Don’t Deconstruct. Rebalance.
April 26, 2022
by Josh Moody
It’s time to emphasize not just engagement with culture but integrity of character, or what the Bible calls “holiness.”
If you follow social media, or listen carefully to the conversations developed by “exvangelicals,” you’ll know that there seem to be a large number of people who are actively engaged in or deliberately considering deconstructing their faith. The word “deconstruction” has its own interesting history. It is drawn from the work of the French postmodern literary theorist Jacques Derrida. But as used today in these circles, that historical association to Derrida is not frequently mentioned. Instead, the conversation is more generally about removing the parts of the faith that no longer seem significant, worthy, credible, and the like.
It is hard to argue with the fact that evangelicalism in America is going through a tricky patch. Long ago, I am told that even evangelical luminary Carl Henry said that he felt that the word “evangelical” would in time to come develop into a near meaningless category. Whether or not he did prophesy that, it is easy to wonder whether it is the case. What does someone mean when they say they are an evangelical? Is it enough for someone merely to self-designate as an evangelical, or is there some essentialist category (as defined by Bebbington, for instance, with his famous quadrilateral of biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism and activism) that should be used to assess whether an individual is really an evangelical or not? Does the word evangelical now effectively—in the ears of the wider public—mean in America a right-leaning tendency in politics with a moralist crusade around the right to life? But as much as attempts to ditch the term evangelical continue to gain traction in America, when you look at the use of the word less parochially (from a global perspective), it still seems to stand for something more essentially biblical.
But if it is overly hasty to jettison the word itself, what should be done with the understandable feeling of disturbance around the word? What to do with the scandals—so memorably recorded in The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill among other places—that seem to say loud and clear, “Houston, we have a problem”? It would seem to be burying your head in the sand to near ostrich-like levels to ignore the issues that swirl around the evangelical church today.
My pitch, or argument, or case, is that rather than jettison (or “deconstruct”) we need to rebalance. For many reasons, in recent years the church has been attempting to engage with culture. This is not A Bad Thing. In fact, I have spent a large portion of my life doing evangelism, apologetics, and mission. When the world around is changing, we do need to think through how to communicate the same message in fresh and engaging ways. There is nothing written in stone to say that Thou Must Always Play the Organ and Wear a Black Suit. So I am not, hear me clearly, arguing for being old-fashioned, out of date, tone deaf to the culture around us. I resonate with John Stott’s plea for “double listening,” by which he meant that the preacher should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Not, of course, meaning that both had equal authority but that the preacher’s job is to communicate the eternal truths of the Bible in the context of the temporal realities of the people to whom he is preaching.
But all that said, we do need to rebalance. Our emphasis has been very largely on engaging with culture and somewhat minorly on integrity of character. That needs to change. We must not retreat into a monastic separation from the world. But we must issue a biblical call to holiness. Every day.
Josh Moody’s latest book Everyday Holiness releases May 13.
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