I wrote this post before starting to read Mark Meynell’s book A Wilderness of Mirrors. Now I wish I had another six months to process what I’m learning so that I could integrate his wisdom here. After reading his first few chapters, I had to hit pause, then go back to see when it was published: 2015. This blew me away, as I could hardly believe that Meynell had predicted so much of what was about to happen in America.
If you have any interest in cultural dynamics and how faith fits into where we stand in time, I hope that you’ll read his book. Below I’ve included some simple thoughts on why the framework of Ephesians 3 is super relevant to the struggles of living in a time such as ours—but Meynell’s ability to speak on these matters exceeds mine a thousandfold.
Post-evangelicals seem to use the word deconstruction a lot these days.
From what I can tell, they are describing a painful evaluation process—a season of looking back on their early years of cultural Christianity, ripping those experiences to bits, and trying to find out what (if anything) remains.
Maybe it’s the Kondo approach to finding Real Jesus. Pull everything out of your God-stuff closet and throw it on the bed. Donate three quarters of it to Goodwill (or to social media rants).
I understand why this concept has an appeal—especially for those who have been abused by distortions of what church was supposed to be. However, at least in the world of literary criticism, the word deconstruction has an interesting history. And knowing this backstory might help make the process of soul-sifting a little more efficient.
(By the way, if you’re already familiar with Derrida and Deconstruction, you can skip down to the section titled “Deconstructing Evangelicalism.”)
Deconstruction as a Philosophical and Literary Movement
In the 1960s, French philosopher Jaques Derrida (and a few others) developed deconstructionism as a groove of philosophical and literary analysis. Literary criticism can have a reputation for being pedantic and boring, but it’s actually more practical than cerebral. All of us have an innate approach to interpreting books—defaults we apply to every text we read—so understanding formal interpretation is a lot like understanding the Myers-Briggs personality types or the Enneagram. Understanding certain categories can help us know our tendencies, our strengths, and our vulnerabilities.
Derrida was a bit of a radical among literary critics. Instead of simply looking inside the text like a Formalist or looking at the culture surrounding a text like a New Historicist, Derrida challenged the fundamental “oppositions” of Western thought by breaking down language. He got down beneath the surface of sentences and started splitting atoms.
Derrida claimed human thought processes run on binaries (opposites) embedded deep in our culture. For example, you know “hot vs. cold,” “light vs. dark,” “male vs. female.” A deconstructionist would not only recognize these opposites but also point out one binary as primary (or dominant). Then, he would challenge this dominance.
So, here’s an oversimplified deconstructionist process:
1. Name the Binaries: Genesis begins with male vs. female. 2. Recognize the Dominant in the Pair: Adam was the source of Eve. Male is primary. 3. Challenge the Assumption: How has this fundamental starting point of male primacy damaged women in our culture?
Imagine this process applied a million times over, to everything you think you know.
Why do we assume light is better than darkness?
Why is culture respected more than primitive existence?
Why is democracy trusted more than monarchy?
It’s the great unraveling. See? No landmarks are safe.
In the process of deconstruction, every grand metanarrative becomes suspect. (A metanarrative is a comprehensive, fundamental story that attempts to make sense of the whole of the world. For example, Marxism is a metanarrative. Trust in universal reason is a metanarrative. Christianity is a metanarrative.)
So, a deconstructionist isn’t just interested in little, isolated binaries—he also wants to go deeper, wrapping iron chains around any foundational element of culture, dragging it out from under the buildings it supports, and examining it clinically. Every prime assumption about “how the world works” is mistrusted, challenged, and busted apart.
Deconstruction Hits Everyday Culture
Over the 70s and 80s, this concept spread through other disciplines, impacting the social sciences and humanities. Postmodern thinkers ripped many traditional assumptions apart with their bare hands, some of them believing they were ripping down the walls of prisons. Perhaps some were.
By the 90s and early 2000s, deconstruction had trickled into pop culture. Take a movie like Shrek. The delicate little princess is a B.A. with ninja skills before she turns ugly—then, ugly is okay. The handsome prince is named—well, Farquaad. He has a big, phallic tower and a little stature. Up is down. Down is up. Good is bad. Bad is good. And, most of us laughed about it. We laughed because Shrek deconstructed the fairy tale—as irreverent and daring as a fart in church.
In some ways, in some circles, maybe this was healing. Even a rusty saw can cut off a leg infected with gangrene. But sadly, deconstructionist surgery is sometimes conducted by intellectuals with a “hold-my-beer!” swagger. Regardless of risks, regardless of consequences, they just rush in, tearing things apart like shirtless guys on YouTube lighting explosives.
Too often deconstruction is muddied up with personal anger, disappointment, and loneliness. It can be frustrated, reactionary, reckless. It can blow up with no plan or resources to build back again. And because of this, many dangers of deconstructionism are missed by the hungry and the hurting.
But how might all this apply to disillusioned evangelicals? And how does it relate to Ephesians?
For several decades, evangelicalism has been commandeered by political forces, systematized by CEOs, rolled out, and shrink wrapped into twelve-point concepts. Supra-textual binaries have been pumped through organized religion like saline through Thanksgiving turkeys. (You already know these opposing forces. “X political party is on God’s side. Y political party is on Satan’s side.” “Growing children God’s way vs. Satan’s way.”)
