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.

No, the Writers of the Bible Did Not Expect It To Be Taken Literally [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

This week’s Question That Haunts Christianity cames from Nina:

Questions that haunt: did people of Jesus’ time even expect the stories they were telling to be taken literally? Would they be shocked to learn that 2,000 years later we are interpreting them that way?

They told lots of stories then about people who were sons of god, and born of virgins, and resurrected — these were themes that came up regularly. It doesn’t seem to me (or to most scholars since David Friedrich Strauss, I think), that first century folks approached storytelling with the idea that their stories were literally accurate (they instead were symbolically True).

What if when we try to interpret the virgin birth or the resurrection as historically true (rather than symbolically True) we’re just completely misunderstanding the original intent of these stories? What if people in antiquity were way more sophisticated than we are, and they would think we were impossibly thick to be interpreting their beautiful stories this way?

To give a modern example, what if I had a southern friend who said “She’s so crazy about her man, it’s like he hung the moon.” And I said, “Oh, I don’t think his ladder would reach that high.” Imagine the reaction I would get….

Great comments, as always. This week, there wasn’t really one thread that dominated, but lots of smaller threads, chasing down various ideas. I’ll probably touch on lots of them with my more narrative response:

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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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The Dissolution of the Narrative

As we in the West struggle to understand the upheavals and violence taking place in the Middle East and elsewhere, I am reminded of this prescient quote from one of the very best books on postmodernism (which I loaned to someone and was not returned — if you have this book of mine, please send it back!):

The postmodern condition, we are told repeatedly, manifests itself in the multiplication of centres of power and activity and the dissolution of every kind of totalizing narrative which claims to govern the whole complex field of social activity and representation. The waning of the cultural authority of the West and its political and intellectual traditions, along with the opening up of the world political scene to cultural and ethnic differences, is another symptom of the modulation of hierarchy into heterarchy, or differences organized into a unified pattern of domination and subordination, as opposed to differences existing alongside each other but without any principle of commonality or order.[1]

Amen, brother.


[1] Steven Connor, Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 8.


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