Many in the emergent movement are fans of deconstruction. They may be drawn to the promise of new theological and sociological horizons promised by deconstructing the recent past, but as Jonathan Brink notes, that may come with a price. For him, deconstruction is an emotional endeavor. As soon as we begin to call beliefs into question, we are bound to experience things akin to anxiety, even fear, as the things we were brought up with fall off one by one. As a good deconstructionist, he notes that the more people he reads and encounters, the more conclusions he comes in contact with.
Problem is, the older I got the more I realized that there isn’t really one great conclusion. There’s several conclusions.
He even sees problems with other points of view:
You see, the more I walk down the path of deconstruction, the more I’m beginning to see the holes in the fabric.
But, he assures us, we shouldn’t worry too much about his deconstruction. He doesn’t apply it to Scripture, only the interpretations of Scripture.
And to be clear, I’m not talking about deconstructing Scripture. Oh what a beautiful gift is Scripture. I’m deconstructing human attempts to understand Scripture.
That is a nice reassurance, but I am curious about how that gets fleshed out. It seems to me it will be difficult to protect Scripture from the blade of deconstruction while deconstructing the interpretation of the thing. So when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no person comes to the Father except through me,” and someone takes that to mean, “Jesus is the only way to the Father,” how is the second subject to deconstruction without immediately subjecting the first?
Deconstruction is a dangerous path to walk down for a believer who might be described as one of the “People of the Book.” How can we avoid subjecting Scripture to the deep subjectivity of this interpretational technique? After all, it is a compilation of books written by people who, for the most part, are now dead, and who, every one of them, was part of a radically different culture from anyone alive today. Scripture is tailor-made for deconstruction.
It seems to me that deconstruction has few to no upsides and suicidal downsides. Each alleged positive has an analogue in thoughtful analysis, and each downside does nothing but cut its own throat. In other words, it is possible to get all the gains of deconstruction without committing intellectual hari-kari. Concerning the downsides, a theory that alleges interpretive value is in the reader and not in the text leads to obvious and unavoidable absurdities. Deconstructionists disagree with that all day long, but that only makes their position even that much more ironic.
As for possible upsides, as Brink notes, there is the promise of openness to different conclusions and different points of view; even an irenic interaction with new ideas. Fundamentally, I see no difference between that and thoughtful analysis aimed at the truth. The deconstructionist may retort, “ah, but we do it with humility.” To which I might say their definition of humility needs to be reconstructed. Humility does not refer to truth, it refers to character. Humility does not forbid a person from sound and firm belief, it forbids them from vanity.
I also experience an emotion with deconstruction: intellectual repulsion.