There is perhaps no greater trend in American Christianity than deconstructing the theology and ethics of white evangelicalism. Books, articles, podcasts and even music are being created daily to explore the reasons why so many people are leaving the faith they’ve known.
And there is plenty of reason to leave. In just the past month and a half, I have written articles about white evangelical justifications for slavery, for a eugenics-driven approach to biblical family values and the pro-life movement, for science denial, for a fear-driven control of children, for conquering others, for projecting our theological hierarchies onto technology, and for claiming that God wrote the U.S. Constitution.
But as important as it is to expose those theology-fueled abuses, a growing number of people are wondering what sort of theological lens could be used for discovering healthy theology. Many people have reached out to me recently to say while they are intrigued and resonate with much of what I’m saying about white evangelical theology, they are wondering what I believe about religion now.
That’s a fair question. So in this article, I’d like to lay out how I process and hold theology today after having deconstructed so much of my white evangelical theology to the ground. This article is not meant to represent everyone who has or is deconstructing. It’s simply meant as a personal example of how I think theologically today.
When I consider theology today, I process it more in terms of possibilities and likelihoods. I acknowledge the potential legitimacy and limitations of all perspectives and identities. In these I see degrees of goodness that are determined by how well they foster converging love and flourishing for all communities together across space and time through the infinite depths of awareness, solitude, healing and creative synthesis in the realization and pursuit of wholeness.
A theological journey of processing
In many theological conversations in the United States today, you’ll hear someone say that after you deconstruct from one framework, you should reconstruct to another framework.
“I’m far more concerned about how one thinks than about what one thinks.”
But one of the biggest shifts in my theological journey has been going from thinking about theology as static beliefs that one must affirm to a dynamic process that we participate in. I’m far more concerned about how one thinks than about what one thinks. The journey toward theological health isn’t simply about switching beliefs to a new set of certainties, but about changing the way you process and hold theology entirely.
My theology today is more about a way of being than about a system I’m building. It’s more about a posture of openness both inward and toward others than about having everything categorized satisfactorily.
Theology is a becoming. It’s a way your entire being is living into. Therefore, what you are believing, you are becoming. The end is the process in becoming.
The relevant questions become: Will the theology I’m living out remain in the end? And if only love remains in the end, then why would I live into any other theology than an organic theology of becoming love?
Possibilities and likelihoods
In the apologetics days of my conservative evangelical past, I wanted to prove that God existed, that Jesus was God, that penal substitutionary atonement was the only way to get to heaven after you die, and that the Bible was historically and scientifically inerrant.
But there’s no way to prove the existence of God.
Perhaps it’s possible that the universe is 6,000 years old and that there was a global flood. But for that to be true, God would have had to erase all the evidence of a young universe and a global flood, and fill the universe with evidence of an ancient, evolving cosmos and geology that never really happened, while requiring us to believe the opposite of everything creation is telling us. That’s not likely.
It’s possible that God exists and is a giant spaghetti monster like the famous atheist Richard Dawkins joked about in his book The God Delusion. But that’s not likely.
The certainty of inerrancy is wishful thinking that simply doesn’t fit with the reality we find ourselves in. And I’m now in a space where I’m not going to lose sleep over concepts that I cannot prove.
But it’s also possible that there’s something beyond the individual, at the very least a more transcendent wholeness of being that flows in and among all beings. And in my opinion, that’s quite likely.
Potential legitimacy and limitations of all perspectives and identities
The earth is roughly a sphere that is rotating at 1,000 mph and revolving around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun and the solar system are flying through the Milky Way Galaxy at 448,000 mph. The Milky Way Galaxy is hurtling through space at 1.3 million mph. And space is expanding at rates that physicists are still trying to figure out.
But from our perspective at the dinner table, everything seems perfectly still. Each of these perspectives is legitimate and limited.
Ultimate reality is at least as big as the expanding universe. It is, in essence, infinite. So while any particular perspective on the infinite may have some legitimacy, it also has limitations.
There is a sense in which we are still. But as the perspective changes, how we identify ourselves in the cosmos — as individuals, a planet, a solar system, a galaxy or a universe — also changes. And as our identity shifts, so does our personality as it becomes self-aware in community and takes on the wonders and limitations of our new communal identity.
In Mysticism and Social Change, Howard Thurman said the mystic comes “face to face with the society in which he functions as a person. He discovers that he is a person and a personality (and) in a profound sense (this) can only be achieved in a milieu of human relations. Personality is something more than mere individuality — it is a fulfillment of the logic of individuality in community.”
“The cosmos is a community of communities. And theology helps us make sense of how these communities relate.”
The cosmos is a community of communities. And theology helps us make sense of how these communities relate.
Just as I can acknowledge that someone’s perspective from Mars might have legitimate insights mixed with limitations that a perspective from the Andromeda galaxy might not share, I can apply the same logic to the planet earth, learning from all while expanding into the identities and personalities that come from new community.
Degrees of goodness
During my decades in conservative evangelicalism, we always talked about how we were “gospel centered.” And to be sure, we related everything we did back to what we believed about the gospel as penal substitutionary atonement.
