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David

Can We Rebuild After Deconstruction?

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I was moved by a recent post where the person was talking about his faith journey and talked about how the process of deconstruction has left him with little to rebuild with. I think that many Progressive Christians go through a process of deconstruction even if that starts with a “liberal” Christian background like mine. I have followed the Jesus Seminar with interest and this has been a process for our time that symbolizes the deconstruction of the faith doctrines that sustained my parents and their parents. It is a necessary process and so it is no wonder that much of the discussions within Progressive Christianity center on the deconstructive process. The question is what happens when the deconstruction is coming to an end and one looks around and tries to see what there is to build on. While one is in that deconstruction process it seems like if you just get all of the garbage out of the way then the light will shine and everything will come into place. But it hardly ever works that way. So I hope that we can find some basis for construction after the deconstruction does its work.

 

There seems to me to be two basic alternatives that have been given by Progressive Christians. One alternative leans to an ethical construction. The message is that if we can get justice right then we have replaced the destruction with a constructive alternative. The feeling is that it was theology that was the source of and reason for the destruction so we should replace theology with ethics.

 

The other alternative given by Progressive Christians is to replace bad theology with good theology. The message is that we can save the hope for correct thinking if we just read the right authors and/or do some rational thinking/etc. So we sell a lot of books and take a lot of classes.

 

Both of these alternatives are not without merit but I think both alternatives miss the foundation for faith. I do not think we will be “saved” by doing the correct things or believing the correct theology. Both of these alternatives can be deconstructed if they attempt to exist by themselves without a deeper foundation for faith.

 

It’s that “deeper foundation for faith” that I want to explore as the basis for construction after deconstruction. So I would suggest that we begin by thinking about what is “deeper” than correct action or correct belief? If you can not imagine anything “deeper” then no further comment from me will be helpful. But if you can imagine something “deeper” then let’s talk about what that is and how we can build upon it after deconstruction. Anyone interested? Don't be afraid to jump ahead of me and let us know what you think that "deeper foundation for faith" may look like.

Edited by David

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Great topic david,

 

In my view this fits right in with the mission of TCPC which is not to re-program with more dogma or doctrine but to support others who are going through this sometimes very painful process with direction and encouragement from those who have passed through this fire. I will give it some thought before I share a few of my own comments.

 

Joseph

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For a long time the question for me has been "what do I do?" and not "what do I believe?" but there is more to it than than. I must also ask, "where do I go to figure out what I am to do?" For me, that is my community, the congregation that I belong to. It's also what I understand to be that "cloud of witnesses" that has existed for millenia, those folks who have bodied out their beliefs in the pursuit of peace and justice. So, while theology does help to focus my thinking, it is no substitue for "learning by doing." A "language of faith" that we hold in common is a valuable means for understanding how we can work together to accomplish worthwhile goals. But there is more, and I struggle to put that into words. But I know it's there. So I don't worry very much about what I have deconstructed. Maybe I should, but I just don't.

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I hope you don't mind if I add this from you to our discussion.

 

"A final story from Genesis 32: Jacob is alone one night, having sent the rest of his entourage across a river. Then "a man" (I call it an angel) wrestled with him until "just before daybreak." Jacob would not give up, so the "man" wounded him. But still Jacob persisted, and would not let go until he received a blessing. Thus it is with Scripture--we wrestle with it all our lives, and are almost certain to be wounded by the encounter, but in the end we will receive its blessing.

 

With stories like that, concerns about factual accuracy are trivial."

 

Great point. Think about it for a while in relationship to this thread.

Edited by David

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Guest billmc

For me, David, and this is only from my experience and perspective, the deconstruction is not only about ethics and theology, as important as they might be, but about losing a cherished relationship. I really don't know what "deeper foundation for faith" you are speaking of, looking for, or pointing to, but my deconstruction has been similar to losing a friend or even a breakup of a marriage or a long-term relationship. I literally fell in love with Jesus when I was twelve years old. And I believed, in my childhood and young naivete, that he loved me -- personally, vicariously, deeply, even passionately, to the point that he died even for me. There was something about that "relationship" that, even though it wasn't physical, was very personal, comforting, and meaningful. Jesus was really my "personal" savior and for many years I was comfortable with that language and that relationship.

