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.

Richard Beck’s Progressive Vision

Richard Beck

Richard Beck is one of my favorite theologians of the moment. Maybe it’s just because I agree with most everything he says.

He teaches at a college that’s affiliated with the Churches of Christ. That’s not a progressive group — most of those churches still don’t use instruments in worship. I’m saying, it’s not easy for a Church of Christ theologian to publicly acknowledge that he’s “progressive.”

Nevertheless, Richard has taken up my longstanding challenge for progressive Christian theologians to say something substantive about God, about Jesus, about theology, and about what we believe.

If you follow Richard, you know that he is the KING od series. So, he’s in the midst of a double-digit series, spelling out his thoughts. He’s made the very unlikely pairing of two books to lead him through this: Greg Boyd’s God at War, and John Caputo’s The Weakness of God (I confess to only having read the latter).

Here are some highlights of Richard’s posts so far. For instance, from the opening post:

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Can Postmodern Theology Live in Our Churches? #STN2

That is the overarching question at Subverting the Norm 2, a conference that I’m attending this weekend in Springfield, Missouri. Honestly, not many people addressed the question yesterday, at least not in the sessions I attended. So far this morning, the presenters have pivoted to talking about it.

Last night, I responded to John Caputo‘s plenary address. Some here accused me of failing to actually respond to Caputo, others have wondered if I made a Derridian move, and still others have thanked me for speaking plainly and forthrightly. Some requested that I post my response, so I will do so here. But before that, some prolegomena:

First, Caputo is the rock star of this conference. Several people here are his former PhD students, and many are his acolytes. I, too, am a big fan of Caputo — I think his Weakness of God is a brilliant text — and I had no desire to present a deep critique of his work in this context.

Second, due to no fault of his own, Caputo did not provide me with his manuscript in advance. In academic conferences, respondents are usually able to see the paper in advance so as to write a prepared response.

Third, Caputo is a philosopher of the first order. I am not. I’m a (practical) theologian, well-versed in postmodern philosophy, to be sure, but not at the level of going nose-to-nose with someone of Jack’s caliber. To do so would have been stupid of me and disrespectful of Caputo.

For all of these reasons, to attempt an on-the-fly response to Caputo would have been nigh on suicidal — or at least would have held the potential for a massive trainwreck. So, instead, I composed 13 points of challenge and exhortation for those in the crowd — particularly clergy — who are really trying to answer the question, “Can postmodern theology live in our churches?” Some of these points I prepared before Jack’s talk, and some are a direct result of and response to it:

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From the Onto-Theologic to the Theo-Poetic

The last couple days at the gym, I’ve listened again the podcast episodes from the 2007 Emergent Theological Philosophical Conversation with Jack Caputo and Richard Kearney, particularly the first session, and I’ve been reminded again at what a wonderful three days that was.  It’s still astounding to listen to Jack and Richard spend an hour or so walking us through two and half millennia of philosophy, philosopher by philosopher.

But listening also reminds what I love so much about the postmodern turn, at least as a theologian.  I titled that opening session, “Who Is This Metaphysical God, and Where Did He Go?”  Of course, I didn’t know exactly where Jack and Richard would go with my questions, but they went just where I hoped.  They talked quite specifically about how the Christian Neoplatonists really wrested the Story of God from its Hebrew orgins and squished it into a Hellenistic schema.

This occured to me because I just wrote my 13th column with Sean McDowell (son of Josh).  He and I co-write a column for the Journal of Student Ministries called “Sparks” in which we debate everything from truth to intelligent design.  Our next column, in the Nov/Dec issue, will be on the topic of apologetics.  As you can imagine, we come out on totally different ends of the spectrum, especially being that he and his dad have both staked their careers on modern apologetics.

But his challenges got me to thinking again about my antipathy for modern apologetics, and why I am enamoured of the postmodern posture toward truth.  And that, in turn, drove me back to the Caputo/Kearney podcasts.

There are some real gems that they both drop over the first couple of hours of conversation, but the overriding theme is this: In the ontological-metaphysical scheme, God is required to fit into the pre-existing conditions of rational, philosophical argument.  In other words, reason and logic precede God.

The postmodern, however, puts God first.  God is not the Cause of himself, as Descartes would have us believe, but instead the Uncaused Causer, as Aquinas argued.  God operates by a different rationality, or at least a superior rationality, than philosophy.  Or maybe even a non-rationality.

In any case, what Caputo and Kearney pushed us toward was theo-poetic language of God.  A God who is and who will be.  A God who is known in The Possible.  It’s a wonderful couple hours, and I highly commend it to you if you’re wondering about what the postmodern turn means for theology.


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