The Problem with Words: Deconstruction

December 18th, 2009 / 131 Comments

Today we talk about the move from modernism to postmodernism as a paradigm shift. The move entails fundamental changes in our core assumptions about existence.

Thomas Kuhn introduced this language decades ago when he explained how radical changes occur in the sciences. Kuhn said that new information here or there doesn’t initiate a paradigm shift.  Rather, a shift occurs when people question and then change core assumptions about reality.

The old belief systems can’t explain new data.  Change is required.

One postmodern tradition powerfully questions modern assumptions.  This tradition goes by the name “deconstructionism.”  Philosopher Jacques Derrida’s ideas provide the pulse for deconstructive postmodernism.

Deconstructive postmodernism identifies inherent inconsistencies in the language we use to describe reality.  Modernists base their knowledge about the world upon a linguistic foundation they believe is certain, secure, and unambiguous.  They assume that words, propositions, and sentences capture the truth about reality.

Deconstructive postmodernism identifies inherent inconsistencies in the language we use to describe reality. Share on X

In opposition to modernity, deconstructionists point out that language cannot be nailed down.  Words inevitably contain unintended meanings.  Communication is never crystal-clear. Just when we think a word corresponds fully to reality, we find it inadequate.

Consider the word “cool.”  We all know the word’s meaning depends on its context.  “Cool” can mean a lack of friendliness, unemotional, aplomb, loss of intensity, lack of heat, popular, or fashionable.

The meaning of words depends on their context. Yet we never understand contexts fully.  Consequently, ambiguity reigns.  Even our most cherished words – God, love, world, Jesus, hope – are ambiguous.

The meaning of words depends on their context. Yet we never understand contexts fully. Share on X

As we interpret and reinterpret words, we realize no foundational, final, or fixed interpretation is available.  Words refer to other words, those refer to other words, and those words refer to still others.

Meaning seems to exist only in relations of matrices.  Language is a web without any fixed cables.  If we think we have a solid foundation, “things fall apart,” as the poet William Butler Yeats put it, and “the center cannot hold.”

Deconstructionists pull the rug out from much modern theology. Some modernists appeal to objective and universal reason.  Some rely upon what they think is unbiased and unambiguous theological language.

This postmodern tradition provides important insights for contemporary Christian theologians. Deconstructive postmodernism….

— affirms difference and diversity, rather than trying to make genuine differences appear the same.  Christian theologies have often been preoccupied with uniformity.

— helps contemporary theologians remain suspicious of traditional hierarchies that keep many people and ideas at the bottom or margins of society.

— joins other postmodern traditions by calling attention to the overlooked “other.” Contemporary Christians called to minister to the least of these would be wise to explore how best to think about and respond to otherness.

— promotes humility in theology, because it reminds us we cannot corner the market on truth.  Dogmatism and epistemic pride have no place.

— reminds contemporary Christian theologians that we cannot capture fully with words who God is and what God wants.  God is bigger than our language.

— invites contemporary theologians to reaffirm the prophetic, messianic, apocalyptic, and limits of theological language.

Deconstructive theology invites us to reaffirm the prophetic, apocalyptic, and limits of language. Share on X

Deconstructive postmodernism has its share of opponents, of course. I share some criticisms that opponents level against it. Despite its important resources for Christianity, in fact, I don’t think deconstructive postmodernism is the best overall resource from which Christian theologians should draw in a postmodern age.

On the question of truth and knowledge, for instance, deconstructive postmodernism implies that each individual determines truth entirely for him or herself. Radical relativism prevails.  I believe Christian theology should reject radical epistemic and moral relativism.

Deconstructive postmodernism is also vulnerable to the charge of being self-refuting.  If language cannot be trusted and always undermines authorial intent, we should also not trust the language used by deconstructive postmodernists to tout their view. For instance, how can it be true that there is no truth?

Deconstructive postmodernism is inherently negative.  Deconstruction is not interested in replacing an old system with a better one. Deconstructionists are not interested in constructing a more adequate worldview.  I think deconstruction of poor worldviews need to be followed by reconstructive efforts that draw from Scripture, Christian tradition, reason, sciences, and a variety of experiences.

I want to talk coherently about God, love, and host of other important topics. To do so, I believe we must say something constructive about God and the nature of reality.  We need positive postmodern theologies.

In sum, deconstructive postmodernism offers insights. These insights can prove helpful as postmodern Christians “give an account for the hope within them” (1 Pt. 3:15).

Among the four dominant postmodern traditions, however, I don’t think deconstruction serves well as the primary framework for contemporary Christian theologians.

Contemporary Christians should take a “yes, but” approach to this postmodern tradition. Yes, deconstructive postmodern can teach us something. But it doesn’t provide a framework for addressing well the call that Christians hear from their Creator.

Contemporary Christians should take a “yes, but” approach to deconstructive postmodernism. Share on X
Add comment


tripp fuller

sweet post.

Callid Keefe-Perry


We met briefly at AAR during some reception or another, and while you were engaging then, I have to say that this post certainly puts it over the top.  It is as if you read an article I just wrote and deftly summarized it in a blog post that cuts out some 24 pages of detail without losing the guts and power.  Great work.  Thanks.

In the event that you’re interested, my pet project (and article) are available here:

All good things,


nathan Roskam


Well written! I appreciate very much you taking the time to write this post. This post brings to the forefront the kind of professor you are at your core, an attribute that I think at times is missed by many!

Bob Hunter

Tom you said, “Contemporary Christians should take a “yes, but” approach to this postmodern tradition. Yes, deconstructive postmodern can teach us something. But it doesn’t provide a framework for addressing well the call that Christians hear from their Creator.”

I use a simple analogy to explain this.  French philosophers (Derrida,Foucault, leoturd) are like a bag of chips that you might purchase at a convenience store.  They are fun to munch on, but not the main course. A steady diet of deconstructionism will leave you feeling empty and malnourished. We should all be thankful that Jesus is bread of life.

Dave Gerber


Like you said, if words are so untrustworthy, how do they trust their words to convey the ‘true’ meaning of anything?

While I appreciate the thought of ‘deconstructing’ our concepts of God to keep pride bay, it is not at all good for comfort, joy, peace, or hope. It is really depressing.

What is lacking from decontruction is the willingness to workout our meanings. Language is imprecise. It is tedious and often frustrating, but it is necessary to conversation. It is much easier to say that language is imprecise and leave it at that. Well, except for their ability to channel one of the monks from the television show Kung Fu.

Thanks Tom!

Hans Deventer

I guess Advent is as good a time as any to talk about deconstruction. After all, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” I would say, especially those with the most theological knowledge, didn’t recognise Him. If any were in need of deconstruction, it were the theologians of 30 AD. Which of course puts the question before us: how certain are we that we would recognise Him?

Now deconstruction can never be a goal in itself, for indeed, that would leave us empty and desperate. But if might be a very useful preparation if we want to prepare to meet the King.

Doug Wood


Love your thoughts.  I wish I could sit in a few classes and hear you speak.  Slowly, of course, very slowly.  ;0) 

As I am currently in my own personal phase of deconstruction, I find your language helpful.  I believe the ambiguous nature of words is a graceful gift from our Creator, so that each creation is invited to seek his Creator in his own construct.  Perhaps post-modern theology will find some way to acknowledge each person’s paradigm , clarify truth, and accomplish that without trying to control how that “should look”.


Tom, I would like to hear more on your critique. Your, “Yes, but” understanding. I tend to be one with a foot in each mindset. As a postmodern I understand that objectivity can never be captured and yet as a modern I still believe it is what should be sought. I am suspicious of all interpretations but I know some are better than others.

Thomas Jay Oord

Thanks to all for your comments!  I’ll respond briefly…

Tripp: Thanks!

Callid: Love your website!  Thanks for the compliment on my article.  Which pomo article on your site were you referring to? I’d like to read it.

Nate: Thanks for the kind words.

Bob: Sounds like you and I both find some things to like and some things not to like.

Dave: Great comments. Language is imprecise, but it remains a powerful tool for communicating, even if inexactly.

Hans: I love your advent take!  Thanks!

Doug: Sounds like we share a common quest.  And we agree that some interpretations are preferable to others.  Thanks!

Curtis: I’ve written more on this in other contexts.  In fact, you can probably find a more thorough explanation and critique I’ve written if you google my name and “postmodern.”  That piece I wrote has been used in several dissertations.

Thanks again to all!

Bo Eberle

On the charge against deconstruction of being relativistic and each individual determining their own truth, I’m a bit confused. I’m not sure exactly where, but I’ve heard John Caputo talk at length about how deconstruction inherently involves an un-deconstructable, and Derria identified it as Justice. Justice, for Derrida (explained by Caputo), is more or less guided by this un-deconstructable principle, and without it deconstruction would be impotent. I could be mis-remembering or misunderstanding, but one of my professors also mentioned something like this. It seems that Derrida was far (OK maybe not THAT far)from a relativistic thinker.

Thomas Jay Oord


Thanks for the comments.  I wrote a reivew of Jack’s book on WWJD.  You might be interested in it:

I agree that Derrida didn’t want to be extremely relativistic.  That’s one reason he wrote passionately about the importance of hospitality near the end of his life. 

My argument is that there are no grounds or bases in Derrida’s deconstructive philosophy to support his desire to promote hospitality.

Thanks again for posting!


Robert Uehlin

While I recognize the futility of absolute relativism, I see an important distinction between “everything is right” and “everyone creates their own reality”.  The latter statement, representative of Kantian perspectivism, seems both logical and accurate.  Everyone has a unique set of circumstances and, therefore, is bound to see the world in a slightly different way.  This does not mean that whatever a person believes accurately represents reality.  Some beliefs are clearly more accurate than others – as demonstrated by contextual criticism. 

In sum, I don’t believe that deconstructive post-modernism tries to point as much towards relativism as it does towards perspectivism.

Andrew Knapp

Dr. Oord,

I would agree that deconstructive postmodernism ough not be a primary source of inspiration.  Language’s flaws do not negate language’s ability to communicate meaning.  Despite how witty Derrida and other deconstructionists appear when they pull the rug out from beneath everyone (including themselves) they still invest meaning in what they intend to say.  Deconstrucion can only stand as a check on the power of language or logic; it cannot refute clear speaking.

I thinke G.E. Moore was right in his skepticism of skepticism.  I am safe in assuming that Derrida dithered with clear speaking once or twice – the burden of proof then is on those who insist that they do not have to be methodologically rigourous in their interpretation of the world.  There are no deconstructionists in foxholes; and if we are serious about our beliefs we should apply the language we have in an attempt to be truthful.  That of course does not mean we ignore flaws in language; it means we don’t exploit them to make nonsensical claims.  I can’t lambaste ethics and theology for being entirly fanciful, but simply because they are so prone to fancy they should be epistemically compatibile with other fields of knowledge, rather than treat uncertainty as liscence to believe as one wishes and hold that uncertainty as permanent.

sohail warraich

deconstruction essentially says that there is no language…only makeshift conventions. no education…only pitchers filling other pitchers which in turn fill other pitchers ad infinitum. and also that there is no truth…only truths which could be a million and one in number and take an infinity of forms and de-signs. life itself is but the veil of illusion – maya – and hence a big fat lie (although i must say a precious resource nevertheless due to its transiency). literature itself as the litter of human nature. the garbage and refuse of human minds in processed consumable sausage form.

Kashif Ansari

deconstruction just yields a series of contradictions and disparate views. it is essentially negative and as the oxford dons spoke when derrida was about to get his honorary degree or award or whatever it was…more like a trick. that’s right, deconstruction doesn’t show much progress. it stops the progress of philosophy by staying on the same last page and reading and rereading it. agreed that the book of philosopy is round since the beginning and end meet and you don’t know where to start or finish but why say such a thing as “there is nothing outside the text”. this is in plain words very absurd a statement. even if the world or the universe were a text are there not otherworlds or a multiverse or even polyverse where the undreamt remains. we are like 6 year old children who don’t know the meaning of sex. an adult would tell us patiently that kiddo you will know when you are 16 years old and be practicing it when you are 21. but why burden the child with something she or he cannot carry like the adult concept of sex. that is the problem with deconstruction that it delves too soon into things which are way beyond the 5 senses…infact that enter into the non-sensical or meaningless realm of empty space.

Earle Ivers

Your point that deconstruction is “not interested in replacing an old system with a better one and ….not interested in constructing a more adequate worldview” is helpful.

