we think about faith. In our modern world, we've prioritized information over formation.

Our worship gatherings have primarily become lecture- or teaching-based.
Our discipleship programs have been mostly oriented around study.
Our evangelism has mainly been apologetic in nature.
We've emphasized the head, while often neglecting the heart and the hands.
We've often chosen theological points over spiritual practice.

And while none of those things are inherently bad, we've, generally speaking, lost the centuries-old beauty of mysticism. A mystic is a person who seeks and, at some level, attains a direct experience within the mystery of God. A mystic is someone who is open to actual, spiritual encounter with the living God. A mystic is a curious listener who is on high-alert for the mysterious, profound, usually-ordinary, and often-unexpected presence of God in all of life.

So, I think Rahner is arguing that in a post-modern, post-Christian world where cultural Christianity is no longer a thing and average Americans no longer flood churches on Sunday mornings just because the doors are open, people will be decreasingly interested in Christianity unless they actually (both personally and communally) encounter and experience the presence of God on a regular basis.

Author Brian Zahnd says a similar thing by saying, "The faith of the future will be sustained by an experience, not an argument." In short, our faith must be tangible and real. It must be practiced, not just understood. It must be lived out, not just believed in. If it's not experienced and practiced, it simply won't last.

Which is why we've worked hard, at our church, to cultivate a posture of awareness. I'm convinced that God is always at our world in our lives and the world, if only we'll have eyes to see. So as we seek to grow in our faith, we must constantly strive for ways to experience the presence of God, rather that information to understand about God.

If Rahner and Zahnd are correct, however, this also has huge implication for how we can best connect with our world through evangelism and mission. Because if our post-Christian world is no longer interested in and will no longer be swayed by a rational argument for faith, then it's incumbent upon the church to both embody the presence of God for the world and to help the world recognize and experience God's presence. If Rahner and Zahnd are right, then in the post-modern world, you're simply not going to argue or debate people into faith.

And, again, I think they're right. I think the world has already shifted and that this process will only continue. The world is asking, whether they know it or not, "What good is faith and why does it even matter?" So the people of God must have honest, real life answers to those questions, so we can help the world understand that there are good, helpful, life-changing answers to those questions.