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What Would Jesus Deconstruct?

The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church

series: Church and Postmodern Culture, The

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2007 Book of the Year Award, ForeWord Magazine

"While [Caputo] has the nuance and sophistication of an expert, his writing, as usual, is creative, playful, frequently humorous, and often profound. . . . Caputo provides an outstanding theological orientation to Derridean deconstruction."--Brannon Hancock, Reviews in Religion and Theology

One of the components of postmodernism is the idea of deconstruction, founded by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Many in the church who are wrestling with ministry in a postmodern era would view deconstruction as a negative aspect of the postmodern movement. But John Caputo, one of the leading philosophers of religion in America and a leading voice on religion and postmodernism, sees it differently. In this lively and provocative analysis, he argues that in his own way Jesus himself was a deconstructionist and that applying deconstruction to the church can be a positive move toward renewal.

Deconstruction is not destruction but rather a breaking down of the object in question so as to open it up to its own future and make it more loyal to itself. This is because in deconstructing, the undeconstructible is revealed, in this case, the eternal truth of God revealed in the gospel. In this book, Caputo describes why today's church is in need of deconstruction, deconstructs what he sees as some of the church's idols, and points toward implications for the life and ministry of the church. Caputo's lucid writing makes difficult concepts accessible, resulting in an appropriate text for undergraduate or graduate classes in philosophy, theology, and postmodern ministry. What Would Jesus Deconstruct? includes a foreword by Brian D. McLaren and is the second book in the Church and Postmodern Culture series.

About the series: The Church and Postmodern Culture series features high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology writing for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church.


"Caputo brilliantly manages to bring thought to life and life to thought. He wears his learning and scholarship so lightly that one has the impression of returning to a flesh-and-blood world where Jesus deconstructs and reconstructs our lives. Challenging, compassionate, witty, and wise, this book is compulsory reading for anyone concerned about the future of Christianity."--Richard Kearney, Charles Seelig Professor in Philosophy, Boston College

"Let this book settle the debate once and for all: postmodern philosophy does not preclude true Christian faith. In fact, taken rightly, postmodernism leads not to nihilistic relativism but to a robust faith in the Savior, who himself was bent on deconstruction. Caputo is a sheep in wolf's clothing."--Tony Jones, national coordinator of Emergent Village, author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier

"This is a marvelous little book. It enables readers to understand deconstruction as the hermeneutics of the kingdom of God and provides a glimpse of what this concept might look like in the hands of Jesus as applied to the church. This will be difficult therapy, and many of us will be inclined to resist. However, let us remember that while discipline is painful in the moment, it produces a harvest of peace and righteousness in the long run. May the church learn from the wisdom found in these pages."--John R. Franke, professor of missional theology, Yellowstone Theological Institute

Praise for the series:
"The proposed series is not just a good idea; it is actually essential. If mission, liturgy, and pastoral care are to be effective today, then churches need a better understanding of so-called postmodern culture as something to be reckoned with and sometimes resisted. Increasingly, there is an educated interest in religion, but there is also a need to be well-informed about postmodern thought and its very complex relation both to postmodern culture (to which it is often actually hostile) and to religion. Again the need is for a critical appreciation--not dismissal and not empty adulation. This new series aims to provide this in an accessible manner. I am convinced that the main ideas of postmodernism are actually not as 'difficult' as people suppose and that a clear and simple presentation of them actually assists wider cultural discussion. An additional purpose of the series is to introduce to a wider audience theologies that are already trying critically to assimilate the postmodern turn. Since some of these, for example Radical Orthodoxy, are intensely focused on the importance of 'church,' it is crucial that this occur. Although it is already happening, it needs to crystallize. This new series may be just the thing to bring it about."--John Milbank, University of Nottingham

The Author

  1. John D. Caputo

    John D. Caputo

    John D. Caputo (PhD, Bryn Mawr College) is Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities and professor of philosophy at Syracuse University. He is the author of numerous books, including The Weakness of God (winner of the 2007 AAR Award for...