It can be a healthy thing to strip away facades in order to reveal the “bare-bones” and it is a mature thing to test all things through the filters of “Scripture, Christian tradition, reason, sciences, and a variety of experiences”.

Instead of nothingness, and disillusion, ours is a call to speak positively in a world view representative of the gospel of love and grace.

A christian worldview, what ever that means, in the context, culture and perspective in which it is offered, is still a valid part of the difference and diversity upheld.

Lisa Michaels

I think this post gives a very good description of what deconstruction is… and is not. 

I have found deconstruction to be very useful in pushing past boundaries and recognizing some flaws in widely accepted theology, but I agree that there must be something more than simple deconstruction.

I think there must be a rebuilding process, of some sort, that shapes a fluid theology that is both faithful to Scripture, history, reason, and experience and *also* changes, moves, and grows within the current context.

Is it possible to do that, though, without creating just another theological understanding that must someday be deconstructed?

Marianneke Summerfield

I wish I read this essay earlier in the week.  I find the topic of language very interesting and find Dr. Oord’s explanation of the limitations of language play in well to the value of deconstruction theology.  I am not in any lines to jump on the deconstruction bandwagon, but I think it is very useful to learn more about God, and if we need to learn how we limit Him and what we do not know about God to help our growth, then so be it.  What struck me the most in this essay was that we need to say, “yes, but…”  I think this can be true for many things, and especially true with our spiritual formation.  Do we want to find conclusions and never grow? I don’t suspect so.  We want to move beyond the ambiguity of words and our understanding of words (even “God”) truly engage in spiritual formation

Kim Becker

Dr. Oord, I appreciate your list of “important insights” on deconstructive postmodernism. I also agree with your critique of radical relativism. Language is insufficient to describe or label God, and it is insufficient to pinpoint the power of God and the reason for our Christian faith; I don’t believe those qualifiers justify a relativism that says all “truth” is acceptable and all subjective truth is validated. Relativism flies in the face of humility and certainly Christian humility. If each of our individual truths are real and important, what is the point of agreeing on a collective idea to help the poor, or to battle traditional hierarchies, or to prevent individual dogmatism?

The most positive aspects of deconstructive postmodernism that I appreciated were 2 of your points above: 1. It “affirms difference and diversity” and it removes our preoccupation with uniformity; 2. “reminds contemporary Christian theologians that we cannot capture fully with words who God is and what God wants. God is bigger than our language.” To believe that God will only bless those who look the same and follow an “ideal code” is naïve and insulting to the whole of humanity – precisely who God came to Earth to save. Also, to demand that our Christian language is more than sufficient to describe the Messiah is arrogant and limiting.

Alan Bradley

I can see where deconstructionism can offer us thoughts on how to frame Christianity by not sounding rigid and militant in the faith.  The worry that I have is that a long as we teach people to question God, we can be stuck in the questions and feel inadequate in our faith.  Inadequacy with who God is is not something I feel that is God’s purpose in this world.  I don’t feel inadequate with with my.  Why?  Because I know who she is.  I know her nature and her desire to be my wife.  God’s word shows us that God desires to be in relationship with us.  Questioning God constantly never opens a relationship for us.  It keeps us at a distance.  Deconstruction keeps us at a distance from God.  This, in essence, is not worthy of being accepted in Christian theology.

faith poucher

Thanks for the simple clear thoughts on deconstruction theology.  I can agree that language changes what I understood say, 10 years ago may not have the same meaning today.  I can see the value of changing some of our words so that the message can be crystal- clear as we share the Christian message.  Yet, as you bring out one should use the “yes, but” approach to deconstruction theology. 
It is good to remember that TRUTH comes from God it is not an individual thought process.  I think that it would be easy for people to be completely confused about some of postmodernism thoughts that could hurt instead of help so thanks for your clear thoughts that aid my own understanding.

LeAnn Trimmer

The week’s plunge into deconstructive theology has been enlightening. I appreciate the challenge it brings to our study of God; to not rest on assumptions and tired descriptors that have lost their meaning and their impact in the ongoing conversation about God. It is a healthy reminder that there is no final word to be had in humanity’s understanding of God and of God’s interaction with humanity.

I have reached one conclusion this week. God gifted humanity with language, to be able to give expression. As inadequate as it may be, as short as it may fall, as with all gifts I believe God expects that we use it to bring God glory and honor and that we use it to draw people into relationship with him. One of the ways that wecontinue to honor God is to be dissatisfied with being satisfied, to continue to dive deeper.


Deconstruction postmodernism allows for the gray areas in language today. Thomas Oord says that it identifies inconsistencies in our language for reality. It offers insights that can prove helpful but it doesn’t provide a framework for our call by the Creator. In today’s technological age, we struggle even more with language. Texting, emailing, face booking or any other social media communicating has taken our language to a whole new level. We are eliminating face to face communication and everything is being done through writing. Language is losing its personal communication piece. Deconstruction postmodernism implies truth through language in this time of depersonalization. It can give us insight into areas in our lives that cannot be explained in any other way. It would become very important to remember that is not all. There is a positive side to who God is and what our Creator can do in our lives that deconstructive theology does not acknowledge. This positive side is where love, hope and joy are. So even though we can learn from deconstructive theology, there is so much more to learn from other theology as well.

Henry Sweeney

Enjoyed reading this blog.  I feel that, as a Christian, we should gain our view of God from the context we live in and scripture.  I believe that a deconstructionist theology alone would leave us with a whole lot to explain.  Although I do not deny the fact that the deconstructionist theology needs to be left out, I believe that it should be understood correctly and applied as an additional piece of our thought process.  Like you stated at the end of your blog, we should take a “yes, but”  approach.  I think that, as we address contextual issues of the reader, we must not neglect what scripture is saying.  In fact we should start with scripture and then address the contextual battles that exists.  Our context may change but scripture does not.  Yes there are differences in each one of us, but none of those have the right to over take the call of God through scripture.  The distance from us to God seems further when we apply more barriers that are unnecessary.  I understand deconstructionism as one of those barriers.  Helpful in function, but really detrimental if we let it stand in our way of fully knowing God.

Mike Hull

It is easy when entering into the world of deconstructionism to take on the negative outlook and even at least for my personality to arrive at nihilism.  I do agree that we have systems of thought that are not easily reconciled with the current knowledge of the world that we have, that being said we need to have the ability to shift through the truth that has been given to us over thousands of years of Judo-Christian thought.  I am hopeful that we will be able to see positive conversations about direction of our belief system that results in us becoming conversational with the rest of the worldviews that are currently held.  This will I hope allow us to have a platform to share this hope and invite others to come and engage in our community.

Talitha Edwards

I appreciate deconstruction for its power to remind us that we do not know everything and to appreciate differences and different points of view.

However, I find that it definitely goes too far in asserting that we can say nothing constructive about God.  The fact that it only tells us we need to deconstruct and allows for no reconstruction is far beyond what I find useful and helpful to Christian life and spiritual formation.

We need to remember that not all our opinions are correct and as such we should listen and hear other points of view.  We grow by doing so.  How do we grow by throwing everything out the window and saying we can know nothing so we should not say anything?

Michael Hall

Initially I was hesitant about this discussion, but I now see that there is much to learn.  Language is all about relationships and perception, and because of that, how we view certain words due to our experience can impact how we view language as a whole. Our interpretation of every word is based on our experiences related to that word. And just as everyone has different experiences, everyone also understand language differently as well.

But why concentrate on this when it comes to God. Well I think it tells us that we should not take God for granted, that we should consider that we have a limited perspective, that others may not related in the same way we do, and most of all that we should take care of how we talk about God. It causes us to reflect on the words we use. That doesn’t mean that we have to stop using certain words, but we should know what it is that we are saying when we are saying it.

Sherri Sheirbon

Deconstructive postmodernism’s most positive influence is in bringing humility back into theology and ultimately the church.  It is much like the sifting process where the chaff is separated from the wheat.  It causes us to question what walls and barriers have been built up that subdues or excludes.  What words do we use that have lost their meaning or cause more harm than good?  It causes us to choose carefully the words we use and how we convey the truth we believe.

Deconstruction causes us to look for our foundation even though it decries the ability to have one.  Ultimately like anything that breaks down or deconstructs if taken too far it becomes destructive and so we must take what is good from this theology and use it in moderation else we lose what is beautiful and useful about our faith.

Bob Sugden

I live in the Interior of Alaska where architects and building contractors must continually take into consideration whether a property has “permafrost” located on it.  Permafrost is ground that remains frozen 12 months out of the year.  If one builds their home on ground containing permafrost without taking appropriate insulating action, there is a danger of loss of the structure. 
    Less than half a mile from my home, there is a house for sale. It’s estimated value is $247,000. It is being sold for $44,000. The reason for the serious significant reduction is because the foundation has failed due to permafrost.
    My impression of deconstructive postmodernism is that it continually “stirs the pot.”  There never seems to be solid ground on which to build one’s theology.  I believe deconstructive postmodernism to be a useful tool for inspecting one’s theology. But I do not feel it is appropriate to use as the foundation. In the same way as building one’s home on permafrost ground, building one’s theology using deconstructive postmodernism will result in a significant loss.

Kathleen B

“God is bigger than our language.” I think it is difficult to adequately describe God. We as humans, finite beings, try to do so in order to find meaning and understanding. There is danger in this as often we place boundaries on God where God does not have boundaries. Language does not allow us to fully explain God. It is faulty in that words are limited or have multiple meanings.

Deconstruction causes one to think outside of the box, outside of the expected and known. It aims at finding meaning and purpose, but I think it goes astray in its arguments and findings. Deconstruction’s God becomes a different one than the God of the Bible.

Amy Lehman

I agree that deconstructive postmodernism can be useful to a certain extent.  Deconstruction reminds us that words cannot fully describe the character, power, and majesty of God.  Language is limited because humanity is limited.  We must constantly be aware that the words we use need to include all people, especially those that are often forgotten.  The positive message in deconstruction says we do not have all the answers, we do not understand everything about God, and there is always room for growth and new ideas.  However, the area of deconstruction that I do not agree with is the idea that all truth is relative to one’s own thinking.  There has to be balance.  As in the area of Scripture, balance must be maintained between the message and the interpretation.  I appreciate your view of balancing “deconstruction of poor worldviews” with “reconstructive efforts that draw from Scripture, Christian tradition, reason, sciences, and a variety of experiences.”

Grant Miller

As a Christian born under this shift toward more postmodern resources for our spiritual development, I find deconstruction incredibly freeing. It motivates me to pull out various stones from the foundation of my faith and to examine them one by one, asking myself, “Why is this here? Do I need it? Are we speaking about this tenet correctly?” The freedom to do so is the only way for a religious belief system to mature and grow.

My departure from deconstruction can be described in similar language. I love the freedom to pull stones out for examination, but I also need the freedom to put them back when necessary, while deconstruction would seem to encourage me to toss aside every stone I pull. Thanks for a great post and summary!

George Ryan

I admire the ambition of the deconstructionist that is looking beyond the deterministic with a passion for the impossible, the unknown and the unforeseeable. This is the paradoxical teachings of Jesus and a lesson for the modern Christian church. In the Gospels we are told that the first will be last and the great must be cast down and serve the least among us. This is the pursuit of the impossible where the deterministic outcome is not known, where religion is deconstructed.

By making our religion a non-religion, postmodern deconstructionists breathe life into the teachings of Jesus Christ by emphasizing the protection of the other, seeking justice and responding in humility and compassion to the outcast. The passion that Derrida describes places the deconstructionist on the fringes of society as an oddity, much like Jesus describing true religion as looking after the orphans and widows in their distress … (James 1:27).

Carol Valdivia

I see that Derrida tried to see that God cannot be explained; therefore, we can’t be downsized by our language. It seems as though it is taken offensively if we think that God can be described or be seen us to the limitation of humanity.

The beauty of this whole concept of deconstructive, negative theology, it brings to light the goodness of God. We are just humans with such limitations of words, knowledge, thinking, views, yet God decided to reveal a portion of himself through Jesus. We received a glimpse of who God is through the actions and the life of Christ. Even the people that lived during the times of Jesus said that there wouldn’t be enough libraries to fill up the ministry of Jesus. There are a lot of stories that we are missing about our Savior, but the little that we know it gives us enough drive to belief.

Even with our limitations, God selected humanity to reveal himself at the tabernacle, holy of holies, burning bush, furnace, etc. All those accounts were like mysterious miracle that with our minds we provide a limited description of God’s might.

