From Deconstruction To Reimagination: Introduction

by | Jan 5, 2022 | Church & Ministry, Featured, Folk Theology, Jesus & Ancient Judaism, Justin's Journey, Theology, Theology

DECONSTRUCTION: ALMOST LOSING MY FAITH

When I began my deconstruction journey, this word was certainly not one I used. For me, it was almost walking away from the faith and being unable to share what was really going on inside my heart and mind. It led to a lot of shame, a lot of fear of being shunned from my “tribe”, and hitting rock bottom. But today, deconstruction is the buzzword among many who consider themselves Jesus-followers, and sadly many of those who would consider themselves former Jesus-followers. While I’m glad deconstruction is finally happening among many evangelicals and mainstream Christians, I also fear for those who ask the deep questions without someone to walk with them in their journey. I fear that those who are bitter and unceasingly angry will control the conversation rather than those of us who have gone through the journey already and can steer the conversation towards reimagination rather than self-destruction. So I’m writing this series because after more than a decade of going through deconstruction, I want to help those who may feel lost as they begin asking tough questions. 

I originally set out to write one article. But after recording my thoughts and writing them down, there was no way you’d want to sit through all of my thoughts in one big mess. So I’ll be going through some of the major themes in my deconstruction journey and how I believe we can and need to reimagine how following Jesus could and should be. 

With that being said, I’m writing this series for two sets of people: 1. For those who are currently going through the deconstruction journey (it’s not just a phase), and 2. it’s also for those who haven’t entered that journey yet but may be on the verge of walking through that door. There is definitely a sort of red pill/blue pill element to the deconstruction journey. Once you begin asking certain questions, your walk with Jesus will never be the same.  

SO WHAT IS DECONSTRUCTION, REALLY?

UPDATE: When I wrote this article, I didn’t even think to explain what Deconstruction is for those who may not yet be familiar with it. I really like how Premier Christianity explained it. They wrote, “Academics have dubbed it ‘theological deconstruction’, but in simple terms, they’re referring to what happens when a person asks questions that lead to the careful dismantling of their previous beliefs.” Some people go through smaller deconstruction journeys than others. For some it may happen after the death of a loved one, losing a job, or…I don’t know…going through a worldwide pandemic. For those like me, it happened during my time in college when I was challenged to look at the Bible and any piece of theological discussion through a critical lens.

I’ll be using a house metaphor through this series, so let’s go there for a minute. Theological Deconstruction is like looking at your house (theological beliefs) and realizing it needs cleaned, updated, or completely rebuilt. It examines the pieces that aren’t necessary, old, or are downright harmful to the house. Unfortunately, you may even find some bones behind the walls you weren’t expecting. Deconstruction is asking the hard questions so that you can evaluate why you believe what you believe. You may just need to “repaint the walls” or “update the cabinets.” Or, if you’re like me, you may tear the house down the foundation. And just like any renovation project, you will need to take into consideration the cost of that project and what could happen once you begin that journey. 

Each and every single person’s story is important. Indeed, we have the Bible today because of unique individual stories that have been passed down for thousands of years. Your journey through deconstruction may be similar to mine or it may be completely different. But I think it’s important to be up front. Your deconstruction will not lead to many answers. The truth is that one question will lead to another question and to another question. It’s very unlikely that deconstruction will lead to the answers you want or expect. Before you know it, your entire house of faith will be burned to the ground with only the foundation left to stand on – if you’re lucky. And just like any renovation or construction project, it will take a lot of time, a lot of set backs, and probably some tears, but it will certainly be worth it to see the reimagination come to fruition. Deconstruction is a very hard journey, but you can’t have a fresh-looking house if you’re unwilling to put in the time and stress it takes to make it happen.

