Relax! This is not a blog post that is going to bag out the recently deceased Dallas Willard. It is, however, going to explore how the process of deconstruction, once begun, becomes, like a nose-diving plane, ever harder to pull out of. Where does Willard fit into the whole schema being driven by the likes of Bell and McLaren? Wait and see.
Deconstruction. That’s what the emergent church has been committed to over the past ten to fifteen years. But not, in their words, deconstruction for its own sake. Not simply the deconstruction of the gunk and build-up that had formed around the pure gospel over the centuries since Christendom began. So not simply deconstruction in the nihilistic postmodern way. Another type of deconstruction altogether, a deconstruction that would clear the junk-laden ground in order to reconstruct. The church on the “other side” would require such a deconstruction if it were to survive. If the future were to have a church then that church would have to be stripped back, steam-cleaned and reassembled, shiny and renewed, ready for whatever lay beyond modernity. It was a clarion call, an exciting call, a call that swept many people up into it, especially as the evangelical church in the West creaked and groaned under the weight of tradition, legalism and yes, modernity.
But deconstruction is intoxicating. Extremely so. And once deconstruction has commenced, it is surprising how quickly – and easily – it becomes the drug of choice. And herein lies the problem. Just as some people can drink and not become alcoholics, whilst others only need to sniff the stuff before it sets them on a downward spiral, so too with deconstruction. And that is where Dallas Willard comes in. Here is Dallas Willard’s recommendation on the back cover of McLaren’s thoughtful and thought-provoking 1998 tome The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in a Postmodern Matrix:
We’d better listen to Brian McLaren if we want to bring the reality of Christ into the world as it is and the church as it now is.
And do you know something? At the time Willard was right. McLaren was saying many things that evangelicals needed to sit up and take note of. Indeed it almost seems quaint that McLaren co-authored a conversational book – The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives – with the likes of Michael Horton, he of Westminster Seminary fame and the White Horse Inn blog, which has as its slug-line “Know what you believe and why you believe it.”
But somewhere along the line, Willard was able to put his hand up to the hostess and say “No thanks, I’ve had three already.” Somewhere along the line Michael Horton’s wife looked at him and said “Didn’t you say you were going to be the designated driver tonight honey?” Not so McLaren and Bell. They kicked on. They, along with many other deconstructionists have become intoxicated with the whole process. Like a jet airliner in a steep, uncontrolled descent, they are unable, or unwilling to pull out and are more likely to crash than to bottom out. Truth is, given the statements they have been making recently, they have crashed already. Willard stepped away from that process a long time ago. Horton pulled back from the conversation when he saw it going in one direction only.
One of the charges that Paul makes to Timothy in 2Timothy3:1-9 is to expose and nullify false teachers who prey on those who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” That is the fault of the ones being taught, who, it would seem, love learning as an end in itself. Yet Paul goes on :
Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
McLaren and Bell are also two men, but unlike Jannes and Jambres they have gotten far. They have influence and reach beyond what they ever thought they would have. Why? Because the Zeitgeist of deconstruction has positively encouraged them. However, there comes a point when Christians, regardless of how they will be perceived, have to say “No. That’s not simply another perspective of Christianity. It is in fact, unChristian.” To reiterate a point made in my previous post, McLaren and Bell have lined up with the wider culture not out of courage, as McLaren claims, but, I would say, out of cowardice. It unnerves me to read Rev 21:8 which places “the cowardly” in the line of fire of God’s eternal punishment. Cowardice seems such an innocuous crime, more a crime of omission than commission. But to warrant a place in the “second death”? Surely not! Yet that is what the text says.
The plane has crashed, the wreckage is there for all to see. Deconstruction has done its work. The likes of Bell and McLaren, however, are still picking through the wreckage, pulling the stuffing out of a seat here, breaking open a drinks trolley there, all the while pronouncing loudly that they are going to make this thing fly again. Yet all the while oblivious to the fact that men like Willard and Horton baled out with parachutes a long time ago.