Deconstruct Yourself

John Caputo, one of the “Three JC’s” of the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast, confers with HBC host Tripp Fuller.

John Caputo is the foremost American interpreter of Jacques Derrida. He’s also a friend of mine, and I admire his work greatly. Since his retirement from teaching he’s moved from philosophy to theology, an area largely unexplored by Derrida himself. The Opinionator blog has a sharp interview with Caputo:

G.G.: O.K., I guess you might say that all thinking involves making distinctions, but deconstructive thinking always turns on itself, using further distinctions to show how any given distinction is misleading. But using this sort of language leads to paradoxical claims as, for example, when you say, as you just did, that beliefs contain a faith that they can’t contain. Paradox is fine as long as we have some way of understanding that it’s not an outright contradiction. So why isn’t it a contradiction to say that there’s a faith that beliefs both contain and can’t contain?

J.C.: The traditions contain (in the sense of “possess”) these events, but they cannot contain (in the sense of “confine” or “limit”) them, hold them captive by building a wall of doctrine, administrative rule, orthodoxy, propositional rectitude around them.

via Deconstructing God – NYTimes.com.

God Is Not Eternal

Writing a book on the atonement is like peeling the layers of an onion. Everything theological dilemma you solve only brings up two more dilemmas. So it was that I needed to write a section in the book on God’s relationship to time, because it seemed to make no sense to talk about God’s relationship to Jesus’ crucifixion unless I could explain God’s relationship to time.

So a couple weeks back, I write a post arguing that God is not outside of time. When he read that, Keith DeRose sent me Nicholas Wolterstorff‘s classic essay, “God Everlasting” (in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, New York: Oxford, 1982).

In that essay, Wolterstorff argues that God is not eternal, God is everlasting.

His argument proceeds thusly:

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God Is Not Outside of Time

One of the things I hear assumed by Christians all the time is that God is outside of time. It’s odd, I think, to make this assumption, because it’s not biblical, it’s Platonic. There’s a verse in 2 Peter that often gets cited — “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” — but that is a reflection on God’s experience of time, not God’s independence from time.

As human beings, we are hedged in on all sides by time, completely circumscribed by it. Our impending deaths remind us daily of this reality. Try as we might, we simply cannot conceive of being free from time.

That’s not to say that time isn’t fluid. In the 20th century, we became aware that time can be slightly bent, and in the 21st century, we’re starting to hear that maybe time can take place more complexly than we’ve previously known.

Nevertheless, time is a condition of our existence, and it’s inescapable.

In the book I’m currently writing, the questions I’m trying to answer have to do with where was God on Good Friday? What is God’s relationship to the cross? And what is God’s culpability in the death of Jesus? God’s relationship to time is implicated in all of these questions. And I’m coming to rest with the idea that God is voluntarily bound to time, that part of God’s longstanding story of humility and self-limitation is that God abdicated timelessness in order to have an authentic relationship with timebound beings. Because if God were outside of time, relationship with those of us inside of time would be impossible.

Arguing with Atheists

There’s a very big difference between, on the one hand, making a theological, philosophical, or scientific argument for the existence of God and, on the other hand, making a personal statement about why you still believe in God despite your doubts. Those are two very different types of communication.

I am keenly aware of the difference. I’ve written many posts here that are the former, and I’ve got an entire chapter already written for a forthcoming book that is along those lines, arguing with Aquinas’s famous “Five Ways.”

Yesterday’s post was surely not that. Yesterday’s post was the latter, an honest accounting of one of the several reasons that I continue to profess faith in God, in spite of the fact that I am beset with doubt.

But the biggest atheist blogger in the world picked it up, mocked it, told his readers that I had made the worst argument for the existence of God that he’d ever read, and pointed them here. They came, they told me I’m an idiot, and they left. (It’s shocking — shocking, I tell you! — that atheists don’t find one of my reasons for belief compelling.) I don’t imagine they’ll be back anytime soon.

So it goes in the blogosphere these days.

For those of you still reading, I was simply trying to say this: One of the reasons that I continue to have faith is that so many in the world do; so many — the vast majority, by anyone’s reckoning — that I cannot help but pay attention to that. I don’t think that all those people who believe in the divine, and all the billions who’ve preceded us on this plant who have believed similarly, are stupid lemmings. I think their belief deserves enough respect that I cannot shuck it off so very easily.

Take it or leave it. But I stand by it.

“Why Are You Still a Christian?”

Faith and doubt coexist for Jay Bakker.

