We’re all wearing paradigm glasses of one kind or another. We all see the world not as it is, but from our own perspective. We are finite, embodied beings with specific histories, relationships, knowledge, and social locations. None of us see the world objectively because, by definition, we see the world from one place (social, historical, geographical, and so on). Nobody sees anything from everywhere; everyone sees only from somewhere.
This doesn’t mean we don’t believe in truth, or that there’s no such thing as reality.
It just means we all must practice a measure of humility, realizing that none of us is “just seeing it like it is,” and that we all have lenses through which we see everything. We are constantly interpreting the ongoing experience of our lives, making meaning, fitting events into categories and stories that make sense to us, filtering out everything that doesn’t fit. This happens all the time, mostly unconsciously, every moment of every day.
Now here’s why this is so important to understand: we are using paradigms to access our Christian faith as well.
When we read the Bible, for instance, we do so through a lens and from a particular perspective. When we attend worship services, we do so with unspoken assumptions about why we are there and what is happening. When we engage in the practices of spiritual transformation, we do so from within a paradigm that makes sense of what we’re doing.
A deconstruction process often boils down to a paradigm crisis: long-held stories and assumptions about God and the world no longer work. For us, this was at first frightening and disorienting; it’s scary when things that used to be clear are now blurry. But this caused us to back up and look at our paradigms: What hidden stories and assumptions about God were we carrying around? Painfully, we discovered that many of the lenses we had been using were deficient: they weren’t from the Scriptures or Jesus but had been constructed by our experiences in our Western culture.
When everything unraveled for us, the process of reconstruction began with naming our lenses, being curious about why we had them, noticing what work they did for us, and bringing them to Jesus to see if he had anything to say about them. This is how crisis turned into growth for us, and this is how we continue to make faith-growing paradigm shifts even today. To undergo a paradigm shift, then, is to:
1. Realize that we’re wearing glasses (not just “seeing the world as it is”).
2. Notice the ways our glasses shape our perception of reality.
3. Appreciate how other people (past and present) see the same world through different lenses.
4. Be curious about the limitations of these lenses and to what degree our current lens is true or helpful or faithful.
5. Experiment with other lenses that may help us see from a different perspective that could bring more clarity, so we can better navigate the world as people of faith.
Deconstruction can seem scary, but we’ve found it can also be an indicator of faithfulness and an opportunity for growth. So if you find yourself experiencing the unraveling of faith, or apathy and disorientation, or frustration and fear, you’re in good company: this was a main experience of Jesus’ disciples as they went through the paradigm-shifting journey of following him, and it’s been the experience of many other Christians since then, including us. The good news is that what you’re looking for really is right in front of you! All that’s missing is a way to access it. You just need a new pair of glasses.
Adapted from Having the Mind of Christ by Ben Sternke and Matt Tebbe. ©2022 by Benjamin Sternke and Matthew Tebbe. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com.
Matt Tebbe has been in local church ministry for over twenty years. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and worked as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He has written for Leadership Journal, Shattered Magazine, and contributed to the book What Pastors Wish Their Congregations Knew. He’s been a featured writer for Missio Allliance and writes regularly at Gravity Leadership, where he also co-hosts the Gravity Leadership Podcast. He co-founded Gravity Leadership and is co-pastor at The Table in Indianapolis. He is co-author of the book Having the Mind of Christ (7/2022).
Ben Sternke has over two decades of Christian ministry experience. He has a graduate degree in Hermeneutics from London School of Theology, and a B.A. in Christian Ministry and Music from Taylor University. Since 2005, he has been writing about church leadership and ministry in various online publications, including Gravity Leadership, The V3 Movement, and more. He co-founded Gravity Leadership and is co-pastor at The Table in Indianapolis. He is co-author of the book Having the Mind of Christ (7/2022).