In the last couple articles, I discussed some popular conceptions of the word "deconstruction" in Christian culture and my own conception of it. As I've thought about it more, I've realized I'll probably have plenty who disagree with my definition.
Some of us want deconstruction to be only a good thing, and others want to only speak of it as a bad thing. If deconstruction is a spectrum, with good and bad, and varying levels of emotion, it should be both encouraged and, at times, challenged. Isn't this closer to the truth and people's experiences of deconstruction?
As I go into some of my own deconstruction, I'll discuss deconstruction that wasn't really that big of a deal for me, and deconstruction that has kept me up at night. The things that didn't bother me all that much might actually be huge deals to someone else. My issues may not even be the same issues you've felt the need to deconstruct faith over. You may even disagree with the conclusions I've come to in my deconstruction. That's okay. I'm hoping I can just be one model of many who are trying to faithfully deconstruct and reconstruct their faith.
In this article, I plan to get more into the specifics of deconstruction starting with the Bible. If you haven't yet, please go back and read my first two articles on deconstruction before you delve into this one. In these first two articles, I lay the groundwork for my own approach to deconstruction so there is little room for misunderstanding. With that said, I'm open to having holes in my "construction" of deconstruction. The comments people have made so far to me have helped me improve these articles. If you have questions or concerns feel free to message me through the "Ask a Question" tab on my website, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message me on Facebook messenger.
Deconstructing Concepts of God's Revelation Through Scripture
When it comes to deconstructing my conceptions of the Bible, I did not experience a great amount of angst over rethinking the nature of scripture as God's revelation. The fact that some parts of scripture come from a specific cultural and literary context that is specific to their time is not in the least a blow to their inspiration. God can communicate in whatever way he wants and is not limited by our modern Western preconceptions. This, to me, has made scripture more exciting, not less.
Even though I grew up in a church environment that had a high view of scripture and perhaps bordered on fundamentalist at times, I don’t know if realizing the Bible is not literal all the time was a big revelation to me. Taking the Bible hyper literally all the time becomes less tenable from reading more of the Bible, not less of it. The more one reads the Bible, the more certain tensions and ambiguities pop up. In the future, I'll get into the aspect of biblical ambiguity more in-depth to show how ambiguity in scripture can sometimes help us have more clarity on a subject and avoid extremes in interpretation.
Deconstructing the Bible as Non-Literary
Literature has always excited me. I went to school for creative writing and English literature. I love literature. So when I found out the Bible is very literary, it didn't cause me to go through some severe deconstruction of my faith. For the most part, I got excited!
I don’t mind all that much if the Bible has literature in it! I don’t even mind if the historical parts of the Bible have a literary spin at some points and did not always happen exactly how it reports. For me, this would not detract from the Bible's inspiration. By the way, this would situate it in the ancient world and how ancients wrote history. For example, the exaggeration or rounding off of numbers in the Torah and Joshua actually situates them in the ancient Near East and contributes to their historicity. This is how those in the aNE wrote history.
When I found out that the Bible had more literary artistry than I previously knew about, I started looking for metaphors, flat and round characters, and literary devices everywhere. Treating the Bible as literature and not just history, or a boring list of doctrines, has made Bible study so much more exciting for me.
One book that helped me think through a literary approach to the Bible better was a book called Inconsistency in the Torah by Joshua Berman. This book helps explain the ways ancient history is different than modern history. This isn’t just true of the Bible but of all ancient history. The fact that biblical history is also literature and uses plenty of literary license is to be expected in the ancient world. In later posts, I’ll give more of an overview of this book.
Now that I know there is some flexibility to how ancient people recorded history, when I read a gospel and I see that one gospel said something a little differently than another gospel, I usually don’t jump to questioning it’s historicity. Instead, I think, “Why did this gospel writer make that choice and the other one didn’t? What theme or focus were they trying to zero in on?”
I don’t mean to say that I don’t struggle with parts of the Bible being literature, especially if they are totally literature. For example, if Esther and Jonah are short stories that have no actual historical reality, that would be a tough pill to swallow, and there is a possibility that this is the case. The book of Job, on the other hand, might more easily be suspected as a work of poetry or wisdom literature.
If God decides to communicate or inspire a short story or work of fiction in order to communicate his will, why should we see this as problematic, unless we have already been conditioned to think God only communicates or only inspires real history?
On the other hand I would not so quickly, like a Pete Enns, suggest that the Exodus did not happen or did not happen through supernatural means. For me, this pill would be too big, and I wouldn’t swallow it unless the evidence was overwhelming and obvious, and even then I would give kickback.