Monday, January 28, 2008

Truth in Weak Theology - part five - adequatio, circumfession, facere veritatem

My presentation of Jack Caputo’s Weak Theology (in parts one [Names and Events], two [Aporia], three [kingdom without kingdom] and four [A/theism]) sets the scene for a discussion of truth in The Weakness of God, where three notions can be identified and linked to differing levels of his work. I treat these concepts of truth, not in the order in which they arise in this book, but in an order which reflects Caputo’s hyper-realist, messianic prayer for the to-come.

In his reduction/magnification of names to events, Caputo emphasises the conditioned nature of language and in so doing exposes that there are contingent reasons why certain names are chosen over others (288), and that no name can function universally for humanity (289). Caputo rejects, therefore, the first concept of truth as correlation. For him, ‘a truth that is not a matter of establishing an adequatio’ (286). Without denying the reality of the world – ‘The “world” is what really exists, whereas the kingdom calls for something else’ (37) – the truth of God is not found in theological realism nor theological anti-realism, which both demand a correspondence theory of truth wherein language corresponds to reality (whether reality is real or an illusion). Rather, the truth of the name of God is found in a hyper-realism, of which is cannot be said that it “is,” but that it is “to-come,” thereby disallowing a theory of truth which demands an adequatio between language and what “is.” The truth of the name of God is not (yet) ‘in being, in re’ (16).

The truth of God is found, therefore, ‘not in a proposition but in a confession’ (286). It is a matter of prayer, not epistemology (6). In this second understanding of truth, which can be referred to as a circumfession, Caputo uses phrases such as ‘a hard truth’ (6), ‘honestly facing the truth’ (6), ‘the cold truth’ (20), ‘if the truth be told’ (288), ‘in all truthfulness’ (287), and ‘to be honest to God’ (287). Here truth has the flavour of honesty – hard and humbling, it is the event of a confession, a cut, a wound, a confession that makes us weep and bleed. It involves the recognition of our condition vis-à-vis language, and therefore truth involves the rejection of truth as an adequatio. Instead, ‘Truth means truthfully to confess the poverty of our philosophy, the weakness of our theology, and the humility of our condition’ (286). Truth is a confession, which itself is a concession (293), an admittance of our situation – rather than truth being something that is sought after it is something which cannot be escaped (284).

‘To confess the truth means to own up to our own limits, to face the music about what we know and do not know… the truth demands an honest concession that we cannot contain the event harbored by the name of God’ (287).

This concept of truth as the event of ‘endless confession and circumfession and confusion’ (115) moves us away from truth as an adequatio on the plane of being, name, and realism/anti-realism, towards truth as ‘a deed, something to do, to translate into the flesh of existence’ (16). Here Caputo repeatedly employs the Augustinian understanding of “making” or “doing the truth,” facere veritatem, so that ‘a “truth claim” is less an exact claim we make than a exacting claim that is made upon us’ to make truth true (286), to actualise the promise, the call, the hyper-real.

Truth ‘wants to become true, to make itself true, to make itself come true, to be transformed into truth, so that its truth is a species of truth facere veritatem (118). The truth is less about descriptive content than about a promise calling to be fulfilled, so that the truth of the name of God is the truth of the event, ‘facere veritatem, doing and making truth happen’ (268).

In this sense, truth as facere veritatem is a hyper-truth beyond the truth of correspondence, a not-yet-true truth, a truth of future-correspondence-peut-être, of correspondence-à-venir, hyper-correspondence.

When Caputo talks about justice preceding truth (253), he refers to a translation of the name of God into an event and the event into a deed, which is a ‘translation into [the] justice which precedes truth [as correspondence with reality], or a translation into truth in the Augustinian sense of facere veritatem’ (272). This is suggestive of two of the concepts of truth which I have observed in Caputo’s work: truth as correspondence now, which in terms of theological truth is rejected as undecidable, and truth as facere veritatem, correspondence-to-come. As Caputo himself writes,

‘The truth of the event releases us from the order of names and transports us to another level, where truth does not mean learning a name but making truth come true, making it happen, facere veritatem, letting the event happen, sans voir, sans savoir, sans avoir, praying and weeping before an unknown god.

Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you to eat?

Is that you, Lord?

The truth of the event is not a name but a deed’ (299)

The first notion of truth identified, and rejected, in Caputo’s work is truth as a full and adequate correspondence between language and reality. Truth is not about correlation, because this theory of truth operates on the plane of being, of names and of the right names, the right correlations. Instead, truth is about the honest but hard recognition of our limitations on the plane of being. This existential truth is the second notion identifiable within The Weakness of God, on the plane of being, but facing the hard truth of our inadequacy. The third notion, facere veritatem, is the prayers and tears for truth to be made true, for the messianic to-come to be made a kingdom without kingdom, here and now, where ‘the truth of the event is not a name but a deed’ (299).

These second two movements which Caputo makes with regards to truth, after a rejection of the first position, mirrors the movements he makes within an experience of the impossible:

‘Having, or rather venturing, an experience [of the impossible] involves a double operation: first we understand full well that it is impossible to go, that we are blocked from moving ahead, that we cannot take another step, that we have reached the limit: then we go. We venture out and take the risk, perilous as it may be. First, immobilization, then movement. The movement is mobilized by the immobilization… The immobilization belongs to the more cognitive domain: we know that this can’t be done; we have been instructed by the understanding about the limits of what is possible. But then we go. Thus the movement is carried out by a shift to the sphere of praxis and the pragmatic order… to a certain non-cognitive leap which overcomes the hesitations of the understanding that is what Augustine calls doing the truth, facere veritatem’ (Caputo 2003:126)

So in relation to truth, Caputo makes two interrelated moves. First, we know we cannot know truth, cannot name it, contain it in language, cannot stop the endless translation and deferral. Then, we go – we act, we pray, we weep for the truth to become true; we translate the event’s truth – not it’s semantic content but what it promises (6) – into a deed; we respond to the call to being to go beyond itself, to be otherwise.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Truth in Weak Theology - part four - A/theism

Fourth installment about Jack Caputo's The Weakness of God, following on from parts one (Names and Events), two (Aporia), and three (kingdom without kingdom).

The undecidability of ontology forces translation not from realism to anti-realism, for aporia prevents final, transcendent answers, but from event to deed, from experience of the impossible, a promise to come, to the act of hospitality, actualising the promise (284). And this under not only the name of God and theism, but of atheism, ‘for Derrida could say whatever he has to say without the benefit of this name [God]’ (93).