JESUS: THE ORIGINAL DECONSTRUCTIONIST

Enter Jesus. I think it’s important that we establish who the ultimate deconstructionist was in our faith. Jesus spent the bulk of his ministry deconstructing Judaism and what the religion of YHWH had become. So if you’re one of those people who are totally against deconstruction, just remember that we have Christianity today because of Jesus’ life and teachings that were very much a deconstruction of Judaism. For example, I preach all the time about Sabbath. Jesus never abolished the Sabbath or said we don’t need to observe it any longer. Instead, Jesus deconstructed what the Sabbath had become. He was scolded for healing on the Sabbath and tried picking grains on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-10). If you go into history, you can see that the religious leaders of the day legalized Sabbath to the point where you could only walk so many steps in a day.1 In doing so, Sabbath was no longer a day to enjoy all that the LORD had given them but a day to dread and despise because of what humans caused it to become. John Walton said it like this,

When we realize that the Sabbath has to do with participating in God’s ordered system (rather than promoting our own activities as those that bring us order), we can understand how Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.Throughout his controversies with the Pharisees, Jesus insisted that it was never a violation of the Sabbath to do the work of God on that day. Indeed, he noted that God is continually working (Jn 5:17). The Sabbath is most truly honored when we participate in the work of God (see Is 58:13-14). The work we desist from is that which represents our own attempts to bring our own order to our lives. It is to resist our self-interest, our self-sufficiency and our sense of self-reliance.”2

JUST LIKE A HOUSE, WE NEED TO GET RID OF THE JUNK AND CLUTTER

Just as Jesus deconstructed Judaism, so we must also deconstruct Christianity to get to the heart of what Jesus was commanding us to do. I say that because 2,000 years of Christianity have allowed a lot of junk into the modern-day belief system. We believe in so many things but don’t understand why we believe them. We’re taught a plethora of “fun” Sunday School stories but many never move from Noah and his cute animals to the implications of God decimating the world with a flood. We need to follow in Jesus’ footsteps to ask those hard questions as well as reimagine certain theological beliefs so that we can understand Jesus and the biblical authors in the way in which was originally intended.

Once Jesus deconstructed Judaism, it was time to reimagine what Judaism could be. Don’t get me wrong, certain elements of our faith would not be possible without the work of Jesus and so we needed His death and resurrection first before it could be completely reimagined. Nevertheless, Jesus’ mission wasn’t simply deconstruction. To continue with the house metaphor, if Jesus only deconstructed Judaism but never reimagined the faith, it would have been like He took a sledgehammer to the walls of Judaism but never intended on building it back up. If the only intention is to use a sledgehammer, one eventually just becomes bitter and angry. The rage of tearing everything down consumes us to the point where we move away from deconstruction and ultimately into self-destruction.

DECONSTRUCTION AS A TOOL, NOT A WEAPON

We all have a lot of junk in our faith that we believe that was never intended to be communicated by the authors of Scripture. And when we begin to realize those pieces of junk, it’s easy to become angry. And make no mistake here, anger is absolutely a real and honest emotion you should have when you realize some of the things you were taught to believe. There is a righteous anger that can and will most likely occur. I didn’t have many people I could talk with this about when it all happened, so I went down a deep hole of depression, bitterness, burnout, I began drinking heavily, and I almost completely walked away from the faith. I’m writing this so that you don’t have to experience that. However, you may very well hit that point and when you do, I hope you have people in your corner who won’t judge you but will listen to what you’re wrestling with. Because deconstruction is just that – wrestling with God. It’s painful. There are going to be mornings you don’t want to wake up. There are going to be nights you want to forget. This why I am writing this with reimagination in mind. If we can focus our efforts on deconstructing the bad parts so that we can reimagine what Jesus and the original authors intended, maybe some of you won’t have to hit the rock bottom I did. And hopefully, the sledgehammer will remain a tool rather than a self-destructing weapon. 

Before I close this introduction, I want to add this. Deconstruction doesn’t have to mean giving up the faith if we’re willing to have the hard conversations and not be offended at every turn. In fact, it was those moments where I balked at certain ideas where the Lord really began to press into my heart further about why I believed certain things. And in working through them and not being offended, I was able to better understand things from other points of view. I didn’t always end up agreeing with them, but I could at least understand where they were coming from. Back to the house metaphor. The heart of deconstructing our faith should be about tearing down those horrible 70s walls with orange shag carpet that reveals the beautiful hardwood floor underneath. For me, there weren’t even studs left. I tore my faith down to the foundation. And it wasn’t until I tore it down to the foundation that I could begin to reimagine what following Jesus could and should mean for me. 