Yes, deconstructive may signal our limitation, “but it doesn’t provide a framework for addressing well the call that Christians hear from their Creator.”

Rich Shockey

It is good that you have listed several positive results from deconstruction as related to theology. There is much that is affirmed here that seems good for the postmodern church moving forward. The emphasis on our diversity, the suspicion of dominant power structures, the recovery of humility and the recognition of the limits of our language are all important insights to be gleaned, although some of these may already be evident in other postmodern thought (it may be hard to say, though, if the latter has not been influenced by the former.)

The discussion about the limits of language is an interesting one. It is certainly appropriate to react to the tendency of modernity toward certainty in language, and its usual view that language is a neutral vessel for ideas. It also seems wise to confess that God is bigger than our language and cannot quite be “tamed” by our words. However, it seems that Derrida may be too hard on the role of language in faith, neglecting to recognize how language, despite its flaws, has played an integral role in revelation in the Christian tradition.

Paul Darminio

You made a couple of points that I think really fit well together.  You mentioned “deconstructive postmodernism implies that each individual determines truth entirely for him or herself”.  Later, you mention that after deconstruction takes place, there needs to be a time of reconstruction hat draws from various sources.
  I agree with your process, but there is one point that I have been wondering about.  If I deconstruct everything and then reconstruct a new worldview based on various sources, how do I deal with subjectivity?  How do I know that what I reconstruct is truth, and not just a new framework to justify the biases I had before I began to deconstruct?  I think that community would be an important factor here, but is that something that many postmodern thinkers can lean on?

Steven Brasier

The real question here is why is the Emerging Church drawn to Deconstructive Theology?

In the past the church has been under a epistemologically over-determined context and a huge burden of American evangelicalism. Both which bring the church to a dead end when trying to meet the needs of today’s Christians. When the church tries to use methods that reached the older generation and use them to reach gen xer’s it does not work. Deconstruction allows us to take apart theology and shed the old methods and use new ones to reach my generation. In short, we keep the foundation in which the church was built on and then build onto it making it reach new generations.

Kashif Ansari

deconstruction is more or less a trap. just like most books you find in the lie-briar-ies of the world, it is a fake concept that while being very attractive and glittery proves to be no-thing but smoke and mirrors in the end. i would rather have the hearth and home environment of past times no matter how traditional or conventional to the unnatural deconstructions of to-day. they reek of false values and don’t do anything to help. like the novels of hemingway (you get nothing out of them) deconstruction is an empty vessel that unfortunately remains empty. while it has some use in worldly matters that is all. in more serious matters art and science and religion rule. they are the reason behind the continual functioning of the global scene. also the family and females are the ruling spirits of our homes. when you place doubts and contradictions in their midst you are just asking for it. without a proper environment conducive to healthy human development people will end up as psychopaths and incomplete human beings. and for that they need not only the mother and father but an extended family. religion always wants you to be a good person who follows what is true and just. but when the practitioners of religion start questioning everything they end up by killing the spirit of the word. they should re-member that we ought to question the questions as well.

Jeff Martin

Dr. Oord,

I like what you say about recontructing after deconstructing.  I was thinking about this lately in regards to the current debates going on especially in CHristian academic/personal blogs. 

There are blogs by certain academics that are almost exclusively negative.  Even their facebook comments are that way as well.  And the funny thing is, is that most of the ones I visit are ones that usually make very valid critiques.  But I don’t want to be known as “that guy”.  The guy who is constantly negative and always exposing urban legends and myths.

This has its place, but even in the show “Mythbusters” they bust the myth normally and then attempt to actually do something positive to see if they could get the same results with different methods.

Eventually they are going to run out of things to critique, and have to face the music in their own lives.  How are they going to live?

Janet G

In our struggle to find God I wonder if we make it way too difficult. It seems that it would be much easier to look right in front of us. When we neglect to give proper time to the man called Jesus we will not be able to find the true identity of God.
I am not clear though how we are to respond to those who do believe that they need to find Jesus before they meet God. How many times have we all walked right by Jesus and not found God because we looked right past him?

Kevin Guderjahn

While I’ve heard the common “postmodernism as a paradigm shift away from modernism” position quite often I have also encountered the movement from modernism to postmodernism described as a correcting of the extremes of modernism to a more balanced world view.  Most of the schools of postmodernism I have looked into are critical of some aspect of modernist thought and offer correctives sometimes even drawing from pre-modern/ancient ideas to return what modernism has lost or rejected (ex arguing for the validity of subjective experience right along with the objectivity of the scientific method).  Most don’t suggest replacing modernism completely just fixing it.  This doesn’t seem to be the case with Derrida’s deconstructionism.

While correctly pointing out the ambiguity of language deconstructionism offers no real corrective or alternative.  But deconstructionism offers nothing to correct this ambiguity by either adding precision to language or providing alternatives.

Another issue I have is with deconstuctionism’s contention that modernism presumes the existence of “certainty” in anything.  This is actually contrary to the principles of the scientific method – the hallmark of modernist thought.  Central to scientific inquiry is the idea of falsifiability.  The quest of the scientific method isn’t to prove a hypothesis (the null statement) but rather to try to disprove it.  If the null hypothesis is supported all that can ever be said is that the results are unlikely to have occurred by chance.  Nothing can ever be stated with absolute certainty.

So although by pointing out the inadequacy of language to truly and accurately describe such things like God,love, hope etc deconstuctionism sheds light on the vastness of such subjects it seems to do little to encourage exploration into the depths of those topics to further understanding.  By taking the position that it is impossible to know because our words have no meaning apart from context it makes knowledge impossible since we rely on language to describe and interact with our world.

T. Friberg

The deconstructionist position is a difficult position to take, for the very reasons that you state. If you have a position of deconstruction, how can you know what the meaning of deconstructionism, because the definition of that word is fleeting, fluid and undefinable. According to it’s own ‘rules of engagement,’ that which can be stated cannot be trusted to provide any consistent meaning to different people. And reading about deconstruction in the patterns of circular negative theological thought make it hard to discern the original thoughts and premise of this way of thinking.

It is very appealing to see the value of deconstruction. I love honest and unreserved inquiry. Especially about topics that have been left unexamined, the beauty of deconstructionism is that it pervasively searches across the spectrum of thought without reserve or favoritism. Everything becomes subject to questioning.

But the premise of deconstructionism backs us off of every cliff, leaving us no place on which to stand. As you wisely said, “we must say something constructive about God and the nature of reality” to have a meaningful theology. Undoubtedly and not surprisingly, the deconstructionist in the room would ask ‘Why?’

Vincent Chiu

I believe it is time for evangelicalism to change in order for it to still become a good witness in the postmodern period. I am talking about the change in attitude more than what it affirms. Evangelical churches are prone to thinking that they are the ones who are correct. Some sectors of evangelicalism and some academics are instantaneous in their rebuke on groups with different interpretations. In the name of defending God’s truth, they are displaying arrogance.
The blog says a lot of things evangelical churches have overlooked or are unwilling to admit as problems, e.g. language inconsistencies. And the insights offered by deconstructive postmodernism are just what churches today need. I hope already entered into postmodern period, evangelical church could become more open in handling diverse worldviews and theologies.

margaret tyler

In all this deconstructive reading in which we’ve been invited to participate this week, a crowning remark remains at the forefront of my thinking and at the end of the day, I find myself content to live in the mystery—embracing these words as truth.“God is bigger than our language”
When this is not truth, it seems we find ourselves at a “throw in the towel” place in the journey that beckons us to give up the search.
I’m learning that I simply could not thrive for long in deconstruction mode.

b dockum

I think Dr. Oord’s summary provides a good window shopping experience in deconstructionist thought that can benefit us all. Agreeing with him, I think that deconstructionism has a role to play in helping the Church exercise its deliberative muscles. As a system or non-system as a whole, however, it does not offer anything positive in any consistent manner. While some of its adherents argue it is an ever-increasing move towards justice, this cannot be logically sustained. Dr. Oord correctly locates deconstructionism in the helpful-but-not-adequate region of the theological-paradigm landscape. Our basis for constructing rests on God’s self-disclosure as well as the other tools God has given us.

Dan Chapman

Deconstruction theology plays an important role in modern theology.  Though I agree with Dr. Oord that deconstruction theology contains in it items I cannot agree with, like their view on language, I do enjoy the challenges deconstruction offers to modern theology.  One area in particular is how deconstruction theology challenges every believer in Christ that though they know some of who God is and whom they are in God through Christ, what we know is only partial.  Deconstruction theology points to the areas of what we do not know of God or self so that we continue to be humble in our wisdom and driven to continue to seek God.

Amy Rice

I especially appreciate the connection between deconstructionism and other postmodern theologies that help us focus on the “other.” It seems to be deconstruction’s most appealing argument. But I also appreciate the way authors such as Derrida and Caputo play with language. It is really a demonstration of how malleable language is, thus partly proving their point that a single word is so multifaceted that firm definitions cannot be depended upon as a basis for our knowledge.

I do find it interesting, however, that while deconstructionists promote a “radical relativism,” they seem pretty sure that their way (deconstruction) is the most pure form of thinking.

Kim Hersey

I appreciate the value that deconstruction has provided to me, though I have not known the label before this week. I have long been one to ask questions and not simply accept “because” as an answer. 

I am inclined to agree with you and with other responses that deconstruction alone is not helpful, but it clears the way for new, reconstructive opportunities.  A return to more Eastern thought, with a sense of balance and duality of two forces might be more helpful and instructive when considering deconstruction as philosophy or theology.  Without its opposite, apophatic theology has no power bring spiritual growth or change to the Church.

Anthony Phillips

The wisdom of deconstructionist thought is the problematizing of our language. It exposes blind spots in our concepts and reveals the inherent pride modernity has in them. By highlighting the use of words in context, deconstructionism exposes the shaky foundations that the elites both religious and secular use to build and establish the status quo. Examples can be found in many of the documents that guide both our churches and country. What “we” declare as statements of faith in most churches have been established by church leadership, often with no input from the laity.In our preamble to our constitution, “We the people” means white male property owners, females, blacks, native peoples, and poor whites are not considered people. Deconstructive postmodernism challenges and critiques concepts like these. It can be a vehicle of liberation for those on the margins, by validating their full humanity and giving them an equal voice.

As a Christian, deconstructive thought keeps me humble. It points out the incompleteness of the concepts I have of God. I believe that God reveals Godself fully but my understanding is always incomplete. I use the language God is love but do not know its full meaning and implications. God is always greater than what I say or think. Jesus’ inauguration of God’s kingdom revealed a monumentos paradigm shift resulting in the deconstruction of all the kingdoms of this world. In the living God dwells the fully adequate world view,but our understanding of the Divine maybe an ongoing process of deconstruction and reconstruction.

Greg Crofford

As one who sits at the nexus between African and Western theology, It occurs to me that both traditions wear “glasses” through which they view reality. The role of culture as related to the construction of our theology is a topic that fascinates me. Are you aware, Tom, of any African theologians or thinkers who place as high a value on the role of deconstruction as some Westerners seem to do? I’m wondering if it is a function of an individualistic vs. a communal outlook on life. Could René Descartes have arisen just as easily in South Africa as in Europe?

Nancy Tullis

As a journalist by trade for some 30 years, I can certainly understand your comments about our trust and mistrust of words. There are some words that are solid in meaning and some that are fluid. We have to choose words carefully, especially when they are going to be on the printed page and remain for years. Now it is even more true since the reproduction of words electronically occurs instantly and can travel the universe in a nano second.

Words can be used to build up or tear down. When changes in culture change the meaning of words, then words need to be changed. WE have to be careful about the message being conveyed and how it will be interpreted.

I agree that deconstructionism is a tool, but not at the top of the pile to be used first. Any deconstruction should be followed by a rebuilding, and whatever is constructed should be an improvement over whatever idea is dismantled in the deconstruction process.


Great post very helpful thank you

Brian Troxell

You mentioned that deconstruction keeps theologians humble and that we cannot capture with words who God is. I would think these two pieces of deconstruction would really hold one another up. Humility is not what most theologians are looking for. In fact, I would probably not be far in the notion that pride shows up in a lot of theological forums and dialogues. If we truly can’t really know very much about God, then we certainly would have to embrace a place of humility.

I can’t fully embrace a position of deconstruction because I certainly feel that we can know God and be known by Him. It does, though, help keep me humble about who I am and what I am about.