The uncontainability of the event and the endless translatability of the name means that ‘[a]n event cuts across the distinctions among the various confessions, and even across the distinction between the confessional faiths and secular unbelief, in order to touch upon a more elemental, if ambiguous, quality of our lives, however this quality is given words or formulated, with or without what is conventionally called religion or theology’ (4).

‘To act in the name of God is to act in response to the event contained in the name of God, under whatever name the event addresses us, whether or not it is to the name of God itself that one responds’ (266), so that Derrida can both ‘rightly pass for an atheist’ (cited 25) and be theological, which means ‘to make the mind’s ascent to God, which means toward whatever event is astir in the name of God’ (6).

For Caputo, ‘the line dividing the kingdom and the world is not the line dividing theist and atheist; it is a matter of the event, not of nomination and denomination’ (268). It is the me voici, the “here I am,” that concerns Caputo, whether or not that is followed by au nom de Dieu or tout courtsans Dieu; the translation of the event, not semantically into theism or atheism, but pragmatically. So, ‘by the mad para-logic of the impossible, rightly passing for an atheist is no obstacle’ (266).

There is a resultant undecidability between theism and atheism, and each contains an element of their opposite, an a/theism where the contingency of the names constitutes their openness to the event. Under whatever name, in response to the event, there is the structure of the ‘messianic’ - prayers and tears for the to-come - without the ‘messianism’ of a particular Messiah. Under whatever name, in response to the event, there is the structure of a ‘religion without religion.’

Tomorrow, the final installment of Truth in Weak Theology - part five - adequatio, circumfession, facere veritatem - which (finally) addresses Caputo's notion(s) of truth in TWOG.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Truth in Weak Theology - part three - kingdom without kingdom

Third in a series about Jack Caputo's The Weakness of God, following on from Truth in Weak Theology - part one - Names and Events, and Truth in Weak Theology - part two - Aporia, today I'm posting about the pragmatic, rather than semanitc, translation of events; the kingdom (without kingdom) of God; and hyper-realism.

kingdom without kingdom

Conceiving the name of God as a weak force of a call holds implications for phenomenological scriptural hermeneutics, wherein ‘these texts are solicitations that call for a response, appeals coming from I know not where about a way to be, a style of existence, about a poetic possibility that we are invited to transform into existential actuality’ (117).

Scripture is not treated as representational of reality, but as ‘hermeneutically explicative or phenomenologically disclosive or revelatory about a mode of being in the world’ (188). There is thus a movement from text to call to response and actualizing activity. For Caputo, ‘[r]eligious discourses are not “verified” like propositions, by finding a fact of the matter out there with which the proposition makes a snug fit, but rather the event they harbor is “testified” to in experience, by being borne out or confirmed in our lives’ (118).

While names are endlessly translatable semantically, the event calls to be translated pragmatically. This translation is ‘radical, beyond any semantic transfer, beyond any aligning of meanings in different semantic fields, beyond being and knowledge, because it is a translation into witnessing, into action. The name of God must be translated into an event, and the event must be translated into a deed’ (272). Semantics should not block pragmatics, which is why Caputo is concerned to ‘save the name of God, not absolutize’ or literalize or ontologize it (40).

He reflects upon continental philosophy’s fondness for the French word ‘adieu,’ holding for Levinas the sense of being turned to God: ‘The à in à-Dieu represents a turn toward God, not a turn taken by the conscious freedom of an auto-turning autonomous self, but a being-already-turned to God, long before the conscious self steps in and takes on turn or another’ (264). Long before one turns to God though intentional actions and aspirations for God, ‘before I even know this name,’ one is ‘always already turned by God to God: à Dieu (264).

The name of God, which contains an uncontainable unconditional event, names a transformation (whatever name we give it) which turns the self to the other, because the name of God is an undeconstructible event of justice, forgiveness, hospitality, and love. This is where, Caputo argues, Levinas and Derrida converge:

‘Starting out from the opposite shores of theism and atheism, they join rails in the middle. Even as for Levinas, religion, me voice, au nom de Dieu [here I am, in the name of God], translates into ethics, me voici, tout court [here I am, just that], so for Derrida, for whom deconstruction is justice, messianic peace, and hospitality, deconstruction undergoes a parallel translation into an ethic-politics and therefore into the name of God, into a working equivalence with speaking in the name of God. Me voici, au nom de Dieu, and me voici, tout court – these translate into the same thing, into hospitality, which is not their “common meaning” but the event they share in common, whether or not one rightly passing for an atheist.’ (274)

The experience of the impossible, the event, which is ethics for Levinas and deconstruction for Derrida, turns from semantics to pragmatics, from names to events and our response to the event. ‘What matters with the event,’ Caputo writes, ‘is to take a step’ (298).

To recap, ‘It is not what we call God that is at issue, but what God calls. Then again, it is not what God calls that is at issue, but the response’ (97). For Caputo, the response, the action or deed, constitutes what he calls a ‘sacred anarchism’ (14), visible in the poetics of the kingdom of God. The kingdom which unfolds when the event harboured in God’s name rules (with sovereignty but without force, or, rather, with the sovereignty of a weak force, a call, a word, a sigh) is a ‘kingdom without kingdom,’ an anarchic kingdom, an (Alice in) Wonderland of a kingdom, which is a ‘holy disarray’ (14), a ‘kingdom of the kingdom-less’ (26). This anarchism, like deconstruction, is undertaken ‘in the name of something’ (140), in the name(s) which we ascribe to the event, the call, the ‘infinite task of making good on Elohim’s “good”’ (128) with acts of love, justice, gift, forgiveness and hospitality, if there are such things (s’il y en a).

This ‘making good’ is vital for one of the senses in which Caputo understands truth, which will be examined in a later post, but it also pertains to his understanding of ‘hyper-realism.’ Events, which are ‘not what is present but what is coming’ (6), avoid the realist/anti-realist debates which concern the level of being, the level of names (102).

‘I do not take the name of God to pick out an entity, as in realism, or an illusion, as in anti-realism, but an event, an advent, a future and a promise, a call and a claim, a hope and an aspiration, which is why I speak of a hyper-realism, which hopes in a being beyond or below being with a desire beyond desire and a hope against hope’ (124).

