Opinion: Deconstructionism Is Passé

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Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and do not reflect all of the IVM staff.

Orthodoxy isn’t cool, and non-Christians make better music than Christians.

Now, I don’t seriously believe this – but it may as well be the mission statement underlying most formerly-professing-Christian artists. David Bazan seems to deftly annihilate the creation account in a single verse. Derek Webb parodies the liturgical experience with a song about alcohol. Bands like Animal Flag seem to dismantle the character of God. Motherfolk said next to nothing on their spiritual changes before writing an album that simply states there is no God. These artists have songs peppered with spiritual references, though usually as a caricature of the faith. That’s not to say they aren’t talented or have nothing meaningful to say but it’s remiss for us to pretend there aren’t fundamental gaps in the understanding of the nature of the world.

But they wrestle with questions many Christian artists don’t want to touch. Evangelical culture remains predominant in America. It was cool to be in youth group with your friends and listen to DC Talk. Everyone did it. And when the door starts to swing the other way, it’s hard to not follow everyone away. When the Church makes the faith more about the volume of belief and the measure of obedience rather than the Gospel, it’s easy to see why many Christians avoid writing songs about depression, sexual sin, death, and the difficulty of living a holy life. Showing weakness isn’t the evangelical way.

That’s why the deconstructionist bands have become popular: they talk about important spiritual matters with real context. They rightly acknowledge the spiritual complexity of many issues. But the answers they provide are contrived or shallow. They have a myopic view of what Jesus demands or that reality that suffering is built into the Christian experience.

Then, there’s the insidious side of things. Bands like Showbread purport open theism. The “cool” Tooth & Nail scene of youth has spawned a generation of Bad Christian supporters. Don’t get me wrong, the heart behind Bad Christian is admirable and does indeed fill the gap a bit. However, it seems to elevate honesty above the Gospel – it feels a bit like a Christian frat party. Lauren Daigle makes vague statements on biblical ethics. Christian artists have a particularly higher standard to present Truth, and while they’re certainly not expected to be pastors, they’re culpable for any heresy they might overtly or covertly spread. This is certainly a harsh-sounding sentiment, and I certainly think we need to be gracious in these conversations, but there are warnings for spreading false teachings and Jesus came to “bring a sword”. I do respect that bands are inviting conversation, but ultimately the conversation should point people somewhere specific. There’s a certain level of obfuscation many artists employ as a way to get “the best of both worlds” – that is, to maintain mass appeal without offending anyone. Before you take out your pitchforks here, recognize any visceral reaction to calling out an artist you may have is proof of the influence artists have and further reason why we should examine their beliefs.

Many orthodox artists fall largely in the liturgical and evangelical categories; they sing “church” songs that feel removed from the experience of the common man. They paint the Christian experience as porcelain and clean or sterile and irrelevant for those who aren’t already believers. These songs certainly have their place, but at large, it feels like artists either break with orthodoxy as a way to maintain artistic autonomy or disengage the culture altogether to preserve their faith.

It feels like a one-sided conversation where the non-Christian artists address the questions of faith and entropy of life. Suffering is complex. Sin is rampant. Death and pain are pervasive. Sometimes external factors are at fault, but more often we share in the guilt. It’s a big opportunity for Christian artists to respond earnestly and handle these topics respectfully. Christ condescended and spent time with sinners. He suffered. He was betrayed. We cannot distance ourselves from this reality, and it’s certainly worth entering into this conversation. Does God deliver us? Yes. Does He provide for us? Yes. But it is rarely that simple. The road is often filled with our idols being crushed, our plans being laid to waste, the end being uncertain.

That’s not to say there aren’t artists working to change things. Valleyheart’s Everyone I’ve Ever Loved in particular was a stunning album in its reconstructionist ethic, its repentant and humble approach toward falling from faith, dealing with personal guilt, and earnestly coming before God in fear and awe. It’s a record that addresses topics of hedonism, alcoholism, and other forms of failure, but it’s also strewn with faith and a desire to grow and return. These topics are either too taboo for many artists or addressed only from a distance. The autobiographical approach makes it feel honest and raw, and the songwriting is top-notch.

Kevin Schlereth may be known primarily known for theologically-rich indie rock, but “QVC” is a hard-hitting rebuke of self-centered Christendom. It directly plays into overlooking Christ’s condescension and the propensity to give into suburban Christian culture. It humbly acknowledges the struggle to look “cool” as a Christian rather than do the actual work Jesus calls us to. It’s not something you’ll hear on the radio, but it’s an area non-believers tend to chastise the Church and seeing a Christian artist address, and confess, this reality is powerful and convicting.

American Arson does a great job melding themes of faith into the regular context of life. “Let Conviction Grow” is far from a shallow track, talking about the abuses of human trafficking and war. It acknowledges the dangers of prosperity and comfort that invite us to overlook dehumanizing activity around the world that we’re effectively distanced from. When the band calls for conviction to grow, they include themselves in the conversation. It’s not “us vs them” – it’s an acknowledgement we are all culpable for what we do (and conversely, what we ignore).

“Flannelgraph” does a good job distilling most of my complaints with deconstructionist notion – God is made into a strawman and easily knocked down. The dissenters of faith weave in and out of orthodoxy as long as it’s socially-convenient and as long as God agrees with their desires; as a disconnect surfaces, the ties to faith are often severed. Self-sacrifice often is inconvenient. But the reality of the Gospel prevails and will hold fast the sons and daughters of God.

Realis is one of my favorite albums of all time and the background reads much like an apologetics seminar transcript. It unpacks the interplay of darkness and light, delves into philosophies and their shortcomings, and ultimately arrives at hope in the Gospel. Most of this isn’t incredibly overt, but it’s appropriately academic and intricate.

Mark Nicks of Cool Hand Luke once said how Christ came to redeem all of creation, including art – and that definitely sets a standard for Christian artists to take part in the ongoing conversation of the narrow way which has bridged millennia of history. Not every artist needs to be writing albums that read like dissertations, but there’s something to be said about offering music that simultaneously acknowledges the challenges of life and the Christian faith while ultimately presenting hope. We as Christians should not expect everything we create will be well-received by the world, but there is a conversation occurring within the arts.

Deconstructionism may be a popular movement for many reasons, but there is room for us to respond like G. K. Chesterton did to H. G. Wells by approaching the same questions with humility and Truth.

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Ray
September 11, 2020 12:09 pm

Oof, this author paints with a BROAD brush. The argument that deconstructionism is passé/insidious – based on the assumption that the motive behind the deconstruction movement is simply the bandwagon effect – is a reversal of the Argumentum Ad Populum logical fallacy. “…ultimately the conversation should point people somewhere specific.” Who are you to should on artists? A major facet of art is that it is meant to ask questions that start open-ended conversations, not necessarily point people to specific answers. How boring would it be if nothing was left up to interpretation or personal-internal-synthesis of art? “There’s a certain… Read more »

Paul
September 11, 2020 6:27 am

Deleted

Last edited 11 days ago by Paul
Tim M
September 10, 2020 12:34 am

The first issue I take with this article is the same as many like it: it’s starting point is that American evangelical Christianity is the ‘correct’ theological standpoint. As someone in the UK, I can always notice this because even UK evangelicalism is different and has some completely different theological perspectives. For example, I was never taught that the Bible was inerrant, just that it was God-breathed and inspired. What I have come to find is that there are an array of theological perspectives. If you dig a bit, you find that many of the desert fathers and early Christian… Read more »

Joel
September 10, 2020 12:44 pm
Reply to  Tim M

Tim, I don’t believe Casey’s article was implying any form of superiority for American Evangelism but pointing out the theme and allure of Deconstructionist artist, that on one hand, artistically shed light on both external and internal human struggles and on the other hand, give poor or no biblical remedies to these struggles, in an orthodox fashion. To question a deconstructionist artist theology (within their lyrics) is a valid question to ask and challenge, as the majority of them are typically rooted in an unorthodoxy view of God and His character, anthropology in relation to God, and His will (both… Read more »

Casey
September 10, 2020 1:15 pm
Reply to  Joel

Joel, thank you – you are correct. The main focus here is how we respond to formerly-Christian-professing artists and their songs which still present a sort of caricature theology to the audience. If anything, I’m critiquing the evangelical movement and how it necessarily purports a certain pietistic / works-based approach (even in protestant circles, works become the defining measure of the Christian while indwelling sin tends to get overlooked). These kinds of standards are what make it “bad” for Christians to write songs that are raw, real, and ugly. Again, honestly is not the Gospel – but to distance the… Read more »

Benjamin Daniel
September 10, 2020 11:04 pm
Reply to  Tim M

Hey Tim, I’m gonna try to respond to this when I can tomorrow because I think there’s a lot of good food for thought in this post. Thankful for your gracious and sensitive spirit, brother. Definitely not incoherent.

Benjamin Daniel
September 12, 2020 5:34 pm
Reply to  Tim M

Hey Tim, Let me first say, I do love this article for a lot of reasons, but the main one being that questioning the questions has become an altogether unpopular thing in music circles, Christian or not. I agree with the dichotomy that Casey lines up here, where we have people on one side (what I consider “American evangelism” as an American) who act so certain in their faith that the dynamics of real struggle and doubt and pain are often dismissed. But on the other side, we have people who “with certainty insist no certainty exists” in the words… Read more »

نصراني
September 9, 2020 9:49 am

A great article by and large, but I do disagree with your criticism of Showbread. Perhaps my opinion of them is thus because I am new to them as a band and haven’t yet digested everything they ever put out (darn these adult responsibilities!), but it seems to me that they are more theologically sound than some of the other “Christian artists” out there – like Dustin Kensrue, who has embraced “process theology” (and it seems that the collective formerly known as Gungor has become wrapped up in this belief process as well, if not abandoning Christianity altogether) and been… Read more »

Paul
September 9, 2020 7:10 pm
Reply to  نصراني

They went open theism, which isnt biblical.

