A Deconstruction Observed
It was an innocent question but based on my friend’s reaction you’d have thought I’d denied the Trinity.
“If God is eternal and unchangeable,” I posited, “how could he take on human nature? Wouldn’t becoming a man be a fundamental change in God’s nature?”
My friend looked horrified, almost as if he expected lightning to strike me at any moment. “You should be careful about asking questions like that!” he cautioned.
Yet asking questions had become a major part of my Christian life. The year was 1974. It was my sophomore year of college and I was still coming out of the Charismatic Movement. All sorts of questions flooded my mind, and not just questions about spiritual gifts and the Holy Spirit.
One of my professors, who was also responsible for helping me rethink my charismatic theology, was a five-point Calvinist. I’d never been confronted with the doctrine of election (the belief that God chose in advance who would be saved) and it repulsed me. But my relationship to Calvinism isn’t the point. The point is that as a relatively young Christian I had a boatload of questions flowing through my head and this was just the latest one to boil to the surface.
My friend’s reaction startled me so badly, I let the matter drop.
In other words, I buried my question.
And suppressing my own questions pretty much became the story of my life for the next twenty-five to thirty-five years. Since this series is about my deconstruction and reconstruction, it would be tempting to go into painful detail of how I wrestled with multiple questions about my faith through my entire ministry but it would keep me off topic and I think you’d get bored pretty quickly. Instead, here’s a condensed version of three-and-a-half decades of questions and why I repressed them.
From 1974 to 2008 I wore a lot of different ministry hats. I was a Bible college student, a youth pastor, a Christian camp director, a Christian TV/Radio production company administrator, a pastor, a seminary student, and for a brief time I served on prison ministry staff at a Dallas-area megachurch. I began my career as a freelance writer and author around 2000. And for the entirety of that time, I’ve been a performance chalk artist (aka gospel chalk artist). Although I participated in a lot of different evangelical ministries over the years one thing became clear almost from the beginning.
I couldn’t ask questions.
Honestly, I didn’t even feel free to think about questions.
Now to be fair, nobody ever came up to me and said, “We don’t ask those questions.” But as soon as I went to my first ministry I knew instinctively that the places I served had doctrinal statements, and I was expected to fall in line with those doctrinal statements if I wanted to serve at that church or ministry.
At first, it wasn’t a problem. I was a strong evangelical dispensationalist and the ministries I served were of the same persuasion.
I’d completed five years of college at two schools (LeTourneau College and Dallas Bible College) that embraced dispensationalism and my beliefs and thinking mirrored closely those of my schools. (Later I would also complete a master’s in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, another dispensational school.) So, questions weren’t much of an issue early on. But as the years passed, that would change. Some of the questions were what I might call intramural, areas where disagreement was acceptable.
But some weren’t.
There were certain questions that I knew I couldn’t allow myself to spend much time thinking about lest I end up changing my position to one that wasn’t accepted by the ministry I served. Taking the wrong position on something like speaking in tongues, the rapture, young-earth creationism, evolution, the inerrancy of the Bible, etc., could create controversy in the church or ministry I served. It could also get me fired.
I wanted neither.
So, over the years when questions arose I put them in a mental lockbox and buried them in the deep recesses of my mind. I didn’t want to risk thinking about them.
But here’s the thing: Buried questions are like zombies. They don’t stay buried forever and when they come back, they’ll eat you alive. Perhaps that might seem too graphic for some people, but it’s a very accurate description of what happened to me during my deconstruction. The questions that I had buried for decades because I didn’t feel free to think about them let alone discuss them eventually came back with a vengeance. And when they did, they sent me into a tailspin.
The first question to dig its way out had to do with the rapture, and I’ll talk about that in the next post.
Takeaway: Buried questions are like zombies. They don’t stay buried forever and when they come back, they’ll eat you alive.
Links to all the posts in this series: https://www.jamespence.com/a-deconstruction-observed/
Author’s note: I’ve been away from this series for quite some time. My apologies if you were following it. Partially it was because I was at a sticking point and didn’t know how to proceed. (I’m past that now!) The other reason was that I auditioned for and competed in a singing competition (The Voice of Hunt County) and then was recruited to play Mayor Shinn in a local production of The Music Man. Both of these were immensely rewarding but they took up a great deal of my time and energy. They are behind me now and, at least for the foreseeable future, I don’t see any big distractions on the horizon. So, I’ll be trying to post more regularly and get through this series, which has gone on for about two years now! — Jim