Deconstructing Christianity, Not Jesus.

Jen and I were having another conversation about deconstructionism this morning. We both agreed it's a tendency for both of us - trying to "dig" to whatever truth or foundation is in us and/or in God.

Woody Allen is my favorite deconstructionist. Not only in Deconstructing Harry, but in all of his films, he seems to be frantically scrambling to understand, justify, hide, proclaim, deconstruct, rebuild, reject and cling to all of the little oddities, obsessions, fears, peculiarities and perversions that make him, himself.

But for most of us, there's some point where we stop: some place we're not willing to pass through. Almost everyone has "non-negotiables," topics or principles they refuse to to question or reconsider. I know I do - it's Jesus. For me, the personhood (and Godhood) of Jesus Christ is where I stop questioning. I used to think it was because of fear. "If I begin questioning Jesus, everything unravels!" Maybe I was just another blind follower, refusing to ask the "tough" questions.

  • I'm willing to question the validity or authenticity of some of the Scriptures. I'm willing to view them through a lens of human construct - even as I believe they are divinely inspired. People are errant.
  • I'm willing to question "truth," recognizing that humans are limited and unable to grasp the infinite or eternal.
  • I'm willing to question the institutional church - and reject it if necessary - because I know that the Body of Christ will not be confined to buildings or creeds, and cannot be "defeated" or ultimately subverted.
  • I'm even willing to discard the Christian religion if someone can show me a better, more meaningful, more constructive, more powerful way of following and living in Christ.

But I've personally learned that I must refuse to question Jesus, not primarily because I'm afraid, but because I know Jesus. I have a relationship with Jesus (I know, a little christianesey...). Because of the concreteness of that relationship (at least in my perception and experience) I have absolutely no reason to question who Jesus is. Moreover, it would be an offense to Jesus if I were to question or doubt him, because my questions would come from an inauthentic place: I don't wonder who he is. Of course, I do wonder about him - what he was like on earth? what does he think about particular issues? how or why does he love me? etc...

But to question the truth of Jesus' being would be like me questioning the authenticity or faithfulness of my wife and her love for me. I don't, for a moment, think I know all there is to know about Jen. There are many secret places - corners of her past I'll never know. Wounds and scars she's afraid to reveal. There are parts of me I can't reveal - or won't reveal - or don't know how... A lifetime on earth is not long enough to know one-another as we are known by God. But I do know that she loves me - and I know that who she is with me is real. Call me "blind," but that's the necessary vulnerability love requires. We always trust, always hope, always persevere...

I've used this picture before: if I learned one day that Jen's real name was different, or that she had not revealed something about her past, I don't believe I would feel the need to question her love for me. Or the truth of her nature, as I have observed it for more than 10 years, now.

If I learned that Jesus' real name is "Steve" and that he was Arabic instead of Jewish - it doesn't change who he is in my life - who he has been for as long as I can remember. I can't betray such intimacy with questions for the sake of questions. Someone might call that intellectually dishonest. I call it being a faithful friend.

And so my deconstruction takes place up to and around the point where Jesus Christ stands. I could take it or leave it. I believe the Bible is true (not perfect, not inerrant, but true) and that the God I worship is indeed the God revealed through the life of Jesus Christ. I believe that God is the same God worshipped by the ancient Jews - though God's PR guy then was just as bad as God's PR guy now. Pretty lousy.

But if you haven't actually met Jesus - if you've only heard and read about Jesus - or observed the loudmouths, assholes and talking heads who claim to know him (self-included) then I can understand the need to deconstruct Jesus. Why wouldn't you question someone you don't know? That's intellectual honesty.

There needs to be enough room in the Christian faith - and in interfaith dialogue - for those who rightfully need to question, as well as those who honestly do not. There must be grace and space for both.


madcat said...

I really like your post. This one particularly, because of recent times, I have a lot of doubts about Xtianity, the Bible, or even the existence of God.

I realised I HAVE BEEN deconstructing Xtianity AND GOD. I don't want to, but I find my mind and brain taking over.

I recently blogged about the mistakes found in the Bible. The largest question in my mind now is: If the Bible is tainted with human errors (discovered, or YET to be discovered), then CAN I trust the Bible and its message?

