Review: God After Deconstruction - Word&Way

Review: God After Deconstruction

GOD AFTER DECONSTRUCTION. By Thomas Jay Oord and Tripp Fuller. Grasmere, ID: SacraSage Press, 2024. X +188 pages.

Large numbers of Christians, especially former evangelicals (and perhaps folks from other religious traditions) are undergoing what has come to be known as “deconstruction.” For a variety of reasons, these folks have discovered that their religious homes no longer fit. While some of those who are experiencing deconstruction continue as Christians, many have left Christianity completely behind. They may or may not believe in God, but their former spiritual homes no longer suffice. There have been a number of reports on this reality including Sarah McCammon’s book Exvangelicals. While some among this group of deconstructors have transitioned to mainline Protestant churches, which once upon a time was the normal pathway for those leaving more conservative options, that is less true today. As noted, the deconstruction process results from a variety of concerns that include questions about sexuality, gender, science, social justice, the reality of evil (theodicy), as well as theological concerns about the bible and the nature of God. While the surface concerns might not seem theological in nature, how we respond to these questions often involves the way we read sacred texts and envision the nature of God.

Robert D. Cornwall

While I have made significant movements in my own faith journey, I never thought in terms of undergoing deconstruction. While the concept was surely bouncing around thirty years ago, it was largely an esoteric conversation among folks reading Jacques Derrida and others of his school. Since I didn’t read much Derrida and others like him, I didn’t pick up on the language of deconstruction during those years of change. Instead, I’ve tended to think in terms of evolution and adaptation. Change for me came in stages, and the foundations for my evolution were laid during college and seminary (and I am a graduate of a leading evangelical seminary). While that is my starting place as I read God After Deconstruction, the idea of deconstruction has become a central theme in the changes people are going through, especially among those seeking to exit the white evangelicalism that has become increasingly aligned with Trumpism.

There have been many attempts to address the current realities within the Christian world. Among these offerings is God After Deconstruction by Thomas Jay Oord and Tripp Fuller. Both are friends and colleagues, with whom I share many things, though not all things. Both Tom and Tripp identify as Open and Relational Thinkers who align themselves with Process Theology. While I can identify with the Open and Relational movement, I am not a Process Thinker. I came to Open and Relational thinking by way of Jürgen Moltmann instead. Where I have disagreements with their presentation tends to be centered on their Process version of Open and Relational Theology. Even if I may not always embrace their solutions to the questions posed here, I appreciate their recognition that growing numbers of Christians are experiencing deconstruction, though they may land somewhere other than the path they offer here. That said, many will find their perspective compelling. If that is true for you, especially if it leads to healing from spiritual traumas, then I am grateful that Tom and Tripp have helped in that process.

One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve read memoirs and stories, such as the ones told in this book, is that the deeper one has been rooted in evangelicalism the more traumatic the process of deconstruction (again I’ll point to McCammon’s recent Exvangelicals as well as David Gushee’s After Evangelicalism and Sarah Stankorb’s Disobedient Women). That is, many who have struggled the most were born and raised in extremely conservative forms of Christianity. They were raised on James Dobson and Bill Gothard, attended Christian schools, or were homeschooled, and as such they were largely isolated from the wider world. Emerging from this isolation, only knowing these forms of evangelical Christianity, their exit can be truly traumatic. That is especially true when the breaks with that former religious home rupture family relationships. We see some of that here, though the focus of the book is more on theological, philosophical, and cultural questions.

While Oord and Fuller introduce us to the causes of deconstruction, such as the discovery that one is gay and evangelical, they also want to offer the reader a more appropriate theological landing spot. What they seek to do here is offer readers, especially those who are undergoing deconstruction (even if they don’t know the meaning of that term) a radically different view of God than than the one they seek to leave behind, one they believe will prove helpful especially when it comes to answering questions about whether God is to blame for the evil in the world. While I can see why their theological solution can prove helpful, it’s important to note that it’s not the only possible pathway.

Since this is a book about experiencing deconstruction, Tom and Tripp share their own stories of deconstruction and emergence out of their earlier evangelical homes. Tom speaks of losing his faith and then regaining it, though with a different understanding of God, one that aligns with Open and Relational thinking that assumes that the future remains open. The view of God that he came to embrace is defined by the prime quality of love, such that whatever we say about God must reflect God being love. It’s a perspective that I largely agree with, though again at certain points I still have questions. Nevertheless, a primary aspect of deconstruction is undergoing the process of dismantling one’s accepted beliefs about God.

The goal here is to examine the causes of trauma and deconstruction and then offer a more sustainable view of God and life that makes better sense of the realities we find ourselves in. They believe that traditional ways of looking at God, especially that God is omnipotent, are problematic. But before we can reconstruct, we have to let go of damaging ideas and beliefs about God. Though they admit they could be wrong about their solution, they believe it is a workable pathway forward.

Tom and Tripp lay out the book such that they move from the crumbling of certainties (Chapter 2) to a description of Open and Relational Theology (especially its Process form) in Chapter 11. The chapters that lie between these two (Chapters 3 through 10) address key issues that face deconstructing Christians, starting with the experience of pointless pain. That is, they address the problem of evil, which is a stumbling block for so many. They seek to extricate God from the problem of pain by insisting that while God loves, God cannot prevent suffering. Thus, God is not to be blamed. This response is known as a theodicy. From there we move to church abuse, a cause of so much pain to those who are undergoing deconstruction or simply abandoning faith and its institutions. They also deal with questions of reading and understanding the Bible. Since many if not most evangelicals are led to believe the Bible is inerrant, such that one must believe everything it says, without question, when problems are noticed, especially contradictions, one is left in a quandary (I will address this chapter later in this review).

