Friday, November 30, 2007

Radical Orthodoxy: Too Strong for My Taste!

This is a long one. Apologies.

On something of a Radical Orthodoxy roll, I’ve started reading Steven Shakespeare’s (2007) Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction.[1] He addresses several criticisms of Radical Orthodoxy which concern me (particularly the imperialism and dualism of the position) and explores themes which RO under examine (dialogue, compassion, and agnosticism). These reflections dovetail nicely with the emerging themes of my fieldwork, particularly emphases on doubt, unknowing, and a/theism. It’s here where I leave RO in search of weaker theologies! (I’m not sure this is where Shakespeare himself is willing to go, though!!!).

This introduction to Radical Orthodoxy is more accessible than James K.A. Smith’s (2004) introduction which I blogged about at the beginning of the week (here and here). At the end of his introductory chapter, Shakespeare helpfully summarises the ‘bold claims’ of Radical Orthodoxy (40) thus:

  • No part of the world can be understood apart from God.
  • The idea of an independent secular realm is something we have invented.
  • Secular philosophies claim to be based on pure reason. However, they are really Christian theology gone bad, religions of power promoting violence.
  • Liberal and other progressive theologies [he introduces RO’s critiques of liberal theology, liberation theology, feminist theology, and eco-theology] play into the hands of secularism, accepting that the world can be known independent of its relationship to God [through reason, the social sciences, or nature, for example]. Conservative theologies try to reintroduce God into the world from the outside. Both fail to overcome the problems created by the creation of a secular world.
  • The cure for this secular disease is a recovery of Christian tradition and community.
  • The key elements of Christianity are participation, a dynamic sharing in the nature of God; and the belief that death and violence are secondary to God’s gift of peace in creation, renewed in Christ.
  • Christian faith saves the world from becoming the plaything of impersonal forces [such as the “free” market]. It treats creation as a gift, not as a given. (40)

Shakespeare then moves on to further introduce Radical Orthodoxy through a framework of three interlinking themes: language, community, and desire. These three themes form the basis of the next chapters, each with summaries attached. I’ve largely skim-read these chapters with an eye to my research topics (truth, realism, knowledge, doubt, being, event) and moved straight on Shakespeare’s ‘looking ahead’ chapter, reflecting on criticisms of Radical Orthodoxy, and suggestions for the future of theology. I’ll present these criticisms and suggestions, before focusing in on where Shakespeare’s presentation of Radical Orthodoxy intersects with my research topics.

Shakespeare draws attention to four interlinking criticisms of Radical Orthodoxy: dualism, imperialism, rootlessness, and monism. Firstly, the dichotomy between Church and world, Christian theology and all other approaches to truth, Christianity and secularism, can be seen to result in a ghettoisation of the religion which is ultimately akin to the modern (secular) banishing of religion to a corner which RO seeks to avoid. Secondly, RO is engaging in an exercise of power when it asserts the domination of the Christian story over all others, drowning out differences between Christianity and other theologies and differences among Christians. Christian theology, the Church, and Christian life is idealized and homogenized in relation to an Anglo-American context and addressing only the issues raised in this western locality. Thirdly, the idealization and abstraction of the Church threatens to leave RO without any real church. Finally, following on from the criticism of dualism, Radical Orthodoxy is also charged with monism (the view that there is only one reality), because in dividing Christianity and secularism, only Christianity is given essential reality, because the secular doesn’t recognise its fundamental dependence upon God.

With these criticisms in mind, Shakespeare moves on to consider where Radical Orthodoxy might go from here. His three suggestions for the future of theology mirror the pattern of language, community, and desire found earlier in the book: language in dialogue (175-176), community in compassion (177-178), and desire and unknowing (178-180). I’m going to focus on the last of these brief suggestions (which deserved to be given more than a few pages each) because it intersects with my research questions.

To temper the confidence (arrogance?) in many RO texts, Shakespeare reminds readers that knowing and speaking are contextual activities in which interpretation is unavoidable and absolute certainty never available. He introduces Christian agnosticism, the agnosticism that runs through much of the Christian and Jewish tradition, in which St Augustine says, ‘What do I love, when I love my God?’ (178). The via negativa exposes the limitedness of our language about God, our God-talk, our theology. He recognises the ambiguity, anxiety and uncertainty of belief: ‘the sense of being called to follow, without knowing the end of the road, is palpable. It reaches its most intense pitch in Jesus’ own cry of desolation from the cross’ (180).