 

As I entered into deconstruction, I began to see how selfishly my ethics, my theology, and my relationship with God and Jesus really were. Moving into Progressive Christianity enlarged my view to not only believe that God was passionate about other people and other people groups, but also about our earth, including things like our ecology and the plant and animal kingdoms.

 

But as I moved further into deconstruction, along with losing some very selfish concepts attached to the highly "individualized" Christianity of modernity, I also found myself losing concepts of God as a person, Jesus as someone still very much alive, God's "plan" for my life, God's intervention into human affairs, and any sense that God could be related to "personally", passionately, responsively. God became a faceless (and heartless) "non-concept", something (instead of Someone) beyond concepts, beyond words, ineffable, completely transcendant. Now, I am NOT saying that Progressive Christianity teaches these things. I am in no way making that accusation. I am just saying that once we let go of understanding God as a personal being, then (at least for me) it is easy to let go of any ideas of that God is in any way personal, and then it becomes almost impossible to love or feel loved by a "concept". I like and enjoy many things in my life, but I tend to use the word "love" mainly about people or creatures that express "personality" - that exhibit mind, will, emotion, character, traits that call forth love.

 

So as my ideas of God have deconstructed to where "God" is now just "god", I question whether I can love this kind of god and if this kind of god could love me. The relationship has evaporated and, as the old song says, "breaking up is hard to do." What could ever take the place of "God" in my life? What could possibly fill his metaphorical shoes? Where He used to fill my heart, despite all my struggles with fundamentalism, now all I have is, to me, ambigous concepts like "the ground of all being" or "being itself" that simply don't make me feel loved or call for my love. Maybe this is just the pain of reality that I will have to cope with. Reality does seem to have a high cost. I can't help but wonder, as selfish as it is, if I swallowed the best pill for me?

 

bill mc

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Bill,

 

Thank you for your passionate honesty.

 

I confidently believe that you have already shown us the building blocks for the reconstruction.

 

Let’s just see how this discussion develops.

 

My only request is that people think about something “deeper” than the two primary alternatives that I have outlined. What is “deeper” than correct action or correct belief?

 

Thanks for participating.

 

David

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(snip)

 

But as I moved further into deconstruction, along with losing some very selfish concepts attached to the highly "individualized" Christianity of modernity, I also found myself losing concepts of God as a person, Jesus as someone still very much alive, God's "plan" for my life, God's intervention into human affairs, and any sense that God could be related to "personally", passionately, responsively. God became a faceless (and heartless) "non-concept", something (instead of Someone) beyond concepts, beyond words, ineffable, completely transcendant. Now, I am NOT saying that Progressive Christianity teaches these things. I am in no way making that accusation. I am just saying that once we let go of understanding God as a personal being, then (at least for me) it is easy to let go of any ideas of that God is in any way personal, and then it becomes almost impossible to love or feel loved by a "concept". I like and enjoy many things in my life, but I tend to use the word "love" mainly about people or creatures that express "personality" - that exhibit mind, will, emotion, character, traits that call forth love.

 

I also lost the limited and restrictive concept of God as a person but not as an inseparable part of my life. God is still the very core of my being. I could not imagine any thing more personal. Instead of looking at God as intervening into human affairs I see even a greater wonder of synchronicity and balance whereby creation is more a self regulating dance of the universe instead of a KING somewhere intervening. I see the law of sowing and reaping, giving and receiving, excusing and forgiveness, in effect the teachings (words) of Jesus that live forever. I see the warm love of others who recognize this oneness we all have. And I feel the deep down trust/faith that says we will all come to this knowledge and it couldn't be otherwise because of what we really are. I see time as a vapor that comes and goes and physical death not what it appears to be.

 

So as my ideas of God have deconstructed to where "God" is now just "god", I question whether I can love this kind of god and if this kind of god could love me. The relationship has evaporated and, as the old song says, "breaking up is hard to do." What could ever take the place of "God" in my life? What could possibly fill his metaphorical shoes? Where He used to fill my heart, despite all my struggles with fundamentalism, now all I have is, to me, ambigous concepts like "the ground of all being" or "being itself" that simply don't make me feel loved or call for my love. Maybe this is just the pain of reality that I will have to cope with. Reality does seem to have a high cost. I can't help but wonder, as selfish as it is, if I swallowed the best pill for me?

