taking the words of Jesus seriously

The animated Disney film Wreck-It Ralph draws an interesting contrast between two leading characters: Felix and Ralph. In the arcade game Fix-it Felix Jr., the passionate and quick-tempered “Wreck-It Ralph” demolishes buildings with his bare hands. As the antagonist, or villain, in the hit game, Wreck-It Ralph is ostracized from his peers, forced to live alone in a mass garbage dump made of bricks and smashed building parts. For better or worse, this is the bed that Ralph made, and he must now lie in it; this is the house that he built or, better yet, deconstructed, and he must now live in it. Conversely, “Fix-It Felix” is the protagonist and consummate hero in the arcade game. He is “Mr. Perfect,” the do-it-all repairman who is adored by his peers and who can do no wrong. In stark contrast to Wreck-It Ralph, Felix lives in a high-end apartment building impeccably constructed and maintained with his magic hammer. Sleeping in a luxurious, top-of-the-line penthouse, Felix enjoys the fruits of his labor. But maybe Felix’s lifestyle is too perfect! What if he is building a façade? Does the appearance match the reality? Is Felix able to carry and withstand the heavy and burdensome expectations that have been placed on him?

Deconstructionism, or faith deconstruction, or Christian deconstruction, has become a super trendy topic on social media in recent times. If you search for the hashtag “deconstruction” on your favorite social media platform, you will likely find a ton of different memes, videos, and presentations on the topic. You will also probably discover that this popular hashtag is, more often than not, paired with other hashtags, like: “#ex-evangelical,” “#ex-Christianity,” “#ex-holiness” or “#ex-purity,” “#ex-fundie,” and “#progressiveChristianity.” This demonstrates both the broadness and the variance of the term/movement. For some, contemporary deconstructionism is a deconstruction of evangelicalism; for others, it is a deconstruction of certain forms of evangelicalism (for example, fundamentalism or the holiness movement); and still for others, it is a deconstruction of Christianity as a whole.

It is really important to recognize the width and diversity of both deconstructionism and Christianity. Not all deconstructionists are the same, and not all Christians are the same. There’s a wide range of experiences and perspectives represented in the deconstruction movement, and there’s a massive range of experiences and perspectives represented in a global world religion like Christianity. So, I think it’s wise to avoid blanket statements and sweeping generalizations like, “all deconstructionists think like this” or “all Christians behave like this.” We shouldn’t try to squeeze complex human beings into neat little boxes—and you shouldn’t try to cram yourself into a neat little box! Everyone’s life journey is different. Some people move from Christianity to a deconstruction of Christianity; some people move from deconstructionism to Christianity; some theists end up atheists; some atheists end up theists; some Christians become non-Christians; some non-Christians become Christians. We also all begin our journeys at different places. Some Christians, for example, start out at a place of immaturity and therefore have a lot of room for growth and development (emotionally, spiritually, and mentally), whereas other Christians start out at a place of maturity and therefore the process of growth and development is much more subtle. The same can be said for deconstructionists.

  •  Three main types of deconstructionists:

1) The Arsonist: he seeks to burn all structures down, and what’s left in his wake are just ashes upon ashes. He feeds off chaos and ruin. He finds himself without a home in which to live nor a foundation on which to build.

2) The Gentrifier: one who demolishes an old and rickety structure and replaces it with something new and shiny.

3) The Renovator: she seeks to repair or renew an outdated or damaged dwelling place.

My Deconstruction Story

I think it’s fair to say that I am a deconstructionist (in fact, according to the categories listed above, I would probably classify myself as a “renovator”). Even so, I’m not all that comfortable wearing and parading the deconstruction label —mainly because I don’t like being put in a box, and I don’t like other people representing me and speaking for me. I would much rather be my own person and speak for myself. I feel the same way about the category “evangelicalism” and the label “evangelical.” Though I share some common values and common beliefs with American evangelicals, I don’t necessarily want to be associated with all that contemporary evangelicalism represents.

My personal journey, my existential history, is a journey from immature Christianity to deconstructionism; from deconstructionism to “reconstructionism;” and from reconstructionism to mature Christianity. I talk about this journey in my Thinker Sensitive video trailer, which you can find on YouTube. I would greatly encourage you to watch the whole thing, as it shares my history, my interests, my values, and why I believe Thinker Sensitive, my personal project, is so important.

