Deconstruct / Reconstruct – Tools for Generous Orthodoxy

It used to be so easy. You got up at the crack of dawn to have your enriching quiet time. At church, which you regularly attended (Sunday evening, Wednesday house group, a couple of committees…) the singing moved you, the message was pitched right to your condition. The Lord was with you, and you were friends with God, and everything made sense: you were an on-fire for the Lord Jesus-freak and it was sweet. At least, it was sweet while it lasted. Now you sit at the back of the church and you look around at everyone else and feel so disconnected that you aren’t sure whether to cry or start arguing with people. The message is banal at best, and the singing feels forced and manipulative. People are starting to notice – offering to pray for you, asking you anxiously about your faith, recommending books that helped their cousin that one time. “What’s going on?” you ask yourself. “Am I losing my faith? Is this doubt? Or something else, something bigger?”

One of my big projects this year (2017) with Cafechurch is a short course we are developing called Deconstruct / Reconstruct. The aim of the course is to give people tools to help them to deconstruct a faith that doesn’t work, and to construct one that does.

It’s a life’s work really. Christian theology is vast – two thousand years of reflection on Christian revelation in the light of the best science and philosophy available, so trying to give any sort of reasonable overview in six weeks is laughable.

However, it seems important, and I think there are some basic tools people can be given to help them on the path.

I’m going to write posts on each of the areas, and then link to them from this post, which is going to be an absolutely top-level summary.

And here is the current version of the short document which I wrote (and ambitiously called a “prospectus”) to give a little bit more detail than seems appropriate in a blog post: Deconstruct Reconstruct Prospectus v3 (significantly better than v2 or v3.)

This is all a developing area for me, and I always welcome feedback.

Firstly, I like the theory that there is a reasonably predictable series of stages in our faith journey. There are a lot of different versions of this idea, but James Fowler’s Stages of Faith is the basis for a lot of reflection. The idea here is that it isn’t so much that questions about the content of faith that are the problem so much as… well, something else. Things that seemed so plausible a couple of years ago suddenly don’t seem so obvious – and you aren’t sure why. It’s not a question of intellectual beliefs, but rather of one’s whole approach to belief and faith as such.

  • Read The Story of Gary and Hazel for an introduction to the Stages of Faith idea.

Which leads us neatly on to the second area – that of the worldviews (or paradigms) It seems to me that both conservative and liberal approaches to Christianity are both wrong. They both suffer from the same problem (which is ironic, given that they see themselves as very different.) The TL;DR version is that they are both versions Modernism – which is to say, they are both quests for an unquestionable basis for faith.

And the basic problem here is that modernism doesn’t really work – as it turns out it doesn’t actually describe how knowledge works. While there is an actual reality “out there”, all knowledge of that reality is part of embodied communities. The scientific community is one. The church is another. So it turns out that, in order to build a faith, you can’t just stand outside the tradition trying to use ideas and criticisms from other systems to critique it. There is no “view from nowhere“ no completely objective place to stand. The way to understand a system, to judge its adequacy, is from the inside of the embodied community committed to that system. And, for Christianity, that embodied community is the church.

It turns out that the church has a couple of characteristic practices. One of them is that it reads the Scriptures together. But what actually is the Bible? What is it for? The key to understanding it seems to me to be that “Scripture exists only because the church gathered these documents for a specific purpose.”[1] Its the church’s book, and to read it is to enter into an incredibly rich 2000 year conversation about the meaning of Jesus Christ – his life and ministry, death, resurrection, and glorification.

Given what we have said about the Church and the Scriptures, what can we say of God? Is God a distant judge, keeping score of all our naughty behavior? Or some blind life force? Or a projection of our idea of the ideal human being? The Christian answer is that Jesus Christ is the image of the unknowable God. Which is to say, among many other things, that we can only say of God what we can say of Jesus. And perhaps the most fundamental thing we can say about Jesus is that he was characterized by self-sacrificing love. Which means that at the base and core of this astonishing universe in which we live, is to be found not primarily power, but fundamentally love.

And if God is fundamentally love, then, as the church has always thought, God is at work in the world. We call this the missio dei (’cause it’s cooler in Latin than English) – God’s project for, and work in, the world. And the surprising result of this is that God, far from being the un-moved mover sitting in transcendent isolation, actually wants us to collaborate in His work in the world. Faith becomes not so much a set of opinions about entities that may or may not exist, and becomes participation in God’s work – which is what Paul seems to be getting at in his language of being “in Christ. [2]

Which seems as good a point as any to finish this post.

 

[1] Geoff Thompson Disturbing Much, Disturbing Many, p.87

[2] C.f. for example Romans 6, Galatians 2 & 3 – Michael Gorman Becoming the Gospel, Kindle loc, 740.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: