Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A New Kind of Christian is a New Kind of Atheist: Truth and A/theistic Orthodoxy in the Emerging Church Milieu - part one

[update: this post has been edited, to remove too much detail about my paper - which threatened the paper's later publication in journal and/or monograph form. If you would like to read the paper, please email me at k.moody1@lancaster.ac.uk and I would be happy to send you a copy]

My paper at the "Postmodernism, Truth, and Religious Pluralism" conference went well.

I was nervous. I'd been imagining large the large auditoriums you see in films set on American university campuses, but the room wasn't too big and was all on one level - although I did have to stand up to deliver the paper, which I've never done before. I've also never really READ a paper. I usually do papers based on PowerPoint presentations and just talk. Then I sort of write the paper after I've presented it, so it was a bit odd for me to have to read something out. I hope my presentation skills were up to it! Early on, I decided to play the (always useful) postgraduate student card - conference delegates tend to be easier on us PGs. I decided to emphasise my cute Britishness too. It seemed to work.

First off, I introduced my project, exploring the UK emerging church milieu through the question of how truth is conceptualised. And explained the impetus of this focus in relation to critics' claims that the emerging church is departing from the biblical notion of truth as correspondence.

Then I read the paper. I posted my introduction in an early post, so here I'll just briefly make my main arguments and blog about the responses I got from other conference delegates:

Primarily, my paper argued that there is slippage in the work of Jack Caputo between the ways in which he conceptualises the notion of truth. However, I demonstrated that this slippage is a functional necessity of his weak theology. Although he slides away from a wholly performative notion of truth (as event, as confession, as weeping, as praying) towards truth justice - as a telos and as an adequatio (regardless of whether this telos can ever be known or whether it's equation to reality can ever come about) - this slide mirrors a key feature of Caputo's theology of the event: the slippery distinction between wholly other, undeconstructible messianic structures (truth as event and circumfession) and determinate messianisms (justice, hospitality, gift, forgiveness and the kingdom of the kingdomless).

Secondly, my paper situated this argument in the context of ethnographic data from the UK emerging church milieu, in which may participants are increasingly drawn to continental philosophy and deconstructive theology. I demonstrated that the understandings of truth discernable in Caputo's work can also be observed in the conversations I have had with a wide range of people within the emerging church milieu. In particular, I link the a/theism advocated by Caputo to an understanding of pragmatic orthodoxy which arises from within the UK emerging church milieu. This reformulation of orthodoxy moves away from right belief and towards believing in the right way, i.e. lovingly, and holding your beliefs lightly. I argue that what I call the "a/theistic orthodoxy" observable within the emerging church milieu is a practical expression of Caputo's project, particularly as it relates to the concept of truth. Hence my title: A New Kind of Christian is a New Kind of Atheist... i.e., an a/theist.


Anonymous said...

Hello Katherine,

i am glad the paper went well. I have rejoined a moderate evangelical new church at a location near Belfast after many years out of the church scene - it has made me realise the rather sad gulf between theology in general and practical lived church involvement..eyes tend to glaze over in boredom if the subject of theology is mentioned!!!!!!!!! I tend to be starved of the cut and thrust of/sharing of theological discussion....

My limited reading has tended to focus on Christian mysticism/spirituality which overlaps a bit with your project.

I hope your thesis proceeds well over the next few months. I will email a couples of thoughts about how Caputo can be located in the non-theistic liberal camp which I would welcome your take on. However the more i read/reflect the more I realise what a beginner I am in theological discourse!!

Al the best,


Katharine Moody said...

Hi again Rodney,

Glad to hear you've found another church... even if there are a few grumbles to be had about glazed eyes!!!

I'd gladly read your thoughts on Caputo and non-theistic liberalism etc. I don't know too much about Cupitt and the like, if that's the kind of thing you mean. But I'm very interested in it, and have been meaning to read Taking Leave of God for donkey's years!!!

Anyway, glad you're back. Katharine x