I love the Bible. It is an amazing book (or, collection of books, really). I think what I love most about the Bible is that it is raw. There’s senseless violence. There’s sex. There’s prayers that God might kill the children of one’s enemies. There’s heroes dancing naked in public and then their wives being cursed with barrenness for criticizing them. You can’t read the Bible and think, “If we just got back to a biblical church, things would be okay.” The biblical church included incestuous relationships, temple prostitution, shaming the poor, spiritual egoism, and celebrity pastor worship. And that’s just in Corinth, in 11 pages of a 1000-page book.
But the Bible is also profound. The prayers in the Psalms cover the gamut of what it means to be a human looking for God, both in ecstasy and despair. The teaching of Jesus is simple, beautiful, and impossible. The theology of Paul—that God could be crucified for humans, enables me to make sense of how the world can be both beautiful and terrible.
The Bible gives me hope. God speaks to me through the Bible. But the Bible is raw.
In Death to Deconstruction: Reclaiming Faithfulness as an Act of Rebellion, Joshua S. Porter appeals to a generation abandoning the faith, urging them to choose a more nuanced faithfulness instead of outright rejection of orthodox Christianity. He structures his book around five “great predators” of young adult faith: biblical illiteracy, the problem of evil, a politicized Christianity, hypocrisy, and self-denial, laying out paths forward within orthodoxy avoiding each.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to work through Porter’s book and offer a response. The book is great—there is much I agree with. However, I sympathize with the deconstruction trend more than Porter does, and so I will also talk a little about how toxic streams within evangelical culture have contributed to the deconstruction movement and how often deconstruction is a rejection of American evangelicalism and not a rejection of Jesus. I also want to suggest a path forward for reform and paint a picture of what a post-evangelicalism could look like.
The first of Porter’s five predators is biblical illiteracy. He recounts his own childhood obsession with dinosaurs and his desire to be a paleontologist. The message he heard at church conflicted with what he learned about prehistoric earth:
“To hear my Sunday school teachers tell it, Adam and Eve rode naked on Tyrannosaurs, feeding them pomegranates and eucalyptus leaves. If you asked my Sunday school teachers about the crater in the Yucatán Peninsula—the spot where scientists believe the giant asteroid collided with Earth some 66 million years ago—my Sunday school teachers would say, impossible! The world, in all its biological complexity—they would say—was created in six 24-hour days. Read Genesis, they would say. It’s right there on the first page.” (50)
A literal hermeneutic led Porter away from God. He continued to love Jesus, but began to resent parts of the Bible. Regardless of how you feel about Porter’s take on science and the Bible, you can acknowledge that the Bible is a source of frustration for many. Whether it’s human origins, sexuality, slavery, gender roles, or holy wars, the Bible is full of stories and ideas that don’t sit well with modern audiences. Many walk away from the faith because of the Bible, or they stay and try really hard not to think about what is contained in it.
But Porter responds that Christian should be a little offensive. Otherwise, its message is meaningless self-congratulations. He writes:
“Part of me realized that if the road to becoming a boxing champion or kung fu master was replete with pain and discipline and sacrifice, then truly apprenticing with Jesus had to be all the more intense. I didn’t really want an accommodating Christianity; I doubt anyone really does. When we sanitize the Bible, reducing it to mystic spiritual bedtime stories, our effort to create an inoffensive Christianity, ironically, creates a Jesus no one really cares about following. A figment of our own imagination. Like wrapping a tie around your waist and calling yourself a black belt. Really, we know it’s a sham.” (55)
I strongly agree with Porter here. There is much unsettling to me in the Bible, but the path forward can’t be sanitizing it. I like his image of the black belt—part of the appeal to following Jesus for me is the intensity. I am not looking for a faith that conforms to everything I already believe. I love that the Bible challenges my beliefs and the things I hold dearly. How can we grow and change if we are never challenged?
Do you find the Bible to be an obstacle to faith? If so, what is most challenging about it?