Reducing or magnifying the name of God to the level of events is to neither confirm nor contradict theological realism or theological anti-realism, but is to affirm a different reality altogether, the reality to come, the to-come (l’à-venir), whatever name it be given now or in the unforeseeable future. Hyper-reality is a reality promised beyond what is presently taken to be real’ (11). Hyper-realism ‘reaches beyond the real to the not-yet-real’ (11-12), so that it is a realism of the called-for to-come.

The translatability of names (mentioned in part one), the context of undecidability (part two), and the importance of pragmatics over semantics (here in part three) lead on to the discussion of a/theism, which I will post about in tomorrow's installment: Truth in Weak Theology - part four - A/theism.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Truth in Weak Theology - part two - Aporia

This is the second post in a series about Jack Caputo's The Weakness of God. It follows on from yesterday's post: Truth in Weak Theology - part one - Names and Events. Today we're looking at aporia, or undecidability; the impossible; and weakness. Here's where we left off yesterday:


Faced with the radical ‘undecidability’ of life – of from whence the call comes, for example – it is this undecidability that constitutes the very condition of possibility for decisions to be made, for the non-cognitive leap of faith to be made.

‘[E]verything turns on keeping the gap between the name and the event open, on keeping the tension between them strong and alive, and thereby to be transported by that tension into the passion of life… It is when I truly do not know what I desire that desire is fired white-hot. It is when I truly do not know if there is anyone to pray to that I find myself praying like mad. It is when I truly do not know where I am going that I am really faced with making a move’ (298)

This radical uncertainty forms part of the ‘element of irreducible indeterminancy and instability built right into creation’ (64). Aporia is a condition of possibility for both re-formation and de-formation, for both promise and threat. ‘The event is subject to all the contingencies of time and tide, of chance and circumstance, of history and power – in short, to all the forces of the world that conspire to prevent the event, to contain its disruption, to hold in check its bottomless disseminative disturbance, to betray its promise’ (5). Good, good, yes, yes, ‘Good – now let’s hope it works’ (71).

The risk of creation – what Caputo says Levinas might call a ‘beautiful risk’ (64) – comes with the gift (promise and threat) of what Derrida calls an ‘absolute future to come’ (à venire) (175), an ‘unforeseeable surprise, a promise and a threat, but about which Jesus would tell us not to be afraid, not to be of little faith, but to trust in God’s rule’ (175). This is a future for which we cannot prepare, for which no horizon of expectation can ‘absorb the shock of the event’ (297).

A correlative (or a ‘least bad definition’ 103) of deconstruction, différance and the event is an experience of the impossible. The event contained in the name of God is the possibility of the impossible (87-88), which is not simply a logical contradiction (p and -p), which implies a horizon of logical expectations, but rather ‘something unforeseeable that shatters our horizons or expectation’ (103).

The possibility of this event, contained in the name of God as in many other names, isn’t an “anything-goes” eventuality, for this is not merely an experience of the impossible, but an experience by the impossible, external to (or beyond) the plane of being so that the experience is a desire beyond desire, ‘for the gift beyond economy, for the justice beyond the law, for the hospitality beyond proprietorship, for forgiveness beyond getting even’ (111; his emphases).

This experience of the impossible shattering of hopes, fears, prayers and tears, forces ‘being into motion, mutation, transformation, reversal’ (9). The experience of the impossible is ‘a transforming event on the level of meaning and existential significance’ (207), not instigating an entitative change but offering a new meaning and calling for transformation, for metanoia (206-207).

This transformation is not exacted through the strong force of the omnipotent God of metaphysics, a God which then requires the obscenity of theodicy. As Caputo writes, ‘God is not up to what metaphysics calls God’ (244). Rather, Caputo “cross wires” St Paul’s ‘weakness of God’ (which still hides power, 49) with Derrida’s ‘weak force,’ Vattimo’s ‘weak thought’ and Benjamin’s ‘weak messianic force’ (7). Both Caputo’s “God” and his theology are ‘weakened by undecidability and translatability’ (9) and ‘weakness is constructed as a blessing’ as in the Beatitudes (11). The event is thus weak, with a power of the powerlessness, as ‘a call is as weak as a word, as a breath of air, a trace, or a sigh’ (15) and is it a Derridean ‘sovereignty without force’ (29).

‘The name of God, what we call God, is God’s call, the word he pronounces, the promise that he inscribes in creation, the word that calls things good. The name of God is the name of an unconditional promise, not of an unlimited power. A promise made without an army to enforce it, without the sovereign power to coerce it. That is what I am calling the weak force of God. That force is the power of powerlessness’ (90)

Tomorrow: Truth in Weak Theology - part three - kingdom without kingdom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Truth in Weak Theology - part one - Names and Events

Okay, enough posts on Oakland!

Over the next few days I'll post bits of what I'm working on at the moment, which is a paper on truth, weak theology and a/theism. To start with, a few posts laying down the key concepts in Jack Caputo's (2006) The Weakness of God. He ends with “A Concluding Prayer – for Theology, for the Truth, for the Event,” so I'll also be blogging about how truth is figured in TWOG.

  • Weak Theology isn't a systematic theology, so it doesn't lend itself well to being broken up into distinct chapters within a linear progression, so it's going to be quite a job to hope (against hope!) to con(s)t(r)ain it to set of posts rather than one long one, but I'll try. The posts will roughly follow this pattern:

  • Caputo's distinction between names and events

  • Aporia, or undecidability; the impossible; and weakness

  • Pragmatic rather than semantic translation of events; the kingdom (without kingdom) of God; and hyper-realism

  • A/theism

  • and truth in Weak Theology

Names and Events

Caputo’s (2006) The Weakness of God hinges on a reduction, which is at the same time a magnification, of the name of God to an event. His distinction between names and events pivots on the conditioned nature of names and the unconditionality of events. For example, the name of God contains an event it cannot contain, in a relative stability which will always be undone, deconstructed, by the event itself. In this way, ‘a name is a promissory note that it cannot itself keep… asked to carry what they cannot bear toward a destination they do not know’ (3). The burden of names is an event beyond and below being, not an actual entity nor being itself, but something – I know not what – astir in the plane of being, calling being beyond itself.

