Deconstructionists and Inerrancy
In the last post, we began a series on Deconstruction and biblical inerrancy by first outlining some basic points regarding the doctrine of inerrancy. Today, we are going to transition into demonstrating specific errors on the part of many promoting the deconstructionist movement on this particular issue. David Gushee, a proponent of the deconstruction movement, said this in a tweet:
“Post-evangelicals do not need to abandon the Bible or a concept of sacred Scripture. There is another way to hold the Bible as sacred — a way that does not require a brittle dogma of inerrancy.” -After Evangelicalism1
Notice the way by which he references the doctrine of inerrancy as “brittle” in this particular context. This statement is not outside of the normal for Gushee. Indeed, this tweet is simply an excerpt from his book After Evangelicalism where he also says:
“It is not easy to believe that any book written by humans could bear the weight of such claims. And when you dig into the Bible, you find much that is abundantly human, and indeed deeply problematic.”2
Without hesitation, Gushee rejects the doctrine of inerrancy, believing Scripture to be problematically human. My point, at this venture in the article, is not to disprove his belief, but to show it is what he asserts (we will further engage his view later). It is a common theme we see in many deconstructionists. Take Keith Giles as another illustration:
“Because Christians tend to base their faith on the Bible, they also feel the need to overstate its importance, making it the linchpin for everything they hold dear. Therefore, once you start to doubt their claims that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, the rest of your faith is soon to crumble.”
“And it’s not very hard to prove that the Bible is indeed filled with errors, mistakes, contradictions between prophets, discrepancies over details, and even misquoted Bible verses.”3
Again, we see a proponent of the deconstruction movement arguing against inerrancy. I want to give you one more quote, so that you can know for certain this is not an isolated incident but a consistent pattern we see in many deconstructionists. This is from Gary Alan Taylor who is the co-founder of The Sophia Society:
“The crashing of the tower got me thinking about the untenable structures upon which we often build our faith. As I mentioned last week, we’ve particularly done this with the Bible, especially in the 500 years since the Protestant Reformation. The foundation of our understanding of what the Bible is and what it’s for was laid on the sinking sand of inerrancy, with the rest of the framework taking shape around it. And because it was the foundation, it inevitably became the lynchpin of Christian belief: Pull on it, and the entire structure collapses, threatening to take the rest of our faith with it.”4
This author clearly views biblical inerrancy as “sinking sand” and not the stable foundation. Here is the question we have to ask before we can begin critiquing these assertions, why? For what reason are these deconstructionists attacking the doctrine of inerrancy?
Understanding The Theology Behind The Statements
I suppose if you were to take to the street and ask people who reject biblical inerrancy why they do so, you would get a fair degree of variation in the responses. However, as we begin to examine a couple of deconstructionists we see why they are denying inerrancy. I want to focus on Gushee’s work here because he is a pivotal figure in this movement. Here is a quote which is helpful for understanding his thought process:
“Our fundamentalist/evangelical dogmatism–inerrancy, indifference to the environment, deterministic Calvinism, purity culture, racism, LGBTQ discrimination, male dominance, and Christian nationalism–is being exposed for its complicity to exploit and control.”5
Notice the main point, all of these various concepts, including inerrancy, are seen as exposed for “complicity to exploit and control” on the part of evangelical dogmatism. Pay very, very close attention here. Gushee is not exclusively arguing against inerrancy because of this or that issue in the text or what he believes to be some kind of contradiction within Scripture (he brings those up but it is not his sole argumentation). He is discarding inerrancy because of how he believes it was used in the past for exploitation on the part of evangelicals. This point is vital because it shows his true foundation and ultimate authority. As we dive deeper into his work we find out he makes the following statement when talking about biblical interpretation:
“Meanwhile, as noted earlier, evangelical Christianity as a whole has been shaped by its collective social location, power, and self-interest—quite notable in relation to race, gender, sexuality, political loyalty, and nationality. But all of this is obscured when the Guy at the Front waves his Bible around, claiming to announce the simple, unadulterated Word of God. No. What he is offering is his interpretation of God’s Word. What he does not offer (often because he does not realize it) is that he inherited this interpretation from some pastor or teacher himself. Nor does he admit that the interpretation will likely bolster his own power in the church and community.”6
