Tony Jones taps his foot impatiently, muttering that much of the response to his challenge, thus far, has been “throat-clearing” and “prolegomena.” And he grumbles that “poetry is something of a cop-out.”
That’s a fair cop w/r/t the two posts I’ve written subsequent to his challenge and explicitly in response to them. But it also ignores the odd and misleading aspect of this challenge in the first place — the assumption that those of us lumped in here as “progressive theo-bloggers” have not already been saying anything substantive about God.
I like this challenge, mind you. I’m enjoying it. It seems like fun.
But I wouldn’t want Tony, or anyone else, to assume that my accepting such a challenge also entails accepting the slippery accusation entwined in its premise. There’s an annoyingly “Have you stopped beating your wife?” quality to the suggestion that we must start writing about God because we haven’t been doing so. That we must correct our “God-talk problem” because everyone knows progressives have a “God-talk problem.” Says who?
I mean, after reading Tony’s challenge on August 7, I thought about just re-posting this from July 7. Hey, lookee there! “Something substantive about God. Not about Jesus, not about the Bible, but about God.” It’s not “relativized with qualifiers” and doesn’t “kowtow to political correctness or academic jargon.”
And, well, that’s not all that unusual here. (Here, let me Google that for you.)
Usually, though, when I try to say something substantive about God, I do so without this challenge’s arbitrary stipulations attached — and thus tend to ground those statements/assertions/arguments in Jesus and the Bible. I do this because I’m am evangelical Baptist and that’s how we roll. And because that’s a good way to do theology. And because if substantive claims about God can be supported by references to Jesus or to the Bible, then that support makes those claims stronger and more substantial.Also, usually, if I’m considering “who God is, what God does, etc.” I tend to consider it in terms of where God is and what God is doing, and thus to focus on “social issues, the church, culture and society” — all the stuff Tony suggests we’re writing about instead of writing about God.
These things aren’t separate and shouldn’t be separated. I’m very much looking forward to reading what Tony, Matt, Joy, Darrell & Shawn will have to write on their trip to Sri Lanka with World Vision. I expect they will tell us about children, poverty, clean water, nutrition, health care, sustainable local economies, faith, hope and love. It would be wrong to consider all of that as a separate matter from who God is and what God does (etc.). Or as a separable matter.
Does World Vision “have a God-talk problem” because they spend most of their time and bandwidth talking about “social issues, the church, culture and society” rather than musing about the nature of the divine? I don’t think so.
Do some politically conservative evangelicals imagine that this constitutes a “God-talk problem” for World Vision? Yes, I’m sure they do, but we don’t help to correct that misapprehension by implicitly accepting their distorted framing.
Anyway, arbitrary stipulations can be fun. That’s how most of those actor’s improv games I love work. Or those writer’s games where, say, you try to write a short-story without using the letter E. But we shouldn’t mistake the rules of such games as rules that apply beyond those games, concluding that, say, Joyce’s “The Dead” is an inferior story because, look, two E’s right there in the title.
So that’s how I’m responding to this challenge — as a bit of fun. A game, more or less. A game that provides a chance to discuss some of the things we’ve already been discussing in a new way, and thus a potentially fruitful game. But still just a game and not some much-needed remedy for some unreal “progressive God-talk problem.”