Amy Byerley

Our words can and do get taken out of context. A context is a scheme of relations that alters the way we understand things. I feel that people want to hear what they want. Taking people out of context is a typical trick of someone who is trying to defeat someone else. Many times have I heard from Non Christians and Christians the bible being taken out of context in order for it to suit their needs and wants. This is very selfish.

Secondly, God is bigger than we can ever imagine. God is bigger than our language. I am amazed at the thought that God spoke life into this world in just a few days and looking around at his creation is just truly breathtaking.

Tara West

This article on deconstructive postmodernism offered a great summary and review of this theological viewpoint.  There are good points to deconstruction from which all Christians could learn.  The most helpful to me are the following two positive elements: deconstructive postmodernism “promotes humility in theology, because it reminds us we cannot corner the market on truth.  Dogmatism and epistemic pride have no place…” and “reminds contemporary Christian theologians that we cannot capture fully with words who God is and what God wants.  God is bigger than our language.”
All Christians will find a deeper relationship and more spiritual growth when they find themselves humble before God, aware of their inability to completely understand God and at the mercy of our inadequate language.  When we “fall on our faces” before God (literally or figuratively) admitting our utter helplessness in and of ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to speak for us, we are drawn deeper into all that God is.
Your summation wraps up the extent of influence we, as contemporary Christians, should allow Deconstruction to have in our lives.  “Contemporary Christians should take a ‘yes, but’ approach to this postmodern tradition. Yes, deconstructive postmodern can teach us something. But it doesn’t provide a framework for addressing well the call that Christians hear from their Creator.”  This is but one more area of thought in which we can find truth and allow God to speak and work in the transformation process in our lives.

Rod Ellis

The image of language and deconstruction as webs without anchors is instructive, and is not sufficient as “a primary framework for contemporary Christian theologians.” Language and theology are, indeed, a web of interconnected meaning. If you begin at any one point within the web you are lead logically to others. Sans anchor you reach a point at which you are ensnared in the web or you conclude, at least in rhetoric, that there is no web at all.

To be adequate, the image of the web must contain anchors, as does the web of the spider in nature. Those anchors include the death, burial, and resurrection, the transcendence of God, and the immanence of God. The spider’s web is useless, and falls to the ground without anchors. So, too, is the web of theology and language.

I agree that deconstruction provides useful insights, and that those insights include the ones described in Dr. Oord’s article. Deconstruction teaches appreciation for diversity, brings a focus to social justice, and emphasizes the expansiveness and greatness of God. It also, however, leaves its proponent without anchors, subject to the whims of opinion, bias, and perhaps even less savory influences.

Buford Edwards

Dr. Oord,

In reading your statement, “The meaning of words depends on their context. Yet we never understand contexts fully.  Consequently, ambiguity reigns,” made me consider context in a new light.  It would seem to me that Derrida’s deconstructionism, while it focuses on language, has limited its focus to the written word.  Language is intimately tied to communication in such a way that we could never achieve full understanding of context by reading words on a page, or even writing words on the page. 

However, I would argue that we can achieve a full understanding of the context of language when we are engaged in the act of communicating face to face.  When we are communicating with one another in this way we have the added benefit of the non-verbal communication that takes place when we can see and hear the other person’s tone and reactions to our words.  If there is a miscommunication, we are more likely to pick up on that and correct the error thus communicating effectively the context in which we are speaking and communicating. 

Although we can never fully and adequately describe God, we can communicate with God and about God in a way that is not possible to put into words on a page for others to seek.  When we communicate with God there is no misunderstanding of context and when we communicate with others about God, any misunderstanding is minimized due to the other person’s ability to understand what we are saying with our non-verbal cues.  It is this part of language where deconstructionism falls short.

Raquel Pereira

After a few days of struggling over Derrida’s and Caputo’s words and thoughts on deconstruction, this article feels like a drink of water on a desert experience. However, I am in favor of “desert experiences”, because it is through those that essential truths come to the surface and are questioned, and change is likely to occur.
The most beneficial insight that deconstruction brings to Christian theology and living is that language (including the one of Scripture) is ambiguous. Although one cannot avoid using words, and interpret their meaning in the different contexts, so that we are able to communicate and relate; it is important to be aware of their weakness in grasping reality in its fullness. The result is that one’s discourses cannot resemble any kind of fundamentalism, and the others’ discourses are received with respect. This is key for Christianity in two ways: one, to avoid relying upon assumed theological certainties based solely on language; and two, to live out, particularly as language affects attitudes, humility, as Dr. Oord rightly mentioned.
The emphasis on the “other”, specifically as it refers to God, is also very important. In an age where most Christians relate to God as their “pal”, it is important to keep the balance as one considers that God is beyond anything thought, said or done. Far beyond! That awareness should bring awe to the relationship, and to the worshipper.
As limitedness, differences, biases, and uncertainties are embraced, there is something beyond what one can explain in words or thoughts that holds reality together. That sustaining reality is presented in Scripture as God (Isa. 46:4, NIV), it is held by Christian tradition, it makes reasonable sense and it has been experienced by many. So, yes let us “talk coherently about God, love, and host of other important topics” but let us focus on how we can do it constructively. As a personal note, and paraphrasing the original I sing, “Though my mind is limited, though my words are too much and too little at the same time, though my thinking is deficient, though my efforts are useless, though my faith is weak…” “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab. 3:17-18)

Nick Carpenter

I agree with many of your insights Tom, both praises and critiques. It is good to deconstruct the old perspectives that may be hindering us as the world shifts into this postmodern phase. Yet if we cannot understand or believe concepts of language and truth, we have very little to work with and even less to work towards. I think what I would say about deconstructive postmodernism, as you have articulated, is to use this new perspective in helping to work with our theology and faith without falling to either extreme of radical relativism or radical tradition/modernity. Using deconstruction as a tool rather than the primary source can tremendously assist us as we continue to delve into our postmodern era.

Kitt Lenington

Like Raquel, I’ve been struggling with both Derrida and Caputo in defining their thoughts on deconstruction.  Derrida’s thoughts and words were bunched together so tight it was difficult to ascertain what he was saying in any way that developed understanding.  The use of Latin, French, or German phrasing wasn’t problematic. It was the turning of his words inside out and back onto themselves that I found beyond convolution.
  As with traverse from Modernism with its absolutes into Post-Modernism with its denial of absolutes with per Dr. Oord’s description: ‘The move entails fundamental changes in our core assumptions about existence.” Linguistic certainty versus linguistic inadequacy.
In providing “insights for contemporary Christian theologians” one such insight regarding Deconstructive Post-Modernism in relation to one’s truth and knowledge, each of us determine our own truth.  This is somewhat reminiscent of what I’ve experienced in Alcoholics Anonymous in defining our Higher Power.  Rather than having a vengeful, jealous, overreaching God one rejects and replaces with a Creator where love and trust is foundational. The knowledge that something magnificent and grand beyond us and our understanding is not diminished or dismissed. It is reinforced.
I would change the approach for contemporary Christians from ‘Yeah, but’ to ‘Yeah; however.’  I find ‘but’ a negator of what comes prior to ‘but.’  However provides a work-around that in itself is far less negative.

Why is it necessary to find a ‘theology’ with which we agree?

Topher Taylor

This is a great way to look at deconstruction with the positives and negatives laid out fairly. I agree with approaching this subject with a “yes, but…” because some of it really does make sense, however, it does fail when trying to say language can’t be defined or true. Language is important but we do lose a lot in translation and lose even more without the original context or meaning.
One of the important realities of deconstruction is in its humility of theology because we are reminded that we can’t know it all, and that it may be more open than many want it to be.

Leslie D. Oden

Dr. Oord,

The problem with conclusive meaning when using words to claim a particular truth is the fact that the meaning of words is often found within the culture the words are constructed. Given the evolving nature of cultures, language is not finite; however, has fixed elements.  As negative as deconstruction is, this view point negates its own relevance through the use of language. You said it best: 

“If language cannot be trusted and always undermines authorial intent, we should also not trust the language used by deconstructive postmodernists to tout their view.”

Words and meanings maybe time sensitive causing the essence of any shift to have a subjective nature.  This change does not mean that we cannot have our “truths.” As I consider the extreme nature of deconstructive postmodernism I find the insight that deconstruction provides to be questionable especially outside of theological discussions.

I am left with this question: If I am a missionary how will deconstructive postmodernism help me to build the Kingdom of God? Or serve others? —Thank you.


Jason newman

The idea that deconstructionism is self refuting is very important. It will allow us to appropriate the insights about ambiguity and the limits of language and context with out falling into its nihilistic outlook on reality.
“Yes, but” is a very interesting way of looking at deconstructionism as well. It is a very useful tool at times, but is needs to be used in the appropriate place.

Anita Albert-Watson

Language is indeed a slippery thing! Deconstructionists do well to remind us that language is not always interpreted in line with authorial intention and that language can, and will, always fall abysmally short when trying to describe the otherness and majesty of the divine. The emphasis on “other” is instructive to Christians. Much of the time, in our personal interaction with God, we become too familiar or can begin to believe that we have it all figured out. It causes us to take pause and to appreciate even more that greatness which is utterly incomprehensible and always beyond our full grasp. It certainly keeps us humble! At the same time, I am in awe of a God that enters into the messiness of language to make the divine nature known, and who enters into the messiness of life longing to be known by us, and who doesn’t relegate the experience to one of just words, but invites us into experience and relationship.

Aaron Mednansky

The statement that is towards the end is a great way to look at deconstruction theology. Taking the “yes, but” approach is one of the best, and possibly the only way that Christians are able to approach this way of thinking of God. Yes deconstructive postmodern can help inform our thought, but it can not be the foundation of what we continue to build our understanding of God with.

One way this can be useful is understanding that we are very limited to our language when it comes to describing God. We are able to know God through Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit in us, which goes against the deconstructive theology, but while we are able to know God there is so much to God’s awesome-ness that we cannot with our language or even thoughts conceive the Almighty God in any form of entirety. This type of thinking that stems from the deconstructive postmodern thought can help lead us into seeing how limited our language is but should not be the end of our thought. Just because we cannot fully know or understand something does not mean we can’t know God and have a relationship with Him.

Michelle Borbe

Deconstruction and many other movements from the pull of postmodernism we can gain great insight into God and the Church. In this ever moving world theology, the Church, and our understanding of God also moves with it. As you pointed out in your post there are many things that we can gain from an understanding in deconstructionism, that there is freedom and understanding found within it. Deconstruction gives us firm hand holds into the wall that we scale as Christians in our understanding of who God is. However, with these certainties that it gives us there is also much that we should still be cautious about. I feel that you pointed out great insight into how we as Christians in this postmodern world should look at deconstruction and other movements as we continue to move forward. The proposal of the “yes, but” gives us insight into who God is, but also brings us a better understanding and more well-rounded approach to theology.

Kevin York

“Deconstructive postmodernism identifies inherent inconsistencies in the language we use to describe reality” (Oord). This is the issue that we have been looking at this past week. The truth is that language, especially the English language is very erroneous. After all, it is so full of words that carry more than one meaning. This is the point of negative theology, I believe. Is it easier to state what we do not mean, so that our true meaning that much clearer? At the same time, we must keep in mind about the context of reality. What is reality and how should we view it? From a Christian point of view, I believe that Merton best directs towards true reality. “Let us embrace reality and thus find ourselves immersed in the life-giving will and wisdom of God which surrounds us everywhere” (Merton).
Word Count: 140
Merton, Thomas. Thoughts in Solitude. New York: Farrar-Strauss-Giroux, 1956. Print.
Oord, Thomas Jay. “The Problem with Words: Deconstruction.” 18 December 2009. Thomas Jay Oord Blog. Web. 5 November 2015.

Our words carry a great deal of weight. That means that as we use them we need to make them count. When we speak something it is out there forever, you can never take it back if it hurt it will always hurt if it helped it will help for a time. I do not believe I ever read of Jesus speaking to tear down. Even when Jesus was speaking to Satan in the wilderness he spoke the truth and was not rude or condescending. Our words matter and it will prove to be true without even trying, we will use them to bring glory to whomever we really worship!