This event is uncontainable, while names are endlessly translatable into other names. ‘No name can be allowed to have a lock on the event, even the name of God itself, for the event that unfolds under that name comes and goes under many other names’ (267). As no conditioned name can contain the event and no conditioned name can ever be ‘impartially accessible to everyone or uniformly desirable by everyone’ (289), names need to be deliteralized and de-ontologized (3-4), reduced to the event which they harbour, a reduction which is simultaneously a magnification, even a Magnificat (123).

The event is a vocative, evocative and provocative force at work within names and beings, to solicit, seduce and disturb the plane of being (39), so that the event ‘would be something of which we would say not that it “is” but that it “calls”’ (13). The event is thus both excessive and unconditional, an in-coming (l’invention) rising independently of us (4), laying unconditional claim to us, without conditions (90) and without an ‘army to enforce its claims’ (17). The ‘best way to describe an event is not to say that “it is” but [that] it happens’ (153). Caputo prefers to ‘think of the world as addressed by a call, not produced by a cause, as an addressee, not an effect, and of God as a call, not a cause, as a beneficence, not a sovereign power’ (39).

His meditation on Genesis 1.2, in conversation with Catherine Keller’s (2003) theology of creation The Face of the Deep, highlights that God calls creation, contra creatio ex nihilo, not into being from non-being – as the barren earth (tohu wa-bohu), the deep (tehom), and the wind (ruach) are God's companions – but rather from being to beyond being, from being to life, from being to the good (58,67). Following this theology of creation, ‘God is an event, not in the order of power or being, but in the order of the good, the order of the order or command or call or appeal for the good, which calls for the good even when, especially when, things are going badly’ (53). Good, good, yes, yes. Viens, oui, oui. This call is Caputo’s ‘hermeneutical pre-understanding:’ ‘we are all constituted as the recipients of a call about whose origin we cannot comment with assurance’ (114).

While what is constructed (names) can be deconstructed, the event is undeconstructible. ‘The event is always undeconstructible because it is always promised or called for, always to come, whereas whatever actually arrives has arrived under present conditions and so is deconstructible.’ (6). Deconstruction of the conditioned name releases the unconditional event, but deconstruction is a condition built into the name, which cannot contain the uncontainable and so the name auto-deconstructs and the event translates itself endlessly. For example, ‘…when you cross the wires of différance with the name of God, the result is to have crossed out the name of God in order to release the event this name contains’ (35).

Deconstruction constitutes the slash between theism/atheism, the condition of possibility for distinguishing between names, their translatability, and the necessary structural gap between names and events (28). For Caputo, this gap ‘does not undermine faith but explains precisely why we need faith’ (25). Faced with the radical ‘undecidability’ of life – of from whence the call comes, for example – it is this undecidability that constitutes the very condition of possibility for decisions to be made, for the non-cognitive leap of faith to be made.

I'll pick up here tomorrow in Truth in Weak Theology - part two - Aporia

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Oakland: Playing Games to Expose Emerging (Contemplative) Spirituality

Roger Oakland’s history of the emerging church and his aim of exposing emerging spirituality are a lesson in playing games.

Oakland’s aim is “to document in this book how the emerging church bridges Christianity and this ‘new spirituality’” of New Age mysticism (222), a “belief system that uses ancient mystical meditation practices to induce altered states of consciousness” (81).

However, his methodology involves neither fieldwork amongst authors, leaders, members and friends of emerging churches nor in-depth analysis of the published materials he quotes. Instead, Oakland uses several methods to draw inferences from literature by people like Leonard Sweet by placing this literature next to that of what Gordon Lynch terms “progressive spirituality” (2007 The New Spirituality), without interviewing those involved in emerging churches to determine if their spirituality is that of the New Age.

Firstly, Oakland plays a game of who’s related to whom. A few examples of this approach:

  • Oakland refers to Lauren Artress, canon of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, whom he considers the catalyst for the use of labyrinths in ritual. He traces her connection to the emerging church through her pastoral overseer at the Cathedral, Alan Jones, who’s book, Reimagining Christianity, was endorsed by Brian McLaren (69)

  • Concerning the history of the Emerging Church, the spirituality of the Leadership Network is traced from Bob Buford to the “business / management guru” (23) Peter Drucker: “while Drucker no doubt brought his business sense to the Leadership Network table, his spiritual overtones were prevalent as well; and they were passed on to Buford, who in turn passed them on to the emerging church” (24).

A second method used to demonstrate the mysticism of the emerging church, is to interpret the writings of emerging church authors and leaders through the lens of a more thoroughly contemplative or New Age author.

An example here is when Oakland quotes Brian McLaren writing on what Oakland refers to as “Kingdom Now theology,” and then goes on to explain what McLaren means through the work of New Age leader Barbara Marx Hubbard, who is described as “someone who might agree with McLaren” (158). While Marx Hubbard may well agree with McLaren, McLaren is never asked, nor are his writings analysed to determine, whether he agrees with her! Indeed, Oakland acknowledges that “she puts a little twist in the Kingdom Now theology” (159). But then he states, without demonstrating this, that “What Marx Hubbard proposing is little different than McLaren’s message” (159).

This methodology of inaccurate inference from one writer to another is astonishing and inexcusable – especially when Oakland aims to expose the former as similar to the latter. Oakland appears to be constructing his parallels between the emerging church and New Age mysticism, rather than exposing them.

A third tactic is to quote mystical elements of authors who are tangentially connected to the emerging church, or might be placed on the fringes of what I am calling “the emerging church milieu.”

For example:

  • Marcus Borg (whom only one of my participants has mentioned). Oakland acquiesces that “most would not consider him an emerging church leader,” but engages in a game of “who are his friends?”, noting that he and McLaren participated in a conference together in 2006, and that Rob Bell references him in Velvet Elvis, and so on (196). Combing the second methodology mentioned above as well, Oakland proceeds to quote Borg and then asks, “What is behind this mindset? Listen to one New Ager describe what underlies this line of thought” (197). Did he think to ask Borg whether what underlies his thoughts is the mysticism of the New Age movement?