Shakespeare’s call for desire, agnosticism, and unknowing begins to connect one suggestion for a theology of emerging Christian communities with another: Radical Orthodoxy and weak theology. Though he briefly mentions John Caputo’s (2001) On Religion, and Pete Rollins’ (2006) How (Not) To Speak of God in a footnote (where he also mentions I text I might look at further: George Pattison’s (1996) Agnosis: Theology in the Void), Shakespeare doesn’t engage at depth with the concept of weak theology and its related emphasis on a/theism in connection with Radical Orthodoxy’s failings. I suppose I should be glad of this, however, otherwise there would be little for me to attempt in my PhD thesis! For now, I’m going to draw out two elements from Shakespeare’s presentation of RO for later contemplation: truth and ontology.

Shakespeare wonders whether Radical Orthodoxy places greater importance upon aesthetics than on truth (31). For RO, truth is ‘story-shaped’ (80). The Church is the community which tells the right story about God and the world, as only it recognises the created nature of the world and its participatory role in God’s redeeming of that creation. And this story is justified through aesthetics rather than reason: it is the attractiveness of the story (not its truth - correspondence to reality) which persuades. John Milbank writes that truth ‘first of all abides in the body of the faithful’ (Being Reconciled 2003:122). It is a creation, and in creating, the faithful participate in the creative nature of God. So, ‘truth, for Christianity, is not correspondence, but rather participation of the beautiful in the beauty of God’ (Milbank, Theology and Social Theory 1990:427). Truth is therefore a relationship to participate in, rather than a knowledge to be grasped. John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock argue that, following Aquinas, this participation in truth enables us to share in the divine nature (32), though this interpretation of Aquinas has been questioned by John Marenbom (Deconstructing Radical Orthodoxy 2005:49-64). In my thesis I will be examining RO's concept of truth in more detail, and exploring it’s appropriateness for emerging Christian communities.

Within Radical Orthodoxy, there is a marked emphasis upon ontology, possibly in reaction to the observable postmodern emphasis on epistemology. I may not have been astute enough to pick up this emphasis if I wasn’t also reading John Caputo’s (2006) The Weakness of God at the moment – I’ll explain soon...

Radical Orthodoxy lays much of the blame for the myth of secularism at the feet of Christianity itself, and in particular, Duns Scotus, who predicated being univocally, i.e. attributing existence to God the Creator and God’s creations in the same sense. Aquinas, on the other hand, advocated an analogical worldview. Being can be attributed to both God and God’s creations but not in precisely the same sense, only analogically (10). Following Aquinas, RO speak analogically in order to posit that God’s creations only have being because they share in the being of God, though not in precisely the same way. Creation ‘is of itself nothing, and only exists by participation’ (Milbank BR 2003:114). God’s creations ‘can only be understood if we see them in relation to what has given them being, keeps them in being, and brings them to their perfect end’ (24). In rejecting Duns Scotus’ worldview and advocating Aquinas’, however, RO overemphasise ontology, particularly the being and existence of God. This translates into the confidence which Shakespeare rightly recognises as a key criticism and source of contention and infuriation (4).

This certainty in the being, existence, and experience of God would lead John Caputo to categorise Radical Orthodoxy as a ‘strong theology,’ something which I intend to explore a lot further.

In reading Caputo's TWOG, which is in clear conversation with Catherine Keller’s (2003) The Face of the Deep, I have started to reflect on how Radical Orthodoxy treats the second century doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Shakespeare summarises: ‘The doctrine of creation says that God makes the world out of nothing, simply as a free expression of love. There is no pre-existing force, chaos or evil which God has to fight with to bring the world into being’ (26). This peaceful bringing into being contrasts with secularism, in which being competes with being for survival, in which ‘being reduces to war’ (Smith 2004:195). However, as Keller and Caputo show, this doctrine is itself violent, suppressing and excluding the elements (the deep, tehom; the empty earth, tohu wa-bohu; and the wind, ruach) that are clearly present before God’s creative act in the biblical narrative (Gen.1:2). God does not create the world out of nothing, not out of a void, but out of substances already present, like any artist.

