Re: The ToJo God-blogging challenge

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.”

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  • Morilore

    … *gets popcorn*

  • csiems

    “Usually, though, when I try to say something substantive about God, I…tend to ground those statements/assertions/arguments in Jesus”

    I think that the only substantive things we can say about God are grounded in the observed character of Jesus. Elsewise, God is unknowable.

  • AnonymousSam

    Well, it’s not as though God doesn’t directly interact with people quite often in the Bible. It’s just that those interactions have a 50/50 chance of being xenophobic and murderous or being visions of enlightenment.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    I think that the only substantive things we can say about God are
    grounded in the observed character of Jesus. Elsewise, God is
    unknowable.

    I disagree with the implication that Jews, for example, are less able to say substantive things about the God they worship than Christians are because we lack the character of Jesus through which to ground them.

  • http://snarkthebold.blogspot.com/ Edo

    That’s one of the big glaring things I’m not getting about Tony Jones’s challenge: what exactly is it accomplishing?The problem with God-talk isn’t that we don’t do it, it’s that it’s easily and often dismissed as not Christian enough. Defining the parameters the way he does, it feels like his Storify stream is gonna wind up VALIDATING any future claims that “liberals are weak Christians and suck at God-talk.”Because as much as I wish I was, I’m no mystic, neither apophatic or cataphatic. Without that kind of experience, I need to refer to Jesus and Scripture to say much that’s substantive. And even if I did have mystical experience, without reference to the Word, in print or incarnate, it still wouldn’t make the cut as being Christian enough.
    (For the record, I’m gonna answer the challenge anyways.)

  • ReverendRef

     The problem with God-talk isn’t that we don’t do it, it’s that it’s easily and often dismissed as not Christian enough.

    I was going to say something along these lines, but you beat me to it.

    The challenge to talk about God is fine and good.  I challenge people to talk about God all the time in my parish because, to be honest, Episcopalians generally suck at it and I’m trying to help my parishioners get better at it.

    But to make the challenge and then insist that people are doing it wrong . . . that’s wrong in and of itself.  To grumble that “poetry is something of a cop-out” neglects the fact that there is a book of 150 poems in the Bible that are all God-talk.  Would he suggest that the people who wrote the psalms were copping out on God?

    Edo is right, the problem isn’t in the response to the challenge; the problem is that Terry Jones isn’t seeing the right kind of posting.  Put another way, the posters are proving themselves to be unorthodox because they don’t meet Jones’ standard.

    And when people start telling other people that they aren’t orthodox enough, or doing it wrong, you eventually end up defining christianity as based on anti-global warming, anti-homosexuality, anti-abortion and anti-something else.

    Now, I could be reading more into this than is the case.  But if you issue a challenge for people to talk about God, I’d think you’d be happy for any response.  Besides maybe learning about a new way to see God, or gain some insight you’ve never considered, people are talking about God!  How can that be bad?

  • http://snarkthebold.blogspot.com/ Edo

    I hate to be That Guy, Reverend, but I think you did read more into it than was the case…

  • http://twitter.com/jonestony Tony Jones

    Um, it’s “Tony” Jones.

    Terry Jones is the guy who burned the Qu’ran. But thanks for playing.

  • ReverendRef

     Tony:  Oops . . . my apologies for the error.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    In this crowd, Terry Jones is a member of Monty Python :)

  • http://twitter.com/jonestony Tony Jones

    Edo, you have a point. But when I ask progressives to talk about Jesus, they’re really happy to blather on about the Apostles’ Creed (minus the Virgin Birth). Boooooorrrring. Looking forward to your post.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    “Boring” is not a legitimate dismissal of an argument.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    But when I ask progressives to talk about Jesus, they’re really happy to blather on about the Apostles’ Creed (minus the Virgin Birth).

    Hang on. Are you  defining Catholics and progressives as mutually exclusive? Cos I’m already getting that shit from Patheos, so if the mindset is shared in the “progressive Christianity” portal then I bloody give up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    I think Tony Jones should be happy people were willing to take up his challenge at all, rather than complaining that they’re doing it wrong. At this point I’d be tempted to say something like, you know, I’ve already got other plans for the week, but I have a challenge for you. Try pretending you put your pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us do.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     I think Tony Jones should be happy people were willing to take up his
    challenge at all, rather than complaining that they’re doing it wrong.

