I have thought a lot about deconstruction. I am by no means an expert (is anyone really?), but I have been meditating on it for a few years now. I’ve had my own deconstructions and reconstructions. I have read a lot of the popular authors who would fall into this category: Rachel Held Evans, Richard Beck, Pete Enns, Sarah Bessy, Brian McLaren, Barbara Brown Taylor, Rob Bell, etc. There are some people who treat those authors like their gurus who can say no wrong. There are others who treat those authors like demons or worse. I would like to think I fall into neither of these extremes. I have read them. And I have really liked a lot of what they have had to say.
I’ve done a podcast on deconstruction with my friend Wesley Hargon that was well received by friends (see here). I’ve had a lot of conversation with friends about this topic. I’ve got a way of thinking about it that I’d like to propose. Take it for what it’s worth, but it is helping me personally on the reconstruction journey.
My idea is that there a three stage development of deep faith. I think there are two kinds of simplicity: simplicity before complexity and simplicity after complexity.
Simplicity before this complexity is simplistic. It is reductionistic. It is dualistic thinking: right/wrong, good/bad, yes/no, etc. There is no gray area. There are no unanswered questions (or at least so one in this stage thinks). This is the land of quick-quoted Bible verses in a haste to win an argument and straw-man representations of the opposing side. This is close-mindedness. The person in this stage is a simpleton. When complexity – anything that significantly challenges the simpleton and gets through their thick skulls – is presented to a simpleton they have only a few choices: move into a state of complexity, ignore/diminish/refute the opposing idea or question, accept the proposition and create a new state of simplicity before complexity based on that proposition.
Complexity is the thing in between the two kinds of simplicity that distinguishes them. Complexity is when things get complicated. This is when you don’t have answers or when answers you used to think were true – maybe even argued adamantly in favor of – are no longer working for you. This is when people show you Bible verses from elsewhere in Scripture than where you usually read from. This is when people – or you yourself – ask hard question for which there are no easy answers (and maybe no answers at all). Complexity is exciting and fulfilling – at first. After being in complexity for a while though, the soul gets tired and energy begins to wane. If one does not leave this stage and graduate to a simplicity after complexity they will probably revert to a different, but equal in effect, state of simplicity before complexity.
Simplicity after complexity is a place of humility and calmness. This state is one of firm conviction, but a firm conviction held with an open hand. This is a place to rest for a while. This is what is sometimes called “reconstruction.” This is where one is unwilling to die on every hill, but chooses carefully those hills on which they would die.
This is really just a way of saying that which has already been written about elsewhere. I am, of course, severely indebted to Brian McLaren’s Faith After Doubt and Walter Bruggemann’s schema for understanding the movements of faith via the Psalms: Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation. I have not read, but know a little about, Richard Rhor’s Falling Upwards which speaks of the “two halves of life.” All this to say, my articulation is nothing new. It is just that – an articulation: a new way of trying to understand this phenomenon. Maybe it will be helpful for someone else as well.