This brings us back to the discussion of ontology, and Radical Orthodoxy’s ‘strong theology’ of being and participation. On reading Gen.1:2 more closely (Caputo mischievously talks about the literalism of a close literary reading in order to prickle the hairs of biblical literalists, TWOG 2006:56), ‘God is not responsible for the fact that the elements are there, but for making them stir, making them live by staking out great expanses that God fills up with living things. Creation is not a movement from non-being to being – which is what makes the hearts of metaphysicians everywhere skip a beat – but from being to beyond being, from a mute expanse of being to the bustle of living things, from barrenness to the bloom of life, from silence to the word that makes the empty full and the barren buzz with life’ (TWOG 2006:58-59). Creation is a bringing of life to being rather than a bringing of being itself, a call for being to be beyond being. Radical Orthodoxy’s ‘strong theology’ of being is in sharp contrast to Caputo’s ‘weak theology’ of event. This is something I’m definitely going to look into more. This post is already long enough!

[1] References are to this volume, unless otherwise stated.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reformed Radical Orthodoxy: Towards Theological Philosophy

Wikiklesia editor John La Grou was very kind about yesterday's introduction to Radical Orthodoxy, reflecting on the "secular" as 'the language of defeat - an admission of blindness to the unseen realities constantly at work in and around us.' But not only this - the "secular" is an idol, a constructed sphere outside, beyond, above, God.

Now, onto Reformed Radical Orthodoxy...

Alongside this presentation of the key issues and themes within Radical Orthodoxy, James K.A. Smith (2004) introduces the Reformed Tradition in both support and critique of RO. At times, he suggests areas in which RO is in need of being Reformed; at others, Radical Orthodoxy is used to push the Reformed Tradition further. This ‘reformed rendition’ of Radical Orthodoxy (80) is the product of bringing RO claims into ‘critical dialogue’ with Herman Dooyeweerd in particular (155), in whose work Smith recognises possibilities for both the confirmation and development of Radical Orthodoxy. Here, RO, specifically John Milbank, is seen to be reductionist in its analysis and rejection of disciplines such as philosophy. Smith argues that Dooyeweerd can be utilised to clarify the RO critique of philosophy.

Smith argues that Milbank’s critique of the autonomy of philosophy which entails a rejection of this discipline and the formulation of ‘a theological account of what it is to be and know in general’ (Milbank, 1999:22), reduces philosophy as an activity in itself to the particularly autonomous form that philosophy has taken and continues to take.

Milbank can be said to thus create a false dichotomy: ‘It is indeed for radical orthodoxy an either/or: philosophy (Western or Eastern) as a purely autonomous discipline, or theology: Herod or the magi, Pilate or the God-man’ (Milbank, 1999:32).

But, as Smith questions, ‘does not such a conclusion and program confuse a contingent mode of philosophical orientation with the possibilities of an alternative mode of philosophical research? In other words, isn’t Milbank confusing the particular direction (Western) philosophy has taken with the structure of philosophical investigation as such? Could we not entertain the possibility of “a Christian philosophy, ruled and reformed by the central biblical motive” (ITWT, 107) – and as “ruled” obviously not autonomous?’ (155, citing Dooyeweerd, 1999:107).

Smith argues that this conflation of philosophy-as-such with autonomous philosophy, and the subsequent antithesis between philosophy-as-such and theology and the resulting rejection of the former, is a consequence of the ambiguous treatment of the Fall within Radical Orthodoxy (165). Smith uses Leibniz to construct a 'creational ontology' to augment the 'participatory ontology' of Radical Orthodoxy (204-229). Drawing attention to Leibniz's understanding of the 'creational structures' which inhere every created thing to enable self-sufficiency and dependence, and his recognition of the referential nature of these structures - 'a structure of "referring and expressing" that points to an origin' (220). Thus, creation has its telos in God. For Smith, the Fall is understood as the occasion for the distortion and misdirection of these creational structures. Postlapsarian creation retains the referential structures of its “good” creation (Genesis 1:31), but now these structures can be either directed towards God or away from God. Redemption, then, is understood as the redirection of these structures towards the Creator, ‘to the creational telos of humanity: the Triune God’ (253).

Smith’s reformed rendition of RO’s participatory ontology towards a creational ontology, can now be related to his analysis of Milbank’s rejection of philosophy (and other disciplines) as reductionist. He writes, ‘it is important to distinguish between the creational structure and the postlapsarian direction that structure can take and has taken’ (255). Further, it is important to recognise the possibility of Redemption, of constituting the direction of Fallen realities such as autonomous philosophy as otherwise than they are currently. Redemption is the redirection of the creational structures to their ‘creational aim by the Word, who came to heal’ (245). Thus, autonomous philosophy is not rejected and replaced with theology (for this would be to make an idol of one of the created disciplines over the others), but rather its creational structures, which are inherently good, are redirected towards their Creator, forming what RO might call theological philosophy.

Smith, following Dooyeweerd, prefers to talk of confessional philosophy. Smith presents Dooyeweerd's 'unique ontology' (171), wherein creation is structured by ‘multiple aspects or modes that inhere in every created thing’ (171). Each aspect has a corresponding theoretical discipline, for example, mathematics is the discipline which theorizes the numeric aspect, economics is the discipline which theorizes the economic aspect, ethics is the discipline which theorizes the moral aspect, and so on. Philosophy, however, is somewhat different to the other disciplines, as its object of study is not one particular aspect of reality but rather the relational interactions of the aspects, as well as reflecting on epistemology and ontology (Dooyeweerd, 1999:9). However, this does not licence the autonomy of philosophy, because, for Dooyeweerd, each discipline is rooted in particular religious commitments or ground-motivations, ‘either the radical biblical ground-motive or one of any number of “apostate” ground-motives’ (172). For a Christian, then, each of these disciplines must be grounded in Christianity’s ‘central spiritual motive power,’ the ‘radical and central biblical theme of creation, fall into sin and redemption by Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word of God, in the communion of the Holy Spirit’ (Dooyeweerd, 1999:30).

And this includes philosophy. Rather than crown the discipline of theology queen, as Milbank seems to when calling for 'theology alone' (Milbank 1990:6) - which would amount to the idolatrous elevation of one created aspect and its discipline above all the others - ‘Dooyeweerd and the Reformed tradition, therefore, would call for, not a theological resituating of the disciplines but rather a confessional framework for all the disciplines’ (173). This reforming of RO results in a clarification of the call for theological philosophy, or sociology, or whatever discipline, by articulating it as a call for disciplines rooted in the Christian confession. ‘In the end, this is perhaps what RO is really after: an account of the multiple aspects of being-in-the-world that is rooted in God’s self-revelation in Christ’ (174).
[update 27/11/07 10.34am: just found this mp3 from a CBC broadcast. Thanks to sacra doctrina for the link]

Monday, November 26, 2007

Radical Orthodoxy: a 'symphony in five movements'

In conversation with an 'EC skeptic' in the comments on an earlier post, I've decided to post a few more of my reflections on Radical Orthodoxy in the next few days - perhaps along with some other possibilities for postmodern theology - in order to start to think about why I'm more attracted to Caputo's particular 'theology without theology' than these other works. It's my partner's birthday this week, so forgive me if these reflections aren't rapidly forthcoming, though!

To start with, however, I thought I'd present James K.A. Smith's (2004) useful introduction to Radical Orthodoxy, entitled Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology. This book is both an introduction to the political, epistemological, and ontological claims of Radical Orthodoxy as a ‘theological sensibility and spirit’ (67)[1] and a sustained conversation of critique and support between this emerging theology and the articulation of similar (and different) notions among the Reformed Tradition, particularly in the works of Herman Dooyeweerd. Throughout his work, Smith identifies such thinkers as John Milbank, Graham Ward, Catherine Pickstock, Daniel Bell, D. Stephen Long, and William T. Cavanaugh with the ‘loose tendency’ (Pickstock, 2001:405) or ‘theological sensibility’ (Ward, 2003a:117) labelled “Radical Orthodoxy”[2].