And while Scripture does contain some definite binaries, many of the simplified extremes promoted in corporate Christianity in the 90s and early 2000s were not fairly derived from Scripture. They were eisegetical—pumped into the faith by men with earthly strategies and plans. Simplicity sells, even when it’s harmful and goofy. Soul thirst is lucrative business, and (as we’ve seen) heads of ministries are not above collecting expensive motorcycles and making $800K salaries while taking money from little old ladies on limited incomes.
So, when a disillusioned thirty-something evangelical says, “I am deconstructing my faith,” she usually means she’s trying to shake off all these add-ons—hoping to find out if a core remains.
And I get that. There’s a benefit to walking back through the past and removing the propaganda and the clutter. But I’ve also seen too much of secular deconstructionism to trust it entirely. A wrecking ball can be a helpful tool, but you need to swing it with care.
Where Deconstruction Deconstructs
In Fathers and Sons, a cocky young college graduate is determined to deconstruct everything while feeling nothing; however, his idealism is shaken by overwhelming attraction to a delicious young woman. When speaking to his friend about her allure, he says she is a fine biological specimen and that he would love to dissect her on the examination table.
Turgenev is giving us a lesson here. There is a time to dissect with the mind, and there is a time to get married and make love.
In Chapter Six of Alistair McGrath’s bio of C. S. Lewis, several pages describe thinkers of the English Literary Renaissance of the 1920s—men who were already wrestling with the philosophical ancestors of deconstructionists like Derrida. During this time, artists were trying to make art without being confined to the Christian metanarrative, but problems were arising.
This is the metanarrative, and we don't need to deconstruct this one—we need to embrace it so that we won't 'lose heart.' Rebecca Reynolds
Graham Greene watched godless modernists like Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster attempt to create characters that failed to come alive but “‘wandered like cardboard symbols through a world that was paper-thin.’” Evelyn Waugh came to a similar conclusion, writing, “‘You can only leave God out by making your characters pure abstractions’” (133).
These writers found that metanarrative is a fundamental human need. So, while manipulative metanarratives need to be challenged, the desire to divorce ourselves completely from the essential Story leads to more than just bad art. It can bring us to despair even more than to enlightenment.
Simply put? There must be a way to ditch the Gothardites (and kissing dating goodbye, and militant infant sleep schedules, and whatever unfair thing it was that devastated us) without throwing the baby Jesus out with the bath water.
Ephesians 3: A Map You Can Trust
Ephesians 3 helps us do that.
It helps us click on the map icon in Zelda, Twilight Princess to see the big picture amid a culture that has convinced us there is no big picture.
Ephesians 3 says, “This is how today fits inside everything and forever.”
This context is relatively new information on planet earth. Paul says it “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” He also answers some key questions:
1. What is the big picture? God has busted the microcosm wide open. He’s not just telling his redemption story through a dusty desert people now; it’s an offer to all.
2. Where has the mystery has been hidden? Inside of the “God who created all things.”
3. Why is it being revealed now? So that the manifold (multi-colored, kaleidoscopic) “wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
Um, go back and read #3 again. It’s a killer.
#3 means what’s happening down here is sending a cosmic telegram (dot-dot-dash-dash) to the metaphysical realm. God chose us (the church) to be his newsreel to an audience we cannot see with human eyes.
The stuff of earth moves the gears of heaven. I’m not just one little hobbit trying to overcome an addiction. The choices of my tiny heart can knock down a domino train with consequences that impact all of Middle Earth.
Tall order, right? Does it make your stomach drop a little? It does mine.
Paul says this has been the plan from the beginning. The author built this duality into the foundations of his novel.
This has always been the “eternal purpose” that was realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. And because we have access to him and his resources, we can be bold and confident as we wander inside of a narrative that would otherwise be entirely overwhelming.
This is the metanarrative, and we don’t need to deconstruct this one—we need to embrace it so that we won’t “lose heart.”
We need this fundamental story in a world that feels meaningless and chaotic.
The Orchestrating God
We need to see that “the orchestrating God” (hold that epithet) is agile enough to be working the past, the present, and the future all at once—and not only this, but he also can work the visible “here” alongside the “somewhere out there.”
He’s had the resources you need ready since before this play hit the stage.
Now, click out of the Zelda map page, and click on the utilities page to see what weapons you have. You don’t have to fight the boss alone.
1. Christ is going to dwell in your hearts through faith. 2. You get planted down in love so unshakable that it grows your ability to understand tending others at a level you can’t even comprehend quite yet. 3. You’re going to get filled with the fullness of God. 4. And while we are hooked up to this divine cyborg relationship (part me, part God), we are able to power up—SHAZAAM!—leaning on his superpowers to do more than we can ask or think.
That’s the context. That’s the big story. That’s the zoom-out.
Take a look at the author and see how you fit in the plot. It’s big enough to make you stop tearing everything apart for a minute. This one holds, folks.
No wonder Paul took a good look at it all and paused for a minute to simply worship.
Artwork by Andrew Holder