 

bill mc

 

Bill, those are all valid questions to me. But I know the relationship can never evaporate except in the mind if I choose to allow it to be such. Concepts are all of the mind which are to perish with the using. But life is present even in darkness. There never was a time when your very being was not and if there were no Love, creation would cease to exist. These are just my expressed views of something I cannot put my hands on and my words are limited as is all language. My advice which will not be insulted if refused would be to try to remain aware always of what is happening in the moment in thought and deed without judgement or measuring and that awareness (Jesus taught to watch always) will grant you the power to step aside and Christ will come (present itself) in you which will be seen as your divine nature or God working in you. It seems to me not to be a one time event. (Christ's coming in us)

 

Love in Christ,

Joseph

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Bill,

 

Thank you for your passionate honesty.

 

I confidently believe that you have already shown us the building blocks for the reconstruction.

 

Let's just see how this discussion develops.

 

My only request is that people think about something "deeper" than the two primary alternatives that I have outlined. What is "deeper" than correct action or correct belief?

 

Thanks for participating.

 

David

 

To me, Faith and trust is deeper than belief or correct action. To me, Faith is not the same as belief. Faith seems to me to be more of a 'knowing' that comes from a deeper place than the thinking mind. I know a work has been started in me and I have trust that whatever started that work will finish it no matter what my situation looks like. I have a choice to either trust or not trust that whatever which I replace with the word 'God'. I have committed myself to trust even to the point of possible death.

 

David, Is this what you are pointing to?

 

Joseph

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There are two level of trust. The first parallels our childhood where we have little choice in the matter. The second is Adult Trust. Here, we have a combination of choice and compassion. It is not longer a matter that "the other" always make the right choice in my best interest, but that they intend to make the best choice. In some sense, the movement from deconstruction to reconstruction parallels human development. A movement from childhood to adulthood in the spiritual domain? I offer this a suggestion only. It helped me a great deal to work out the levels of trust.

Edited by minsocal

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To me, Faith and trust is deeper than belief or correct action. To me, Faith is not the same as belief. Faith seems to me to be more of a 'knowing' that comes from a deeper place than the thinking mind. I know a work has been started in me and I have trust that whatever started that work will finish it no matter what my situation looks like. I have a choice to either trust or not trust that whatever which I replace with the word 'God'. I have committed myself to trust even to the point of possible death.

 

David, Is this what you are pointing to?

 

Joseph

 

Thanks Joseph.

I agree that faith and trust as you have used these words are "deeper" than correct belief or correct action.

Can you give us some examples of how faith and trust have provided a "foundation for your faith"?

We are well on our way to a great discussion.

David

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For a long time the question for me has been "what do I do?" and not "what do I believe?" but there is more to it than than. I must also ask, "where do I go to figure out what I am to do?" For me, that is my community, the congregation that I belong to. It's also what I understand to be that "cloud of witnesses" that has existed for millenia, those folks who have bodied out their beliefs in the pursuit of peace and justice. So, while theology does help to focus my thinking, it is no substitue for "learning by doing." A "language of faith" that we hold in common is a valuable means for understanding how we can work together to accomplish worthwhile goals. But there is more, and I struggle to put that into words. But I know it's there. So I don't worry very much about what I have deconstructed. Maybe I should, but I just don't.

The words that struck me were "But there is more, and I struggle to put that into words. But I know it's there".

 

It seems to me that many who are committed to working for justice share these words with you but the "language of faith" has failed them. As I noted theology has failed them even though theology may help to "focus" as you put it. As I noted I loved your post about scripture. I think you are on to something here. I would encourage you to keep struggling with the words.

 

Thanks for participating.

David

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In some sense, the movement from deconstruction to reconstruction parallels human development. A movement from childhood to adulthood in the spiritual domain? I offer this a suggestion only. It helped me a great deal to work out the levels of trust.

Exactly.

 

Can you speak more about "what is deeper than correct action or correct belief"?