Will the message be distorted?

If the message CAN be distorted, then was Jesus who He was as claimed by the Bible?

Please, enlighten me. Leave a comment on my blog if you would.

Thanks dude. :)

Peter said...

madcat, wow - you've really been thinking about this a lot lately. I know what you're going through, I really grieved when I came to the realization the Scripture wasn't "inerrant." Deconstruction can be a tough spiral to pull out of, but it's sometimes necessary.

I don't think I can presume to "enlighten" you, but I do have some thoughts.

The Bible is precious to me – New Testament and Old. And there are lots of things in the Bible that piss me off.

Bishop John Shelby Spong is a classic example of Christian liberalism, where frustrating verses are simply "thrown out." And I emphasize SIMPLY. I find that “solution” incredibly simplistic, and not very thoughtful. Spong lists “immoral Biblical texts” in his book, Sins of Scripture. My concern about this sort of editorial activity is that it relies on the moral compass of the particular writer/scholar/editor/human who is making the “cuts.” It suggests: “I understand better than the writer(s) of this passage, what God actually wanted or intended… my morality is superior to this morality.” To me, it feels very arrogant and very elitist. Even ethnocentric – a modern, Western white man judging ancient, tribal Jews.

Instead, I prefer to pray like this:

“Lord, I don’t like this verse. I don’t understand how a loving God – as you have been in my life – could order the extermination of an entire people group. Or how you could fire-bomb an entire city. Or identify women as second-class citizens. I trust that you are good, through the model of Jesus Christ, your son. I trust that you are good through the convictions of my heart, and the personal experiences I have had through your Holy Spirit. Because of that trust, I will not tear these pages out of my Bible. But neither will I pretend to understand them, or choose to live by these specific, non-contextualized words, or defend them as good when I do not believe they are. They obviously meant something to your people long ago, so I will wrestle with these words. I will hold them in tension, and I ask you to illuminate my heart and mind. If there is something I can learn from them, help me to see. In Christ’s name, amen.”

But as you point out madcat, there is more to problematic scripture than "troubling" or "offensive" scriptures. Your examples of inconsistent and even contradictory facts in different verses is a good example.

I enrolled at George Fox Seminary because it was the only seminary in Portland that did not use the word "inerrant" in its Statement of Faith. I want room to ask questions. Room for a little disbelief. Room to acknowledge that science is not an enemy of faith. That human beings, even inspired by God, are still HUMAN BEINGS. Not heavenly tape recorders. We don't always "get it." Faith entails believing in something that can't be proven or reasoned.

I have no problem with that! But I have a real problem with trying to forcefully conform science (or history) into a religious worldview that makes certain demands of God - of how God functions.

And therein lies my deepest frustration: trying to force GOD into a box. Suggesting that our theological needs or expectations must take precedence over the universe God created and blessed us with. Denying reality for the sake of an overly-controlling dream. God is not bound or gagged by the Bible - rather, God is hinted at, grasped for, and sometimes truly illuminated by scripture. But God will always transcend humanity's feable attempts at understanding and documenting.

I realize that's hardly even a BEGINNING to the questions you're posing, but they're good questions so keep asking them AS you prayerful seek the face of God.

Here's a link to all of the blog posts I've done concerning Scripture:

And here's a link to a paper I wrote (converted onto my blog) about the differences and contradictions in Jesus' genealogies. Not sure if you've focused on that much, but Matthew and Luke offer radically divergent accounts of Jesus' family lineage.

Bless you as you seek the Kingdom, madcat.

Al said...