    Continue reading about John D. Caputo


2007 Book of the Year Award, ForeWord Magazine

"The WWJD question (in either its 'do' or 'deconstruct' variants) . . . [is] well worth asking. For having the boldness to push his deconstructive reading as far as he does, Caputo is to be commended. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Caputo is less important than that his deconstruction will force anyone who takes it seriously to think more carefully about why they've answered the WWJD question in the ways they have. And being pushed in that direction can hardly be a bad thing."--Bruce Ellis Benson,

"Throughout the book, Caputo . . . makes reference to many . . . scenes of deconstruction drawn from literature, film, and popular culture. . . . These references help to illustrate his argument and establish reference points for his audience who might otherwise be intimidated by the high theory and litany of philosophers embedded throughout the analysis. . . . Satire, wit, even sarcasm, are the hallmarks of his style--so reader be warned, while at times scathing in its analysis and critique, it can only be understood on its own terms if one's sense of humor is in tact. . . . There is something of a rehabilitation that is accomplished by Caputo's reading of deconstruction as the hermeneutics of the kingdom of God. . . . He has contributed in shaping the burgeoning field of continental philosophy of religion and . . . promises something new and different for the evangelical audience he is targeting."--Jeffrey Robbins, Global Spiral (

"I had such fun reading this book! [Caputo] captures well both my intuitive fascination with WWJD?, as well as my frustrations with many answers given that question. . . . I'm very excited by Caputo's positive references to the importance of the event in What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The book's accent on real relations also warms the heart of this relational theologian/philosopher. I find many points of agreement between Caputo's form of deconstruction and the process thought of Whitehead and others. . . . I find valuable although expected Caputo's emphasis upon being open to 'the other.'. . . Caputo's stress upon rejecting ready-made, prepackaged answers is refreshing. . . . His focus upon the spiritual life as a journey or adventure is helpful. And I was happy that he explicitly rejected nihilism. . . . His understanding of the kingdom is powerful. . . . Caputo's book made me think more deeply than I ever have thought about the question raised in the classic, In His Steps: What would Jesus do?"--Thomas Jay Oord, Global Spiral (

"By far the most stimulating book I have read on mission in postmodern times for quite some time. . . . The aim of the series is to feature high profile theorists in philosophy and theology by getting them to write for a non-specialist broad audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church. This book does that perfectly--it has real weight and depth but is very readable, in fact delightful to read, and is accessible whilst not being too dumbed down. . . . It is an absolute gem, delightful, as the subtitle of the book says--the good news of postmodernism for the church."--Jonny Baker,

"Caputo addresses the controversial issues of economic justice, militarism, patriarchy, abortion, and homosexuality. . . . Caputo remains fair and deals honestly with the complexities of all those issues. He doesn't propose any easy solutions, and his ideas about how to apply the call to love the Other to these issues will challenge most readers' preconceived opinions (a significant reason to read the book in my opinion). . . . With this book Caputo succeeds in demonstrating the benefits of postmodernism and deconstruction to the church. It is in many ways a necessary text for any Christian seeking familiarity with those concepts. And the philosophically uninitiated shouldn't fear, Caputo translates these ideas into accessible language and illustrates his points with examples pulled from the daily news and popular television. This is an offering from which the church can benefit greatly. The question of 'what would Jesus deconstruct?' deserves ongoing engagement, and Caputo has thankfully paved the way for its reception in the church."--Julie Clawson, Sharing the Practice

"[A] feisty (and very Christ centered) reaction to the Christian right."--Byron Borger,

"What Would Jesus Deconstruct? presents a clear, readable exploration of the potential ecclesial, theological, ethical, and political value of deconstruction, the late French theorist Jacques Derrida's notion that all signification contains the seed of its own unmaking. This is well-trodden ground for Caputo, who has been dealing with Derrida in a theological key for decades now. . . . And while he has the nuance and sophistication of an expert, his writing, as usual, is creative, playful, frequently humorous, and often profound. In short, the book is a fun read--not too long, but not insubstantial; sufficiently provocative but not overly heady. . . . Caputo provides an outstanding theological orientation to Derridean deconstruction: concise but by no means watered-down; not exhaustive but not exhausting either."--Brannon Hancock, Reviews in Religion and Theology

"This intelligent, witty and immensely entertaining little book at times had me chuckling audibly at its wry, self-aware defiance of various taboos set in place by both the pious and the impious among its readers. Caputo seems to revel in the joy of writing a book that is bound to disturb both his Christian and his deconstructionist friends. But perhaps this is exactly where its significance lies. . . . I highly recommend this well-written introduction to deconstructionism and the politics of Jesus to anyone interested in the intersection of Christianity and postmodernism and to all who seek genuine insight into the winding journey of the church as it moves into the twenty-first century."--Kristie Berglund, Brew Magazine

"Caputo proposes a fascinating re-interrogation of that question ['What would Jesus do?'] and contends that what Jesus would always do is to deconstruct religious and ecclesiastical constructions by raising the oftentimes disruptive hermeneutical questions that seek to reevaluate, reconsider, and reinterpret sedimented traditions claiming to embody his kingdom and speak his name. . . . [Caputo] enchants his less serious readers with the sheer joy of the unexpected and also continues to amaze his more devoted followers with the magical implications of his radical hermeneutics."--B. Keith Putt, Christian Scholar's Review

"[Caputo's] is not the only view of how postmodernism can have an effect on Christianity, but it is an important and informed position in the discussion. . . . Caputo claims that the heart transformation which comes from conviction and repentance and which then leads to real sacrificial life change in those affected powerfully by the gospel is an example of deconstruction. All of this is very interesting and challenging, and in my mind quite adaptable by evangelicals of many stripes."--Andrew Gustafson, Trinity Journal

"I recommend this book. It is written in a clear style and, while dealing with deconstruction, is not overly complicated. In fact, Caputo does an excellent job explaining deconstruction. Also, Caputo addresses how his reading is very practical, affecting issues of discrimination, homosexuality, and abortion (to name just a few) while also pointing to communities that are doing the kind of ministry he advocates. This gives the text a very good practical center for the practitioner to follow."--Nathan Crawford, Anglican Theological Review

"As there is a growing interest among both pastors and theologians of all persuasions in how one can responsibly integrate the post-modern challenge, Caputo offers a delightful, practical, engaging and, at times, amusing guide for reading the Bible in light of post-modern theory, especially Derrida. . . . This book is explicitly intended to reach the pastor's heart. Once the book is read it should be allowed to self-deconstruct itself by prodding the reader to get down to the mission of living the impossible. The result is a lively, urgent message about the good news deconstruction offers the church. . . . I highly recommend this delightful, practical guide for both the Religious Right and Left and anywhere in between. For the literary specialist or for the philosopher, Caputo demonstrates how the New Testament and the Life of Jesus are not incompatible with the 'deconstruction' theory of Derrida; just the opposite, Derrida brings into focus the dangerous and maddening aspects of kingdom that free the church to live out the drama of Jesus in its own life."--Joseph M. Rivera, Literature and Theology

"What Would Jesus Deconstruct? offers readers a thoughtful, yet provocative meditation on the ways in which the teachings of Jesus Christ and the methods of deconstruction . . . might parallel one another. Taking up the common motto of evangelical subculture 'What would Jesus do?' Caputo seeks not to undermine the power of this question but rather re-affirm it through a careful and critical re-reading."--Taylor Worley, Theological Book Review

"The true strength of the [Church and Postmodern Culture] series [is that it] has something to say and it demands response. It preaches and it stirs me to preach. . . . [It] both draws Christians into the postmodern conversation and provides space for readers to think about their own vocations. . . . [Caputo's] work can embolden preachers in their proclamation and encourage pastors in their discipleship, thereby facilitating the call of more preachers, pastors, and professional thinkers."--Aaron Perry, Asbury Journal

"The 'What Would Jesus Do?' slogan has become representative of a kind of American Christianity that has often overlooked working for social justice to focus on arguing about evolution and homosexuality. But by deconstructing this limited and limiting interpretation of 'What Would Jesus Do?,' Caputo reminds his readers that at the heart of Jesus' mission was compassion, justice, and mercy. To practice those things, and to work to make sure they are practiced at societal and political levels, is to imitate Jesus."--Brandon Ambrosino, Vox