Deconstructionism and Reformation

Víctor Chininin Buele

One more story came through the Twitter world this week onto my eyes. One more human being, made in the image of God, abused by someone who professed the Christian faith, and ignored and not believed by those who were protecting the abuser, published a tweet announcing yet another exit. Leaving Christianity. Removing herself from church and Christian culture in order to heal.

I have always loved legos. It turns out that I spoil my children because I never had a lot of legos. My family worked super hard to provide for my needs, and I’m profoundly thankful. That includes both my blood relatives in Ecuador and my not-formally adoptive family in the United States. I know I cost them a lot of money. And they made sacrifices for me. I am thankful. But that still meant I didn’t have every thing I ever wanted. And that was good for me. My wife often reminds me of the wisdom of not giving the children everything that I didn’t have.

I always worked on building a city for Dedé, my cousin’s doll. And if I am honest, my doll as well. The doll had an airport with its own Air Force, a fire department, police station, train depot, an army. All the things a little boy could add to a city. And somehow abuelita managed to squeeze a few sucres here and there to make this possible. The doll even had its own church with me saying mass there.

When I started hearing stories related to deconstructionism, I felt like when it was time to tear down Dedé’s city to clean up before my mom would come back from the university. You spent all afternoon setting everything up. Only to have to put it all away and clean up. I remember once setting up every toy in our long hallway in Dedé’s triumphal parade only to have to tear it down and put the toys away. Abuelita did sneak in a lot of sucres here and there over time for us to have a hallway full of toys. So no complaining here!

I cannot believe how little I understood about how much people have suffered in churches. I still cannot believe how naive I was and how judgmental I was of those who seemed to be struggling and of those who didn’t seem to be struggling and still left.

Deconstructionism felt very pointless to me. And the conclusion always seems to be someone new calling himself or herself an #Exvangelical. It felt like somebody spent all the time setting up Dedé’s world only to tear it up and have to start all over again.

Until I had to go figure out what happened in our life and how to move forward. How to make sense of things that just don’t make sense.

I wouldn’t call what I have gone through deconstructionism. But I did have to go deconstruct a cohesive system of beliefs that resulted in a lot of hurt and pain. It was like trying to figure out at what point of the interstate we got off on an exit that seemed to just be getting us on a parallel road and before we knew it ended up taking us in the opposite direction of where we were supposed to go.

So, it struck me that Martin Luther went through this. If you really read the 95 theses, you will see that he didn’t have everything right. He wanted reformation. He didn’t want schism. Much less ever deepening schism. In the document he is very much under papal authority and is trying to spark a discussion by nailing thesis to the door. Instead, he ended up hiding under threat and setting the world alight.

What is different between the deconstructionism stories we see on Twitter and the Reformation that Luther sparked?

Tweets at their best spark the imagination. Barnabas Piper got me on a bit of a predicament the other day with a tweet where he stated this: “It’s remarkable how much deconstructing of the faith echoes the serpent’s words in Eden, ‘Did God really say…?’”

He, then, commented on the responses he received, “Some folks responding to this think I’m opposed to questions. I’m not. I wrote a book called ‘Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith’ in which I lift up questions as vital to faith.”

Precisely. We need to ask questions. I wrote elsewhere that when the heart is presented with a challenge, we have to respond. We either repent if we have been convicted of sin and live out that repentance and make restoration for what we have damaged. Or we make up reasons to justify to ourselves why we didn’t sin or why our sin is not that big of a deal or why we are justified to do what we did. However, before this spiritual and intellectual choice is made, another spiritual and intellectual choice must be made. We ask if the person is preaching the truth or not. Is what we are being presented with actually from the mouth of God or not? We must know.

It is remarkable how much indeed we have to be careful. Faith is supernaturally rational. We are not called to check our brains out at the door. We do need to determine if what we are hearing, reading, etc., comes from the Bible and if it’s an accurate representation or application of the text in its proper context. We can’t just make the Bible say anything we want. My theological hero John Stott said, “It is commonly said that the Bible can be made to mean anything one wants—which is true only if one lacks integrity.”

So, integrity is a key element here. We need to walk into asking questions fully aware of the potential deceptive nature of my own heart and of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in my heart if I am in Christ. We need to be people of integrity. Not of deception. Of light, not of the shadows.