    I know, right?  If I tried that stunt all I’d get would be crickets chirping and tumbleweeds drifting past…

  • http://twitter.com/jonestony Tony Jones

    Touché

  • Becca Stareyes

    Maybe he addresses this in his post, but Mister Jones seems to be saying ‘progressive theo-bloggers’ are inherently Christian: other monotheists don’t use the same texts as Christians even when they overlap and Jesus may or may not be an important figure for them, so presumably when they blog about God, they don’t mention the Christian Bible or a Christian religious figure unless they wish to address different sects’ take on the divine.  

    For that matter, is the term ‘theo-blogger’ defined as being monotheist or would a religious blogger who is polytheist or pantheist count?

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I do this because I’m am evangelical Baptist and that’s how we roll.

    For whatever reason, I loved this sentence.

  • http://twitter.com/gndwyn Urthman

    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 think this is a misunderstanding of Tony’s challenge.  I don’t think he meant, “Say something about God that you didn’t learn from Jesus or the Bible.”  I think he meant, “Say something about God rather than something about the Bible or something about Jesus that ignores the question of whether he is God.”

  • guest

    Where I come from God looks like Dr Who.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAKzf4zndmc

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I tend to think in more Kirkish terms,

    “What does God want with a starship?”

  • Kirala

    I tend to think in more Kirkish terms,

    “What does God want with a starship?”

    And now I’m distracted by the fact that “kirk” is also a word for “church”. And all the bad, bad puns that one could pull from that: “How does one best follow the commands of the Kirk of Trek?” (Selectively.) “Does the Kirk of Trek believe in Original Prime Directive or no?” (By evidence, no.) Or worse: “How does the body of the Kirk of Trek handle women?” (There may have been a schism or fifty due to disagreements regarding the appropriate answer to this question.)

  • Wing

     And then there’s the Kirk’s stance on homosexuality, which led to the major schism with the Slash sect…

  • Nicolae Carpathia

    Would that make me Khan?

  • Allen Cook

    I think his point is much simpler, and kind of being proven out here. Just say something about God, simply and straightforwardly, that people who don’t share your viewpoint can use to understand why you believe what you do.

    Instead, everyone’s talking about definitions and categories and writing poetry and none of it is concrete, straightforward statements of belief.

    That’s the problem that frustrates me, at any rate, and why I absolutely loved his original post (and his subsequent calling out). Rank and file conservative Christians can tell you off the top of their head what they think about God in straightforward, concrete terms. Liberal Christians (and I consider myself one) want to equivocate.

    Just say something, simply and concretely, about what you think of God. Pointing out why human thinking is ultimately flawed is a great exercise for someone trying to understand their own faith better, but that’s not a starting point. A starting point is “God is …..” or “God does …..”

  • Lunch Meat

    Rank and file conservative Christians can tell you off the top of their
    head what they think about God in straightforward, concrete terms.
    Liberal Christians (and I consider myself one) want to equivocate.

    God is love. I can’t think of any liberal Christian I’ve met, anywhere, ever, who would not agree with that.

  • Loki100

    Instead, everyone’s talking about definitions and categories and writing poetry and none of it is concrete, straightforward statements of belief.

    So your complaint is that people want to be accurate? Or is it that that people do not accept that hidden premises of the challenge? Or is it that more complex thought requires complex nuance and by their very nature preclude simplistic, often-tribalistic “concrete, straightforward statements of belief.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    Hey, I wrote  something about God once that did not reference the Bible or Jesus. (Only the last half is about God. The first half is about my cat.)

  • GDwarf

     

    Only the last half is about God. The first half is about my cat.

    All hail the ceiling cat?

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    (Only the last half is about God. The first half is about my cat.)

    I have always felt that if God is love, than cats must be the angels.  

    “Hey, you, biped!  You are not loving enough!  Love moar!  Love me moar!  Nao!”  

  • LoneWolf343

    Well, maybe if God showed up more, we would have something to talk about. I mean, would it kill Him if he visited every once in a while?

    …oh, wait.

  • LL

    According to Pink, God is a DJ. Which makes about as much sense to me as anything else anybody else says about him/her/it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7UvmWv_wFM

  • Gotchaye

    Reading the first link in Fred’s post, I think I have a better idea of what Tony Jones is looking for.