Here Gushee also mentions the pastor holding certain interpretations to bolster his own power in the church. We are beginning to see a thread of commonality in his line of argumentation. He is trying to explore how inerrancy and biblical interpretation have been used to bolster the power of certain groups or individuals over others. No doubt, those holding inerrancy have made errors in the past and no one is perfect. I will not make the assertion no one holding to inerrancy has never abused power in some way, that would be foolish because of course individuals professing inerrancy have made mistakes and abuses of power. However, Gushee is evidencing more than just a mere concern for highlighting past errors, discussing legitimate failings, and learning from them, he is attacking Scripture using this line of thought as part of his main argumentation. I go back to a quote from Dr. James Lindsay about the deconstructionists which I highlighted in a previous article:
“The high deconstructive phase of postmodernism most closely associated with Jacques Derrida (who is most famous for the deconstructive approach) passed in the late 1980s. However, its practices of nitpicking and applying radical skepticism of categories, stable meaning, and objective truth, as well as its commitment to social constructivism continued into various forms of cultural studies. It is seen most strongly in queer Theory and intersectional feminism, where the stable categories of the male and female sexes are regarded as oppressive (see also, violence of categorization) and where gender roles as well as race relations are assumed to all have been constructed by dominant groups in society in order to oppress marginalized ones.”7
The last part of this quote regarding the construction of certain ideas by groups in order to oppress other individuals is the important point. Derrida and the secular postmodern deconstructionists buy into this notion of oppression. They want to look at how concepts, like the idea that there is only male and female, have been used in society to “oppress” others according to their worldview and standard. What is Gushee doing? He is taking that same concept and applying it to biblical interpretation. Thus, for Gushee, when he approaches a text of Scripture, he is not seeking to submit to it because it is the inerrant Word of God. Rather, he wants to evaluate that text on the basis of postmodern deconstruction concepts of oppression to ascertain its validity. Keep in mind, this particular notion of oppression promoted by deconstruction is a man-derived, radical viewpoint not based in biblical Christianity at all. Thus, Gushee is simply taking a deconstructive approach to biblical interpretation. Jonathan Cullers, in his book On Deconstruction, makes a couple of points that are beneficial in this entire conversation for particularly comprehending deconstruction:
“An interpretation of a work thus comes to be an account of what happens to the reader: how various conventions and expectations are brought in to play, where particular connections or hypothesis are posited, how expectations are defeated or confirmed. To speak of the meaning of the work is to tell a story of reading.”8
In essence, deconstruction makes interpreting a text of literature more about the reader than the author. It is the goal of the reader, according to Cullers, to figure out what the work “does.”9 Putting all of this plainly, the reader plays a central role in the meaning of a work according to the deconstructionists and they are to not only ascertain what is meant by a text but what it does. What is Gushee doing to Scripture? He is trying to figure out what the doctrine of biblical inerrancy “does” whenever it is believed. According to him, it is used to oppress certain individuals. Consequently, Gushee is promoting an approach to Scripture which interprets it on the basis of power dynamics which ultimately in the end goes back to a line of thinking tied to deconstruction and critical theory and postmodernism and cultural Marxism blended together to make a cocktail mixture of false doctrine. But, what I want to highlight is that a Bible-believing Christian like myself and a deconstructionist like Gushee are starting on two different foundations thus we end up at two different places in nearly every aspect of our theology. I am starting from the divinely inspired and inerrant Word whereas Gushee is starting from the opinions of men. This is why when it comes to the ultimate standard of truth, Gushee says the following as to whether or not Scripture can hold that role:
“The Bible cannot be the primary source of knowledge and criterion of truth in all areas of importance. The evidence is clear that the Bible constantly reveals its inadequacy to bear this weight.”10
“I will argue in the next chapter that post-evangelicals need to do some fresh thinking about other ways of knowing—indeed, other ways of hearing God address us. These include tradition, science, reason, experience, intuition, community, and relationships. The power of a narrow evangelical biblicism must be broken, but you can’t replace something with nothing. We need to open ourselves to other ways of discerning truth.”11
Here, Gushee blatantly rejects Scripture as the ultimate authority. Colossians 2:3 says that “all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are found in Christ. Since He reveals Himself specially in His Word, with all of Scripture being breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), Gushee is cutting himself off from the only stable foundation for truth. This point is where we can demonstrate his inconsistencies.
