Combining Oil And Water
Imagine with me for a moment that you stroll over to your cabinet pausing to whip out a crystal-clear glass, you then head over to the fridge to grab some sparkling water. You add some ice cubes to the soothing liquid hoping to quench your thirst. Then, you hear the ringing of your phone in the background and hurriedly run to see who is calling. While you were away, a rather young rascal decided to play a prank on you pouring some oil in that fine glass of water. He thought he could mix it in where you would never know, but he quickly found out oil and water don’t mix. All that he did, was ruin a glass of water, a fact evident to everyone who saw the now mirky-looking cup.
Try to combine oil with your glass full of water, and frankly, all you do is ruin the water in the process. The same fact is true when you try to mix good theology with bad theology, all that you do is stray from the truth. Such is the danger of a synthetic view to theology and engagement with cultural ideas. Cornelius Van Til rightly states:
“On this synthetic view then, Greek culture is an entity that can, as such, be taken up into and conjoined with Christianity. The Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity need merely to be added as a second story to the natural virtues discovered by the Greeks.”1
One of my chief concerns about many evangelical responses to the deconstruction movement is that they are engaging in synthesis. Just like mixing oil with water, it won’t end well! (Note: You can find my initial thoughts on deconstruction here)
Two Different Approaches
Recently on The Gospel Coalition website, there was a very intriguing example of a synthesis approach to deconstruction, and another article arguing for a rejection of the movement. Two articles were published, one co-written by James Walden and Greg Willson, the other by Alisa Childers, who originally wrote a larger post on her own blog that was also published by TGC. The article by Walden and Willson illustrates a synthesis approach to the deconstruction movement, while Childers proposes a view which rejects the movement and urges individuals to instead approach issues biblically. Interestingly, Alisa Childers used to potentially think that deconstruction could be done in a good way, but she has changed her view. She says:
“Over the past year or so, it has become common for Christian leaders to begin to refer to deconstruction as something potentially positive. I get it. When I first heard that take, I thought, ‘Hmmm. That could work. Just deconstruct the false beliefs and line up what you believe with Scripture.’ I was operating from the foundational belief that objective truth exists and can be known. But as I continued to study the movement, this understanding of deconstruction became untenable.”2
So, we see Childers recognizing deconstruction and biblical Christianity are opposed to one another. They operate upon different foundations, part ways in their methods, and are distinct in their end results. Here is an example of deconstruction given by Childers to illustrate what the movement is promoting:
“For example, if your church says a woman can’t be a pastor, the virtuous thing to do would be to leave that church and deconstruct out of that toxic and oppressive doctrine. Deconstructionists do not regard Scripture as being the final authority for morality and theology—they appeal primarily to science, culture, psychology, sociology, and history.”3
Even if I disagree with her on a few points theologically and as it pertains to apologetic methods, Alisa Childers is hitting the nail on the head. Deconstructionist movements operate according to a different standard of truth and morality, wanting others to “deconstruct” their belief in biblical Christianity. However, as we come to the other article by The Gospel Coalition, we begin to see an example of the synthesis approach.
The Synthesis Approach to Deconstruction
In the article by Walden and Willson, what we begin to see is them applying the term deconstruction and changing it a bit to add Christian language. I will contend this approach represents a synthesis method of cultural engagement and is laying a dangerous trend for responding to the deconstruction movement. Take this paragraph from their article as an example where they are talking about the term deconstruction and state:
“However we think of the term, most would probably agree that not all forms of ‘faith deconstruction’ are good—nor are all bad. Ian Harber, who deconstructed his own ‘progressive Christianity,’ says ‘the goal of deconstruction should be greater faithfulness to Jesus, not mere self-discovery or signaling one’s virtue.’ Ivan Mesa, editor of Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church, similarly writes: ‘Deconstructing can be the road toward reconstructing—building up a more mature, robust faith that grapples honestly with the deepest questions of life.’”4
What is the essence of the approach taken in this article? They are taking the cultural idea of deconstruction, and changing it a bit to have what they view as Christian ideas. Van Til, following biblical theology, advocated an approach of cultural engagement that would dictate confronting an idea like deconstruction showing how it is based on a faulty foundation and is in error. However, Walden and Willson are essentially taking the approach of using the cultural idea and simply changing it a bit. Dear friends, I hope that you mark that difference!
In her article, Alisa Childers saw the distinction very clear, in the article she wrote, published by TGC, she says:
“Now, the narrative is evolving. I’m seeing more and more posts, including an article on this site, that portray Martin Luther and even Jesus himself as deconstructionists. This, in my view, is irresponsible. If deconstruction means nothing more than changing your mind or correcting bad ideas, then I can say I deconstructed by switching from AT&T to Verizon. No one (until about five minutes ago) would have referred to Luther or Jesus as people who “deconstructed.” Martin Luther was trying to reform the church to get back to Scripture. Jesus is the Word made flesh. This is most certainly not what the deconstructionists are doing. In most cases, the Bible is the first thing to go.”5
She rightly points to the reality this movement is dangerously rooted in attacking the very Bible itself. Taking a synthesis approach to ideas that oppose Christ is not biblical. The Apostle Paul was clear about that reality in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, and Childers is seeing the danger of it in this case with the deconstruction movement. Biblical Christianity does not “synthesize” with unbiblical ideas. Rather, it opposes them that the truth might be proclaimed, God might be glorified, and sinners might be set free through Christ.
Why Does This Entire Subject Even Matter?
As those within broadly evangelical circles continue to discuss and engage the deconstruction movement, we see a pivotal reality within these two articles published at TGC. Some individuals will take the synthesis approach seeking to merely add some Christian ideas to deconstruction. Others will strive to oppose the deconstruction movement outright and contend for biblical Christianity. The latter approach, is the biblical one, and we must be clear on that reality. Rest assured, Christ does not need the false ideas of deconstruction for building His kingdom. However, because many take a synthesis view of cultural engagement, they will seek to take that same action with the deconstruction issue, and in so doing they will end up not only practicing unbiblical methods, but also failing to hold to completely biblical ideas, doctrine, and theology.
We, as Christians, do not need to take the ideas posed by deconstructionists and simply tweak them a bit. What we must do is come to the Scripture for knowledge bowing before the Lord Jesus Christ trusting in His perfect grace. We must have our beliefs, actions, and frankly, everything about us reformed according to the Word of God. Let us faithfully engage this deconstruction movement for what it is, an enemy raised against the knowledge of God that needs to be destroyed with the truth of Scripture (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). Don’t buy into the false ideas of synthesis or deconstruction, both are dangerous. Rather, stand firm upon the only stable foundation, which is Christ, who reveals Himself to us in His inerrant and sufficient Word which is our ultimate authority. May we proclaim the truth on this issue for the glory of God and so that those ensnared by the lies of deconstruction may be set free to walk in the truth of our Lord!
1 Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1979), 10.
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