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.