  • Other people with tenuous connections to the emerging church but who Oakland includes regardless, include Philip Yancey, who “may not be an emergent leader, but his beliefs certainly fit with emerging spirituality” (213)

  • As well as individuals whom emerging churches may not regard as emerging, Oakland also refers to practices such as drumming, which is included “even though some in the emerging church might consider [it] a bit extreme” (70)

A fourth strategy is a clear (intentional?) misreading of emerging church literature. A clear example is Rob Bell, quoted by Andy Crouch in his Christianity Today article, as “discovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life” (cited 109). Oakland asks, seriously, “does he really believe that Christianity is an Eastern religion?” (109) He seeks an answer to this question through Bell’s references to the science of emergence, in which he writes that, “God empowers the land to do something. He gives it the capacity to produce trees and shrubs and plants and bushes that produce fruit and seeds. God empowers creation to make more” (cited 110). From this quotation, Oakland concludes that Bell is saying that “all creation is divine. Everything is God” (111). I don’t believe that this is what Bell is saying here at all. And to couple this misreading with a misreading of the Christianity Today quote is to misrepresent what Bell is saying about Christianity. By referring to it as an eastern religion, I believe Bell is highlighting that the nature of religion is understood differently in eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism – as a “way of life,” something to be lived out rather than philosophically or theologically abstracted and dissected.

Surely, Oakland realises that he can only use tactics for so long before readers think that his criteria for including authors and leaders in his account of emerging spirituality serves his agenda of exposing it as New Age mysticism rather than accurately describing the spiritualities of the emerging church milieu.

There are a few other points to be made. Oakland’s characterisation of New Ageism, contemplative prayer, and Christian mysticism, is influenced more by his evangelical context than by academic study of these phenomena. This goes back to what I was saying a few days ago about the foundational position of Scripture in evangelicalism, which prevents serious consideration of church history, understood as the valid religious experiences of previous generations of Christians. Therefore, for Oakland, that “Catholic monks have taught [meditative] practice for a long time” undermines rather than legitimates the contemplative prayer (82). The same goes for the mysticism of the desert fathers. For Oakland, “while outer quietness is legitimate, inner stillness of the mind is not” (82). His rejection of church history and tradition is a necessary correlative of his rejection of Roman Catholicism as authentic Christian expression: “A mystical prayer movement endorsed and actually initiated by Catholic monks (and accepted by Catholic leadership) should be alarming to any discerning Christian” (83).

Oakland’s lack of in-depth (and methodologically sound!) analysis of emerging church literature and of empirical data, begs the question: Is the contemplative prayer and mysticism of emerging churches the same as that of New Ageism or eastern religious traditions? Tony Jones clearly identifies his Jesus Prayer and centering prayer (from his 2005 The Sacred Way) as based on “the reflections and writings of the Desert Fathers” (cited 105). Oakland’s rejection of church history is the motivation for his characterisation of such prayers as un-Christian because of their grounding in history rather than Scripture. But there are examples of evangelical beliefs which have their grounding not in Scripture but in church history – for example, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (see Jack Caputo’s 2006 The Weakness of God and Catherine Keller’s 2003 The Face of the Deep).

Oakland’s desire to expunge all eastern aspects of Christianity betrays a colonialist mentality, in which it is forgotten that Christianity emerged in the context of the Middle East, before the canonization processes of Scripture, and not in the last few centuries of Western history.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Emerging Church Road to Rome? The Foundations of Scripture and Tradition in Modern Theology

Okay, so I thought I was going to post about Roger Oakland’s history of the emerging church next. However, after finishing his book yesterday (2007, Faith Undone) I just had to comment on the anti-Roman Catholicism running throughout. Such sentiments got me thinking about the position of Scripture and tradition in modern (and therefore postmodern) theology, so I’ll also be reflecting on the other two books that I’m reading at the moment: the (2007) A New Kind of Conversation: Blogging Toward a Postmodern Faith edited by Myron Penner & Hunter Barnes, and Nancey Murphy’s (1996) Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda.

First up: Faith Undone. Oakland’s book is a presentation of the “belief system” underlying the emerging church (19), a belief system which he at first refers to as “emerging spirituality” but as the book unfolds he increasingly prefers the language of “contemplative spirituality” and “mysticism.” His work does suffer from not setting out this agenda in his introduction, as he claims at its conclusion to have “tried to document in this book how the emerging church bridges Christianity and this ‘new spirituality’” (222) whilst throughout conflating the emerging church and with the new spirituality of New Age mysticism. I’ll refrain from outright saying that this conflation is intentional and integral to his agenda, but, as you can see, I have no problem with inferring this. Having just read Gordon Lynch’s (2007) The New Spirituality, which is a much better analysis of the underlying spirituality of what many might refer to as New Ageism, there are clear differences between what Lynch describes as progressive spirituality and the spiritualities of the emerging church milieu – an analysis of which will form a part of my thesis.

The bridge Oakland portrays is not even accurately referred to as that between Christianity and new spirituality. Rather, he is keen to demonstrate that the emerging church bridges biblical Christianity (evangelicalism) and several “unbiblical” Christian traditions and other world religions, including New Ageism (97), eastern religious traditions (89), and Catholicism (79). Referring to the Catholic Church, he writes that “The emerging church is one of the more significant bridges that has been established to bring the separated brethren back to the Mother of All Churches” (130).

To take an example, Oakland writes that “many well-known Christian leaders and teachers who promote the emerging church are now advocating the Catholic view of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist” (133). I have not researched understandings of the Eucharist within the emerging church milieu, but the evidence Oakland provides his readers does not support this claim. Despite an increasing emerging church focus upon “traditional” liturgy, which has been historically visible among many Protestants – for example, High Church Anglicans – as well as Catholics (a point Oakland forgets on p.139), transubstantiation is not mentioned explicitly and cannot be inferred merely from the authors and speakers Oakland quotes. As he himself recognises, the examples refer to “rituals associated with the Eucharist” (134) – for instance, the applying of ashes to the forehead, the signing of the cross, etc – but they are not necessarily supportive of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Where one author, Robert Webber, does experience a Catholic Mass (in the context of an ecumenical weekend retreat) he writes, “I had taken into myself the experience of another tradition, I had been in dialogue with another worship tradition, and I was surely the richer for it” (cited 138). Webber does not say “I had taken into myself the real body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

Throughout Faith Undone, Oakland is at pains to inform his readers that the aspects of the emerging church which he focuses upon – primarily contextualisation, certain liturgies and rituals, mystical experiences of God, a “Kingdom Now” theology, and a rejection of substitutionary atonement – are not found in the Bible. Repeated phrases such as “…cannot be found in the Bible” (64), “there is no evidence in the Bible that…” (67), “…unbiblical practices supported by Rome” (69), “foreign to Scripture” (83), “Nowhere in the Bible is there any precedent for this…” (183), “Nowhere in Scripture…” (99), “the Bible is not the source” (102) and “post-New Testament extra-biblical revelation” (73) hammer the message home to readers that “I have searched the Scripture. [insert an element that Oakland equates with the emerging church] just isn’t there!” (118). That these practices and theologies “can be found in church tradition” (60) is used, however, to denounce them, especially since, we are reminded, “the church fathers are the fathers of the Catholic Church” (74). “Why,” Oakland asks, “not just stay with Scripture in order to remain in the truth?” (73)

Oakland’s anti-Roman Catholicism has made me think about the positions given to Scripture and tradition within modern Christianity and modern theology, and what might be happening to these positions today.

