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Rend Your Heart: A Review of Deconstructionism

In the aftermath of September 11, as the world reeled from shock, a news station broadcast a scene in the Middle East. The program showed a woman dragged into a soccer stadium and shot in the head for cheating on her husband. This news story’s goal was to increase the American resolve for war. Regardless of our opinions on the justification for war, at that moment, as Rachel Held Evans, the author of Faith Unraveled, watched this event unfold, the sight of the dead woman in a burqa with tennis shoes peering through the bottom, served as a catalyst for her crisis of faith. Her story, and countless others like them, are rocking the church. Whether the catalyst for the crisis of faith stems from vast evils in the world, pain caused by a Christian leader, disillusionment with the church, or questions regarding fundamental truths, the stories are real, and we need to have an answer for the hope that is within us. 

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“So long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”[1] 

Alice in Wonderland

Where are we going? The goal of this discourse is to discover the way we should go from here because ultimately, we care about having the right beliefs. In Rachel Held Evans’s book, Faith Unraveled, she takes the reader through her process of doubt and ultimately the deconstruction of her faith. It is imperative, as believers, to determine our goal, where we want to go, before we endorse any theory that impacts our destiny. Evans writes:

I started asking harder questions. I questioned what I thought were fundamentals—the eternal damnation of all non-Christians, the scientific and historical accuracy of the Bible, the ability to know absolute truth, and the politicization of evangelicalism. I questioned God: his fairness, regarding salvation; his goodness, for allowing poverty and injustice in the world; and his intelligence, for entrusting Christians to fix things…I even questioned his existence.[2] 

Evans’s crisis of faith is not new. These questions are not new; they were just new for her. A crisis of faith is not a new phenomenon. So, we will attempt to answer two questions raised by deconstructionism: 

  1. Can one be justified in their beliefs? 
  2. Can one be justified in the belief about God’s existence?

Evans questions “the ability to know absolute truth”. Are there truths that are relative to culture, to time periods, and even to particular people groups? When Evans asks, “Can we have absolute truth,” it’s not because she believes there is no truth, nor does she believe that truth is unknowable. Instead, she questions whether or not one is justified in their truth claims. 

Her statement makes an underlying assertion about knowledge, and, in fact, about what is knowable. Evans affirms a particular theory of truth. She affirms the coherence theory of truth. This states “that people cannot escape their web of beliefs and get to reality itself,” or “that people actually justify their beliefs and take them to be true because they cohere well with their other beliefs.”[3] She is assuming that since beliefs are internally justified by their relationship to one another, then deconstructionism is a justified reaction to a crisis of faith.  

Since truth just is an adequate coherence of a belief with an appropriate set of beliefs, when a belief is justified by way of a coherence account, it is automatically true. Truth is a matter of a belief’s internal relations with one’s other beliefs, not its external relations with reality outside the system of beliefs itself.[4]

Evans’s web of justification, therefore, unravels, because each belief that she has is justified based on its coherence with another belief. So, when she is confronted with the death of a woman, her belief in the goodness of God is called into question and therefore begins to unravel. God’s goodness was never based on external foundational truths revealed through Scripture, nature, etc., rather his goodness was justified based on how it fit within her noetic framework. But this epistemic commitment would inevitably lead to skepticism. If every belief–for example, that a cat is sitting outside my window–must be justified by other beliefs, like that cats sit, that cats live in my neighborhood, etc., I would then need to create another set of beliefs to justify those beliefs and this would go on ad infinitum. In fact, I would never be able to justify my beliefs if every belief needs another belief for its justification. But as Lawrence Bonjour points out:

It seems clear that none of these beliefs would really be justified. The reason is that in such a justificatory chain, the justification conferred at each step is only provisionally, dependent on whether the beliefs further along in the chain are justified. But then if the regress continues infinitely, all of the alleged justification remains merely provisional: we never can say more than that the beliefs up to a particular stage would be justified if all of the others further back in the sequence are justified.[5] 

Further, Bonjour states that regardless of whether beliefs fit or don’t fit within our framework, this by no means guarantees that we have arrived at the truth. Truth claims are not justified by the way they fit within our particular noetic web (intellectual ideas); rather, truth claims are justified by their relationship with reality.

It is evident that Evans ascribes to a coherentist framework for belief justification. “So, we began to deconstruct–to think more critically about our faith, pick it apart, examine all the pieces, and debate which parts are essential and which, for the sake of our survival, we might let go.”[6] What does this mean about our ability to have justified true beliefs, if they can be picked apart and let go? How does one adjudicate between beliefs and furthermore, doesn’t it seem apparent that this justification is purely subjective?

Evans believes that worldviews are social constructs created by environmental, social, political, and theological appetites of the moment. We didn’t choose any of these factors, and we can’t control any of these factors. Thus, our approach to which beliefs we keep and which can be discarded is a justifiable reaction when beliefs are in conflict. This means that things we believe about reality, God, nature, etc., are imposed upon us; therefore it is our duty to create a worldview in which our beliefs fit neatly together within our individual subjective framework.  

