Deconstruct the faith and theology of the cross? (part 1)

Many Christians today, especially evangelicals, say they are “deconstructing” their faith. Disillusioned with how their fellow evangelicals support Donald Trump, are complicit in social injustice, get caught up in sex scandals, or commit other wrongdoings of which they become aware, these Christians are scrutinizing their personal faith, questioning what they learned and examine how they came to believe it. After such “deconstruction”, some people completely abandon Christianity, while others “reconstruct” it in a different way.

James Walden of Mere Orthodoxy discusses this phenomenon and relates it to Luther’s theology of the cross. While Luther is indeed a valuable resource that can help contemporary Christians work through their problems and confusions, I’m not sure that “deconstruction” or “theology of the cross” accurately describes what disillusioned evangelicals are doing. .

In his essay Deconstruction and a Theology of the Cross, Walden first explains what “deconstruction” entails, a term first used in postmodern literary criticism. As used by the French thinker Jacques Derrida, it has to do with the contradictions he believes are built into literary texts and into language itself. More broadly, it refers to the “construction” of all ideas and institutions, reflecting the tenet of postmodernism that truth is not a discovery but a “construction” – either of mind or of culture, or the will to power, by which one group oppresses other groups.

Luther contrasts the theology of the cross with the theology of glory. God did not save us by manifesting His Glory, but by emptying Himself into His incarnation and dying on a cross. Likewise, we prefer a theology of glory that will give us all the answers, solve all our problems, and exalt our good works. But we must know Christ in our weakness, our failures and our sufferings; that is, in our crosses which he subsumes into his cross, where we find justification by faith.

(For a more complete treatment of Luther’s Theology of the Cross, see our series of articles on the subject: Theology of the Cross, Definition (#1); Theology of the Cross: Power and Language (#2); of the Cross and the Gospel (#3); Theology of the Cross: Good Works and Vocation (#4); Theology of the Cross and Suffering (#5); and Theology of the Cross and the Problem of Evil ( #6).)

Here is how Walden connects deconstruction and the theology of the cross:

Martin Luther’s basic distinction between the two types of theologians—one of glory and one of the cross—is extremely helpful at this point. Heidelberg Dispute (1518). And it is appropriate to evoke here this elementary category of Luther since the etymology of Derrida’s “deconstruction” goes back, through Heidegger, to the reformer’s use of destruction in reference to the gospel’s “destruction” of worldly wisdom and reason (1 Corinthians 1:19).

That is to say, the destruction of what we could call “theologies of glory”.

In God’s judgment against the pride and arrogance of men, divine power and wisdom paradoxically appear to them as weakness and folly… as something to be despised and rejected. Thus, the theology of the cross confuses – and deconstructed – “theologians of glory”. Such theologians “construct their theology in light of what they expect of God – and, surprise, surprise, they make God look like themselves,” writes Carl Trueman.

The “theologians of the cross”, however, are those who construct their theology in light of God’s own revelation of himself in Christ hanging on the cross.

It’s revolutionary. Here’s the problem though. We are all usually glorious theologians – even the most doctrinally orthodox among us. We are naturally withdrawn, making and remaking our theology, as it is applied in word and deed, to our own advantage. We constantly return to theologies of glory in our forms of worship, in our use of power, in the habitation of our socioeconomic strata, in our practice of justice, whether it be personal piety or virtue. public, in our sexuality and family relationships, in our practice of hospitality, etc., etc. These are all capable of being molded in our own image, as Trueman observes, “and all must be recast in the light of the cross”.

By the weak and senseless word of the cross, silently powerful by the Spirit who dwells in the community of God’s people, Christ himself deconstructs our deep theologies of glory. By the sign of the cross (Galatians 6:17) – that is, not by our own triumph or heroic performance, but by inner agony and outward mistreatment – ​​our inculturated faith is exposed, rebuked, refined and renewed. As we are continually immersed in the death of Christ and resurrected in his resurrection, we are slowly but surely becoming theologians of the cross.

It is the deconstructive work of the cross. It is far more radical than any “deconstruction” we might undertake ourselves, whether by our own individual efforts, by any church tradition, or by any alleged internal mechanism of history or language. It is the secret work of God, in which the Reformed Church is always reformed. Deconstructed to the bottom.

The Theology of the Cross is indeed a strong tonic against much that plagues contemporary Christianity: the prosperity gospel (essentially the opposite of the Theology of the Cross); the power of positive thinking; political triumphalism; famous preachers; the ideology of church growth; worship as pop entertainment; legalistic puritanism; left or right social gospel; and you can probably think of more.

Christians reconsidering their adherence to such things may well find in Luther’s theology of the cross a way back to genuine Christianity and genuine spirituality grounded in the gospel of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23) .

But I don’t think that’s what many who try to “deconstruct their faith” do!

I’ll explain in tomorrow’s post.

Image by Felix Merler from Pixabay

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