Blogging as Violence

Richard Beck

Richard Beck, thoughtful as always, decides to break his own rule and blog about blogging. Having been flogged in some quarters and praised in others for taking on liberal icon Marcus Borg last week, Richard’s post has been supremely helpful to me:

One of the things I’ve learned from writers like James Alison, a theologian deeply informed by Rene Girard, is how rivalry is intimately associated with our self-concept. Specifically, most of us create, build up and maintain our self-esteem through rivalry with others. Our sense of self-worth is created and supported by some contrast and opposition to others. I am a self in that I am over and against others. Better. Smarter. More righteous. More successful. More authentic. More humane. Less hoodwinked. More tolerant. More insightful. More kind. More something.

In short, selfhood is inherently rivalrous. Rivalry creates the self. Rivalry is the fuel of self-esteem and self-worth.

Which means that the self is inherently violent. The definition of the self is an act of aggression and violence. To be “Richard Beck” is to engage in violence against others, if not physically than affectionally. From sunrise to sunset every thought I have about myself is implicated in acts of comparison, judgement, and evaluation of others, allowing me to create a sense of self and then fill that self with feelings of significance and worthiness.

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Understanding Ontology

Richard Beck has a useful debunking and re-bunking of Anselm’s (in)famous “ontological argument” for the existence of God:

Few find the ontological argument persuasive. It seems too cute and quick. Seems a bit fishy. And yet, some find the argument persuasive and the argument has been given a fair amount of logical and philosophical attention, then as now.

Personally, I’m one of those who don’t find the ontological argument persuasive. And yet, how I think about God has a family resemblance to the ontological argument.

At its heart the ontological argument has us imagine a horizon of “greatness” and “perfection.” The argument then goes on to say that existence must be, necessarily, a part of that vision. Maybe, maybe not. But in one sense it really doesn’t matter. Because I think that horizon of “greatness” and “perfection” can do much of the work we want from any conception of God, with or without existence.

via Experimental Theology: The Ontological Argument.

Does Progressive Christianity Need Warfare to Thrive?

Richard Beck has concluded his lengthy series in which he responded to my challenge to articulate a progressive vision for theology. In an epilogue, he sums up his argument:

  1. “God is love” is the foundation of progressive Christian theology.
  2. That means that God is weak in the world, acting out of love rather than power.
  3. The weakness of God initiates a warfare relationship between a weak, loving God and those who strive for power in the world.

That last point, I think, is the biggest jump. Beck relies on Greg Boyd’s argument in God at War to show that a weak, loving God is necessarily swept into warfare with other spiritual beings. That’s not an argument that I think Boyd (or Beck) successfully makes. It doesn’t necessarily follow that if God takes a posture of weakness in the world, God is therefore at war. Even in weakness, it seems totally possible that God is the most powerful being in existence and that God’s mere presence vanquishes all comers.

But Beck is right to say remind us that Jesus repeatedly talked about the satan, and that Jesus himself vanquished evil (in the form of demons) on several occasions. To ignore this aspect of Jesus’ ministry is to denude Jesus of one of the most important aspects of his ministry, leading Beck to diagnose the problem with progressive Christianity:

Dislocated from Jesus progressives had no robustly biblical ways to unpack their central confession that “God is love.” Unplugged from Jesus progressives defaulted to liberal humanism. Not a bad move, but the confession “God is love” was thinned and hollowed out to become an insipid vision of liberal tolerance rather than a robust conflict against the forces of dehumanization in the world and in our own hearts.

So then, the question is: With whom is God at war?

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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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To Love God Is To Love Flesh and Blood [Questions That Haunt]


I’m away from the blog this week, so I have the great honor of introducing one of my favorite theobloggers and authors, Richard Beck, to answer this week’s Question That Haunts:

Many thanks to Tony for hosting this great series, a series I follow every week. Many of the questions that haunt Tony’s readers haunt me as well. So it’s a great honor to get a chance to participate in this way. And blessings on Tony during his time away from his blog as he focuses on other writing projects.