Nancey Murphy argues that modern philosophy has given modern Christianity “only two viable strategies” (x), creating the distinctly liberal and distinctly conservative theologies of the contemporary Christian landscape. The shift towards what Murphy label “Anglo-American postmodernism” offers an opportunity for future theology, in which “there will be no intellectual compulsion to bifurcate the spectrum [from liberal to conservative] into two discrete camps” (3). Setting aside this part of her argument for another post, and for when I’ve finished the book (!), in reference to the justification of theological claims, the modern philosophical theory of knowledge – foundationalism – led to two possibile foundations for modern theology: Scripture or experience. “Conservatives have chosen Scripture; liberals, characteristically, have chosen experience” (2). For conservatives, this choice requires a bibliology (doctrine of Scripture – a word I learnt from A New Kind of Conversation) which includes the inerrancy of Scripture:

“if Scripture is to provide an indubitable foundation for theological construction, then all of its teachings must be free from error, lest the theologian make erroneous judgements in distinguishing true teachings from false ones or essential teachings from incidental cultural assumptions” (17).

For liberals, this choice requires a general anthropology which includes the possibility for all human beings to experience God, not just Christians (22-23):

“the scriptural claim that Christian self-understanding expresses an understanding of authentic human existence is to be tested against the criterion of adequacy to common human experience” (25).

Neither conservative nor liberals entirely divulge their theologies of either path, however each tends to privilege one over the other.

Murphy’s distinction is articulated in somewhat altered language in the multimedia project which produced a book of the blog Here, the dualism of Scripture or experience is expressed, as in Oakland’s work, as Scripture or tradition, which can be understood as collective experiences of Christians throughout time and space, history and geography. In responding to the observable suspicion or rejection of church history by evangelicals, Bruce Ellis Benson writes of the Protestant Reformation’s tenet of sola scriptura and its relationship to church tradition:

Sola scriptura is taken to be the denunciation of the Roman Catholic magisterium as the true interpreter of Scripture, but not the denunciation of tradition as having an important effect upon interpretation” (68)

This position sparked a conversation among bloggers and commenters concerning the nature of epistemic foundations in postfoundationalist theologies, a conversation integral to my research in which many participants do talk of foundations for their “ordinary theologies” and “ordinary philosophies.” These foundations are, however, not based on rationalism. There are still profoundly important reasons for these foundations, however. In this sense, their postfoundationalism is a move beyond foundationalism, not beyond foundations themselves; their foundations are their beliefs, and this necessitates a whole other conversation about the nature of belief – which has itself shifted dramatically since one dictionary's definition of belief as “the feeling of certainty that something exists or is true.”

Friday, January 11, 2008

Roger Oakland's Critique of the Emerging Church

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Roger Oakland’s (2007) Faith Undone: The Emerging Church… A New Reformation or an End-Time Deception (I’ve noted the ominous absence of a question mark previously!)

I have a core set of books which form a critique of what they usually refer to as “the emerging church movement:” D.A. Carson (2005) Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a MOvement an Its Implications, R. Scott Smith (2005) Truth and the New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church, and Thomas Hohstadt (2007) Beyond the Emerging Church: The End and the Beginning of a Movement, as well as various articles (online and mainstream media) from people like Chuck Colson and Phil Johnson, and more general evangelical denouncements of postmodernism like Douglas Groothuis (2000) Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism, and Art Lindsley (2004) True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World. I also just found Whatever Happened to Truth? (2005). Any others out there?

But after only a few chapters, I was pleasantly surprised by Roger Oakland’s approach in his critique. I disagree with his conclusion that “behind this new kind of church is a well designed strategy and maneuver by the prince of this world, the enemy of our souls, to literally take apart the faith of millions” (20). That said, however, I’m glad of his approach.

Oakland notes the reductionism of other critics (19), who limit their “analysis” of the emerging church milieu to a few books published by some (more and less) influential authors. For example, D.A. Carson (2005) focuses upon Brian McLaren’s (2004) A Generous Orthodoxy and Steve Chalke’s (2003) The Lost Message of Jesus, written with Alan Mann. Fellow critic R. Scott Smith (2005) extends his literature review from the work of Brian McLaren and Tony Jones to postmodern theorists, theologians, and ethicists such as Stanley Hauerwas, Brad J. Kallenberg, Stanley Grenz & John Franke, and Nancey Murphy.

However, a limited, literature-based approach inevitably fails to grasp the complexities of this milieu, and privileges certain voices within it above others. Most research is conducted among a select number of leaders of emerging Christian communities, whether through interviews with them or through reviews of their published works, instead of undertaking fieldwork amongst ordinary community members. But this reductionism not only occurs amongst a group that might be called “anti-emerging church outsiders”; it is also important to note that, particularly in a UK setting, several popular empirical studies are undertaken by these same select leaders themselves. For example, Jonny Baker’s MA dissertation on the labyrinth, Ben Edson’s doctoral work on emerging church missiology, and Ian Mobsby’s MA dissertation on emerging church and fresh expressions’ ecclesiology and Anglicanism. Emerging church researcher Bryan Murley has blogged about the need for “outsider” research here.

I was both genuinely surprised and genuinely glad that Roger Oakland has identified this tendency within the criticism of emerging churches, and that he seeks to avoid such a reductionist methodology in his book. “Faith Undone examines not just the obvious leaders of this movement but will examine the much more encompassing emerging spirituality. Through this book, I hope to expose a belief system, rather than just a group of particular leaders” (19 his emphasis).