    I think this is very much a “but are they really Christians?” concern.  He’s not wanting biblical scholarship and he’s not wanting a lecture on ethics.  He wants these bloggers to affirm something distinctively Christian (or perhaps merely distinctively theistic) in such a way that it can be agreed or disagreed with.  I think his thinking is that if someone doesn’t have certain theological beliefs or attitudes then that person isn’t a Christian, and liberal Christians not talking about these beliefs means that they’re not actually saying things that are distinctively Christian.  An atheist can talk about what’s in the Bible, or what Jesus as a historical or fictional person did or said, but can’t honestly affirm certain theological claims.  That’s what he’s looking for – he wants to know why Fred thinks the atheists in the comments section here are wrong, and where he disagrees.

  • http://caffinatedlemur.wordpress.com/ caffinatedlemur

     So is he then looking for, what RevRef mentioned above, “tribal” markers? I’ve read both posts and…I’m really confused as to what he wants out of this. What is the end result, and what would make him say “that is a satisfactory answer to my challenge?”

  • Gotchaye

    I would guess that a fairly specific statement about the afterlife and how it works and whether there’s a Bad Place and what you have to do to get God to let you in to the Good Place would do it.  Obviously a sufficiently unorthodox or agnostic answer is going to raise “so how can you call yourself a Christian?” objections, but that’s the point – TJ’s “worry”* is that liberal Christians don’t say distinctively Christian things (and perhaps that they don’t believe distinctively Christian things).

    *Scare-quotes because I don’t know this guy well enough to say if this is concern or concern trolling.

  • LouisDoench

     

    That’s what he’s looking for – he wants to know why Fred thinks the atheists in the comments section here are wrong, and where he disagrees.

    If that’s the case then I hope that Fred demurs, because we’ve got a pretty good atheist/theist detente going on here and I would hate to see that ruined.  Every once in awhile one of my fellow atheists (usually a newcomer or lurker)  gets extra snarky and the regulars smack him down so as to maintain that blessed state.  After years of reading Fred’s work I think we have a pretty good idea of what Fred believes and why he believes it. I don’t see any reason for him to stoop to anyone elses theological standards.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I hope that Fred demurs, because we’ve got a pretty good atheist/theist detente going on here

    For my own part, I wouldn’t really describe the theist/atheist relationship I participate in as a “detente,” nor does it depend on theists never explaining why they believe in a deity, or on atheists never explaining why they don’t, or more generally on nobody ever explaining why they believe something that implies that someone else (including me) is wrong. (It does depend on such disagreement being handled respectfully, but that’s another matter.)

    Of course, that’s just me. I acknowledge that other people participate in other kinds of relationships within this space, and it may well be that some of those relationships do depend on preserving that sort of silence.

  • Wingedwyrm

    If you’re talking about God without referencing any holy scripture or any mutually accepted representative figures, what’s the difference between that and completely baseless claims?

    Admittedly, I’m an atheist, so there may be something big I’m missing.  But, in a world where the existence of God is obviously not universally accepted, how can anything one says about God mean anything outside of the confines of “the book and the representative figures we mutually agree upon indicate this which has this implication”

  • Gotchaye

    This reading of “substantial” as “grounded” has been all over the comments here, and it’s a strange one to me.  I come from a philosophy background, which may be something like TJ’s theology background, and I hadn’t even considered that reading before looking at the comments here.  For me, a “substantial claim” is one that gets at the essence of the thing.  It communicates something meaningful about the object of the claim rather than about the speaker or the speaker’s attitudes.  So “substantial” and “baseless” aren’t mutually exclusive, although I assume that many would dispute your account of the baselessness of by-faith claims.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Well, one could make a statement about God that means something in the context of personal revelation.

  • Isabel C.

    Right, or evidence drawn elsewhere. I believe in…stuff…without scriptural reason, but I think I have non-personal-revelation reasons as well as the personal-revelation sort.

    Though I’m not sure what Tony Jones is on about either, since he seems to frame this as a Christian thing. I mean, does he want a discussion of God-as-abstract, God-as-Old-Testament, or what? I’m sort of assuming that a post about universal consciousness or whatnot doesn’t count because it’s not explicitly Christian, but without the Bible or Jesus, I’m not sure what the difference between “Christian” and “generally theistic” is. 

    Granted, I’m not Christian, so maybe I’m missing something. 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    I believe in…stuff…without scriptural reason, but I think I have non-personal-revelation reasons as well as the personal-revelation sort. 

    Sure. And of course these sources of data build on one another.

