When I was in my early twenties, I started to feel a radical disconnect between my values and those of mainstream evangelicalism. We were in the throes of the war on terror and had just invaded Iraq to find the WMDs. Bush was president and evangelicalism was a force to be reckoned with. Megachurches with celebrity pastors were the major influencers, and things like “excellence,” “relevance,” and “influence” were the hallmarks of successful Christian ministry.
But I was more interested in having a real encounter with God. I was more interested in a church that made the world a better place. I was more interested in a faith that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. At the time, the “Emerging Church” was all the rage, and I read books like Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren, The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll, The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, and Out of the Question … Into the Mystery by Leonard Sweet. These books resonated with me and sent me down a path to strip down everything I was taught was important about faith, and to rebuild it with something that was my own.
Today I would call that process “deconstruction.” It was a crucial phase for my formation as an adult follower of Jesus.
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. The book is part memoir and part practical theology. Porter understands deconstruction differently than I do—his concern is with young people jettisoning the faith over the disconnect they feel with the dominant evangelical culture. He structures his argument around five “great predators” of young adult faith today: biblical illiteracy, the problem of evil, a politicized Christianity, hypocrisy, and self-denial, laying out paths forward within orthodoxy avoiding each. He writes:
“Deconstruction is an aggressive cancerous outgrowth of the ordinary transformation we all do, but it takes a sledgehammer to the walls in a desperate, scrambling effort to reveal some sinister rot within. Deconstruction is a takedown, not an evolution. It’s not a little squirming tadpole that sprouts legs and drags itself up a primordial beach—one thing becoming a new thing, but still the same thing—it brings an angry bot down on the slippery-limbed fish before its gills take their first gulp of oxygen. Sometimes it happens fast, beginning in a moment and accomplished with quiet efficiency. Other times it takes months or years, but eventually, renovating the house proves too tiring, and the decision is made to tear the entire structure from its foundation so that the old house is deconstructed and no more.” (30)
Over the next few weeks, I am going to work through Porter’s book and offer a response. The book is great—Porter is an excellent storyteller I agree with most of his ideas. 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.
In the opening chapter of the book, Porter defines deconstruction and suggests five predators contributing to the trend. Porter calls deconstruction “an umbrella term to describe a process in which someone who was once a Christian embarks on a quest to jettison their Christianity.” (29)
Porter distinguishes between deconstruction and mere transformation. According to Porter, all believers go through a process of transformation as they age. They learn and grow. They see the world differently. Theologies loved at one time are rejected later. (He would perhaps call the journey I went through “transformation.”) But deconstruction isn’t just growth and change. Porter claims that deconstruction is rejecting theology without replacing it with something else. It is tearing down the house or setting it on fire. The biblical phrase for the modern concept is “falling away.” (30)
Why are so many deconstructing? Porter suggests five great predators: biblical illiteracy, the problem of evil, politicized Christianity, hypocrisy, and self-denial. (27)
In the next few weeks, I will engage with each!
Why do you think deconstruction is so prevalent? Porter’s five great predators aren’t new; why is deconstruction so hot right now?