Radical Orthodoxy is a 'post-secular theology' in the sense that 'there is no secular, if by “secular” we mean “neutral” or “uncommitted”; instead, the supposedly neutral public spaces that we inhabit – in the academy or politics – are temples of other gods that cannot be served alongside Christ' (42). Thus Radical Orthodoxy's post-secular theology needs to be clearly identified as a Christian post-secular theology, a theology based on the unapologetically confessional narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

Recognising that Radical Orthodoxy is not ‘a defined agenda or a school with established doctrines’ (66), Smith presents this ‘certain spirit of theologically driven cultural engagement’ (67) through the metaphor of a ‘symphony in five movements… themes that characterize the “sensibility” of RO’ (70). These themes are:

(i) a concern to form a critique of modernity, liberalism, dualisms, universal reason, immanentism, and “the ontology of violence” (Milbank, 1990:278-325) in which ‘being reduces to war’ (195). In its place, Radical Orthodoxy seeks to provide an alternative ontology, an “ontology of peace” (Milbank, 1990:380-438), in which human intersubjectivity is construed as grounded in harmony rather than opposition, power and war. These critiques of modernity similarly apply to so-called postmodernity, which Radical Orthodoxy understands as ‘hyper-modernity’ (139), where (supposedly) postmodern theorists such as Derrida and Foucault ‘replay and play out the ontology of modernity’ (92). Proponents of RO, then, seek to show that ‘only RO is truly postmodern because it is precisely other than modern’ (71) because of its alternative ontology of peace. [Proving this last point is also precisely what Smith does not do in his (2006) Whose Afraid of Postmodernism? - a criticism which I mention in an earlier post].

(ii) a promotion of the aforementioned post-secular nature of the contemporary (Western) situation. The secular/sacred dualism of modernity is transcended through the recognition that even supposedly secular realms hide fundamental commitments to certain beliefs, ways of thinking, and practices. In short, they are ‘theologies or anti-theologies in disguise’ (Milbank, 1990:3). ‘The secular is not areligious, just differently religious – a religion of immanence and autonomy’ (Smith 2004:131) and hence also of violence and contest, and therefore pagan to the Christian religion of participation (iii) and peace (i). However, ‘[o]nce, there was no “secular”’ (Milbank, 1990:9), for before the myth of secular, neutral, autonomous reason, it was acknowledged that no realm stood outside the realm of creation and its Creator, and therefore nothing stood outside the “jurisdiction” of theological discourse. Faith, banished from science due to its contaminating influence on “facts,” is now (re)admitted. This theme of Radical Orthodoxy is in large part the reasoning behind the retrieval of pre-modern (and therefore pre-secular) sources.

(iii) an ontology of participation and materiality. Reality is understood as a creation gifted by the Creator, wherein the material is suspended from the transcendent. Thus, while ‘every created reality is absolutely nothing in itself’ (Pickstock, 2001:416), insofar as ‘it participates in the gift of existence granted by God’ this ontology of participation is the only ontology which can grant creation meaning (75). This participation of creation in the transcendent is supplemented by the participation of the transcendent in creation not only during Creation itself but also at the Incarnation, simultaneously investing it with value and ultimately redeeming it. ‘[O]nly transcendence, which “suspends” these things in the sense of interrupting them, “suspends” them also in the other sense of upholding their relative worth over-against the void’ (Milbank, et al, 1999:3). This participatory ontology stands in marked contrast to the “flattened” ontology of modernity, which, following Duns Scotus, predicates being univocally, attributing being to the Creator and the created in the same sense. The promotion of an alternative, theo-ontology (121) is another instance of RO’s recovery and reinterpretation of pre-secular sources (ii).

(iv) a commitment to the central role of sacramentality, liturgy, and aesthetics in leading humanity towards the divine, based on the double participation of the transcendent in creation and creation in the transcendent(iii), which reaffirms the status of the material and human activities, including poesis (77).

(v) again leading on from the principle of God’s participation, revelation, and concern for the created world in (iii) and (iv), there is an emphasis on ‘the redemption and transformation of this world (socially, politically, and economically)’ (79). Radical Orthodoxy 'looks at “sites” that we have invested much cultural capital in – the body, sexuality, relationships, desire, painting, music, the city, the natural, the political – and it reads them in terms of the grammar of the Christian faith' (Ward, 2000b:103). Radical Orthodoxy is concerned to show that modernity has created a “logic of parody” by which Christian “sites” such as God, the ecclesia, and the Kingdom are parodied by competing (supposedly secular but ultimately religious and therefore pagan) renditions of these sites as the monarch (Ward, 2003b:43), the state (Bell, 2001:72), and the city (Ward, 2000a), respectively. However, these alternatives are fundamentally at odds with the Christian “sites” that they mimic, for they utilize a ‘dis/placement strategy whereby immanent sites are invested with the task of fulfilling transcendent desires’ (139) and will thus always frustrate rather than fulfil this desire for God. Therefore Radical Orthodoxy advocates a ‘critical distance’ from secular modernity (139), and the development of a distinctly Christian post-secular, post-modernity.

