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?


Doug Groothuis said...

I don't know what your take is, but I define and richly illustrate what I mean by "truth decay," a metaphor I took from an album of the same title years ago.

Katharine Moody said...

Hi Doug,

I don't know the T-Bone Burnett album, can you point me to a download to get an idea of his sound? Although I did love the O Brother, where art thou? and Walk The Line soundtracks.

As for my take on your book, I'm grateful that you specifically identify your theory of truth as that of correspondence. That shows a level of philosophical engagement which is often lacking in arguments against the kinds of emerging theories of truth which I'm exploring in my PhD thesis.

I'm still concerned, however, with an understanding of (biblical) truth which presumes not only to know what that truth is (in order to say what is or isn't 'biblical') but also that truth is an objective 'thing' that can be known - in order to talk about 'it' having decayed, and 'it' needing to be defended in response to postmodernism.

What do you think about understandings of truth which do not understand truth as a knowledge (an 'object') at all, but as an event that cannot be contained by the language we ascribe to this event?

Anonymous said...

So the idea of the love of God which is the heartbeat of Christianity is not a central ultimate reality irrespective of our feelings, experiences etc but a subjective fictional story? How can one describe/know/experience or react to an 'event' outside of human language. It sounds like incomphrensible gibberish!!

an Ec skeptic

Anonymous said...

Why does Caputo not extend his definition of an event to the political realm where he shows he has a very definitive marked Socialist/Marxist belief system in his views. Should his political beliefs not be beyond language/concepts etc like his religious ones?

The skeptic

Katharine Moody said...

Not wanting to speak for Caputo (he can, and does, do that very eloquently himself), but my own personal political views (which are in the same ballpark as Caputo's) stem from religious views - and I imagine Caputo would say the same thing.

His point is that the event is not contained in any language. Just as God / Jesus / Kingdom / Church needs to be deconstructed, so too do insutitions like Socialism. Jesus deconstructs everything - including (perhaps especially) the political. The event cannot be contained in any of these words, and stirs in the heart of them to call these belief systems (Christianity or Socialism) beyond themselves, to be more than they are, to be the Kingdom.

That's the love of God - the love we are called to participate in, i.e. Kingdom living.

As far as the 'ultimate reality irrespective of our feelings' etc... Caputo may not talk about realism (i.e., either God exists OR God doesn't exist - bivalence - one has to be true and the other has to be false), but this doesn't mean that he therefore talks about non-realism. He isn't an anti-realist (as far as I can determine - though I haven't read everything he has ever written/said).

Rather, Caputo is a hyperrealist, which means that he is (and here's to ending on a deliberately provocative quotation) 'in search of the real beyond the real, the hyper, the uber or au-dela, the beyond, in search for the event that stirs within things that will exceed our present horizons. In this sense, religion is, in the very best and deepest sense, so much "hype"' (WWJD? 2007:39).

Anonymous said...

The idea of hyperrealism might play well in the ivory walls of academia but the 'event' is such a vacuous/empty concept that you can claim it to mean anything you want it to...I can claim that stirred by an 'event' ie the real beyomd the real I can commit acts of violence, sacrifice babies to the sun, maintain a caste system etc in the name of religion - my truth is as good as yours as there is no criteria to assess them!! I wonder if you fimd that Caputos Jesus becomes a left liberal humanist - an idealised picture of his own values and what he would like him to be when he 'decontructs' his message. i also wonder how much in depth biblical scholarship he has done to arrive at his opnions or does he fall into the usual postmodern trap of saying 'the text can meaning anything you want it to mean'

the skeptic.

Ps I have mixed a fair bit with EC types - are they all politically left wing or are there any conservatives?

Katharine Moody said...

I doubt Caputo's deconstructed Jesus would be a 'left, liberal humanist,' as you describe him. Afterall, there isn't much religion admitted to the liberal, humanist left, is there? That's what I mean by saying that Jesus deconstructs everything - yes, even the left! See Jim Wallis' God's Politics: Why the American Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn't get it.

The concept of the 'event' isn't vacuous. It is metanoia, conversation, call... And it is what we try to 'capture' (unsuccessfully) in the words "God," "Love," "Justice," etc. That's why talk of the event DOESN'T justify acts of violence.

