Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Coming Demise of Deconstructionism

I want to try an idea out because it is at the root of what I have been struggling with.

Eugene Peterson became a friend of mine before he was famous, and I have very often sought his wisdom and advice when I have reached one of those points in life where I am bewildered and like Robert Frost in his poem have two (or more) roads to choose from as I journey through the wood of life.

I was talking to him the other day and he mentioned that he had been doing a blurb for a new book by Tim Stafford that is soon to be published by InterVarsity. In it Stafford says that in our baptism we are given solidarity with all the baptized, the whole Body of Christ, whether it be the craziest off-the-wall evangelist who makes us cringe and want to curl up in a corner, or those on the left whose whole ministry seems to be a celebration of packaging the zeitgeist and then marketing it as if it were the faith. Those words have hung with me because the issues we are wrestling with in the church clearly have a sacramental flavor.

I confess that I hate being identified with some of the things with which I have been forced to be identified with because of my denominational background, but I am equally uncomfortable with dividing the church further. Like another friend with whom I have been in email correspondence recently, Kevin Martin, I once went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher In Jerusalem and saw there the epitome of nauseating division that is displayed to the world every day on the traditional spot of Christ's resurrection. Did we so learn Christ? Would I honestly be able to look myself in a mirror in the morning if I have done something to further divide the seamless garment of Christ?

Deconstructionism is by its very nature destructive, although deconstructionists deny this. Walter Truett Anderson, for example, one of the gurus of this flood in our culture, denies that there is anything negative or nihilistic about this mindset that is at the heart of so much postmodern thinking. However, I would honestly have to say that living amongst the damage done by the deconstructionist/reconstructionist mindset as it has incarnated itself in the church, Anderson is wrong. Not only does deconstructionism undermine the substance of the faith, but creates and environment that engenders a response from those with an impulse to orthodoxy that further rips and shreds.

When we break away from the whole that has been invaded (and even taken over) by deconstructionist thinking and attitudes, do we not allow ourselves to collude with those who have done the destroying and as a result further intensify these divisions? Radical individualism and fragmentation are hallmarks of a culture that is at war with itself because an innovative approach to doing, being, and thinking has been injected into it, and those of us who contest this progressive impulse in the wrong way are prone to respond in kind. Rather than countering the ideas that are doing the destroying, we walk away from the field being contested, circle the wagons, and shout epithets.

My wife has just come back from her latest battle with deconstructionism, this being in the field of literary criticism. She was told that she had written an excellent PhD dissertation by her supervisor and others at the University of London, but there seems to be one member of her panel who is blocking her degree because of her very traditional approach to literary criticism. What is interesting is that deconstructionist thinking has now peaked in academia, and her doctoral supervisor suggested that it is ironic that by holding to an older approaches to lit crit she has, in fact, become avant garde! Fancy, he told her last week, being withheld a doctorate because the old-fashioned is becoming fresh, new, and exciting.

What the literary world seems to be starting to discover is that deconstructionism is not something that has staying power for the long term. The Christian world is, I believe, going to discover exactly the same thing. The problem we have amongst those of us who affirm orthodoxy is that no one seems to have the patience to wait for God to justify himself and reveal his hand. In his Essay on Truth, Francis Bacon wrote, "What is truth said jesting Pilate, and would not wait for an answer." What I see with so many of our contemporaries is that they will not wait for that answer either.

While the waiting might be far longer than most Americans have patience for, I suspect that in terms of the flow of history we may not have to wait very long at all, a generation or two at the most. If I live as long as my father did (he died in his 86th year), then I suspect I will live to see this happen.


Eddie Swain said...

Fr. Kew:

What more must God to show His answer? All four instruments of Anglican Unity asked ECUSA not to do what it did. All three of the instruments who have spoken after the fact have condemned the actions. The Windsor Report Committee was unified in saying that what ECUSA did was wrong.

ECUSA has refused to comply, submit and repent -- repeatedly and in contempt.

God has spoken on this issue throughout the ages through His Holy Word. The Spirit is speaking now through the consensus of Anglican opinion in conciliatory discussion and decree.

Satan has already caused the further division of the Church by acting through ECUSA's non-biblical and heretical actions. The orthodox who are ready to work towards renewal of genuine, Christian Anglicanism are responding and acting on God's clear call for us to put Christ first -- before property and before institutions. The orthodox who are hesitant to hear and act on this call do so at the risk of becoming ensnared in the heresy themselves, and possibly risking the removal of God's blessing on the future of Anglicanism altogether.

Anonymous said...

How difficult it must be for those who are in the "Religion Business" to see clearly how far Anglican/Episcopal churches have fallen.
Christ requires honest inquiry and educated decisiveness-nothing less. He has made it most clear that sin will cost us our life. He will not abide sin. Read his words. They are plain words and clear words.
The leadership of the ECUSA has failed miserably and should be removed en masse. And it should be done now. Please, please, no more talk.
For the love of God, silence. Raybo

James the Thickheaded said...

Fr. Kew:
I am surprised by the reactions here to your gentle piece. I would agree that the academics are headed to a rediscovery of the traditions....and along the way they may even rediscover the tradition of peer review. In America, I am told academic review in the liberal arts has been seriously tarnished by the social agendas I guess ever since I left undergrad.

But the part that strikes me as interesting is the notion that we are all joined by Baptism. The sense I have of it is that the speaker intends to enjoin the listener by notion from rebuking his transgressions. No notion of repent, but a rebuke prior to speaking to remind us of our own christian charity to another brother in Christ. This is awfully handy and rather slick. Rend the body of Christ, and then plea for Christian charity. Hmmmmm. Agree that responding in kind is one thing we don't need to do. No one needs to add to the hectoring. Nevertheless, there must be some sort of response that would call this sort of person to repent their own errors rather than allow them to simply allow the continuation of the behavior as if nothing has happened. Asking the person to join in prayer might be a good response? and then offer a very orthodox prayer? I'm open to suggestions...even if this slant wasn't particularly that which you intended to originally convey.

Tim said...

Dear Richard:

Thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. My first time on your blog, and I'm coming back.

As a person of traditional faith who is also the father of a lesbian daughter, I find the rhetoric on both sides of this issue hurtful and discouraging. On both sides, people who are sure they are right blast away at their opponents. Where's the charity, the openness to the possibility that I might be wrong, that I might be interpreting the scriptures wrongly?

After all, scripture speaks plainly on other issues too. It clearly condemns killing and calls on us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. From the New Testament you can make just as strong a case for the position that Christians should not participate in war as you can for the traditional view of homosexual activity. But our Anglican church has blessed warships and provided military chaplains since the days of the Tudors.

Let's be careful about focussing on one issue alone. There are many issues on which God has spoken plainly through his Word. He tells us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, and yet I see many multi-million dollar cathedrals, expensive vestments, and so on. When I point this out to some of my colleagues, they immediately start to 'interpret' those commands of Jesus - in the very same way that they condemn others for 'interpreting' the verses about homosexuality.

The truth is, we're all selective literalists. Yes, may the Holy Spirit open my heart up to hear the Word of God in all its fulness, and to accept the way it challenges, not others, but me.

Yours in Christ,

Tim Chesterton

James the Thickheaded said...

I regret that it seems increasingly one's stand on Christ is determined by one's views of sexuality. I think the Christian ideal has always been rather that sex may be necessary, but it is not the center of our identity and sexual sins - not the worst on the list of 7 deadly sins. The process of injecting sexual identities into the center of Christianity...whether pro or what is rending the body. Man's end is God...not sex.