Having introduced Radical Orthodoxy thematically, Smith then undertakes a conversation between this post-secular theology and the Reformed Tradition, a conversation which facilitates the creation of a reformed Radical Orthodoxy or Radical Orthodoxy in its reformed rendition. But more on this tomorrow!

[1] References are from Smith, 2004, unless otherwise stated

[2] In regarding Radical Orthodoxy as a ‘sensibility shared to a greater or lesser degree with several other contemporary theologians’ (Ward, 2003a:117), Ward includes Rowan Williams, Fergus Kerr, Nicholas Lash, Stanley Hauerwas, David Burrell, and Peter Ochs (Ward, 2003a, p.115)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Emerging Metaphors

I'm collecting metaphors.

Despite their (un)popularity among "emerging church" discussions in the blogosphere, Carson and Smith articulate their criticisms with far fewer conflict metaphors, than do other authors. For example, the titles of these evangelical publications, unambiguously calling for a biblical consideration of truth:

Douglas Groothuis’ (2000) Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism

Art Lindsley’s (2004) True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World

John MacArthur’s (2007) The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception

Defense and defending, war and fighting... And this is even before an analysis of the language used inside the covers!

Anyway, I just received the next installment: Roger Oakland (2007) Faith Undone. So far, so good - the title, at least, passes the conflict metaphor test. Although, there are obviously quite a lot of loaded phrases in use here! And I've yet to start turning the pages, of course.

It's published by Lighthouse Trails so I guess I already know the answer to the question posed in their subtitle: the emerging church... a new reformation or an end-time deception

Tellingly, they don't even include a questionmark at the end!!! A grammatical hint at a foregone conclusion, perhaps?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"What Would Jesus Deconstruct?" Reviewed and "Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?" Revisited

John D. Caputo’s What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (2007) is the second in Baker Academic’s The Church and Postmodern Culture series.

The first (James K.A. Smith’s [2006] Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?) was a good introduction to three postmodern “bumper stickers” (“there is nothing outside the text,” “incredulity towards metanarratives,” and “power is knowledge”) – and I used a few of his filmic vehicles to explain postmodernism to undergraduates in a lecture on postmodern christologies – but it failed in its attempt to convince me that ‘a “radical orthodoxy” is the only proper outcome of the postmodern critique’ (2006:25; my emphases) and that, in the last chapter especially, applied Radical Orthodoxy is the only appropriate outcome for the “emerging church.”

To begin with, Smith never addresses other possible theological and ecclesiological outcomes of the postmodern critique in order to argue for the supremacy of Radical Orthodoxy (or perhaps, rather the “out-narration” of other possibilities by Radical Orthodoxy). Secondly, when we reach the last chapter, we’re left with the thought: this is the emerging church???!!!???

While I agree that ‘what the emerging church is reacting against is a deep, hurtful experience of sectarianism [and] the antidote to this is a generous orthodoxy and healthy catholicity’ (2006:132), when this is translated into a ‘radically orthodox church’ experience in the last few pages, I’m not sure this looks much like the emerging Christian communities that I’ve been exploring for the last few years.

Much more relevant to the experiences of those I’ve been interviewing and observing, Caputo’s What Would Jesus Deconstruct? gives more voice to doubt than to orthodoxy. At heart, this book is a call (kletos) to deconstruction through an exposition of the above phrase. Caputo argues that there is a deeply deconstructive event that ‘stirs within the figure of Jesus’ (2007:26), and that deconstruction is the hermeneutics of the kingdom of God, a kingdom which he has described elsewhere as a ‘kingdom without kingdom’ (The Weakness of God).