Michael H
September 9, 2020 7:37 am

Wonderful article and great thoughts and breakdown of Deconstructivism.

Brian
September 9, 2020 6:43 am

Obfuscation is the artists’ lens. I see no problem with an artist choosing to be less direct. After all, Christians’ understanding doesn’t come from artists, musicians, or any other people, but from the study of scripture and the pursuit of God’s grace.

Casey
September 9, 2020 2:31 pm
Reply to  Brian

Obscurity for the sake of obscurity is not a good thing, though. I write lyrics as well and value poeticism, but when it comes to topics where “let your yes be yes and no be no” is critical to deciding if an artist is speaking Truth or deception, we need to care. And while concepts of faith SHOULDN’T be predominantly coming from music, that’s not to say we throw the baby out with the bath water. The point of the article is that non-Christian deconstructionists are indeed using their platforms to promote spiritual concepts and to say we should withdraw… Read more »

Noah Hardwick
September 9, 2020 6:40 pm
Reply to  Casey

Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I don’t think that’s the best contextual usage of Matthew 5:37. When read in the context the phrase “let your yes be yes, and no be no” is connected to oaths and furthermore to the Sermon on the Mount. In verse 33 Matthew cites what was the old way of doing thing, that is only make oaths you intend to keep. But in verses 34-36 Jesus lays down what is to be the new way of doing things in his kingdom: don’t make oaths at all. This pattern of citing the old way and giving the… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Noah Hardwick
Daniel J
September 9, 2020 12:00 am

Great article Casey, and really good comments. I like the fact you made it more than a rant, and highlight some really positive examples. Good to see Valleyheart get a well deserved mention when it comes to this topic.

Bill Garrison
September 8, 2020 7:01 pm

When I became a believer, I slowly changed the music I listened to. I wanted to hear a more positive and spiritual message in what I was listening to. “Lipstick and Leather” and “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place To Be” no longer sounded meaningful to me. I started out with CCM but that eventually lost its allure. But then I found artist like the 77’s, Bill Malonee, the Violet Burning, the Choir, Michael Knott and others and I didn’t have to compromise my faith with art and good music. Maybe it’s just me growing older and trying to find meaning… Read more »

Casey
September 9, 2020 2:35 pm
Reply to  Bill Garrison

Hi Bill – thanks for reading. I certainly agree there’s a lot of powerful Christian music out there (after all, I spend a lot of time writing about it here). This article isn’t necessarily to suggest Christian music is lacking – but rather that there’s a lack of response to deconsructionist sentiment. It’s hard to find songs which have overt orthodoxy while intermingling artistic prowess and a raw sense of reality – the sort of thing that carries the same weight as a song about doubt, but instead is full of rife joy and certainty. Or, as I put in… Read more »

Mark K
September 8, 2020 12:59 pm

Honestly, I’ve had the hardest time, in coming to Christ, finding substance in the mainstream, popular Christian scene (from worship, to pop, to metalcore). I came from a strict metal background (death, black, thrash, power, progressive metal). Transitioning to Christian artists in that scene was easier. There is a ton of honesty in those scenes because it’s a bold scene. Darkness is the norm, struggle is common, and warfare is a prevalent theme. It’s never been about popularity either, not in the same way. The heights of joy and praise, the exaltation of God and the deepest struggles, the most… Read more »

Derek O.
September 8, 2020 12:55 pm

First off, LOVE this. This was a great read and I would like to see more of this on here. Can we just give more love to Valleyheart? I cannot wait for whatever they do next. Everyone I’ve Ever Loved is incredible. Oof this hits hard and is very true. “Showing weakness isn’t the evangelical way.” In regards to this, “Christian artists have a particularly higher standard to present Truth, and while they’re certainly not expected to be pastors, they’re culpable for any heresy they might overtly or covertly spread.” I think you are on the right track here. I… Read more »

September 8, 2020 12:04 pm

Chesterton is a great example of a convert to the Faith who knew how to romp within it like a child and expound upon it like a poetic apologist. He’d be the sort to say that he was a Christian, pledged to the Narrow Way, not just because the broad way led to destruction, but also because the broad way was in fact too confining. Thanks for mentioning a Christian thinker who’s largely under-read, especialy by Christian artists who could gain so much from him.

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