We ask, then, questions with integrity, ready to go where the text takes us. Ready to demolish strongholds in our lives that keep us from Christ. Ready to learn and relearn. In essence, ready to reform.

And I don’t know why we are not ministering better to those who are said to be deconstructing. The motto of the Reformation church is to be the church reformed, always reforming. Reformation requires asking questions, having debates, being encouraged by one another’s faith. Being called to repent and calling others to repent. Reaching agreements. Studying the Word together. Squeezing that Bible for all that it has. Trusting in God, not in men. But not with a predisposition towards suspicion only.

I’ve had to ask questions about church governance, the roles of men and women in life and the church, church discipline and polity, the definition of honor and loyalty, slander and gossip, faithful preaching, counseling, pastoral ministry, and salvation.

I’ve been able to identify some of the exits that made the horrible detour possible, but I would be a fool to think I’ve got them all. Questions are still needed. If God were to grant repentance to those who hurt us and with whom we hurt others, there will be many other exits that will need to be explored together, deconstructed, if you will. For what reason? To build up the church, to reform it, to make it a more friendly and Christian home for the saints, a place of safety and holiness. A city on a hill for the unbelieving world to see.

Asking questions does not need to result in leaving the faith. I ask serious, legitimate, difficult questions about God, about the gap between His promises and what I experience, about the reasons He may have to not fix things the way I want them, when I want them, perhaps too much how I would want them fixed.

We have to ask questions. But our frame of reference must be not ignorant of the twin realities: (1) God is, and He can be found through the Word; and (2) we have made our local churches in many cases hostile places for people who are asking questions as a result of abuse. We are quick to call them gossipers and slanderers when we leave them with no recourse to seek justice and restoration within the church. We are quick to call them anti-institutional when we have built ecclesiastical structures that are slanted and unfair. We have sinned against many with the sin of favoritism, of preferring our leaders and the abusers over those who have had their lives destroyed.

Where is the compassion of Christ when we slam the doors on people or isolate them? Instead of leaving it all behind to go find the one sheep that is lost, we build tall walls and install electric fences to prevent them from coming in. We are masters at blame shifting and at focusing on the sins that come as a person responds to abuse and trauma. We discredit the accounts of those who end up lying because they were trying to be loyal and do what they were taught all along they needed to be—a submissive wife with a quiet and gentle spirit, a loyal pastor and a trusted friend, one who keeps confidences and protects the reputation of others.

We get our priorities upside down when we get on the defensive. Perhaps so many of these deconstruction stories would have different results if we really allowed these questions to penetrate our pride and deception and get us to where we need to get to together: reformation.

Are we ready to obey God and truly pursue reformation? It’s not like Dedé’s world out there. We need to get it right. We can’t just put it all away tonight and start all over again tomorrow. It’s not simple. It’s not pretty. It’s going to be humbling. This will require a lot of us.

When the Sleep of Jonah Is Not Passive but Abusive (Part 3)

Victor Chininin Buele

Continuing to show a kind of preaching that may look like expository preaching if you turn your head about 45 degrees, squint your eyes, take copious notes, and try to do exactly as it says, we have gone through a couple of marks of such preaching already.

We have established that this counterfeit preaching instills doubt on the hearer’s heart (but hardly ever on the preacher) by magnifying radical depravity in the hearer and minimizing the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. We have looked at ways in which this preaching drives in the concept that grace is silence and silence is grace, always instilling an equation that a confidence is the same as covering up unrepentant sin, that we are guardians of stories or of reputations in order to keep things quiet that shouldn’t be secret. Repentant sin is not something that goes in a vault. It comes up. In celebration.

Today, we will discuss the third mark of this abusive preaching: demonizing doubt and challenge.

Counterfeit Preaching Demonizes Doubt and Challenge

We saw that we are taught that grace is silence and silence is grace. What do I mean by that? Everybody has questions. You hear something in a sermon, and it raises up alarm bells. It could be because you are guilty of sin that the Word is exposing. You go on to resolve the dissonance between what you heard and what you are living. You have two choices: you either repent of the sin or you may excuse it away in a number of ways (dismiss it as not being sin, or as not being as bad as other sins, or as being statistically acceptable by the society at large, or that it is a rare indulgence, whatever).