Yes, hyperrealism does play pretty well in the ivory towers of academia, and such towers are a beautiful part of creation. However, hyperrealism, the event, the impossible, etc., also play pretty well in the Bible too. I wouldn't regard Caputo as a bible scholar, but he can (and does) read the biblical scholarship and theology of others. That's what academics do. They don't just invent things by themselves, they engage with other experts and practitioners.

For example, in his The Weakness of God, Caputo engages in some very literal readings of Genesis 1.1-3, in conversation with Catherine Keller's The Face of the Deep. Though, as Caputo says, he has 'no love for the literalism of the evangelicals and fundamentalists, I am a great lover of the literarlism of a close literary reading, which gives us access to the site of the events harbored by words' (TWOG 2006:56).

I hope this helps. Keep all the comments coming, Skeptic - you are very welcome here. x

Katharine Moody said...

I meant metanoia, conversion, call, rather than conversation - although that's a part of it too!

Anonymous said...

Hello Katherine,

thank you for your response

I would expect Caputo to engage with biblical scholars such as Borg, NT Wright, Crossan, Sanders etc in proper historical-critical scholarship if he wishes to explore themes such as 'Jesus descontructs everything' ie biblical experts and practitioners. However if his main assessment of the bible is a fairy tale/work of fiction he can indeed follow 'literary readings' I am not familiar with Catherine Keller so I cannot comment on her.

you do not outline from 'What' one is 'called'or 'converted' 'To' thus leaving the content of event open to every interpretation possible including ones leading to violence in my opinion. In the name of God in the Middle Ages I could be called to leave my peaceful home enviroment to fight in the Crusades as many were is one example.

I will concede the point about liberal left humanist!

Rather than Christian belief systems being ignored/dissolved into nothingness as in deconstructive postmodern theology surely radical orthodoxy, postliberal theology(lindbeck etc)or postmetaphysical theology (Marion) offer far more fuitful directions in postmodern theology!!

The skeptic

Katharine Moody said...

In The Weakness of God, Caputo is talking about the creation narratives, and certainly understands these in the narratival form in which they were created (oral and, later, written, stories) rather than understanding the narratives as constitutive of an accurate representation of reality - how would Hebraic story tellers have known that?!?

I imagine that he would join someone like Pete Rollins in saying that replacing a universal foundation (reason) with a particular foundation (revelation) is just as modernist: "Here the arrogance of
saying “I am right and you are wrong because I have worked things out” is replaced
with the supposed humility of “I am right and you are wrong because God told me
so”." (Rollins on the church and postmodernism website).

So, in relation to your comment that Caputo treats the biblical texts (the Bible is a library, as he says, so that THE biblical truth, THE biblical understanding, THE biblical position, etc, is a misnomer) as a fairy tale / work of fiction is partly accurate - although not in the way you probably intended it to be!

It is very much context dependent, but the word of God, the name of God, the event of God, stirs within the text nonetheless - perhaps even more, since poetry is perhaps the best language we have in which to express our desire for God and God's desire for us.

So, finally, in relation to the event of God, and your comment that this event seems vacuous so that it can become violent... Caputo is very clear that this event is an event OF GOD, that the Derridean 'THE impossible' is a call 'for the gift beyond economy, for the justice beyond the law, for the hospitality beyond proprietorship, for forgiveness beyond getting even...' (TWOG 2006:111). Therefore, the event of God is a call for the kingdom of God - and the kingdom is NOT open to any interpretation possible including violence, as you say.

As far as other postmodern theologies, including Radical Orthodoxy... I'll post some responses to these in due course. However, hopefully this conversation is in some way helping you to see that deconstruction does not dissolve religious belief into nothingness. Rather, deconstruction opens religious belief up to the possibility of radical transformation - which is what religious belief should be about anyway! It confounds the ways in which Christianity has aligned itself with worldy powers and tries to see the hyperreal event stirring within the real - where God's power is shown to be the power of the powerless (of prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners and marginalised people), is shown to be a weakness in which we can celebrate the possibility of the impossible, the possibility of the kingdom of God.

Anonymous said...

Hello Katherine,

my thanks for taking the time to respond to my posts. I look foward to your posts on Radical Orthodoxy.

The skeptic

btw hope you partner has a good birthday!

Katharine Moody said...

Thanks! At least I don't have to bake a cake! x