“What Would Jesus Do?” ‘…what Jesus does, is deconstruct’ (2007:30), and with this presentation of deconstruction comes a plethora of correlatives: hyperrealism, undecidability, destinerrancy (possibly my favourite Derridean neologism at the moment!), vocation, theo-poetics, weakness, justice, the impossible, gift, forgiveness, hospitality, and love. This book is a call to deconstruct the name of God / Jesus / Church / Kingdom in order to release the event that stirs within these names.

Caputo’s work has lots of resonances with my study. Not least, his understanding of truth as a name which needs to be similarly deconstructed in order to release the event of truth: ‘“truth” means what is trying to come true, which points to our responsibility to make it actually come true’ (2007:61). For Augustine and Derrida truth means ‘facere veritatem, doing or making the truth’ happen (2007:134).

Similar to the format of Smith’s first volume, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?’s last chapter considers the future of the church, through John McNamee’s (1993) Diary of a City Priest and Pete Rollins’ (2006) How (Not) to Speak of God – the title of which you’ll understand a lot more after Caputo’s previous explanation of the step/not (pas) (2007:42ff). Two very different texts, both with a lot to say about the place of doubt, of uncertainty, of the impossible. As Caputo writes, ‘faith is impossible, the impossible; one is called on to have faith in a world in which it is impossible to believe anything… Doubt as the condition of faith, not its opposite, making faith possible as (the) im/possible’ (2007:121).

Maybe my reading of this book in a day and my reviewing of it only a few more later mean that I’m currently too close to the text to treat it as I have Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, but I can at least ask the same question of Caputo’s final chapter: Is this the emerging church???!!!???

From my memory, and from the book’s index, Caputo only uses the term “emergent” once, and “emerging” never. So maybe this question isn’t a fair one. The two communities described by Caputo are very different – McNamee’s St Malachy’s is ‘an institution that struggles against institutionality; Ikon is hardly an institution at all’ (2007:129) – as are the texts and their authors, though postmodernism’s ‘tropes and movements are everywhere at work’ in both (2007:129). And I am growing in my conviction that Ikon is not an “emerging church,” as that term is communally defined, used, and understood – despite the clear resistance involved here.

Nevertheless, the book’s forward is written by Brian McLaren. ’Nough said?... or is it?

However, I haven’t found the number of instant reviews of What Would Jesus Deconstruct? among “emerging church” bloggers that I was expecting . Maybe you can point me in that direction if I’m not looking in the right places? Or, maybe, this (positive) text is going to take a while to seep into the collective “emerging church” conscious, in contrast to the (negative) texts which seem to be read by everyone as soon as humanly possible and debated hotly (for example, John MacArthur's recent critical contribution).

Finally, I love Caputo’s (Eckhartian) emphasis on Jesus’ prayer, Eloi Eloi, lama sabachthani as the ‘perfectly auto-deconstructing prayer: it is addressed to God – which presupposes our faith that we are not abandoned – and asks why God has abandoned us’ (2007:127). I love that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Postmodernism, Truth and Religious Pluralism

Egged on by David, I thought I'd better post again! That push coincides with having just found this call for papers on 'the church and postmodern culture' blog here. A little slow of me, I know, but I've been trying to finish book chapters and articles left, right and centre - and still haven't quite done them!

The Fourth Biennial Conference of
The Society for Continental Philosophy & Theology.

Postmodernism, Truth, and Religious Pluralism.
April 11-12, 2008Gordon College (Wenham, MA).

Keynote Speakers:
Roger Haight (Union Theological Seminary)
and Richard Kearney (Boston College).

The blurb runs: With the so-called “return of religion,” it is almost impossible not to address the issue of religious pluralism, which acutely raises the question of truth. What kind of positive sense of religious truth is possible in a postmodern era? What is religious truth—is it representational, propositional, orthopractical, symbolic, aletheiological, or something else altogether? How does the notion of “truth” square with a multiplicity of religious traditions? Is the very term “religion” appropriate in a pluralistic society, since the term is distinctly western? How might the earnest faith of a Christian, say, be compatible with the equally earnest faith of other believers or even non-believers? With the varieties of religions (not to mention the varieties of expressions of religions), how can their respective differences be respected? Are there forms of religious expression that simply cannot find a place in the public square?

And: We encourage papers that draw on continental figures; philosophical traditions such as deconstruction, feminist philosophy, hermeneutics, and phenomenology; and religious traditions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

I can't very well NOT go, can I?!?