This approach is similar to Gordon Lynch’s methodology in his (2007) The New Spirituality, which I’ve blogged about before. Oakland, albeit through a literature review and ostensibly not through empirical research, seeks to identify “the spirituality behind the teachings” (19) in a similar fashion to Lynch’s identification of a progressive milieu and the progressive spirituality which emerges from such an environment. I aware that Lynch is engaged in the academic study of the sociology of religion and spirituality, whilst Oakland is engaged in the polemical defence of one theological position and the concerted attack of another. However, Oakland's objective of attempting to “unveil a belief system” (19) which underpins numerous individuals, communities and organisations, rather than to assess (or indeed “attack” 19) individual authors or leaders, significantly increases the analytical value of this work, in comparison with other critics’ reductionism. I disagree with his conclusions and he still makes some inaccurate generalisations, but I appreciate Oakland’s more inclusive approach to data collection in his denouncement of the emerging church.

Oakland's history of the emerging church is also interesting: in parts thought provoking, in others highly entertaining. I’ll post about that shortly!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Seminar Paper Invitation

Somewhat closer to finalising this term’s Religious Studies seminar series (co-ordinating with Prof. Paul Heelas – he’s the one at the back - I'm not pictured!), I'm filling a gap by giving a trial run of ideas I hope to present at the Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology conference in April. The conference now has it's own website here.

The paper has to be written and submitted by 15 Feb, and will be presented to philosophers and theologians. I'm used to sociologists of religion, so I'm going to give this more philosophical paper it's first outing in the friendly atmosphere of our Departmental Seminar Series '08. It'll be entitled "Truth, Weak Theology, and the Emerging Church Milieu," to cover enough ground for an hour's talking and half an hour's questions - which can then be distilled into the 3,000 word paper I need to submit to the SCPT.

I'm going to try to solidify my thoughts about a new approach to the emerging church phenomenon, trying to define the (porous) boundaries of a milieu, rather than attempting to contain the diversity exhibited by emerging churches in one all-inclusive definition of an 'emerging church.' So I'll be playing with this idea of a milieu, and how I might present this milieu to others unfamiliar with the subject. It'll be a more sociological introduction to get everyone into the topic, before moving onto some more philosophical and theological aspects.

Still in the process of transcribing, I'm trying to talk in broad brush strokes about the fieldwork, but by the time it comes to presenting the paper I hope to have done enough transcribing to speckle it through with quotations from participants. I'll talk broadly about the themes around truth that are emerging from the fieldwork (can't help using that word sometimes!), before concentrating on deconstruction and weak theology.

I'll post a bit more about this paper once I know where it's going, but if anyone is in the Lancaster area on Monday Feburary 4th (4.30 - 6.00pm) you'd be more than welcome to come along! It's held in a place called the Institute for Advanced Studies (which makes every other department in the University feel like it isn't advanced enough!).

I'll also doing a mini-presentation around "Critical Terms for Religious Studies" the week after (Feb 11th). Paul is going to present the difficulties surrounding the term 'belief,' and I'll be exploring 'culture.' Increasing attention is being paid to the manifestations of religion and spirituality in what is commonly referred to as 'popular culture' or 'contemporary culture.' Entities such as 'Western culture' and 'indigenous culture' are also frequent sites of study for researchers. New expanding areas incorporate this language, such as the study of 'occulture' (Chris Partridge). But what do researchers mean when they talk of 'culture'? What is this thing called 'culture'? What is 'popular culture'? Or 'indigenous culture'? How have researchers defined 'culture'? Why is 'culture' critical in the study of religion? All this and more... Feb 11th.

UPDATE: Check out the schedule for our Lent Term seminar series here.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Spiritual Warfare against Uncertainty

Over New Year, I read John MacArthur’s (2007) The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception. The inclusion of the theme of certainty in the subtitle, as well as the general focus upon truth, makes this book of particular relevance for my literature review of evangelical publications which condemn the notions of truth at work in what I’m now calling the ‘emerging church milieu.’

Revealingly, in his subtitle MacArthur does not contrast certainty with uncertainty, but rather with “deception.” For him, not knowing is a form of unbelief and unbelief among church leaders deceives others. He writes that, “It is unbelief cloaked in a religious disguise and seeking legitimacy as if it were merely a humbler kind of faith” (xvi) and, “Advocating ambiguity, exalting uncertainty, or otherwise deliberately clouding the truth is a sinful way of nurturing unbelief” (xi). MacArthur therefore sets out to show not only the certainty of Christian truth (i.e. that “we can be supremely confident, even in this era of doubt and uncertainty” [51]) but the nature of uncertainty as unbelief.

Though the “Emerging Church Movement” is explicitly mentioned as the target of this book’s unfriendly fire, MacArthur does not engage in a thorough examination of the emerging church milieu. Rather, he limits himself to a few texts, primarily Brian McLaren’s (2004) Generous Orthodoxy, and (2001) A New Kind of Christian, Stanley Grenz and John Franke’s (2001) Beyond Foundationalism, and makes minor references to Andy Crouch’s (2004) ‘The Emergent Mystique,’ Donald Miller’s (2003) Blue Like Jazz, and Rick Warren’s (1995) The Purpose-Driven Church.

While MacArthur states that “Truth never changes with the times, but heresy always does” (100) and is clear that such heresies include Judaizers (85-88), Gnosticism (88-94), Sabellianism (100-102), and Arianism (102-115), the contemporary heresy he identifies in this book is blurred, as both the emerging church and mainstream evangelicalism are criticised.

At the conclusion of the book, contemporary evangelicalism is the clearer target: obsessed with PR and marketing approaches to packaging the gospel, overly concerned with methodology rather than theology in order to present itself as relevant and cutting edge, accommodating of political correctness, and catering to reduced attention spans (146-150, 152-154, 166).

But at the outset, the postmodernist uncertainty of the “Emerging Church Movement” is presented as the threat, where “The remodeling (sic) of our ideas about truth and certainty poses a severe danger to the heart and core of the Christian gospel” (xxiii). MacArthur states (rather than demonstrates – he does not engage any postmodernist theorists) that whilst “Postmodernists despise truth claims” (12), “Uncertainty is the new truth” (16). However, for MacArthur, both the “overconfident rationalism and human conceit” of modernity (10) and the irrationalism of postmodernity (13) are “dead wrong and equally hostile to authentic truth and biblical Christianity… Rationalism needs to be rejected without abandoning rationality” (13). Such an understanding of postmodernism, however, mistakes a desire to rethink human reason in late- or postmodernity for a wholesale rejection of reason and embracing of irrationalism.