Donnamie Ali

Despite my problems with the negative words of deconstructive postmodernism, there have been some positive takeaways. I applaud this blog’s call for the concept of ‘otherness’ to remind us of how we should minister to “the least of these”. It certainly did not occur to me but following in Jesus’ footsteps does require the Christian to engage those they may consider ‘others’ or even ‘those people’. This challenge continues to face the church to a greater or lesser extent depending on geographic and cultural location.
The reminder that Christians do not ‘corner the market on truth’ may be difficult for some to accept, but most certainly its acceptance brings humility, which is an essential Christian virtue. Can we who have been warned about pride many times in the very bible we uphold, dare to continue in pride and close out all other voices? We should listen, learn from where possible, but continue to let others know the reason for the hope that we have.

Will Albright

I am in agreement with the deconstructionists that words more often than not fail us. In fact, every time I attempt a response they seem to fail me. I am also in agreement with the deconstructionists that more often than not words fail to adequately describe God. After all, God is bigger than our language.

Yet, language is the tool that we have. It is the only means that we possess to describe reality, or, in reality, to describe at all (how about that Derrida-esque language construct?), even if words and language are not wholly adequate. So, do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Do we throw away the tool simply because it is imperfect?

I think not. That approach seems to be a bit dramatic, drastic, and over-reactionary. I concede that words and language are not perfect. Language does fail to adequately convey most of reality fully and with complete accuracy. However, what is gained by not using words to describe reality as it is? Most likely the same that is gained by using them – confusion and an incomplete understanding. Just a different sense of the same state.

I have seen sunsets that words could not describe. I have been moved by art and song in ways that language could never communicate. I have felt such deep and sheer intimacy with my spouse that words could not do it justice. I have sensed Reality in ways that it is impossible for me to articulate. The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing about. So too with language. The heart has language that language knows nothing about. Yet, even though words have failed me, it would be failure for me to fail them in return.

Bill Segur

Dr Oord,

This is well written and understandable! In the blog one thing that you mention that is sticking with me, “Contemporary Christians should take a “yes, but” approach to this postmodern tradition. yes, deconstructive postmodern can teach us something. But it doesn’t provide a framework for addressing well the call that Christians hear from their Creator.”

I like this approach in the point of being able to question while seeking. There is nothing wrong when seeking the truth about God or anything else for that matter. But it is also not the whole picture either. I thought the blog showed this critical movement for what it is. It questions all traditional assumptions about the ability of modern language representing reality and showing that a text has no foundation because words end up referring to other words and even other words. It was meaning that words had meanings that it was never intended to have and therefore was not very clear. The one thing that it seems to do that I believe helps us today, is that deconstructive postmodernism reminds us that God is way bigger than any words we could use to describe or just use in our language.

I would say add that while agree that “yes, but” I also think it shows us that this postmodern tradition can leave you wanting so much more than what it gives. It never fills one up and leaves you wanting something more filling.

Word count 245

Bill Segur

Amy Byerley

Mr. Oord,

After reading this article, I feel as though I have a much better understanding of deconstruction. I understand that our language is never final. Our words or what we may think they mean, can be interpreted in a different way. This in return can make our language very dangerous in the terms that we use. You gave an example of the word “cool”. And while many people may interpret this word as being awesome or amazing as describing someone. It can also be looked at as meaning “friendliness, unemotional, and lack of heat.” While we try to interpret words, we can find that no word interpretation is final. I am finding out that every word can be interpreted over and over again in a different way. Each meaning something different each time.

You had made the statement: “The old belief systems can’t explain new data. Change is required.” This statement reminds me of transformation. I was just curious on what your thoughts were regarding this statement. I am also wondering if the majority of the world looks at things from a modernist view or more deconstructionists. I lean more towards a modernist view. I tend to assume that “words, propositions and sentences capture the truth about reality.”

Leon Drake

Deconstruction’s attack on the use of words has some merit. Clearly our words are not clear. The nuances and multiple meanings of words can easily cause differences of understanding. We only have to look at how different Christian denominations interpret the same scripture. Beyond this, even when Christians agree on the meaning of a word that describes God (e.g. eternal), deconstruction reminds us that we cannot fully understand how that word applies to God.
However, how else are we to convey our understanding of God to another (albeit a limited understanding)? If Christians believe they are called to share the gospel, how can they obey that call? Even though language is imperfect, it still is the most effective means we have to communicate and to develop our understanding of God. Perhaps the reason deconstruction offers no positive alternative is because there is no better way to understand God.

Rev. Leon R. Drake II


Deconstructive postmodernism’s claim that language cannot be trusted shakes like an earthquake on the foundation of how we all communicate with one another. Language is our way of expressing to others, all of our intellect and emotion. We claim words of truth that are foundation to our very being.
I was amused by Dr. Oord’s comment that if language “always undermines authorial intent, we should not trust the language used by deconstructive postmodernists tout their view. How can it be true that there is no true?” The obvious answer is that it can’t be true that there is no true. The argument becomes circular because there is no apparent way to prove otherwise. adequate ability to communicate fully with our language.
What can we learn from the voice of the deconstructive modernist? Language is difficult and our use of language can be misunderstood. When my children were young they had a nanny from South Africa. In first weeks of her arrival she had decided that the children were disobedient and they had decided that they didn’t really like her. It was soon uncover that the children could not understand the nanny. Just one example, “boot” really does mean the trunk of the car for someone who speaks “Commonwealth English”. My kids did not understand the instruction to go get the groceries out of the boot. Once time was spent defining new words the relationship was quickly repaired, she fondly became “the best nanny in the world.”
Many examples of definitional misunderstanding can be seen throughout our cultures and on an international scale, even when we are supposedly speaking the same language. The real question is do we take the time with one another and in our reading of Scripture to really understand what is being communicated. Deep understanding and true relationship with another (and God) goes far beyond words themselves. Deconstruction can assist in taking a look at all of the possible alternatives, broadening the thinking and taking the time to truly understand. As for relationship, one must gain understanding of another to be able to communicate at all. How can there be a bridge of relationship from one human to another or between humanity and God if we are unable to understand the words that are being used. How does the context change in a sentence where “boot” means footwear or it means the storage compartment (trunk) of the car. If we can’t speak coherently in the everyday, how are we speak of God, love and a host of topics? It does take language. It also takes, as is suggested, Scripture, experience, science, natural and all of God’s creation. Most of all, it takes a heart to love.

Michael Poole

Deconstruction on it’s own is unrealistic, and could even be dangerous to Christians and the church. However, using some tools of deconstruction might be useful to us so long as we reconstruct what we have investigated, allowing the it to become closer to God’s idea of what Christianity and the church are supposed to look like. It helps us to create faith communities that are more diverse and meaningful to worshipers. It relieves some of the dogma that might otherwise hold us back. It does these things without compromising the integrity of who God is or who he is to us.

Ronald Miller

The postmodern tradition of deconstruction has a vital role to play in our understanding of our theology. I working with different cultures all over Africa, Deconstruction Theology is absolutely important. Dr. Oord used the example of the word “cool” but in many cultures, the word “spirit” conjures various unintentional images. Using this analogy though, I cannot see the approach of Deconstruction as the new kid on the block as I see the attempts of Eugene Peterson, and others (in paraphrasing the Bible) as an attempt to not only simplify language but to bring to it relevancy and context. The idea of Deconstruction is to “attack” the way we see and understand core-realities.

The “yes”, “but” approach, as Dr. Oord rightly pointed out, cannot be ignored, as deconstruction cannot be an end to itself, reconstructive theological language should follow. This in itself could become problematic in that that very same reconstruction could be set under the microscope of the Deconstruction Theologians

Monica Liberatore

While this week’s readings did make me think, I agree that deconstructive postmodernism is not the best theological approach to take. The negative perspective from which they choose to view theology takes away from the beauty and love that was Jesus’ message. Our language is, without a doubt, far from perfect; however, it is all that we have when it comes to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our human lack of being able to perfectly describe God is where I believe we leave room for the Holy Spirit to work not only through us, but also in those with whom we are communicating. Our faith lies in knowing that God will guide our words if we only allow Him. The biggest fault I see with the deconstructionist model is that it assumes it holds the key to understanding, when in fact it is God who hold the key. If I had to pick one thing I took away from these readings, is that it strengthened my resolve that we need God’s help in understanding and communicating His message.

hubert tiger

DR. Oord you asserted that: “I think deconstruction of poor worldviews need to be followed by reconstructive efforts that draw from Scripture, Christian tradition, reason, sciences, and a variety of experiences”
Your assertion here helped me understand the importance of our modern day thinkers and yet at the same time it proved me as a Christian with the necessary perspective on how to exist in this world. The world is changing as you have asserted in another essay and I believe that while the world is changing we also need to be ready as Christians to help people who are willing to reconstruct. The most significant to me is that while are role is to represent and defend our faith we also need to be mature to listen to the views of others and be prepared to provide reconstructive efforts drawing from Scripture and as you have stated above. I do believe that as Christians we have a responsibility to provide our world and particularly the seekers an alternative that represents Christ and not just what the culture finds relative.
Hubert Tiger.

bobby post

In a deconstructive postmodern society, we are breaking down the every day norms and forcing people to take a different look at things than what they are used to. This can be very helpful for life because it, in my opinion, helps people not to take things so serious. What I mean by “not taking things so serious” is that we are able to not have to worry about what others things and just be ourselves. There are so many people in the world today who are afraid of speaking their minds because it might cost them a promotion at work or getting a better grade in school. The deconstructive postmodern thought will allow teachers and those in the workplace to reflect on the way they have done things in the past and perhaps change. My strength coach in college had a saying, “you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.” He is a man who is in his 70s but has a mind of that of a postmodernist in this instance. Sometimes we have to change the way we do things if we want to see the results we are seeking. That would work for ministry because Jesus changed the way ministry was done by going out and preaching to his disciples with masses of crowds following.
When we are in the mist of ministry, we need to take what we have learned and think about whether it is really effective or not with what the mission is trying to accomplish. Ministers must never stray from the Truth that Jesus is the Son of God and it is only through him that we are saved. However, I often find myself thinking that there needs to be a way to get that message out to a world that is lost without losing the truth. Deconstructive postmodernists might argue that Jesus is not the only way to heaven, but then as ministers, we need to be able to present how he is by using their terms and not straying from our faith.

Mirtha Z. Castro-Martin

God bless everyone!

Because deconstructive postmodernism identifies inconsistencies in language to describe reality, there will always be problems with words. A person will never understand fully the meaning of something and never be able to rationalize the Truth according to Jacques Derrida. Thank God that words are not the only way to express and describe reality. Even if I wanted to express the love of God with words, words would not be enough. I have to show it, see it, and feel it to really understand what it is and what it can do to humanity. Love cannot be fully described or understood by words. Just like God cannot be fully described or understood by words alone. He is a personal God as we are personal beings. I have seen paintings in which I cannot describe the beauty of its content because there are no words. Even more so, the nature of God just takes my breath away as I experience it with all of my senses. So, describing the nature of God with words would be meaningless. There is nothing more real than experiencing life, nature, and God with your senses. If we allow words to be the only way of describing and experiencing reality we would be short of wisdom and knowledge and come close as Jacques Derrida did in “thinking” that there is no God. Therefore, I agree with Dr. Oord when he says, “Contemporary Christians should take a “yes, but” approach to this postmodern tradition. Yes, deconstructive postmodern can teach us something. But it doesn’t provide a framework for addressing well the call that Christians hear from their Creator.”
Peace & Grace,

James High

In the midst of this explanation and defense against deconstructionism as a primary framework for contemporary Christian theologians, you had one line that continues to roll around in my head. “The old belief systems can’t explain new data. Change is required.” This line itself could spark a number of heated discussions between Christians, with staunch traditionalists facing off against reckless revolutionaries. But how we address this line of thinking greatly influences the way we reach out in our own contexts. Even those outside the church can see that the old systems do not properly explain new data, and to just pretend as said data is incoherent, or worse nonexistent, sends people looking for answers elsewhere. I agree, change is required, but like your article suggests, not all change is equal. Our goal as ministers and theologians should be to understand the paradigm shifts around us, understanding that every new system of thought may not be the right solution. Will we see a theology that satisfies the inadequacies presented by our more recent understandings? It is possible, but as ministers we will continue to fight the battle against general relativism, seeking a postmodern theology that points people toward the center that is God while including answers that speak to the questions of the subsequent generations.

bobby post

Mirtha, i wold have to say that we need to be careful when we don’t focus on words because there are so many out there who do not see God for who he is, but instead see him as in everything much like pantheism. That is where we need to be careful.

