By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
The 4-part docuseries Shiny, Happy People has many in the nation abuzz right now, and for multiple reasons. If you haven't heard or watched this docuseries that claims to expose "…the truth beneath the wholesome Americana surface of reality tv's favorite mega-family, The Duggars, and the radical organization behind them: The Institute in Basic Life Principles…" it's worth a close listen and a careful inspection of your own faith.
There is no question that a voice is growing louder about the deconstruction of the church. As Jon Bloom, from desiringgod.org writes, "Deconstruction is a critical dismantling of a person's understanding of what it means to be an evangelical Christian, and in some cases a refusal to recognize as authorities those perceived as occupying privileged evangelical institutional positions who "supposedly speak for God."
In this docuseries, we hear from individuals who have undergone the dismantling of their upbringing within evangelical Christianity and are in the process of reconstructing it. We also hear from those who have—to use a more accurate term—"deconverted" from Christianity and blame their deconversion on much of what they were trained as a child and into adulthood as authoritative lifestyles of biblical morality.
So what is "IBLP" (Institute of Basic Life Principles), and how does this reflect an increasing redefining of our Christian beliefs and lifestyles? According to their site, IBLP first came into being in 1961, founded by Bill Gothard, who, incidentally, became a central focus in the docuseries Shiny, Happy People. Some of the core beliefs espoused within IBLP include the patriarchal role of the father in the family, the submissive and, more specifically, subservient role of the wife whose primary intent to glorify God is to raise children, and a strict code of morality designed to be "separate from the world."
As Christians, questions arise after watching docuseries like these and researching fundamentalist organizations like IBLP.
Is deconstruction safe or dangerous?
Can a person restructure their Christian belief system without betraying or rejecting the cornerstone truths of Scripture?
What is our response in an age where deconstruction begins to peel away layers of beliefs that have become building blocks to many a person's Christian faith?
Let's break these three questions down:
1. Is deconstruction safe or dangerous?
The answer isn't as simple as a yes or a no. Unfortunately, the history of church abuse and legalism becomes a justification for a complete dismissal of biblical doctrine and the recognition of the Bible as the inerrant and authoritative Word of God.
If one subscribes to the argument that the Scriptures are not authoritative, then Christians could argue that deconstruction is dangerous because it becomes subjective to each person's personal truth. God loses His sovereignty, and the concept of "grace" becomes so all-inclusive that grace is hardly necessary because no one has done anything that severs their relationship with God.
On the alternate side, if a believer is continuing to return to search out Scripture and recognizes it as the authoritative Word of God, then some deconstruction can be healthy. It can lead to an examination of what you've been raised to believe, what you've been taught, and whether that aligns with Scripture in context of the whole or whether it has been stretched or even tainted to reflect an agenda that wasn't intended within the Word.
So this leads us to the next question.
2. Can a person restructure their Christian belief system without betraying or rejecting the cornerstone truths of Scripture?
Yes. As someone raised on the fringes of the IBLP organization, I have come to realize there is a stark difference between identifying key and non-negotiable doctrines and discovering the freedom of living in Christ as defined by the Apostle Paul in Galatians chapter 5. An individual most certainly can challenge and restructure their beliefs without betraying the truth and completely denying their faith.
A major sticking point with those who have come from IBLP and been influenced by similar belief systems is the legalities within that are communicated as doctrinal must-dos with the threat of being dishonoring to the Lord and the looming threat of failure of our faith. Instead of focusing deeply on the doctrine of sin, salvation, resurrection, and grace, the focus is shifted onto a performance chart of roles and behavior. Any deviance from these standards is not only sinful but shameful to our walk with Christ, and it is sinful even to question whether or not we agree with them. By questioning, we are questioning God, and that is errant.
A simplistic example can be seen in the concept of a woman's place in society and the home. According to these ultra-fundamentalist beliefs, the woman should seek a husband for her authority so that she may then focus on serving him, bearing children, and raising them up to be arrows in the quiver of family and faith. A woman is not to seek an outside career as the role of financial provider falls to the man as head of the household. Neither is she to neglect her responsibility to be a mother, limit the number of one's children, or avoid procreation altogether, as it thwarts God's purpose and glory.
However, one can do a deep dive into Scripture and find that much of that belief and lifestyle has been formed out of context of the Word's original intent. One need only look at Proverbs 31 to see that the woman is indeed a businesswoman as well as a mother. Her role is multi-faceted and not restricted to one prescribed set of duties. Along with the concept of submission—an explosive topic within Christianity—one may argue that a wife should submit to her husband. Still, one should also note strongly that patriarchal domination was never taught or encouraged within Scripture. Instead, it was a male leadership to care for and guide their wife as Christ loved His church (i.e., willing to sacrifice Himself, up to the point of and including death, on their behalf).
I Corinthians 10 states: "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good but the good of his neighbor. So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
The grace of Christ is what freed us from the domination and threat of failure when it came to upholding the law to perfection. The freedom that is in Christ gives us the responsibility to seek the good of one another and do all for the glory of God while recognizing that there are non-doctrinal issues that may be wrong for one and okay for another. The bondage of legalism becomes the freedom of grace under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
3. So, what is our response in an age where deconstruction begins to peel away layers of beliefs that have become building blocks of many a person's Christian faith?
In Shiny, Happy People, it is important to note that some of the Duggar family (used as examples in this docuseries) have moved away from the rigid, restrictive, and even abusive legalism seen in IBLP and some fundamentalist churches/families. But it is also critical to note that in doing so, they have not renounced their faith.
As believers, we must ask questions. We must study and learn to identify uncompromisable cornerstones of doctrine that are not subject to personal liberty and freedom in Christ. In other words, a prime example would be the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses. They are sound teachings, and it isn't up to personal liberty to determine whether murder is right for me and wrong for you. That is a blatantly undeniable truth. Murder is wrong. However, one can do a thorough search of the Scriptures and find personal liberty in determining whether they can or cannot partake in the drinking of wine. Jesus drank wine. However, Scripture also advises avoiding drunkenness. So is the consumption of alcohol sinful? Or is it what we do with that consumption and the actions after that that are more of a problem?
What we cannot do, as believers, is fluctuate from total legalism to open-armed acceptance of any belief, structure, argument, or philosophy. Truth does still exist. God is still sovereign. And I would argue that a strong case can be made, proving that Scripture is inerrant and authoritative. So, while we question our upbringing and investigate the damages of institutions like IBLP and lifestyles like the Duggar family's, we must keep our foundations rooted in the uncompromisable doctrines of Scripture.
I believe in God the father and in Jesus Christ, who, for our sake, suffered and died and was buried and rose again on the third day. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life.
In conclusion, Shiny, Happy People shows the damage and abuse of extreme legalism within the Christian church. But it also challenges us to know our Savior. To know what His Scriptures say and to seek and find. As we continue to see the movements toward deconstruction, be wary of deconversion. Be wary that, in order to shed the laws, the guilt, and the shame, we don't shed the One who has freed us from that, and we don't rewrite the fundamentals that God placed in His Word.
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