For MacArthur, both the emerging church and the state of evangelicalism today require that “faithful Christians” (xxiv) respond through spiritual warfare, as “it is actually a sin not to fight when vital truths are under attack” (xxiv). Whilst MacArthur is not advocating physical war (28-32) – contrasting Christian spiritual warfare with Islamic (lesser) jihad and in the process ignoring Islam’s greater jihad which is spiritual in nature – he describes this warfare as “cosmic,… engaging the armies of hell, which are arrayed against Christ. Their weapons consist of lies of all kinds – elaborate lies, massive philosophical lies, evil lies that appeal to humanity’s fallen sinfulness, lies that inflate human pride, and lies that closely resemble the truth. Our one weapon is the simple truth of Christ as revealed in His Word” (49). For MacArthur, then, this war is a “Truth War” in the sense that it is a war fought against the untruth of others and a war fought with the weapons of truth.

Whilst this war is waged against evil ideas rather than against the people who believe them (180), such believers are explicitly and implicitly regarded by MacArthur as:

  • “trendy thinkers” (1)
  • “grossest hypocrite[s]” (37)
  • “false teachers” (42)
  • apostates (43-44)
  • “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (44)
  • “shallow and insincere people” (45)
  • “those who are immature, weak, ignorant, or cowardly” (48)
  • “satanic missionaries” (62)
  • “spiritual terrorists and saboteurs” (82)
  • “truth vandals” (97)
  • “ungodly” (136)
  • even lewd (120)
  • power hungry (143)
  • “proud” (143)
  • celebrities (169)
  • “confused” (178)
  • soiled underwear” (181)
  • “evil” (181)
  • and “no true friends of Christ” (184).

MacArthur writes, “Speaking plainly: if you are one of those who questions whether truth is really important, please don’t call your belief system ‘Christianity,’ because that is not what it is.” (xx) However, this is to misunderstand those within the emerging church milieu, who do not question the importance of truth, but rather question its nature.

MacArthur’s understanding of truth is stated as biblical in its content, its effects, and its nature. Thus, truth is “what God decrees (183), including “the doctrine of justification by faith, the principle of substitutionary atonement, and the absolute authority and perfect sufficiency of Scripture” (47). Secondly, truth is salvific: “Truth (the simple truth of the gospel, to be specific) is necessary for salvation” (119), and salvation is understood as personal – “truth is the only thing that can liberate people from the bondage of sin and give them eternal life” (119). Thirdly, truth is an objective reality. “Truth exists outside of us and remains the same regardless of how we may perceive it. Truth by definition is as fixed and constant as God is immutable. That is because real truth (what Francis Shaeffer called ‘true truth’) is the unchanged expression of who God is; it is not our own personal and arbitrary interpretation of reality… Such a self-willed approach to the truth is tantamount to usurping God” (xx-xxi). Truth is “the way things really are” (2) and “cannot be adequately explained, recognized, understood, or defined without God as the source” (4).

But MacArthur doesn’t actually prove this latter point, he just states it. He gives a very brief history of secular philosophy: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (truth through nature), “DesCartes” (sic) (truth through reason), Locke (truth through the senses), Kant (truth through a combination of rationalism and empiricism), and Hegel (truth as progressive evolutions), whence the irrationalism of Kierkegaard, “Nietzche” (sic), Marx and Henry James flows (6-7). He then states that, “Elaborate epistemologies have thus been proposed and methodically debunked one after another… After thousands of years, the very best of human philosophers have all utterly failed to account for truth and the origin of human knowledge apart from God.” (7). However, there is no critical engagement with these philosophers in order to demonstrate their utter failure.

On the back cover, it is claimed that this book “reveals:

  • The pitfalls of postmodern thinking
  • Why the Emerging Church Movement is inherently flawed
  • Past skirmishes in the Truth War and their effect on the Church
  • The importance of truth and certainty in a postmodern society
  • How to identify and address the errors and false teachings smuggled into churches.”

I’m not sure The Truth War does these things to the degree hoped for by MacArthur – or even by myself, as there is not much here to get my teeth into in terms of an academic response.

MacArthur does not engage with postmodern thinking to a sufficient level to reveal its pitfalls, and does not even reference other scholars and theologians who have endeavoured to do so. His presentation of ideas within the emerging church milieu (restricted to roughly three texts, and conducted across relatively few pages) is likewise insufficient to provide a base understanding from which to demonstrate any flaws. While I agree MacArthur introduces the reader to four heresies (Judaizers, Gnosticism, Sabellianism, and Arianism) with a clarity that comes from their introductory nature, the effect of these heresies on the church is not treated with any historical or theological depth.

MacArthur signals the fervour among fundamentalists for truth and certainty in late- or postmodernity, and observes the apathy of many others concerning religious truth. He likewise paints broad brush strokes of postmodern approaches to truth. While the back cover claims MacArthur reveals the importance of truth and certainty in a postmodern society, MacArthur himself seeks to show the importance of his understanding of truth and certainty for a postmodern society. The ways in which he attempts to demonstrate this importance require the threat of damnation (133).

Finally, his advice for identifying false teachings and wolves in sheep’s clothing emphasises biblical discernment: “The only way to develop the discernment necessary for detecting such subtle error and correctly assessing its danger is by applying oneself conscientiously to the task of rightly dividing the Word of God” (133-134). I’m not completely sure what “dividing the Word of God” is, and MacArthur doesn’t feel the need to explain. Maybe it’s one of the many references to evangelical culture I don’t get. But elsewhere MacArthur is clearer: “God’s Word is plain enough” (157), “far more issues are black and white than most people realise” (195), there are “universally self-evident truths” (3), and “The true meaning of Scripture – or anything else, for that matter – has already been determined and fixed by the mind of God. The task of an interpreter is to discern that meaning’ (xxi). Whilst humanity cannot know God’s mind exhaustively, we can know it sufficiently to identify it’s opposite (183), as “Most of the truths of God’s Word are explicitly contrasted with opposing ideas” (195). Nowhere does he address contemporary literary theory in order to debunk the death of the author thesis.

MacArthur’s correspondence theory of truth and realist approach to language are signalled by this and other examples of his stance on biblical interpretation. These theories rest on ‘sure’ foundations, the construction of which as ‘true’ and ‘certain’ necessitate MacArthur’s association of uncertainty with untruth and unbelief, and therefore deception. He does not, however, critically examine any of these assumptions, and this is the main flaw of his work.