 

Thanks,

David

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Thanks Joseph.

I agree that faith and trust as you have used these words are "deeper" than correct belief or correct action.

Can you give us some examples of how faith and trust have provided a "foundation for your faith"?

We are well on our way to a great discussion.

David

 

David,

 

To my knowlege Faith was already there and activated unconsciously through various transformative experiences I had starting at childhood and then resuming in my 30's and continuing of its own accord to the present. The how and why is difficult for me to answer because I do not know. I guess the time was right for me. I did not really consciously choose to seek Truth but rather for whatever reason or reasons was chosen. These experiences gave my ego flesh the kick it needed to get out of the way enough to be more aware of what is really happening and experience more of this awareness of the presence of my source of life. I believe the experiences re-enforced the foundation for my spiritual journey to the point that the flesh for the most part has lost its importance to me. But perhaps you may be able to put it in more accurate words than I as all I can say is God is the foundation for my Faith and no other.

 

Joseph

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Exactly.

 

Can you speak more about "what is deeper than correct action or correct belief"?

 

Thanks,

David

 

IMO, what is deeper depends on the individual personality. "Deeper" is not single sourced when it comes to human beings. If it is your nature to find "depth" in the external world. So be it. If it is your nature to find "depth" in your internal world, so be it. Both have found the same depth.

 

I will suggest this interpretation as I find it resonant with my own personality:

 

“The deep is tehom, the Hebrew for ocean, for depth as saltwatery first stuff of the universe; for depth as a dimension; and for chaos (Keller, 1999).” Chaos or tehom is that which resists a status quo order (Keller, 1999)."

Edited by minsocal

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Thank you for your responses. Minsocal: I agree with your comments and Joseph, I appreciate your clarification. I hope others will add to the conversation.

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I was in seminary around the time that Bishop Tutu was involved with the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa. I found that process to be about that which is deeper than ideas about justice and just actions. Bishop Tutu described the process as being on “holy ground”. One can argue about the “success” of the process with arguments based upon the ideas of justice, but that is not my point. The Bishop found that in the process of the meeting of the oppressor and the victim in a truth telling process something much deeper happened. By calling it “holy” he pointed to the depth beyond correct belief or correct action.

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Bill,

 

I have been accused for speaking for other people so don’t let me do that for you. But I am wondering if you may have “lost” what I have been looking for with my question “what is deeper than correct belief or correct action”. You have eloquently expressed a passion for a “cherished relationship”. You do not lament the loss of theology or ethics so much as finding a “hole” in your heart. If this is in any way true then it would seem that your task is not to search for beliefs because that is not what you lost.

 

For me I associate relationship with what is “deeper” than correct belief or correct action. I share with you the sense of miracle at the birth of children. Those experiences within my relationship went way beyond any belief about relationship. I too experienced what could only be called an epiphany as you described it.

 

That god that you lost is not responsible for that “hole” in your heart because that god was never real. But that heart is real and you really can feel that “hole”. I would suggest that you start with that. It’s like you had a “perfect relationship” with a person who turned out to be a fake. The fault is not with your heart. You just got faked out. Trust your heart even if you got burned.

 

I would suggest this "ground of being" can only be known within relationship. It can not be known without relationship by correct belief or correct action. I think that may be a start for reconstruction. What do you think?

 

David

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For me the arts provide windows to see the depth. The dancer can study the theory of dance and have the most perfect theory of dance. The dancer can be the most gifted performer and be able to perform the most perfect acts. But neither the theory nor the acts can explain the depth that is the dance. The dance changes the dancer so even though the dancer may have the most perfect theory and the best technique the dance is deeper than both.

 

My wife sings in a symphony chorus. She has studied music and is familiar with the act of singing so that quality is a real concern. However, again, one can learn how to read notes but singing relates to that depth that goes beyond correct belief or correct action.

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Symbols connect us to that world of depth that is beyond correct belief or correct action. I have spoken before about the Community of Hope in Tulsa. I love their symbols especially their chalice. Here is how they describe it. “A broken-made-whole chalice represents both the broken-made-whole life journey of Jesus, and the broken-made-wholeness that each of us continues to find as we join our own lives in community”.There is no “correct belief” or “correct action” that could adequately express what this symbol means to this community. Symbols are necessary to point us to the depth of that which can not be expressed with either correct belief or correct action.