Chelsea Pearsall

One of the things that I really enjoy about this tool is that it acts as a reminder to continually checking how the language we use matches or is at least accessible to Christians as well as non-Christians. In some ways, we can become lost in our own type of language that is not accessible to the most amount of people.
I also appreciate the critiques, as I think it’s incredibly significant to note that the Deconstructive postmodernism is negative. As Christians, we should be more of a people of hope than negativity. While we can glean from some aspects of Deconstructive postmodernism, ministry should involve the building up of faith instead of simply destroying the foundation that it depends on. Simply, we cannot always speak in terms of what God is not, but also build up and live out who God is and who God has called each of us to be.

Denice Gass

As I read Dr. Oord’s thoughts here, it occurred to me that sometimes the things we want to communicate on the written page are understood just as we intend them to be and sometimes they are not. Oord writes, “Words inevitably contain unintended meanings. Communication is never crystal-clear. Just when we think a word corresponds fully to reality, we find it inadequate” (Oord, NP). No communication is ever perfect and Deconstruction teaches us to approach the written word, even the Scriptures, with a sharp and critical eye, in order that we might find there deeper meanings that may lie beyond the surface. Oord further shares that, “Deconstruction reminds contemporary Christian theologians that we cannot capture fully with words who God is and what God wants. God is bigger than our language” (Oord, NP). There are those who write who never dream that the communication of their thoughts will eventually, in the hands discerning readers, take on profound meaning. Yet, in the hands of God, our language can be the catalyst by which he reveals himself in ever deeper and richer ways.

Ultimately language is just one of the finite, human tools, that God has given us to help us relate with and experience him. The key to using those tools is discernment. I agree with Dr. Oord that as Christians we must understand that while Deconstruction does contain tools that can be helpful to us as thinkers, we must also recognize that its negativity and lack of a center limit its usefulness. Like our language Deconstruction has its limitations, and yet, with God’s help it does have concepts that can help us to expand our minds and hearts as we seek to learn more about the wonder and nature of God.

Robert Merrills

I can see why the appeal of deconstructive postmodernism is so widespread and prevalent. It offers those who engage it the opportunity to focus in on the words being communicated in a message to conclude that there is “no foundational, final, or fixed interpretation available” for those words. In essence it puts everyone on level ground in that they have the ability to assign context for their interpretation that is as valid as the context and interpretation of that context as the next person’s. One can easily see how that can lead down the slippery slope of the “all paths lead to the same place” approach. One benefit Christianity can leverage from this is the ability to recognize and acknowledge diversity within the church. It can also help the Church highlight where it is marginalizing people or ideas. What ideas are we truly ignoring because it makes uncomfortable. That’s a different discussion than say dismissing certain views that are truly subversive to the edification of the body of Christ.

Professor Oord’s recommendation for contemporary Christians to take a “yes, but” approach deconstructive postmodernism is a critical step in acknowledging the intimacy experienced between Creator and creatures he has called into fellowship with himself. While deconstruction can lead us to a place of ambiguity based on words, engaging in reconstructive efforts that include Scripture, Christian tradition, reason, sciences, and a myriad of experiences, can help moves the discussion from the interpretation of words back to a realm in which Christians can feel more comfortable and confident in sharing Christ. Where I was feeling somewhat frustrated about the potential impact of deconstruction relative to the gospel, reconstruction is a more invigorating thought and offers tremendous value.

Robert Merrills

James, I appreciated your thought that ministers should be to understand the paradigm shifts around us. This week’s discussion reminded me is that sometimes I get so focused on what we are communicating to “the church” that I haven’t been paying as much attention on what is happening in the world around me. If we are not paying attention to the paradigm shifts around us be it a greater acceptance of pantheism, the view that there is just as much value in worshiping at home rather than in a church or name the paradigm shift, we will not take efforts to reevaluate if, how and to what degree our communication and teaching can help other address them.

Andy Perrine

“Deconstructive postmodernism offers insights. These insights can prove helpful as postmodern Christians “give an account for the hope within them” (1 Pt. 3:15). Deconstructive postmodernism can be used as a tool (not as the framework) to help give insights. The full grasp and concepts of certain ideas may only be understood when multiple views and are brought together. Take a puzzle for example, each piece represents a different insight and when brought together you get to see the full picture. I understand that deconstructive use the argument, “the meaning of words depends on their context. Yet we never understand contexts fully”. However, do we really need to understand the contexts fully to get the message of what is being said. Adding to the puzzle analogy, if you have a puzzle that is missing pieces, we still get the idea of what the picture is because the other pieces help fill in the gaps. The multiple insights can still work together to reveal the true meaning of the message.

Tom Wilfong

I believe that one of the criticisms you listed in this message is certainly something that will affect Christian ministry. Your criticism was, “On the question of truth and knowledge, for instance, deconstructive postmodernism implies that each individual determines truth entirely for him or herself. Radical relativism prevails.” If you think about it, this should be very alarming in the context of Christian ministry. If everyone determines their own truth and everything is relative, then nothing is wrong or incorrect. The idea or belief that none come to the Father except through Jesus now becomes something that is not an absolute truth any longer. It opens the doors for people to believe that they can get to the Father through whatever method feels true to them. I know God’s desire is that none should perish but I do not believe he had this “choose your own adventure book” style of getting to Heaven. I have personally experienced mid-twenty somethings that are embracing this idea because it feels good. It allows them to do what they want and still believe that they are doing the right thing. Because after all, it’s all relative and your truth is not the same as their truth. It’s hard to dissuade them from this whatever feels good for you must be right to an idea of more sacrifice and self-restraint. I feel heartbroken for these that are being led astray by this convoluted ideology.

Tom Wilfong

Chelsea, I agree with you that the church should not be negative and should be building up instead. That is just another reason why I do not believe this kind of thought process can be used wholly in a Christian context. I believe we can, like you said, glean some things that can be useful and to help us grow by challenging some of the things we hold onto. But I do not believe it should be the system that we base our ministry on.

Courtney Gilbert

This article has helped further my understanding of deconstructive postmodernism. While deconstructive postmodernism is a helpful tool, I believe this can cause some to stumble or can lead to confusion by some lay members (even some pastors). I believe that this theory is complicated and have a negative theology, as has been stated before. This negative theology can be helpful for those that are philosophical thinkers but can confuse others that do not think in this way. Deconstructive postmodernism can be helpful to some but can be a stumbling block to others. As ministry leaders it is important to know where people are at in their walk and helping meet them there; a person might be in a place to talk about philosophy and this theory, and others might be just learning who Christ is and what it means to follow him. We must be cautious when using this theory, while it is helpful.

Andy Perrine


You are right that it is a great reminder to continually check our own language. It reminded me how I get caught up with grabbing onto someone else’s thought, using it as a reference or as truth, without double checking it to make sure that it is sound. As for your last sentence, I know for me it is so much easier to tell what God has done and meant to me, rather than what He has not done.

Mike Curry

Dr. Oord,
Thank you for this more comprehensive explanation of deconstructionism. This has been a valuable learning resource to help me process this concept and its implications for Christian ministry in the midst of shifting paradigms. I sensed that something changed significantly in our culture when I witnessed the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, exercising much fluidity in the meaning of words like “is” when trying to rationalize why he wasn’t lying when he said that there was nothing going on between he and Monica Lewinsky. His statement, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” still sticks with me today.

A few things stand out to me in this post regarding the opportunities that deconstructive postmodernism affords the Church or postmodern theology. First, I appreciate the renewed call and vision to reach out to the marginalized. Especially for the Church of the Nazarene, the call back to our roots in ministering to the needs of “the least of these” is vital to truly accomplish the mission and vision that God has given us to make Christlike disciples in the nations. Second, the call to “humility in theology” is attractive because in recognizing that the work of, and understanding of a God that is “bigger than our language” we realize that we need those of other traditions to fill us in on perspectives and blind spots that we may not be aware of.

While I still remain skeptical of deconstructive postmodernism, I am beginning to see how some aspects of the process can be beneficial to the Church and to an emerging postmodern theology.

Mike Curry

James (and Dr. Oord),
I really appreciate the points you make in response to this blog post. Your thoughts here spur on some thinking about paradigm shifts among different systems in my own ministry context. One of the difficulties I have is understanding what “new data” the Church or old systems of the Church are ill-equipped to process or deal with. Forgive my ignorance, but are there some examples that may be offered that illustrate new data and church systems that cannot adequately handle? Thanks in advance for helping me to understand.

hubert tiger

Chelsea, I really appreciated your post as it offered me the opportunity to really reflect on the language our local church might be using that just might be inaccessible to other people who are trying to understand or explore our faith. The hope that you talk about is precisely a focus that could get lost in the Christian faith if we focused too much on what we could not explain or understand. Somehow Scripture points us to the fact that our hope is a person Jesus Christ and his story is one of eternal hope which is accessible to all who believe.[102]

Mirtha Z. Castro-Martin

Bobby, with all respect I say that if you read my post correctly, I never said that we should “not focus on words”. That is why conversation is important when asking any question about God or any other topic. Words are important but it is not everything because single words can also lead to creating an ideal of words. So, we could look at other ways to explaining things. Therefore, I was totally not talking about “pantheism”. Thank you for talking about the subject; but, you took it to a whole different route that I was not referring to.
[Word Count: 98]

Mirtha Z. Castro-Martin

I agree when you said, “we also need to be mature to listen to the views of others and be prepared to provide reconstructive efforts drawing from Scripture”. Many Christians are intimidated when they are questioned by none believers on difficult questions. Some Christians feel that it a waits of time to question or that there are “stupid” questions. I feel that just as toddlers do not feel ashamed of asking questions about anything and everything people should get into the habit of asking questions. There are no “stupid” questions. But, we also need to be better listeners when we are being asked questions. I always say, “I would need more time to find out” if I do not have any answers. People will respect you more when you are sincere with them.
[Word Count: 134]

James High

In response to your question, I’ll present a much older example of ‘new data’ that the church has had some issues with assimilating. I go back the the young earth vs old earth theory. If the bible states the earth is young (though there’s debate on that as well), and yet we come up with data that suggests it is much older than that, we have three choices. One choice is ignore it; pretend that we didn’t even hear it. Another is to deny it outright and attack the science that is behind it. The third is to see the facts and determine how to assimilate the data into our system without compromising the core of the message. I think the trick is determining what ‘new data’ is worthy to assimilate? Is it data or cultural preference (and perhaps, does it matter)?

James High

I appreciate your ability to state that while deconstructionism could be harmful, we should be conscious of what people can handle in our approach, rather than dismissing it outright. Our tendency tends to be when we feel someone may not be able to use something effectively, we reject it for all, which I do not feel is helpful in the long run. But I agree, there is a great amount of discernment to be made before we take others down this path with us.

Denice Gass

Thank you for your post. I found your puzzle analogy intriguing. I had a boss a few years back who loved jigsaw puzzles. Her kids would bye three or four different ones for her birthday, open the boxes, pour all the pieces together in a big plastic bag, and give it to her. It would take her a couple of weekends work, but before we knew it there were four new pictures on the walls of her office.

I mention this because the difficulty with Deconstruction it subscribes that the meanings of language are infinite, and in the end there is no truth because there is always one more nuance to be discovered. My boss was able to take the chaos of four puzzles at once and with some time and study, fit them together to come to a solution. Deconstruction encourages the effort but sees no ultimate solution. It can help us to think more deeply concerning the truths that our at the heart of our faith, and help us to think through new methods of reaching others for Christ, but in the end it negative features and ultimate lack of conclusions make it of limited use in our Christian thinking. Thank you again for your post and for allowing me to share some of my thoughts. God bless you,


Thank you for an interesting read. I don’t think post modernists are saying there is no truth, only that words are inherently subjective and are thus an imperfect medium to represent truth as seen by one person, to another person. Yes, this calls into question the apparent (and for each person, “relative”) meaning of the words. Yet we have no choice but to continue trying to point to the “truths” we know, using the only tools we have available today. I believe the important thing is to always recognize the limits of the tools we are using, and as one example, replace dogma with healthy skepticism and curiosity.

I hope my words help to point someone in the general direction of the truth I know.

Timothy Streight

I think that the danger that postmodern deconstructionism runs into is that there is a growing population of believers that are not well versed in the modern ideas. It seems that the millennials are extremely disconnected from the modern thinking baby boomers. Because information has not been gathered by the millennials from the baby boomers but rather from each other through electronic mediums I think that this theology may be pushed aside by some type of theology that is coming to a blank slate in many senses rather than one that is pushing the pendulum away from modernity.

Mike B.