    Beetle wings might not be grounds for me to believe in the Divine, but it remains true that if there’s a Divine Creator, then beetle wings are part of its Creation, and inferences can always be drawn about an agent from the results of its actions. So beetle wings are a legitimate source of theological data.

    Put another way: one thing we know for sure is that there does not exist a Divinity that created everything but did not create beetle wings. Any universal Creator that might exist is necessarily such that beetle wings are something it created.

  • Isabel C.

    And also: if Fred wants to talk about his concept of God or his history as a believer, that sounds fascinating and I encourage it. 

    However, a lot of what TJ’s post seems like is, well…I don’t know. People Fail to Eff the Ineffable. News At Eleven.

  • reynard61
  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Great!  I am glad to see Barton’s poor scholarship catch up with him.  When that poor scholarship dovetails from selective research into fabrication, someone should get their reputation slapped down.  We need standards in this kind of thing.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon
  • Mary Kaye

    If there is a creator-god (a point on which I am agnostic) then they have a pretty wicked sense of humor.  Evidence:  the way photons behave when going through two slits, and the way they suddenly stop doing that if you put a detector  on the slits to try to see how they do it.  That’s a detail worthy of Raven or Anansi.

    If they actually designed living things (as opposed to just setting up conditions and letting them run) then the detail Yeats calls out as “And Love has pitched his mansion in/The place of excrement” also says something about their nature.  Creator-god has a certain crude and earthy quality.  I think this is why some Gnostics concluded that creator-god and the Most High are not the same, and even that creator-god might be evil.  Not refined enough for their tastes.

    And of course it’s a proverb among biologists that creator-god is inordinately fond of beetles.  (Half of all animals, more or less, are beetles.)

    Personal revelation:  probably the most immediate and frightening of all my experiences of my own gods was standing at the top of a thickly vegetated creek-bank with a tear in the vegetation leading down into the water, where probably a sheep had slid down to die.  It was 105 degrees that day, but the water was cold and slow-moving and murky.  There were coils of bear-shit on the bank, and butterflies sitting on them, very slowly opening and closing their wings.  And the message to me was, “if you want to know more about Me, come down here into the water where the dead thing is.”  But I couldn’t do it.  I was afraid.

    If creator-god exists they are the author of mortality.  The Gift of Men, Tolkien says, which men renamed the Curse of Men.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    For the Avengers fans, found on a real church sign: “There’s only one god & I am pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that”
    http://img256.imageshack.us/img256/7391/onlyonegodchurchsigncro.jpg

  • robP

    How about:
    God loves us. (all of us)
    God calls us to love our neighbor. (and everyone is my neighbor)

  • l8rmon

    If Jones doesn’t think poetry counts, I’m sure he wouldn’t accept lyrics but it seems to me the Lost Dogs made a pretty clear statement about the nature of God:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aiH5EGZ6I4

  • Dan Audy

    How are you supposed to talk about the Christian or other Gods (say Cthulu) that are beyond human comprehension?  How can you describe the nature of Christian God while ignoring the ways in which he made himself and his will manifest – in Jesus, the Bible, Moses, Stone Tablets, Angels, Dreams, Fish & Loaves, Burning Bushes, Pillars of Salt, Burning Cities, and on and on?  Anything beyond that is baseless guesswork that is projecting the desires and fears or is it a (not-so) subtle attempt to suggest that Dirty Liberal Christians aren’t Real True Christians because they don’t have a ‘personal relationship with God’ that tells them down in their gut that God likes all the things they like and hates all the things that they hate and that the only sins they need to worry about are probably the ones that didn’t interest them anyway.

    It seems like a rather silly and pointless activity like asking someone to tell you about last Friday’s football game without mentioning either the players or the ball.

  • redsixwing

    Looks rather like a goalpost move to me. Not liking the answer one received is not the same as not receiving an answer (see also: prayer).

    For how many times I have prayed for something, and the only ‘answer’ something like

    Humanity i love you because you
    are perpetually putting the secret of
    life in your pants and forgetting
    it’s there and sitting down

    Source.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    How in the world are Christians supposed to talk about the God they believe in without talking about Jesus and the Bible? That makes literally no sense whatsoever to me, not in the itty bitty slightest.

    He may have well as said, “explain physics to me. All of it. Don’t use any math.”

    Ridiculous.

  • christopher_young


    How in the world are Christians supposed to talk about the God they believe in without talking about Jesus and the Bible?

    This. A creedal Christian starts to say the Nicene Creed. She gets to the first comma, and, whoops! Jesus!


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