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The process of deconstruction can go in several directions. One direction is what I have been trying to point towards. That direction leads to the experience and knowledge of what can only be called God. The knowing of that God was described so well by Joseph when he said “Faith and trust is deeper than belief or correct action. To me, Faith is not the same as belief. Faith seems to me to be more of a 'knowing' that comes from a deeper place than the thinking mind”. My point is that this is the “deeper foundation for faith”. It is relational in nature. It is a “intra subject/object experience”. It is a dynamic between knowing and Being where Being can not be “known” outside the experience. It can not be “known” without passion. There is the experience of the whole in every part that is greater than the sum of the parts. As Grampawombat pointed out it is based upon "learning by doing"---it is in the doing that it is known. There are many ways to approach this.

 

But the process of deconstruction can also lead to the post modern skepticism that would deny the reality of God. The most we can hope for is correct belief and/or correct action. Any word that tries to describe a depth beyond this is a meaningless word because there is no reality to God.

 

The problem which now lies before Progressive Christianity is that it may fall into the Unitarian Universalist trap which is there because of deconstruction which led to post modern skepticism. Within the UU world there is nothing to build upon except correct belief and/or correct action. Obviously both are tremendously important. UU people are extremely committed and exemplary people. But they lack the “deeper foundation for faith”.

 

So this is my premise. Progressive Christianity must decide which direction to go. If it is decided to build upon the “deeper foundation of faith” then it will certainly look much different than the UU world. However, the problem is that UU people make up much of the Progressive Christian audience. You can see this split within the Jesus Seminar. You have Borg and Spong on one side of that split and you have many others on the other side.

 

So the question is can we build after deconstruction? And what will it look like?

Edited by David

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Billmc,

 

I cannot identify with recovering fundamentalists (or Pentacostal or Charismatic)…but I have read John Spong, who also went from one extreme to another, first taking everything literally then throwing it all out, and having to come up with a new perspective on scripture. Does his writing speak to you at all?

It is sad when a person lets their intellect get in the way of an earlier heartfelt connection to God. My suggestion would be that instead of complaining that there aren’t any miracles these days, you simply talk to God…tell God (or Jesus) what you feel-- what is hurting you, what you lost, what you need – open your heart and mind as you would to a trusted close friend, or just talk to yourself without judging or trying to change anything.

Somewhat like the Elijah passage where he discovers that God was not to be found in a whirlwind or earthquake or bonfire--he ends up hearing God as a “still small voice” within, instead.

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The process of deconstruction can go in several directions. One direction is what I have been trying to point towards. That direction leads to the experience and knowledge of what can only be called God. The knowing of that God was described so well by Joseph when he said “Faith and trust is deeper than belief or correct action. To me, Faith is not the same as belief. Faith seems to me to be more of a 'knowing' that comes from a deeper place than the thinking mind”. My point is that this is the “deeper foundation for faith”. It is relational in nature. It is a “intra subject/object experience”. It is a dynamic between knowing and Being where Being can not be “known” outside the experience. It can not be “known” without passion. There is the experience of the whole in every part that is greater than the sum of the parts. As Grampawombat pointed out it is based upon "learning by doing"---it is in the doing that it is known. There are many ways to approach this.

 

But the process of deconstruction can also lead to the post modern skepticism that would deny the reality of God. The most we can hope for is correct belief and/or correct action. Any word that tries to describe a depth beyond this is a meaningless word because there is no reality to God.

 

The problem which now lies before Progressive Christianity is that it may fall into the Unitarian Universalist trap which is there because of deconstruction which led to post modern skepticism. Within the UU world there is nothing to build upon except correct belief and/or correct action. Obviously both are tremendously important. UU people are extremely committed and exemplary people. But they lack the “deeper foundation for faith”.

 

So this is my premise. Progressive Christianity must decide which direction to go. If it is decided to build upon the “deeper foundation of faith” then it will certainly look much different than the UU world. However, the problem is that UU people make up much of the Progressive Christian audience. You can see this split within the Jesus Seminar. You have Borg and Spong on one side of that split and you have many others on the other side.

