…and How it Relates to My Deconstruction
I completed my deconstruction out of the Charismatic Movement in 1975 with a Bachelor of Theology thesis on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. For some time after that, I took every opportunity to oppose charismatic teachings and even developed a seminar on charismatic theology aimed at refuting those teachings.
But over the years my hostility mellowed and softened. Now, nearly fifty years later I look back quite fondly on my charismatic experience. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that I treasure it. Some aspects of my charismatic experience are still an important part of my faith walk today. Others that I left behind have left a bit of a hole.
Jesus spoke of a faith that could move mountains. When I was a charismatic I wasn’t afraid to trust God for anything. I was a risk taker because I believed that God would honor my faith.
In my senior year of high school I believed that God was calling me to start an on-campus prayer group and Bible study (something that was even more controversial back then than it is now). I still remember walking down to the principal’s office during the middle of the school day, going in boldly, and laying out what I wanted to do. He gave me permission and for the rest of that year I led a small group of students in a weekly prayer time after school.
As a charismatic Christian I learned to practice a bold faith and trust in God, and although in the succeeding years my open boldness settled more into a quiet confidence in God’s ability to handle any situation, I never forgot the lesson. Indeed, it’s one reason that I didn’t lose my faith during my “big” deconstruction.
When I was a charismatic sometimes we prayed about crazy things.
I remember when a friend’s Volvo wouldn’t start and a group of us laid hands on it and prayed for it. (No, it didn’t work.)
Over the top? Certainly. (It might have been better to pray for a mechanic to drive by.)
Superficial and silly? Perhaps.
But there was a boldness and innocence in those prayers, too. A willingness to ask God for anything, even if it seemed a little crazy.
Where I took issue with my charismatic brothers and sisters was when people began to demand things from God or believe that their words had the power to create reality. (The word-faith movement was in its infancy when I was a charismatic Christian.) But I loved–and still love–the attitude that no prayer need is too big for God.
Years later I read the life of George Mueller, a man who started multiple orphanages but never did fundraising. He relied solely on the power of prayer, and God did amazing things through him.
The story of George Mueller, bolstered by the faith/prayer lessons I learned as a charismatic Christian, was a constant encouragement to me in the succeeding years. Those lessons served me well and I treasure them.
I’ve got to be honest here. I miss the freedom of charismatic worship. I’m not talking about unbridled emotionalism or craziness (insert things like “laughing revivals” here). I’m talking about the fact that there is an emotional element to worship that is often absent or at least severely restrained in most noncharismatic churches.
After I left the movement I turned inward and became self-conscious about raising my hands in worship or being overly effusive in praising and thanking God.
David danced before the Lord with all his might. Emotion in worship is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it can get out of hand, but we noncharismatics tend to get antsy if someone raises their hands. Perhaps we could find a happy medium.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
Probably one of the biggest losses I suffered when I deconstructed out of the Charismatic Movement is that the Holy Spirit ceased to be a conscious part of my Christian life. Oh, he was still there. I’d have never made it through my deconstruction with my faith intact if he hadn’t been. But just as I’d become more reserved in my worship style, I’d become reluctant to talk about, think about, or refer to the Holy Spirit.
As a charismatic I was often sensitive to the accusation of overemphasizing the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and minimizing Jesus. After I left I did a pendulum swing in the other direction. I went from being an outgoing, exhuberant, joyful Christian to being a quiet, introverted Christian (more my natural personality). That’s true even today–50 years later.
HOW THIS RELATES TO MY DECONSTRUCTION
This is the twelfth post in this series recounting my own deconstruction/reconstruction journey, and I’ve spent most of it describing my early Christian experience in the Charismatic Movement and deconstruction from being a charismatic Christian.
Because there are some parallels that give me the opportunity to point out some of the realities of deconstruction before I get into the story of my big deconstruction.
Here are some of the parallels:
- People don’t choose to deconstruct.
I’ve seen comments made by preachers and pundits that criticize people who are going through deconstruction, as if they chose to do it because it’s fashionable or the cool thing to do nowadays.
You don’t choose to deconstruct. It happens to you–whether you want it or not. It’s usually set in motion by a series of events that force you to rethink what you believe. The previous posts in this series show how that worked in my deconstruction from the Charismatic Movement. The posts that follow will show how it worked in my Christian deconstruction.
My deconstruction/reconstruction took place over a period of nearly ten years and it was one of the most painful times in my life, spiritually and emotionally. Believe me, I didn’t choose to walk this road.
- Deconstruction doesn’t (necessarily) mean deconversion.
Although I deconstructed out of the Charismatic Movement, there’s still much about my charismatic heritage that I value, even though I express it differently now. Likewise, although some who have gone through deconstruction have turned away from their faith, it’s not necessarily a given that it will happen. It didn’t in my case, although there were times when I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.
- Not everyone who is deconstructing will speak openly about it.
Over the two years that I was a deconstructing charismatic, I told almost no one except for one of my professors at LeTourneau. Over the ten years or so that I was going through my Christian deconstruction, I only confided in four or five people. There were many reasons for this, but the biggest was fear. My world has been evangelicalism since I was a teenager. I was afraid if I spoke openly and admitted my questions and struggles, I would be rejected and my world would collapse. So I stayed in the closet.
It is very likely that there are people in your church who sit in the next pew and are deconstructing but afraid to confide in anyone. Please be cautious with your words. Deconstruction is painful enough without having people pile on.
- Reconstruction almost never means going back to the way things were before.
When I deconstructed out of the Charismatic Movement I went on to a “new normal.” (Yeah, I know that phrase is cliched but it fits.) After a deconstruction experience, you’re different. You don’t go back to thinking the way you did before; you don’t want to. As I said above, some people leave their faith entirely. Others, like me, reconstruct. But either way, you’re different.
The point is, unless they ask for help don’t try to “fix” someone who is deconstructing by arguing or debating with them. You might disagree with them but you won’t change their mind. Indeed, you will likely do more harm than good. Instead, love them and, if they will talk, listen to them without condemning or judging.
In J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, as the Fellowship of the Ring approached the golden woods of Lothlorien, Boromir said that no one passes through that wood unscathed. Aragorn responded: “Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth.”
The forest of deconstruction is more akin to Tolkien’s dark forest of Mirkwood than the enchanted elven forest of Lothlorien. Nevertheless, no one passes through the dark forest of deconstruction unscathed or unchanged.
The posts that follow will recount my journey through that dark forest.
Next post: (Interlude) Why I Didn’t Lose My Faith…
All posts in this series: A Deconstruction Observed