In that video, I mention the value of possessing a “base skepticism.” I also discuss the values of critical thinking and critical questioning, the value of self-criticism, and the importance of having the courage to wrestle with difficult concepts and to confront inconvenient truths. These are all values that are found, in one way or another and to one degree or another, in the contemporary deconstruction movement.

Overall, my personal journey of renovation involved a deconstruction of various fundamentalist and holiness representations of Christianity and a reconstruction of classical, orthodox, ecumenical, and critical Christianity. So, in relation to the various hashtags that are often associated with deconstructionism, my experience would fall under the “#exfundie” and “#exholiness” classifications. With that said, I don’t think I would ever use those hashtags to publicly identify myself or to publicly designate my experience. This is, in part, because I don’t necessarily agree with the spirit of those hashtags. I find them to be overly polemical and antagonistic; I find them to be divisive. I also think that, as a society, we should focus more on what we believe in and less on what we don’t believe in; we should focus more on what we profess and less on what we reject. Another way of saying this is that we should highlight our construction and reconstruction rather than our deconstruction.

The Deconstruction Debate: Two Main Camps

There are two main categories of people that I see engaging in these debates on social media (these two categories are admittedly quite simplistic; they are reflections of extremes on both sides. I am using them for rhetorical purposes and for the sake of argument). Referring back to my opening illustration, you will often find two distinct groups entering into these conversations online:

  1. The “Wreck-It Ralphs”: those deconstructing Christianity
  2. The “Fix-It Felixs”: those defending Christianity from deconstructionism

When I see the posts on social media from both sides and reflect on the interactions between these two camps, I think that—once again—the truth is dialecticalthat it lies somewhere between these two poles, in the mediation or synthesis of competing arguments. The truth of the matter is that there are many dimensions of the church, interpretations of the Bible, superstitions of the laity, and rituals and traditions of the faith that can be—or even should be—deconstructed or demythologized. At the same time, there are also many aspects of Christianity, Biblical interpretation, church history, and the faith passed down that can be, or even should be, commended and championed. I think the “Wreck-It-Ralphs” are too fixated on the negatives, to the point that many of them can’t see any of the positives, whereas the “Fix-It Felixs” only focus on the positives and are unwilling to acknowledge any of the negatives—trying to maintain a perfect ideal that doesn’t actually exist on earth and isn’t actually possible in time.

Summary Statement:

When people are on the attack, they tend to have a very limited and narrow focus, becoming blind to counter-arguments and alternative possibilities. They’re “seeing red,” and that’s usually the only color that they want to see. On the other hand, when people are under attack, they tend to dig in and double down—often falling into a state of denial, plugging their ears and yelling gibberish until the prosecution rests.

Conclusion and Segue: Setting the Table for Part Two

  •  Before I dig into a list of reasons as to why so many people have felt the need to deconstruct Christianity in recent times, I want to mention that deconstructionism is nothing new. People have been deconstructing beliefs since the dawn of human beliefs. One could argue that the history of philosophy represents a long and dizzying history of deconstruction—starting with the Pre-Socratics, then moving to Plato, then moving to Aristotle, then to the Scholastics, then to Descartes, then to the Enlightenment, and then to the post-modern critique and the post-critical situation of our day. Moreover, within the colorful history of Christianity, even if we limit our scope to the boundaries of modern history, you have the Protestant Reformation, the classical liberal theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the demythologization of Scripture trumpeted by Rudolf Bultmann, the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth, and even the “death of God” movement in the 1960s. So, deconstruction of belief is not a new phenomenon!
  •  But what is the reason, or reasons, for the contemporary deconstruction movement? Why are so many people my age deconstructing Christian belief and practice? I think there are several reasons for this. I will unpack these reasons, fleshing them out in some detail, on part two!

About The Author


Ryan Ragozine is the host of Thinker Sensitive. He is passionate about ecumenical dialogue, inter-religious dialogue, and worldview engagement. Ryan has always been preoccupied with big ideas and big questions. Ryan holds a B.A. in Theology and an M.A. in Philosophy. He and his wife are huge proponents of Christian hospitality, running a house church that welcomed people from all different backgrounds and belief systems for five years before eventually taking over at Thinker Sensitive. (https://www.facebook.com/thinkersensitive/)

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