Errors In The Deconstructionist Approach
It is one step to show the distinction between an inerrantist and a deconstructionist, which is what this article has primarily focused on up to this point. However, it is a further step to critique their own views which is what we move to now. Gushee wants to enjoy the fruits of a biblical worldview while cutting himself off from the root of Scripture. He is involved in the work of “Christian ethics” and so he makes moral judgments quite frequently. For example, he makes statements like this:
“Genocide is the gravest kind of human violence, and must be studied so it doesn’t happen again.”12
For the record, I agree with Gushee that genocide is a horrific evil that we must fight against. What the Nazis did to the Jewish people during the time of WW2 was absolutely wicked and abominable. However, I have a solid basis for making that statement . . . Scripture. God has said “You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13).” But, if you take away the inerrancy of the Bible how can I know whether or not the command not to murder is true? If you say it is by human reason, well Hitler disagreed, and so do the abortionists who have slaughtered over 60 million babies in our country during the last few decades. Maybe individuals like Gushee would like to appeal to tradition, to which I would ask, which one? There are countless different traditions, religions, and thought processes grounded in them. He might make the argument that we can believe the words of Jesus in the Bible, but not the rest. Well, those words were written down by men in the Gospel account, which according to Gushee’s argumentation regarding the nature of Scripture is problematic. Thus, he cannot appeal there because he has already blocked that route with his own argument. In the end, he has no consistent authority he can appeal to in order to say murder and genocide are evil. He would claim these actions are evil, I agree, furthermore I am glad he makes that judgment, but I want to humbly assert that he is borrowing from the biblical worldview in order to make that claim. You need the inerrant Word of God to have a logically consistent belief system. Gushee jettisons that, which is why in the end he is left without a consistent standard.
Friends, a deconstructionist reading of the Bible will leave you in the same situation as Gushee, logically inconsistent with your own position and afar from the truth. We do not need to read the Bible in terms of cultural Marxist power dynamics, but in terms of truth from our Creator God before whom we must bow. Liberalism, deconstruction, critical theory, they all make the same mistake that the king did in Jeremiah’s day, they simply take a knife and cut away at the Word of God chopping away what does not suit their personal opinions and inclinations (Jeremiah 36:23). However, many try to take the approach that Gushee did and claim to hold to parts of Scripture while rejecting others. As I demonstrated, that position leaves you logically inconsistent and in an indefensible spot. You hold to a biblical worldview, or you do not. You are grounded in the truth of God’s entire Word, or are you led astray into the various lies of the world. You are standing on the inerrant truth of the 66-books of canonical Scripture, or you are left in the land of the absurdity of unbelief. That land is the one into which deconstruction wants to lead you in the end. Don’t chase lies! Don’t chase irrationality by running away from God! No, come to Christ and bow before Him and live according to His Word. Deconstructionists like Gushee reject inerrancy, they reject the Bible, thus they are left without any stable foundation. I pray God will open our eyes to see the beautiful consistency of His Holy Word!
2 David Gushee, After Evangelicalism: The Path To A New Christianity, p. 30, Kindle.
6 David Gushee, After Evangelicalism: The Path To A New Christianity, p. 36, Kindle.
8 Jonathan Cullers, On Deconstruction, p. 35.
9 Jonathan cullers, On Deconstruction, p. 40.
10 David Gushee, After Evangelicalism: The Path To A New Christianity, p. 40, Kindle.
11 David Gushee, After Evangelicalism: The Path To A New Christianity, p. 40, Kindle.