The problem is that there is one mental and spiritual process that takes place before this choice. Is the preacher preaching the truth?

If you think about it, everybody loves the Bereans. In theory. Who are the Bereans?

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Acts 17:11

They are famous for excelling at this mental and spiritual process of examining the source of truth, the Scriptures, to see if what was preached to them was true.

So, before action is taken, we decide whether we are listening to the truth or not. And that is where this pesky mark of counterfeit expository preaching creeps in.

It suppresses the questions even from being asked out loud. The person who has bathed in this preaching will resort to accepting unquestionably the words preached as if they were true. If doubt arises, a spiritual problem is assumed in the hearer, or a lack of understanding or knowledge or experience. Thus, in what’s boasted of as grace, the person preaching is supposedly given honor by not asking him about it.

This is the wrong way to sort out the dissonance. If I hear something preached, and it sparks in me a conflict, I must carefully and prayerfully inquire the Word to see if it is true or if I’m being deceived. I must carefully and prayerfully make sure I understand what was being preached and how and where it came from in the Bible.

If the exposition or application are found to be consistent with the overall biblical text and the history of redemption, then I need to take action to kill my sin as I repent and find a way to restore what I have broken.

But if the exposition or application are eisegetical, or put another way, if it’s whatever the speaker wanted the text to say rather than what it says in its proper context, then we must ask questions. And we must ask them out loud. And please remember, these false teachers are often sounding like they are offering an exposition of the text. You may even be stuck in a long series that’s gone on for a few years on the same book of the Bible. Remember, the question is, does the text say what they preacher said? Does the text ask me to do what the preacher asked me to do?

Everybody loves to commend the Bereans. But I suspect that because we don’t have an instance of the Bereans challenging a false teacher in the book of Acts, we somehow have concluded that they did not confront false preaching. And maybe they never needed to do so. Yet, the whole point of examining to see if something is true is to know the truth.

This counterfeit kind of preaching requires the appearance of being a Berean while keeping any objection or questions suppressed. It paints it as taking things in the best possible light, as giving grace, as showing honor, as being godly and submissive, and teachable, as being the personification of 1 Corinthians 13. Víctor keeps no record of wrongs.

So, allow me to ask this big, takeaway question to you, What will happen when you raise your question to your pastor?

If you are afraid to ask it, that tells you a lot of what you need to know.

The pastor’s reaction will also tell you most of what you need to know.

Will you see humility even if error is not spotted or acknowledged? Will you see humility even if there is a difference of opinion that seems at least immediately not something easy to sort out? Will there be humility and true grace in the face of disagreement? Will there be repentance if sin is called out and appropriate (even public) restitution be made?

Or will you get mockery, excuses, manipulation, smooth speech, dismissive laughter, bellitling? Will the person turn the table on you and start talking about your sins? Will the person want you to see asking the question as sin, disrespect, disloyalty, ungratefulness, bitterness, unforgiveness, hardness of heart on your part? Will you start getting a regurgitation of your sins or will you start seeing a bully at work?

It is all around us. Men who are supposed to be shepherds calling sheep names, being rude and disrespectful and dismissive.

This kind of counterfeit preaching puts you in your place, so to speak, and clearly communicates (as indirectly as it does, it does so rather easily) that if you have questions, you need to trust the man up front. Asking the question will not be welcomed. It will not be encouraged. And it can be the end of the appearance of peace. It will cost you. And if you were in the circle of trust, you will be out of there.

Be not deceived, this is requiring you to lie to God and to swear allegiance to a manipulator who is deceiving the people of God and turning them away from a pure and sincere devotion to Jesus Christ.

I asked a question to my pastor this week. Not an easy one. He responded saying in clear and no uncertain terms that my questions are welcomed and that they were not received with hostility.

I felt safe. I felt cared for and shepherded for properly. I still have questions and will keep on asking them because the horror of living under counterfeit preaching that demonizes doubt and challenge is not worth it. God knows all, and “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 ESV).

If you live under this oppression, know this: we have walked this path, and we are happy to walk it with you. There is freedom. God saved you for freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1