Deconstructive postmodernism seems like it would be well at home with some of the non-denominational contemporary churches such as mine, because of its ability to embrace diversity and challenge many of the traditional hierarchies that may have “driven” folks out of the main denominational churches. That said, Dr. Oord makes a great case on the limitations of deconstructive postmodernism, especially here: “On the question of truth and knowledge, for instance, deconstructive postmodernism implies that each individual determines truth entirely for him or herself. Radical relativism prevails. I believe Christian theology should reject radical epistemic and moral relativism.” Challenging things is good. However, deconstructive postmodernism tends to lead folks down a weaving and unmarked path. I tend to agree with Tim’s observations above in that this path seems to have a high potential to just lead down a road to nowhere. Dr. Oord, I think, makes the very right assertion that Christians should approach deconstructive postmodernism with a “yes, but” attitude. The fact that deconstructive postmodernism just seems to attack and point out “errors,” but does not offer solutions does not sit well with me. My background calls me to eschew the approach of coming forward with problems, but not presenting any potential solutions. Deconstructive postmodernism does indeed seem like a “good idea” that should be taken with a grain of salt.


“Deconstructive postmodernism identifies inherent inconsistencies in the language we use to describe reality” (Oord). This is the issue that we have been looking at this past week. The truth is that language, especially the English language is very erroneous. After all, it is so full of words that carry more than one meaning. This is the point of negative theology, I believe. Is it easier to state what we do not mean, so that our true meaning that much clearer? At the same time, we must keep in mind about the context of reality. What is reality and how should we view it? From a Christian point of view, I believe that Merton best directs towards true reality. “Let us embrace reality and thus find ourselves immersed in the life-giving will and wisdom of God which surrounds us everywhere” (Merton).
Word Count: 140
Merton, Thomas. Thoughts in Solitude. New York: Farrar-Strauss-Giroux, 1956. Print.
Oord, Thomas Jay. “The Problem with Words: Deconstruction.” 18 December 2009. Thomas Jay Oord Blog. Web. 5 November 2015.

Devon Golden

Deconstruction and its emphasis on the inconsistencies in language provides an important aspect to consider in the Christian tradition. The language we rely on, although important for communication and helpful for many things, can be exclusive in the sense that it cannot communicate everything completely objectively. Every reader reads with a preset of knowledge or contexts that change the intended meaning of the author. Therefore, every individual has their own meaning of an author’s writing even if the differences are small. My concern with this kind of radical relativism is that it leaves everything to open-ended. We cannot contain importance if meaning is too scattered. Thus, we should find some kind of middle-ground where we can, perhaps, collaborate meaning too form a unity in meaning that can be communicated effectively. Too much relativism creates individualism without community which is dangerous to the Christian tradition.

Joon Lee

Thomas Kuhn asserted that a paradigm shift does not occur through “new information here or there,” but from questioning and changing fundamental assumptions about reality. While I generally agree with this statement, I do believe that new information can catalyze a paradigmatic shift. For example, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity—and to a lesser extent, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle—completely changed the way we viewed time and space, in addition to mass and energy. This theory not only changed the field of physics, but it also helped transform our worldview into a more relativistic one.

Derrida’s deconstructionism is correct to point out that the relationship between a word and its meaning is imprecise. However, I wonder just how far we need to apply this concept. For example, should I dismiss deconstructionists’ claims because of their imperfect use of language? To use a limited analogy, my choice to love my wife and children is meaningful, despite my love being flawed and limited. Similarly, I believe that language, despite its inexactitude, is a meaningful and effective tool for communication.

Ozzy O

In the 1985 movie, Back to the Future, Marty McFly travels back in time. In the film, Marty interrupts the meeting and courting of his parents George and Lorraine. When he does this, he threatens his existence. However, this is impossible because if Marty traveled from 1985 to 1955 and prevented his existence, then he did not exist in 1985. Since he would not exist in 1985, who travels back to 1955?
You write that we need positive postmodern theology. However, postmodernism rejects the absolute and accepts all things are relative. Theology may be a system of religious beliefs or ideas unless a person is a postmodernist. Since theology would have to be relative, even the positive must be understood in postmodern terms; i.e. the definition of positive is subjective and cannot be defined in certain language. Even the word theology, if it has meaning, is the Greek Theos (God) and logia or logos (account, word, discourse or reason); therefore the word itself suggests meaning. Nevertheless, meaning is relative, consequently, what does the word even mean?
“Meaningless! Meaningless! … Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecc. 1:2 NIV)
Works Cited
Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2011.

Nancy Helms-Cox

I appreciate that deconstructive postmodernism challenges me to question religious dogma and inconsistencies in language and context of Scripture. It is so easy to become complacent in our spiritual formation, and deconstruction helps drive us to a deeper relationship with God, not settling for the status quo as many Christians do.

I do think it needs to be used with caution. I do not think deconstruction can stand on its own in our search to better know God and be transformed into our Creator’s image. It is much too individualistic in its approach, lacking accountability and community narrative. Deconstruction also puts too much emphasis on the negative, and as Oord notes, it needs “reconstructive efforts that draw from Scripture, Christian tradition, reason, sciences, and a variety of experiences.”

James S.

It appears that deconstructionism is an approach that redirects the intellectual to an impossible pursuit away from the alternative. Much of Scripture was written in a manner that requires the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the reading of it. Attempting to understand the meaning of the Bible on an intellectual or cerebral level will lead to numerous incorrect meanings and increased ambiguity. While there are many things that remain mysteries within Scripture, using this postmodern method to further separate one’s mind from the mind of Christ is not a good approach for the believer. Drawing closer to God by being humbly reliant upon the Holy Spirit while reading the text is the correct alternative.

Andrew Sinift

Words are the only thing that we have to work with to communicate. Certainly, as deconstructionists would point out, words can be ambiguous. Yet, we seem to be able to find enough agreed meaning behind our words to make communication possible. Besides, there is no alternative. If we wish to be able to move to any shared understanding of truth, then we must risk ambiguity by having conversation.
I would argue that there is less ambiguity in shared cultures and contexts than deconstructionists would think. The closer in culture that two people are, the less ambiguity will be found in their conversations. In our search for truth, we must be willing to learn from others.
Nevertheless, there is a tremendous amount of humility that we can learn from this movement. Deconstructionism teaches us that we may not understand truth with the certainty that we would like. Such thinking can perhaps teach us to lend an ear to those who speak about the world differently than we do ourselves.

Millie Bearchell

Derrida’s deconstructionism has challenged the status quo when it comes to the usage of words and their meaning. The challenged for me is the fact that words even within the proper context can have different meanings to those to whom I am communicating. I agree with Oord, “Communication is never crystal-clear. Just when we think a word corresponds fully to reality, we find it inadequate.

Deconstructive postmodernism is, for the most part, negative, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is called, “good news.” To me, that needs to be the emphasis since we live in a world that is full of terrible news and so many people need the reassurance of the hope that Christ gives. Even though there are good parts to deconstructive postmodernism and it challenges me in my thinking, I believe that there has to be an “upside” to what is good and right and hopeful in living a Christian life.

Caleb S. Daniels

Excellent post, Dr. Oord.
You touched on several of my own reactions in reading Caputo this week. Particularly the danger of solely negative theology. If all we do is deconstruct, eventually we are left alone in a pile of rubble. That does not seem like a fun or healthy place to remain. The Christian theologian must follow deconstruction of unhealthy theologies with those more rooted in Scripture and other resources, as you point out.
Deconstructionism has been quite useful in warning us against incorrect assumptions held in modernity. Particularly here I think of many assumed universal truths. In part because of postmodern deconstructionism and postcolonial thought, and in large part due to the continual ease with which previously silenced voices can express themselves thanks to technological advances, society is starting to realize that many assumed universalities were really only universally true for rich white westerners. Instead of listening to the other, modernity sought to create uniformity. Postmodernity counteracts hegemony with a celebration of diversity — although admittedly occasionally to the extent of devolving into radical relativism.

Nici Overduin

Deconstructive theology has an important prophetic voice. It points to us how we tend to seek control over our understanding of God and of who and how God is active in the world and in our lives. There is a great value in humbly accepting this prophetic voice, and understand that whatever language we use to try to describe God and God’s ways, is and will always be limited. Language tries to word the experience we have with the living God. A God of love, compassion and justice. Deconstructive theology helps us do a “checkup” and makes us question where we are standing. But we “need positive postmodern theologies” that will help us stay standing in a world that is full of questions and doubts about the Christian faith.

Lisa Smith

I appreciate the concise summary of the Postmodern Deconstructionist view here. This is very helpful, and while I can’t completely agree with the postmodernist approach, I do agree with you that it has an important role to play in bringing back humility to theology and the church. The church, since Copernicus and Gallileo and even before, has erred greatly every time it speaks arrogantly about the things it “knows.” You think the Church would learn its lesson! Postmodernism in its caution to those who would think they had the corner on the market on truth, promotes a slowing down and consideration of assumptions, even revered ones. As John Fisher once said, “Sacred cows make great hamburgers.”
The most important thing I read here, however, is your apt criticism that Deconstruction is inherently negative. I agree with your assessment, and share your desire to be able to “talk coherently” about God, and many other subjects. Unfortunately, Deconstruction gives us nothing constructive to talk about. Still, it is very helpful to know this philosophy as we go forward into this world, and try and reason with those who have a postmodern point of view.

Mark Davidson

Dr. Oord,

Many times in my reactions to the deconstruction readings in your course, I tried to articulate exactly your concluding points regarding deconstruction/negative theology. There is something we can learn from deconstruction, and we should not be afraid to dive into it. Many Christians may be averse to even studying this subject, for fear that they may begin to doubt. Doubt is good! Doubt can be useful.

I believe that we should test the waters of deconstructionism as a way to keep our beliefs, and the truths we hold dear, in check. We should temper our “is” with the “is nots” so encouraged by apophatic theology. We may learn something new, or we may realize that what we thought we knew is not actually what we truly believe. However, I fully agree that this approach in and of itself is insufficient for the Christian’s search for truth. Above all, we need to pray, study, articulate, and allow the Spirit to form us, and not lean unto our own understanding. God did give us our intellect, though, and God expects us to use it in our pursuit of truth. Thank you for this post!

Jodine Zeitler

Dr. Oord,
This is an excellent breakdown of deconstructive theology and has really clarified many questions I had about it. The basic premise of the deconstructionist, that language is ambiguous and is difficult to nail down, especially in trying to capture who God is and what He wants…”God is bigger than our language.” That is true, that God is bigger than our language, but where we are unable to put together the right string of words to adequately describe God, I think that the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us through wordless groans” as written in Romans 8:26. Through the Spirit, we can communicate what our words may be insufficient to verbalize. This would not help in trying to describe God to an unbeliever who does not have the Holy Spirit yet, helps in those who do. Thank you for your thoughts!

Kitt Lenington

In conversing with one another we rely upon a “linguistic foundation” as Dr. Oord states in which “modernists base their knowledge about the world.” I’d venture to say, most of us depend on that same ‘linguistic foundation’ to define or describe certain aspects of our lives. It is assumed we use words to define concepts, objects, theories, etc., to bring tangibility. Deconstruct means to take apart and as deconstructionism claims “language cannot be nailed down” which can be confusing for some who are intrigued by deconstructionism. Their perspective seeks a shift wherein they become lost in the words and meanings they’ve depended upon to define or describe and it’s not working. As you write above, Dr. Oord “If language cannot be trusted and always undermines authorial intent” it best not to put one’s faith in the words of those who defend deconstructionism. I find deconstructive postmodernism fraudulent. Yet, I find Derrida’s heart was consistently on an arduous journey to find solace in God. Derrida was one of those Thoreau described as not keeping “pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”


Michael Halverson

Dr. Oord, this is a great summation of all the information on “Deconstruction” that we had this week! You did, in a short blog, what I had a hard time understanding from pages and pages of writing. Deconstruction, at it’s best, helps one to think of the words that one says and not just blurt out any thought that comes to mind. At the same time, understanding that, “The meaning of words depends on context.” Make sure that what you say is given in the context you mean it to be. Love your analogy on the word “cool”. Your thought about Deconstruction being inherently negative is very true as well. Deconstructionists give all the negative without giving a solution to the negative. You say, “I want to talk coherently about God, love, and host of other important topics. To do so, I believe we must say something constructive about God and the nature of reality.” I always tell my church people to not complain unless they have a solution to bring forward, it is the same with Deconstruction. Thanks for a great quick summary of this theology.

