Jon Ward, senior political correspondent for Yahoo News, joins Curtis Chang to talk about his process of deconstructing – and reconstructing – his life as a follower of Jesus.
Jon draws on his recently released book, Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation, to dissect the spiritual, social, political, and emotional dimensions of his years growing up as an insider in the evangelical world.
Curtis offers the Biblical basis for why deconstruction – properly understood – is necessary for every generation of believers.
This excerpt was edited for brevity and clarity.
CURTIS CHANG: When you interviewed me recently, I left wondering what’s his story? Now, I know your story, because you’ve just written a book called “Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Failed a Generation.”
And what a story it is.
I’ve been describing it to people as a really interesting memoir of an Evangelical in deconstruction. That term has come to, sloppily, mean almost anything and everything, including people who are just chucking Jesus entirely.
That’s not what is happening in this book. Your book captures the more precise, accurate definition of deconstruction, which is part of a process you have to go through if you’re going to get to reconstruction. You seem like somebody who is trying to put some pieces back together, put in new pieces, and repair old pieces, so that you can follow Jesus in a more robust, healthy way. Is that a fair reading?
JON WARD: You’re getting at one of the dilemmas of rhetoric, which is when a term becomes cliched, or overused, or even bastardized. Do you shy away or do you try to reclaim it? I have tended not to use the term deconstruction because of those very reasons.
I try to steer clear of terms that people have taken and put it in a box. They use it either as a battering ram, or as you know, a filter to kind of automatically categorize and interpret. Those are all methods for reducing understanding. Words are tools for understanding. So if I see a word begin to be used in that way – and you see it all the time in politics – I tend to try to start trying to look for other terms, and other forms of language to describe it.
But your description is right. I’ve heard other people call it a spiritual memoir. I like that. Someone called it a memoir of construction. I think he was kind of getting at the same thing that you are. Even if you set faith aside, a healthy journey is going to have elements of deconstruction and reconstruction ongoing all the time. It’s just part of life, it’s part of growing and evolving. If I’m not looking at the words on the page in the book that I just wrote and, and thinking about criticism or feedback, then I’m not probably moving forward.
CURTIS CHANG: In almost any truth, you are exploring. But I want to make the case that especially for Christian faith in Jesus, that it’s baked into the very structure of the Gospel. God, for some really mysterious, but also really beautiful reasons, has chosen to reveal Himself through fallen human beings.
This is the story of the Bible from the Old Testament, God revealing Himself through Israel. And then Jesus entrusting His Good News to these twelve apostles, who were very fallen, very fragile, very broken people in their own ways.
God reveals Himself through human beings from one generation to another, which means that the vehicle of transmission is always going to have some element of fallenness to it. I love the way that Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 4 when he says we have this treasure in jars of clay.
So the treasure is Jesus and the Gospel (the container) is jars of clay – broken, and fragile, and weak. He’s talking about physical fragility, but you can apply this to moral, cultural, any other forms of fragility and brokenness.
We’re going to receive the Gospel, especially from one generation to another, in these jars of clay that are going to have flaws. If that’s the case, every generation has to do the work of deconstruction. By that we mean looking at this jar of clay and saying, “wow, that base was a lot wobblier than it should be, that handle is cracked, there’s this big structural weakness in this design,” or something like that. Every generation has to ask how we honor and hold the treasure – timeless and true – even if it doesn’t come to us in unfiltered form. It always comes to us in a human container. Every generation has to ask, “Hey, what do I think about this piece? What do I think about that piece? How do I put this back together?” I feel like your book is a memoir of somebody going through that process.
JON WARD: Unfortunately too many times growing up, I was trained that faith was static. These are the answers, and we’re going to teach them to you, and they do not change. You know, the metaphor that I’ve been thinking about lately is one of a house where the structure of the house, (the house being Evangelical culture) is compromised. And I make sure to point out, I’m not writing this book to bash Evangelicals. There are so many good people in Evangelical churches. What I’m critiquing is Evangelicalism. I’m saying I’ve been excavating around the foundation, I’ve been looking at how it got there. What materials went into building it? Who were the people that built it? When did that happen? How solid is this foundation and the structure? What is good about this building? What is unhealthy about this building?
A lot of times people inside the house tend to sort of automatically react to critique by labeling it as divisive, ungrateful, or negative. But have they even been outside the house to look at the foundation? Evangelicals tend to think of their beliefs as hatched rather than formed… that those answers I was taught in Sunday school were handed down on stone tablets rather than being the product of generational, cultural, historical deposits over time. That’s why I love your focus on the generational task very much.
Photo credit: Unsplash
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Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.
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