Bonjour states that this type of justification is clearly circular. How does one know which beliefs should remain and which ones to discard? Each such belief is contingent, meaning, its justification relies on another belief, but the difficulty is that each belief relies on the other belief. It presumes that we have the ability to create a relevant system, but wouldn’t that system itself need justification? Ultimately, explains Bonjour, I can’t tell which of my beliefs are justified.[7] 

We have finally arrived at the problem of deconstructionism! The reason why deconstructionists have a crisis of faith is that they view their commitment to theological absolutes as a part of a web in which every belief is justified by another belief. The truth of a belief is not based on its correspondence with reality; instead, it is based on its coherence within a person’s system of belief. This post-modern commitment results in skepticism and ultimately can cause many to lose their faith. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

We are now getting to the point at which different beliefs about the universe lead to different behavior. Religion involves a series of statements about facts, which must be either true or false. If they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the right sailing of the human fleet; if they are false, quite a different set.[8]

Our epistemic commitments inform which set of beliefs or statements of fact we use when developing our worldview. The goal is to avoid circular reasoning and question-begging. We begin by acknowledging that truth is discoverable and this forms the foundation of our worldview. 

So the question remains, are we justified in the belief about the existence of God? Is God’s existence something that we can actually discover? First, let’s look at an atheist position on this question. Antony Flew wrote:

Let us begin with a parable. It is a parable developed from a tale told by John Wisdom in his haunting and revolutionary article ‘Gods’. Once upon a time, two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, ‘Some gardener must tend this plot.’ The other disagrees, ‘There is no gardener.’ So, they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. ‘But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.’ So, they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. ‘But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.’ At last, the Sceptic despairs, ‘But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?’[9]

The conclusion from Antony Flew seems to parallel the crisis of the believer. Flew concludes that since the gardener cannot be perceived by the methods he employed, then the gardener does not exist. But is Christianity the sort of belief system in which God can be detected based on the methods described above? 

Perhaps even more pressing is the reason why the men asked the question in the first place. As they walked and saw a clearing in the woods, they noticed distinguishable features that did not seem to be the result of random processes over time. There was something about the arrangement of flowers and the weeds that justified the belief that perhaps a gardener was responsible. There were detectable signs of creation. Are gardens the sort of things that pop into existence? Are gardens the type of things that are uncaused?

Additionally, is the gardener’s existence contingent on my ability to perceive his presence? The question as to why, how, or if God, I mean the gardener, reveals himself, and by what means, is another topic indeed. “The ability to experience God may be due to a fault in your faculty, not a fault in the existence of God.”[10] Antony Flew’s parable in the garden raises further issues. If there is “no gardener at all, what does that mean for life?” In a famous article by William Lane Craig, he addresses this proposition. “Modern man thought that when he had gotten rid of God, he had freed himself from all that repressed and stifled him. Instead, he discovered that in killing God, he had also killed himself. For if there is no God, then man’s life becomes absurd.”[11] Craig continues to explain that life without the existence of God is absurd.

A few years ago, the physicist Stephen Hawking predicted the end of the universe and suggested that humans should begin to colonize other planets. If death is inevitable and life’s origin is random and accidental with no purpose and no design, then the search for meaning is absurd. If there is no God, then our questions, and ultimately our answers, have no meaning. Ultimately, if there is no gardener, then set a match to the garden, because at the end of the day, there is no point. We are all Alices wandering pointlessly.

So, perhaps the means that God has chosen to reveal himself allows us the maximal opportunity to respond properly. 

“…and rend your hearts not your garments.” (Joel 2:13, ESV)

When Israel sinned, they would tear or rip their clothing as a demonstration of their repentance. The prophet Joel told them to keep their clothes intact. Instead, they needed to “tear up” their hearts, change their thinking. The goal is not to change the things of our making, but to change our hearts. Deconstructionism raises alarms because any epistemic commitment that leads to skepticism is inherently false. God is knowable. His truths are knowable and his Word is reliable. 

It has been touted that deconstructionism will lead to a revival in the church. Do we need a revival? Yes, we need a revival…a revival of agreeing with God. But a revival apart from God is nothing but a concert. 

Footnotes:

[1] Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (NY, NY: Macmillan and Co., 1865), 89-90.
[2] Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled: How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 26.
[3] J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 121-127.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Laurence Bonjour, Epistemology: Classic Problems and Contemporary Responses (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2002), 196.
[6] Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled, 208.
[7] Bonjour, Epistemology, 196.
[8] Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview, 130.
[9] Antony Flew, “Theology and Falsification,” University, 1950–51; from Joel Feinberg, ed., Reason and Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., 1968), 48-49.
[10] Richard Swinburne, Existence of God (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1979), 244-276.
[11]  William Lane Craig, “The Absurdity of Life without God: Reasonable Faith,” Reasonable Faith, accessed January 25, 2022, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/the-absurdity-of-life-without-god.


Disclaimer: All views expressed by those associated with this ministry or on our platforms do not necessarily represent the opinions of Women in Apologetics, Inc. or its individual team members.

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