Deconstruct / Reconstruct

Life is complex, but the theology you have been given for dealing with it is simplistic. It is not fit for purpose for the life in which you find yourself. Too many hard questions have been given too-easy answers. You ask yourself: are gay people really going to Hell? What about non-Christians? What about science? What about the way a large portion of the church seems to have sold itself body and soul to political charlatans? What about a hundred and one things, all of which are of burning importance, not least the startling moral failures of the church?

You are, in short, deconstructing your faith.

I wouldn't blame you if you walked away from it all. The cognitive dissonance between what you learned in church and what you experience out in the real world is sharp, and the way is difficult to discern.

But you are reading this post, on this website. So you don't want to give up – or at least not quite yet. You are prepared to give Christianity a last chance. You don't like where you've been, but you want to set sail for somewhere good, and you're wondering if anyone else is asking the questions you are asking, and whether there are any good answers. Are there deconstructed Christians who have kept their faith after doubt?

There are, it seems to me, two possible ways forward with faith through deconstruction. One notices that the Kingdom of God, whatever that is, is clearly Good News for the Poor, so you throw yourself into the struggle for human dignity or the environmental movement, or both. Church is, at best, a very cumbersome way of saying what society already thinks, and, in the long run, an embarrassing irrelevance.

The other alternative, the thing we are doing at Cafechurch, is to dig into the tradition. Does the deep tradition of wisdom, reflection, worship, and action of the Christian faith have anything worthwhile to say in this post-Christendom, increasingly post-Christian world?

Our bet is yes.

Here is what we are doing about it.

We think that the deconstruct / reconstruct journey is a team sport. Being a Christian is more like being a football player than having a good idea. Faith is lived out in community, and that reflects exactly what Jesus did, gathering that first community around him as they lived and ate and talked together, walking the dusty back roads of a marginal province in an unfashionable end of the empire. Community – the visible Christian community, sharing the struggle of what it actually means to be a Christian in post-Christendom is vital.

Which is why we eat together whenever we meet. We start with dinner, because being community together is central to who we are as church.

This community isn't just those of us in the same (Zoom) room. It means the whole church - and those who have gone before us. Our situation is unique, but not completely without precedent. Together we draw on the wisdom of our tradition for insight and inspiration.

The cornerstone of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ, the “visible icon of the invisible God”, through whom the God of love is reconciling the world. Ideas about Jesus are important, but it is Jesus himself, rather than theories about Jesus, which is the object of our faith. Our trust is in God, rather than in ideas about God. Which means we can ask hard questions of the tradition – because it is God we trust, not theories about God. Scripture is central in this – because it points us to Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

That's why we are comfortable with doubt – we know that doubt is faith's wingman.

We usually gather around Scripture. We want to be Christian, we want to be a contemporary expression of our reformed tradition, and we want to be part of the theological mainstream of the church (which is not at all the same as being a conservative evangelical by the way.) But we don't want to enforce an orthodoxy on our members.

We seek to actively engage with people's journey of deconstruction and reconstruction. Not everyone wants to reconstruct their faith, some people leave the church altogether, and we seek to be a gracious experience of church, wherever people's journey takes them.

Alister, our minister, has blogged quite a lot about this, and we have had various attempts at creating short courses to help people wrestle creatively with deconstruction. You may well enjoy Alister's series An Elephant on Mount Fuji.

Over the years we have been doing this, we've developed a way of proceeding which seems to work for us.

We are the most educated generation in the entire history of the world, and so it seems reasonable to pay attention to the ideas of the faith. Not in a “shut up and believe” sort of way, but in a way which positively welcomes hard question, engages with contemporary theological scholarship, and believes that returning to the sources is the way forward. Which engages with doubt and hard questions, seeing them as an opportunity for growth, rather than something to be shut down.

A few things you might find useful are

But humans aren't just rational, idea-based people. Faith is soul work. As Calvin said” “without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.” We believe that Christianity is about transformation – and that means personal as well as cultural. When we gather, especially around Jesus' table, we expect to encounter God, and we expect to be transformed. Life is a journey – and it's only a truism because it's true.
Some things which might help here:

  • Being Christian, Rowan Williams
  • Try exploring the Enneagram- you might start with The Road Back To You or try the quiz and read the descriptions at The Enneagram Institute
  • Brian McLaren's new book Faith After Doubt engages with the idea of a faith development journey, which would be a good use of your reading time.
  • And, of course, Richard Rohr's Falling Upwards You are probably too young to think of yourself as being in the second half of life, but cultural changes seem to be propelling these faith crises earlier. You may also find Rohr's Immortal Diamond helpful.
  • Because navigating the “tragic triad” of suffering, guilt, and death can be a huge part of what propels you into this crisis of faith, you really ought to read Man's Search for Meaning written by holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Victor Frankl, drawing on his experiences in Auschwitz and other concentration camps (hence the old fashioned language.)

Finally, we seek to integrate the intellectual, spiritual, and practical through becoming “contemplatives in action.” One way in which we do this is through an engagement in the spiritual tradition which has been a bit lost in the Protestant world, but found a home in Catholic religious orders. We often use Lectio Divina or imaginative prayer when we worship together, and make use of the insights of the Ignatian spiritual tradition. This doesn't mean we aren't firmly Protestant, and even Reformed: it comes out of our belief that no one bit of the church can live without the rest, and ecumenism is a key part of what it means to be part of the Uniting Church in Australia.