But at some point during my deconstruction, I began to realize if gospel means “good news,” then it should be good news.
Because I see theology in terms of possibilities and likelihoods, I know I am unable to prove which theological ideas in Christianity are literally and undeniably true. But I do believe I can evaluate which ideas are good news.
You can determine the goodness of a theology by observing the fruit it produces over time. We have had 2,000 years’ worth of Christian history to see the fruit of various theologies play out.
Some theological ideas are better news than others. For good news to be good news, I believe it has to go deeper and reach further than the deepest reaches and furthest distances of the bad news. If good news reaches a point where bad news goes further, then the good news isn’t good enough.
“You can’t simply label something ‘good’ because you believe it’s true.”
You can’t simply label something “good” because you believe it’s true. It has to demonstrate some recognizable fruit of tangible goodness. And due to the culturally situated limitations of every theological perspective, the goodness of various theologies will exist in a spectrum.
Fostering converging love and flourishing for all communities
The universe has unfolded and evolved over 13.8 billion years as atoms were drawn together and flourished to form a cell, as cells were drawn together and flourished to form an organism, and as organisms were drawn together and flourished to form communities.
Every presence, from the individual to the global, is a community of embodiment and awareness. Even the individual is an embodied network of memories, thoughts, feelings and instincts that are affected by coming out of, into and as the cosmos.
So communal flourishing is a narrative of home and exile. Like the story of Eden, when we are at home within ourselves, and others are at home within themselves, we can be present to ourselves and to one another in a way that draws us together like gravity from our centers and that leads us all to flourish in complexity, depth and union. But when we are exiled from ourselves, from each other and from nature, every relationship breaks apart and we become simplistic, shallow and divided.
If there is a God, then my assumption is that God would want the communities of God’s creation to be at home and flourish. This is why theologies that produce the fruit of exile over the course of 2,000 years should be rejected, while theologies that produce the fruit of being at home and flourishing should be explored and imagined.
Present together across space and time
As we reflect on the theological journeys of all communities, studying history, the Bible and science brings all of us together across space and time. What may appear on the surface to be academic speculation can become a portal to meet with and learn to love our neighbors across space and time.
What has been and what will be are both present in and with each of us. The Alpha and the Omega are in the I Am. The question is to what degree we are aware of it. And the degree to which we are aware of our communal presence across space and time is the degree to which we can participate in it.
Through the infinite depths
Eventually we need to realize there is no point where deconstruction ends and reconstruction begins, and there is no destination at which all becoming ends and we simply remain static and fixed.
“There is no point where deconstruction ends and reconstruction begins, and there is no destination at which all becoming ends and we simply remain static and fixed.”
There is both an infinite internal and external dimension to theology. Within us, theology permeates our minds and bodies as our awareness of self, neighbor and God deepens and evolves us. Externally, the varieties of theologies are dark mirrors that reflect a more infinite reality. Romans 11 calls this infinity “unsearchable” and “inscrutable.”
Of course, this unsearchability doesn’t mean we cannot know anything. Richard Rohr refers to such mysteries as “endlessly knowable.” In other words, the searchability of infinity is an endless opening up into greater wholeness. So my posture toward Christian theology isn’t to sum it up, defend it or abandon it, but to open it up.
Awareness, solitude, healing and creative synthesis
The journey of opening up to infinite theological deepening transforms all our exiles until we are home in and as the expanding universe. We can only be transformed to the degree we become aware of the exiles we feel. And exile can feel quite lonely. So it’s in that journey from loneliness to solitude where our souls and bodies are healed and our exiles become our home.
Being at home in this cosmos of becoming that we embody evolves us into participants with God as co-creators. Nancy Frankenberry, who is a philosopher of religion at Dartmouth College, says: “The distinguishing mark of religious experiencing is a pervasive type of physical and conceptual sensitivity to the aesthetic matrix of relations, leading to the emergence of greater complexity, deeper intensity and wider range of contrasts within a harmonized unity of feeling. … (These religious experiences) pertain to the creative transformation of existing forms of experience, enabling individuals (and cultures) to move from narrower, constricted patterns of perception and feeling to wider and deeper modes of sympathetic inclusiveness.”
Realizing and pursuing wholeness
Christians who explore non-dual wholeness often will be accused of being heretics by those who push theologies of duality and exile. But the exile that comes from hierarchies of power are based on an ancient interpretation of space and time that we know never existed.
Our theological journey into the future must take into account the cosmos of complexifying, deepening and unifying wholeness that we embody and are becoming.
Ilia Delio says: “The word ‘catholic’ comes from the Greek katholikos meaning ‘according to the whole.’ Catholicity is consciousness of the whole and undergirds a way of life toward wholeness. … The catholicity of Jesus’ message is this: We are to realize the whole we are part of and to love the whole.”
That is essentially the theological message I offer in my writing. My project here is to analyze the theological conversations that are shaping evangelicalism today and open us up toward theological possibilities that could foster an infinite deepening of wholeness until the entire cosmos is at home in love.
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He recently completed a Master of Arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.
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