DIVE IN WITH OPEN EYES

As you begin diving into this series, I encourage you to dive with open eyes (yeah, it’s probably going to hurt! At least you’re not diving with your belly out!). You don’t have to agree with everything I say and I won’t hate you for not agreeing with me. And if you do comment throughout the series or respond to others, I ask that you comment on the ideas and not break the rules of engagement by entering into ad hominem attacks. I won’t stand for you attacking others and I will delete any comments that are cruel and spiteful. 

The series will discuss the following topics:

  1. Political Identity
  2. Eschatology (Study of End Times)
  3. Biblical Inerrancy
  4. The Bible, YHWH, and the Ancient Near East
  5. A Reimagined Faith

While there are certainly a plethora of other issues I’ve wrestled with and have deconstructed, I think other people have better authority to speak on those topics. Since these topics are ones I’ve spent the bulk of my academic career studying (aside from political identity), I feel much more qualified to speak to them.

I’m really looking forward to the conversations these will (hopefully) bring about and also working through your deconstruction journey with you.

Maranatha // מרנאתא

-Justin

 

1.  Techum Shabbat uses Exodus 16:29 to put limits on ones activities on Shabbat. Standing alone, one could understand the regulation. However, when taken in context, it’s easy to see that this particular case was for the Israelites during their time in the wilderness. The official commandment directly from the mountain had not been given yet, according to Exodus. That comes later in Exodus 20:8-11. The Sabbath actually has more commentary than misuse of the LORD’s name, which is interesting. It says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Here we see Scripture bring home the introductory message of the seventh day being kept holy (set apart, consecrated). Sabbath was in the original DNA of creation, and to use John Walton’s language, within the function and order of creation, and should thus be within the DNA of those who claim to love YHWH with their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Therefore, the Sabbath makes it into the ten commandments; not in the Exodus 16:29 form but in the Exodus 20:8-11 form. “Do no work.” This doesn’t mean don’t do good. It doesn’t mean don’t heal. It doesn’t mean don’t eat. It means, don’t do your regular labor or job those days because 1. You need to trust that the LORD will provide for you, 2. You’ll burn yourself out if you don’t rest, and 3. You were created to enjoy the LORD’s creation and were designed with the need for rest and rejuvenation. The Sabbath is a day to focus on the LORD’s work and rest.

2. Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (p. 48). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Walton also footnotes at the end, “This does not mean that our work on those six days is only self-serving.”

 

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Andy Kent

Good stuff!

Here’s a question for you:
Is there ever a time when deconstruction is not beneficial?

About The Author

Justin Boothby is a lifelong student who loves to travel, film, write, design websites, and life coach. Most importantly he loves to Pastor in all different kinds of ministry settings. He’s also an avid pizza lover, metalcore listener, and shot glass collector.

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About The Author

Justin is a lifelong student who loves to speak, travel, film, write, and coach. He has a goal of empowering others to grow closer to Jesus in practical and unique ways. After acquiring two degrees in Practical Theology and then studying in Israel for two years, Justin has a passion to help people read the Bible with a deeper appreciation in its original, ancient context.

M.A. Hebrew University of Jerusalem
M.Div. Regent University
B.S. Southeastern University

About Justin

Justin is a lifelong student who loves to speak, travel, film, write, and coach. He has a goal of empowering others to grow closer to Jesus in practical and unique ways. After acquiring two degrees in Practical Theology and then studying in Israel for two years, Justin has a passion to help people read the Bible with a deeper appreciation in its original, ancient context. He would not be where he is today without his incredible wife, Lauren! While he's a pastor at heart, he's also an avid pizza lover, metalcore listener, and shot glass collector.

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