Another chapter deals with conflicts between one’s received faith and science. While science and religion need not conflict, for those who have been taught since childhood that God created the world in seven days, some 7000 to 10,000 years ago, discovering that this is not good science can be the source of significant problems (on this question see the recent book by Janet Kellogg Ray’s The God of Monkey Science). Then there is the growing challenge of Christian Nationalism, especially in its Trumpist forms. For many, there is also the issue of gender and sexual diversity. Many evangelicals are deeply rooted in patriarchy, which even if it is one of the softer forms limits the roles of women.

Additionally, as we are seeing today, LGBTQ persons are often ostracized, especially those who identify as transgender. For those who discover that they are gay or lesbian or that their sense of gender identity is different from their birth, can be deeply traumatic, especially if they have been rejected by their family (this is the reality my cousin faced when he came out to his family who are Jehovah’s Witnesses). There is the question of religion and whether God has limited God’s presence to Christianity, especially when it comes to salvation. Finally, there is the question of purpose and meaning in life. Since faith is often seen as foundational to meaning and purpose, questions about that faith can cause deep issues. Each of these areas of concern is explored, in light of Open and Relational Theology. They tell the stories of people affected by each of these questions. In the end, they offer a particular theological solution to these questions.

Before I get to the proposed solution, I want to note my disappointment with the chapter on the Bible. Like Tom and Tripp, I do not ascribe to the idea that the Bible is inerrant or even infallible. I do not expect it to present modern scientific theories, or that everything shared is historically accurate in all that they present. I believe we must read it critically and push back on passages that are clearly problematic and even dangerous (the description of the conquest in Joshua, for example, has been used too often to justify later conquests). Passages used to justify slavery or make women second-class citizens need to be set aside. That said, I felt that Tom and Tripp gave too much away, especially when commending Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to create his own Bible free from the miraculous. If we set aside passages that we find problematic or don’t reflect our theological perspective we might miss important truths, truths that require a deeper exploration of the passage and its context.

Yes, there are inconsistencies in the Bible. Matthew and Luke offer two very different birth narratives. There are views of God that are inconsistent with each other, such that we read about God’s steadfast love and God’s command to commit genocide. So, while we all pick and choose, for some reason I felt at points that the authors were a bit too cavalier with their treatment of the Bible. Despite my discomfort (it might be the commendation of Jefferson that did it for me), I do agree that we need to use love as a primary lens, but let’s not forget justice as well. Although Scripture is not the only foundation it is one of the foundational elements of our faith tradition (along with tradition, reason, and experience). For me, Karl Barth’s distinction between the three forms of the Word of God has long proven helpful, such that the Bible becomes the Word of God when it bears witness to Jesus (see my book The Authority of Scripture in a Postmodern Age: Some Help from Karl Barth).

When we get to the end of their book God After Deconstruction, Tom and Tripp offer their proposed solution to the challenge posed by deconstruction. Their solution is rooted in a particular version of Open and Relational Theology, one that is rooted in Process Theology. They suggest that their proposed theological solution emphasizes love being God’s true nature, such that God does nothing outside of love. It also emphasizes freedom, at least limited freedom of choice, though within certain limits. As for love, they define love as noncoercive and noncontrolling (Tom has written several books that explore this vision of love). What is true of God should be true for us as well. One element of this vision of love defining God’s nature is their rejection of the belief that God would cast someone into hell to experience eternal conscious torment. Such a belief, they aver does not fit their view of God being love.

Another aspect of this vision of God is the belief that since God is love, God by definition is relational and therefore God can be affected by us (the theological/philosophical term here is God is passible, not impassible). Their proposed solution involves four characteristics, such that reality is both relational and open, it involves freedom and love. They suggest that these four qualities can be found among most Open and Relational thinkers inside and outside Christianity. What is distinct about Christian Open and Relational thinkers is the place of Jesus in this view of theology. They write that Open and relational Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth provides the clearest revelation of God’s love” (p. 170). Even though Open and Relational thinkers might hold different Christologies (for example some but not all such thinkers embrace the divinity of Christ or the doctrine of the Trinity), they make love central to their theologies.

While I might differ at points with the authors, especially when they draw upon Process Theology, I believe God after Deconstruction will prove to be helpful to many who are experiencing the traumatic realities of discovering that what they once believed about God is no longer sustainable. While Open and Relationship Theology, especially their proposed version, which can be a bit too naturalistic in my view  (I like a bit more enchantment than they do), is not the only possible landing spot for those undergoing deconstruction, for at least some this will provide them with a welcome spiritual home that answers at least some of their questions. Ultimately, whether you evolve, adapt, or deconstruct (and hopefully reconstruct), I hope that in the end (however we define that) you the reader will find a space of comfort within the Christian faith.


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Robert D. Cornwall is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Now retired from his ministry at Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, Michigan, he serves as Minister-at-Large in Troy. He holds a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is the author of numerous books including his latest “Second Thoughts about the Second Coming: Understanding the End Times, Our Future, and Christian Hope” coauthored with Ronald J. Allen. His blog Ponderings on a Faith Journey can be found at