Religions need revision. This is even true of made up ones! Scientology has been in the news over the past months for all the wrong reasons: splinter groups, rival factions, money issues, coercive strategies for intimidating dissenters, and even heated theological debates. [check out last week’s Time article for instance]
And this is a religion where we have writings of the founder. In fact, one of the original tenets of the religion (started just 50 years ago) was that nothing was allowed to be changed in the future. This stands is stark contrast to Christianity where we don’t have any writings of the founder (thank God) and have a model that is incarnational – which means that the religion is inherently contextual and translatable. [read Lamin Sanneh’s books like Who’s Religion is Christianity? and Translating the Message if you want to see a contemporary contrast with Islam – like ours, a religion based on revelation.]
All religion needs revision – or re-visiting, re-imagining, and reviving. Some people object to this much needed procedure. The arguments tend to fall in two broad divisions.
1) Those who object to deconstruction because it feels like destruction. This is understandable because when you hold dear something sacred, it is precious and worth protecting.
I would simply argue that like any house or house of worship, if it is going to continue to be useful, it will need to go under renovation – a re-examining with a critical lens (deconstruction) is actually a loving act of clearing room for the renovations that need to happen.
If we didn’t love it and intend to live in it, we would walk away, burn it down, or blow it up.
2) The second objection seems to be more theoretical, less sentimental but equally as defensive. It comes from those who object by saying “that is not what those who came before would have recognized as the faith” or “those who ________ (wrote the creeds, were reformers, etc.) thought that they were doing something that you now say they did not accomplish (making meta-physical statements, producing a once for all systematic theology, etc.)
In this case, I would simply argue, with Bernard of Chartres, that we are dwarves who stand on the shoulders of giants. We have a perspective that they did not have. Ours then is a 2nd order reflection on their 1st order activity. They were in the arena, we are in the balcony. This sets up two tensions: A) it is not possible to do what they did nor is it possible to disregard it B) you know a tree by it’s fruit and we now see that they may not have done what they thought they were doing at the time.
This is the critical element. We are part of a living tradition that lives out faith in community – communities that are radically located in particular times and places. Our tradition proclaims an incarnational gospel and orients around a living word of God. That is, both conceptually and practically, an ongoing model of revision, renovation and revival. In these ways our faith stands in distinct contrast to other religions – especially made up ones.