Madcat, I know where you are coming from. Once you start thinking on your own, instead of accepting everything you have been taught, things start getting shaky.
Where do you stop deconstructing? If part of the structure is unsound, how deep do you go to get rid of the rottenness?
I appreciate Peter's 'non-negotiables', but also his recognition that not everyone has the same list, or even that we will have the same list tomorrow as today. We all change--and that is a good thing.
When it comes to what do we do with the Bible, I guess we have to figure out what it is, and what it isn't. Is it a science textbook? No.
Is it a complete revelation of the fullness of God's character? No, because nothing is big enough to completely do that.
Was it written by writers taking dictation from God Himself? No, that is not its purpose.
But we have to come to our own understanding of its purpose, or we will soon ignore it like last week's newspaper. What does it claim to be, and what does it not claim to be?
For that matter, we need to think about Jesus being the Word of God while we are thinking about the Bible being the Word of God, and contemplate what each of those concepts mean.
I was much more self-assured in years past, when I accepted what I was being taught. Now I have more questions than answers. It's easy to slip back into the concreteness and solidness of the structure--but I know there are things that need to be deconstructed. Some days it feels like I'm walking in quicksand. It comes back to holding on to Christ, and gingerly testing the rest of the structure, seeing what is sound, and what isn't. Some days my prayer is: "Lord, don't let me tear down the things you have built, but don't let me be scared of killing a few sacred cows, if I have to." (Sorry for the mixed metaphors!)
Blessings, madcat and Peter. Keep on keeping on.

madcat said...

Yes, Peter, I grieved too, when I found out that the Scriptures are tainted with errors. From young, it was always taught to me (or seemingly) that the Bible is the only perfect book in the world.

I like the prayer you gave. Its' true. It's hard to understand why God would exterminate babies, and a whole human group just based on the reasons of "survival" and "sin".

I always wonder how the mother and child of the enemies of the Jews would feel when the Jews were rushing in to slaughter everyone.

Yes, I am still trying to grasp the Bible. I always thought it was supposed to be different, in terms of inerrancy. But now, it has no difference, though still special in a way to me.

Hey and Peter, I really agree with you about putting God in a box, about "Denying reality (that God's character is very complicated, very diversed, very gracious, very wise), for the sake of an overly-controlling dream (and we simplify His character to just "black and white" just to fulfill our own "wants")

I would never dare put God in a box in any way. I would not even dare say that God is bound by the Bible alone - because at the end of the day, the Bible IS written by men, with men's agenda, men's biasness, men's errors, men's misconceptions, no doubt inspired by God.

At the end of the day, after much thought and after simply simply comparing the mistakes in the Bible with an Infallible God, I know God is not bound by only the Bible, because if He was, the Bible would be as perfect as He is.

Amen. God will always transcend human understanding, or if we like it, Christian understanding.

AL - Thanks, will keep that in mind.

Peter said...

Thanks madcat, I appreciate where you're coming from. It's a tough place.

However, I wouldn't say "the Bible is no different" than other writings. It's just not necessarily what some of us THOUGHT it was.

The Bible IS different: it's a collection of writings, letters, prayers and prophesies that have withstood more historical scrutiny and scholarly critique than any other written documents. That's incredible in and of itself. The Bible can, for the most part, be historically verified and validated against other nonreligious accounts of governments, kingdoms, eras and dynasties.

Particularly amazing to me is the consensus among the four Gospels, concerning the life and teachings of Jesus. Yes, they drew on each other in some cases (Matthew and Luke - on Mark, and the 'Q' documents) but as for the historicity of Jesus' life, in particular, I've heard historians say we take a lot of other historical accounts as 'fact' with a lot less cooberating documents.

I could go on, but I'd end up repeating myself. I do think that the men (and possibly some women) who wrote the books of our canonical Bible were all inspired by a dynamic spiritual relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael (oops, did I say that?). Does that mean their interpretation was a "perfect read" on the mind of YHWH? No, but I don't think that was the point.

And I know the writers of the Scriptures were not the only folks in history to be divinely inspired. I'm taking a class right now on the Pseudepigrapha and the Apocrypha. Should be interesting...

Blessings. Hope you keep wrestling!

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

I'd just like to posit that there was another moment that was said to be "God-breathed..." the creation of me--Adam. He didn't "err" there either.

But I love the post--love the questions--love the prayer. I think that I read you right in saying that you desire to build the family of Christ up in an edifying and truthful way. In that attempt you're expected not to be divisive...a house divided so to speak. Christians who are set up within church walls are also trying to answer questions and do what they can. Even if they in your opinion have been divisive and haven't been exactly as we should expect of each other, I would think that while it gives us pause, it should also inspire an even greater attempt to build them up in truth in whatever capacity. If that includes challenging the very nature of the worship within 4 walls so be it. But there's a fine line between divisive and challenge.

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