That was the question asked to me yesterday by a dear friend as we drove to lunch. And it’s a good one.

As I’ve written recently, I’m disheartened by the number of friends of mine who are no longer theists. The latest is Ryan Bell, who is starting a Year Without God (I blame AJ Jacobs for all the “Year Of…” madness; I think that meme has pretty much run its course). Ryan is a former pastor, and now a former instructor at Fuller Seminary and Azusa Pacific University. (In a post about being let go from those positions, he says that Christian institutions of higher learning are afraid of faculty asking tough questions. I have not found that to be the case at Fuller, though I do have my concerns about other schools. Fuller has continued to employ me in spite of the objections raised by several high profile alumni.) Is Ryan really living as an atheist for the year? Some atheists don’t think so.

But back to the question my friend asked me. As someone beset with doubts, she wondered what it is that keeps me Christian. I have several answers to the question — many of which relate specifically to Jesus of Nazareth — but here’s the one reason that’s most significant to me these days:

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Five Honest Questions for Process Theology

This post should be properly titled, “Five Questions for Process Theologians,” because you cannot actually ask a question of a theology, only of a theologian. The problem, as Tripp and Bo explained in their recent and controversial podcast, is that a lot of people whom I consider process theologians aren’t. Or they deny that they are. Phil Clayton is influenced by process, as is Bo. Tripp hedges on whether he’s a process theologian, or whether he’s an open-and-relational-baptist-who-has-proclivities-toward-process. Maybe John Cobb is the only truly process theologian.

The back-and-forth over process started with a rather hamfisted post by Roger Olson, in which he asserted that true process theologians aren’t Christian and, conversely, true Christians aren’t truly process theologians. When the pushback came his way, he responded by saying, “Hey, I’m writing for evangelicals exclusively. The rest of you can listen in, but this isn’t about you.” (He also unfortunately aired some of his personal dirty laundry in the comment section of the initial post.)

Tripp and Bo rightly took up Olson’s post, pointing out that it was both wrong at points and ungenerous in others. But I grew increasingly frustrated as I listened to the podcast because I thought that Tripp and Bo were taking potshots at more classical forms of theism. They even criticized other open and relational theologies as their temperatures rose. And, in so doing, I think they missed some of the more salient points of Olson’s criticisms.

If I had my druthers, I’d go over to Tripp’s garage, open a homebrew, light up a cigar, and talk this out with him in front of a live mic. Since that’s not geographically possible, I offer these five questions and ask those guys and others to respond by whatever medium they see fit. I am definitely a full-fledged member of the “open and relational theologies” camp, and I’m a hypertheist, so I offer these questions as a friend and teammate.

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God’s Uniqueness, Part One [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

This Question That Haunts Christianity series is now an occasional series, as opposed to weekly. But I’ll still field questions and do my best to answer. Directions on how you can submit a question below. Today’s question comes from reader Pat, and it concerns a contentious post by Roger Olson last week:

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Is God Unique? Is God Distinct? [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

This Question That Haunts Christianity series is now an occasional series, as opposed to weekly. But I’ll still field questions and do my best to answer. Directions on how you can submit a question below. Today’s question comes from reader Pat, and it concerns a contentious post by Roger Olson last week:

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Jürgen Moltmann Audio

Tony Jones and Jürgen Moltmann

Your Favorite Blogger and Jürgen Moltmann at the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation

Since the Emergent Village Podcast is no more, some people have asked me for the audio from the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann. I’ve uploaded all of the episodes to Dropbox, where you can listen or download them for free.

Humanize the Other, because That’s the Gospel

It’s long been my contention that core to the ministry of Jesus was that he re-humanized those who had been dehumanized by the religious forces of his day. It was not only unseemly but forbidden for a Judean to touch a leper or a menstruating woman, to share water with a Samaritan woman, to heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus did all these things, and he did them with such force and courage that the Gospel writers repeatedly tell us that the crowds were astonished (thaumazo, which means amazed, with a tinge of fear) at the power of his teaching and healing.

Always and everywhere, human beings are tempted to dehumanize other human beings. It was prevalent in the ancient world of Jesus, and it’s prevalent today. Recently, Rachel wrote, You don’t hate me, you hate my brand. Some were upset, saying that Rachel shouldn’t allow herself to become a brand, hoping that she would be more authentic so that her blog and her person would be one-and-the-same. Of course, Rachel is one of the most authentic and honest bloggers around, but nevertheless, she’s a brand. And that is so because 99% of her blog readers don’t know her. That is, they don’t know her in the flesh-and-blood sense.

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