 

So the question is can we build after deconstruction? And what will it look like?

 

I know of very few who have addressed the issue of what "progress" means since the era of Whitehead and his peers. I'll venture this much. Some of the old will be retained. Derrida, the source of the term "deconstruction" in postmodern philosophy, did an about face late in his career and said we need to return to "the grand texts" of the past. I'm not sure these days whether "postmodern" changed anything. It seems to be fading fast.

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I know of very few who have addressed the issue of what "progress" means since the era of Whitehead and his peers. I'll venture this much. Some of the old will be retained. Derrida, the source of the term "deconstruction" in postmodern philosophy, did an about face late in his career and said we need to return to "the grand texts" of the past. I'm not sure these days whether "postmodern" changed anything. It seems to be fading fast.

The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley is overun by it. Probably the majority of the Jesus Seminar are post modern skeptics. Certainly the UU world is full of it and UU has advertised itself as one of the few growing denominations. I'm not sure where you see it fading.

 

But that is not the important point. What I am trying to say is that the process of deconstruction can lead to a form of post modern skepticism or to some kind of reconstruction based upon a "deeper foundation for faith".

 

Deconstruction/post modern skepticism perhaps did not "change" you and somehow you now discount it so that you can see "some of the old" being retained. That's great, but ask Bill if it "changed anything" for him. What do you say to those who like Bill seem be looking around after the deconstruction process? Bill's passionate honesty moved me to start this thread. What do you say to him?

Edited by David

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The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley is overun by it. Probably the majority of the Jesus Seminar are post modern skeptics. Certainly the UU world is full of it and UU has advertised itself as one of the few growing denominations. I'm not sure where you see it fading.

 

But that is not the important point. What I am trying to say is that the process of deconstruction can lead to a form of post modern skepticism or to some kind of reconstruction based upon a "deeper foundation for faith".

 

Deconstruction/post modern skepticism perhaps did not "change" you and somehow you now discount it so that you can see "some of the old" being retained. That's great, but ask Bill if it "changed anything" for him. What do you say to those who like Bill seem be looking around after the deconstruction process? Bill's passionate honesty moved me to start this thread. What do you say to him?

 

There is an ample supply of ideas old and new. There is no aboslute need for deconstruction in the first place. Sure, academia went nuts on the idea and is now retreating. That is how academia works. In my profession, behaviorism reigned for 25 years and then gave way to cognitivism which is now giving way to emotionalism, and so on. It could be that in a few years deconstructionism will be nothing more than a footnote.

 

I have heard Progressives say that the Jesus Seminar has gone too far. I think it has. There is always a lead-lag problem with trends. Ideas move from one discipline to another over time and fade in roughly the same pattern. I have already seen the fade of postmodernism in art and philosophy. Postmodernism never really took root in psychology, the trends there were in the opposite direction.

 

What could I say to Bill? Forget the experts and forget about deconctructionism. When it comes to faith there are no necessary and sufficient conditions.

 

The art of progress always has, and always will retain a ground from the past into the future. Anything else would be pure chaos. Look for the middle ground. Ideas from the past that were not yet ready for acceptance can emerge into the spotlight. The radical message of egalitarianism some find in the Bible might finally reach social acceptance. But, not by itself. What message are YOU willing to back?

 

And that is my point. Derrida discovered late in his career that he had perhaps made a mistake. It happens with great thinkers as they mature. They launch a popular trend they cannot stop even if they wanted to.

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I never went through any "deconstruction" of my Christian beliefs because I didn't have any. I wasn't a Christian, not even a believer in God before God stepped into my life and loaded me with so much spiritual vision that it would take me several lifetimes to figure it all out. My point here is that perhaps trying to intellectualize a spiritual process doesn't work. One cannot construct a theology by intellectual means. It has to be received in spirit for there to be spiritual validity.

 

I could say here that looking at what is actually coming about "naturally" would be more constructive to reorganizing one's lost trust in biblical authority. There is a new Gospel and a new Christian theology brought the old fashioned way, by divine revelation. Perhaps it's time to move forward past the End Times of Abrahamic religious conceptualization and embrace the new aeon.

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