Faith Poucher

Dr. Oord thank you for a clear understanding of Deconstruction Theology. “Communication is never crystal-clear” (pg.2). How accurate, one only needs to read the articles assigned to this week’s reading. It is essential to understand that the meaning of words depends upon the context. Deconstructionism points this out.
It does remind today’s Christian theologians one cannot capture adequately with words who God is and what God wants, he is more significant than our language. All the words one uses to praise our God do not even come close to describe him. All one can do is stand in awe.
I absolutely love it when you said, “I don’t think deconstructive postmodernism is the best overall resource from which Christian theologians should draw in a postmodern age. I do not agree with a deconstructive stance on truth. Truth is not what one determines individually. Truth is God.
Again, thank you for this clear understanding of deconstruction theology it has helped me see the good and the not so good of this theology. Thank you for: “Contemporary Christians should take a ‘yes, but’ approach to deconstructive postmodernism.

Nathan Bingham

One of the things that I find deconstructionism points out that is useful for Christians in the pursuit of truth is the ambiguity that implicit through language. As Dr. Oord says “the meaning of words depends on their context. Yet we never understand contexts full.” We can make educated guesses about context but even then there is a great chance that we will fail in understanding context to the full extent. I know that even in my daily life I have often misunderstood my wife, a person who I spend most of my time with and share enough similarities that we pledge to stay together for the rest of our lives, so the lack of context is something I am familiar with. How much more can I be missing the context of a conversation that happened years before by someone from a completely different culture? This is the strength that the deconstructionist approach brings to the table for me. I do like the “yes, but” addendum that is added to the blog as I also find that there are moments where even if I cannot be certain of an author’s
intention I lean to faith, tradition, and even some linguistic study for answers.

Missy Segota

There is a specific part of this post that I want to touch on. Oord asserts that “God is bigger than our language”. Jesus has shown us that in many ways. He came to save a chosen group but chose to save all instead. But the most important way that God shows us He is bigger than our language is in the tower of babble. Many people of many nations were gathered yet they heard the message in their own native tongue. This is a great symbol of just how much bigger God is than our language. But, I believe this tower of babble goes further. In people who speak the same language we often understand things differently. God is able to speak to us in ways that are specific to each of us in a way that we perfectly understand.
Let me give you an example. I have 6 children. Two of my children are special needs and they don’t always understand what is being talked about. In fact, a lot of times they do not understand. God puts people into their lives that talk to them in a way that they understand His love for them. And eventually, I pray that they will be able to reach others that have the same trouble understanding. There is no one language and one truth that every single person can understand, but there is a God who can make each of us understand His love.

Pam Novak

I appreciate this summary of deconstruction theology. While I agree completely that context is important, I also have concerns about the tendency toward “radical relativism” that already prevails in our culture. Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17), and we can argue (perhaps fruitfully) about what “truth” means, but whatever it is, the Bible is full of it. Many scriptures are open to interpretation. Some seem to indicate that we are predestined; others seem to indicate that we have free will. Denominations are formed from these interpretations. We can all agree, however, that the Scriptures were written in another time, another place, another language—nonetheless, as deconstructive postmodernism posits, God is bigger than our language.
As I read this post, I found elements of deconstructive postmodernism much in keeping with the “social gospel” that has deep roots in Christian teachings. Of particular note is the focus on people at the bottom or margins of society. It actually sounds quite Wesleyan, in fact. Given his fascination with elements of the Orthodox Christian faith tradition, I suspect that he would have been intrigued with the call to reaffirm the prophetic, messianic, apocalyptic, and limits of theological language. Perhaps the Wesleyan-holiness tradition would do well to join the postmodernists in calling attention to the overlooked “other.”
There is much food for thought here.

Carlie Hoerth

Dr. Oord,
Thank you for your post. It has helped me better understand how deconstructionism can provide useful insights in Christian life and ministry without having to accept all its negative theology and moral relativism.
You mention that, deconstructionism, “promotes humility in theology, because it reminds us we cannot corner the market on truth. Dogmatism and epistemic pride have no place.” I wonder how this can be so when we want to reject moral relativism in favor of the Truth of God. Can you please elaborate? Shouldn’t we cling to the Truth and invite others into the knowledge of Truth rather than conclude that the Truth of Scripture is somehow not adequate?
In Christian life and ministry I believe that we need to guard and stand firm on our corner of truth and teach and help other Christians to do the same. If we reject truth, what are we left with? In that case, I can see how deconstructionism can help us get to the bottom of the truth we have, because it will help us to more fully understand what we believe while also helping us rid our beliefs of fallacies, superstitions, or things we have come to believe but are not true, while also helping us to have better reasons for our beliefs.
God has given us the Truth through special and natural revelation. Shouldn’t we trust God’s truth and the words it comes to us in rather than debating whether or not we can actually believe in words? Naturally words can have many meanings, but I think we should use deconstructionism to help us solidify what we mean by words, or at the very least the context we use them in, and not allow it to deceive us into thinking that words cannot mean anything of significance, especially when it comes to our faith and ministry when words are the foundation of communicating the gospel and making disciples.

Meg Crisostomo


While I don’t believe deconstructionism is a helpful scope to view Christianity and religion under, I do support the argument that deconstructive postmodernism “reminds contemporary Christian theologians that we cannot capture fully with words who God is and what God wants. God is bigger than our language.” Because God is the creator of humanity and not of humanity, it is impossible for humans to create a language that explains what we cannot comprehend.

In a teacher and student situation, students do not have the language or knowledge to explain what a teacher knows because the language and knowledge of the teacher vastly outdoes the language and knowledge of the student. Yes it is possible for there to come a day where the student becomes a teacher and gains a comparable level of language and knowledge, but in the case of God and humanity, humanity will never achieve what God is already capable of.

The deconstructive postmodernism framework encourages greater and deeper comprehension, which is beneficial in forming one’s personal understanding and opinions, but it can also be detrimental to one’s faith. It’s a perspective that leans more heavily on the side of analyzing and proving than on the side of trusting and having hope in a God that is incomprehensible.

Shauna Hanus

Deconstructive postmodernism is good for getting us thinking but it is not the answer to all questions. We need to keep God and his omnipotence, omnipresence, and omnipotent in our focus. God is bigger than us and thus He is bigger than what we can think and understand about Him.

I agree that deconstructive postmodernism should “reaffirm the prophetic, messianic, apocalyptic, and limits of theological language.” We as people desire to understand these, but we are limited to what God allows us to do and understand. We can use deconstructive postmodernism, but it should not replace a relationship with God and us allowing Him to guide our path.

If we allow the inherent inconsistencies in the language to rule us we may find ourselves unwilling to head to those gentle nudges the Holy Spirit gives us as hear what God is saying. God speaks through His Word, messages (sermons), music, and the relationships we have with other people. He surely will speak to us if we try to deconstruct words, but we must be willing to give way to His leading.

Jennifer Ayala

I enjoyed reading your post. God is so mysterious and full of wonder that we cannot fathom his full glory. I am reminded of the time when I experienced God’s mercy and love for me that I could not explain to others. It was difficult to give someone full details about my experience and the joy I received during the most difficult time in my life. As I tried to explain to someone about this experience, even they could not imagine the power of God that was revealed to me. I am sure that readers of a book or audiences of a play cannot fully know the depth of the authors. Knowing God and trusting his plan is more than just reading the words, it’s experiencing it too. When we look into the Bible for wisdom and clarity, every individual will find it in different verses and contexts. I think it is okay to have many interpretations, but I worry about truth. How extreme do we go as to following verses like, Matthew 18:9? I know that gouging out eyes are really extreme, but someone could take it literally. Nonetheless, we can only know God’s truth if he lives in our hearts. As we humble and deny ourselves, we can receive the love that surpasses all understanding.

Jessica Hiatt

This post puts deconstructive postmodernism into more manageable and concrete terms for me. Looking at language, you wrote, “In opposition to modernity, deconstructionists point out that language cannot be nailed down.  Words inevitably contain unintended meanings.  Communication is never crystal-clear. Just when we think a word corresponds fully to reality, we find it inadequate.” My 23 year old son is deaf, and his first language was American Sign Language, and ASL was my, and my husband’s second language. It is a language with it’s own sentence structure and syntax, but more than that, it is a language of body language and nuance. Signs, for me, often had unintended meanings because my body language did not match up with the simple meaning of the sign. My son does not understand language in the same way that hearing people do. I know this, though it is hard to communicate with words exactly what I mean. (Some deconstruction going on). Concrete words are easy enough. Sock, shoe, ball, horse, milk. But abstract concepts were much harder for him to learn. Honesty, love, justice. His capacity to learn, his intelligence was not less, but his deafness made the grasping of the concepts more difficult. Perhaps if he had deaf parents whose first language was sign, the lag wouldn’t have been so pronounced. I agree with your comment completely that deconstructive postmodernism reminds us that our finite human intellect and languages can never fully comprehend or explain God. It keeps us humble, and also gives us something to hope for and look forward to when we are in His presence.

Ryan Pearson

From this post, one section that gave further insight into this concept of deconstruction was the section that states “meaning of words depends on their context. Yet we never understand contexts fully”. I had known before that words were dependent upon their context, but I hadn’t thought of the idea of contexts themselves being indefinite. Furthermore, the next piece from this post that added on to this was the idea that “we cannot capture fully with words who God is and what God wants”. While we may have several terms for who God or Jesus is to us (Father, Healer, Provider, Almighty, etc.), it is fascinating to know that “God is bigger than our language”. With this all in mind, I believe that what this means for our lives and ministry is the importance of faith. Because we cannot always know the absolute, we must trust in God for the things that we do not understand, or cannot always articulate because of varying meanings in language.

Kaylee Tilford

The comment that most stood out to me in reading this was the reality that this type of literature study forces us to acknowledge legitament differences. I never realized just how “cookie cutter” the churches I have attended seem to be until I talked to a friend who grew up in a different culture from the one I did and we compared the different church cultures. His church was very charismatic with people talking to the preacher, shouting out praises during the service, and dancing during the music. My experience, on the other hand, was of a church that was quiet and polite, stood when they were told to and sat when instructed to sit and basically observed the service. Neither experience is necessarily wrong, but I realized in that moment that even the word “worship” meant something different to me than it did to my friend. I think deconstruction, while it does have its flaws, is extremely useful in this one area because it forces us to realize that our understanding of language isn’t the same as everyone elses’ and that doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong and the other is right. Deconstruction invites and demands diversity and this is something I believe the church needs more of.


With the reminder that ”we cannot corner the market on truth. Dogmatism and epistemic pride have no place.

— reminds contemporary Christian theologians that we cannot capture fully with words who God is and what God wants. God is bigger than our language.

— invites contemporary theologians to reaffirm the prophetic, messianic, apocalyptic, and limits of theological language.


As a Christian it should be a littling experience to know that ”we cannot corner the market on truth” and that “dogmatism and epistemic pride have no place.” We seem to find pride in thinking we have it all figured out, when in fact “we cannot capture fully with words who God is and what God wants. God is bigger than our language.” It surely is humbling to know that God is beyond our knowledge, our language and our understanding.
This should humble each one of us to the point where we accept that God is beyond what we know and understand and that we must settle to lay down our pride and agree to the acknowledgement that God is beyond us in every way imaginable. I think this helps us to take a step back in our discipleship and allow others the opportunity to share, think, speak and have grounds for not feeling disrespected. We must lay down our pride, tear down our walls that we believe are knowledge and wisdom and remember that God stood before Job, a very righteous man and asked Job who payed the foundations of the earth implying that with as righteous and good Job was, he knew and had nothing on who God is.

Stephen Phillips

The idea that language cannot be trusted and is always changing does complicate matters to the point that no one can find out the absolute truth. This concerns me especially when we deal with Christian ministry. However, deconstruction does allow diversity of thought, which is always good in bring collective wisdom together. It allows us to question what we know and not give into institutional thinking that may be wrong. The one point that I do appreciate about deconstruction is that it teaches us to have humility because we get to a point where we won’t know the truth. I do believe much of the Gospel is left in mystery and this is the way God created it. If there is a level of mystery involved one can suggest that we will never be able to know the absolute truth especially when it comes to the small things. However, there is danger in every person making up their truth. This can cause serious mistrust in the church, especially when no one knows the truth. Thus, I do think there is certain aspects that we can use, but overall it is important that we have a more positive approach to Christin ministry.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Type in all 5 of the digits below to leave a comment. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.