Our question this week: What does it mean to love God more than anyone else and is this even a possibility?

Many of you follow Experimental Theology so you know I’ve been thinking about this question for a very long time. I’ve been mainly preoccupied with how love of God can become tragically dislocated and decoupled from loving others. My book Unclean is one attempt at unpacking the psychology driving that sad outcome, how it so often happens that Christians end up loving God against their neighbors.

To start, let’s tackle a bit of the question: “What does it mean to love God?”

Actually, I don’t think most people are talking about love when it comes to God. They are talking about obedience. The basic frame is this: If I love God I will obey and keep God’s commandments. To be sure, people do have affective experiences related to God, feelings we’d label as love or affection, but for the most part when people are talking about “loving God” they are talking about “obeying God.”

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Can I Love God More than Anything? [Questions That Haunt]

This week’s question comes from frequent commenter AJG. He asks:

I’m a recovering evangelical who is probably somewhere on the spectrum between atheism and Christian Agnosticism these days. One of the things we were always taught in church was that we should love God more than anything or anyone else in our lives.

Now this always struck me as an impossibility because how does one go about loving something that one cannot see, hear, touch or interact with? It sounds more like loving an idea instead of loving a real person. What does it even mean to love an idea like God more than loving one’s spouse or children who are ever present in our own lives? My question boils down to the following: What does it mean to love God more than anyone else and is this even a possibility?

I’m on vacation, so the good news is that this question will be answered on Friday by Richard Beck, one of the kick-assingest  theobloggers and authors on the planet! But before that, let’s hear what you think!

Redeeming Circumcision

I’ve been wondering lately how weird it is that Yahweh commanded Abraham and his male descendants to mutilate their genitals. Richard Beck writes about the transition of circumcision of the penis to the ears:

What I find of interest here is how circumcision is a deliberate act of setting something apart, an act of consecration. Which is interesting given the anatomical relationship between ears and heart. A relationship that I think the prophets were getting at.

The ears function as gate-keepers. If the ears are “closed” then nothing gets to the heart. Thus the shift to the ears, as I see it, is a temporal shift of focus. That is, there is something in the immediate and initial reaction to the Word of God that is picked out by pointing to the ears. A reference to the ears is pointing out something about your reaction right here and right now. Like when you are talking to someone and you say, “You are not listening to me.” To be sure, this refusal to listen is a matter of the heart, but the reference to the ears changes the emphasis. This is a a shift from “their hearts are far from me”–which points to a chronic condition of waning affections, a falling out of love–to the more acute and immediate assessment of “I’m talking to you but you’re not listening to me.” Resistance in the moment is being pointed out. Someone is talking and you’re sticking your fingers in your ears.

via Experimental Theology: Circumcised Ears.

Richard Beck Gets His Ass Kicked

Theoblogger Richard Beck has a beautiful post about his worship home, a small service called Freedom:

Another thing I like about Freedom: One of the church leaders and I have a running conversation (and he might have this conversation with more than just me). A few months ago he came up to me and asked, “Richard, do you know why we come to church?” “Why?” “So God can kick us in the ass.” Every week it’s a variation on that theme. “Richard, did God kick you in the ass today?”

I smile and say yes.

Read the rest: Experimental Theology: Freedom.

And if you haven’t yet read Richard’s book, Unclean, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

There’s No Biblical Solution to Your Problem

Richard Beck says “biblical” doesn’t mean what you think it means:

Recently I was invited to be a part of a conversation regarding how a community I’m associated with should approach a controversial topic. The stated goal of the conversation is to think about what a “biblical” approach would be regarding this issue.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the word biblical and about what it might mean.

Here’s my basic observation: Whatever biblical means it doesn’t mean biblical.

Read the rest: Experimental Theology: “Biblical” as a Sociological Stress Test.

Rob Bell Is (Not) a Universalist: How Much Freedom Do Humans Have?

All this week, I’ll be posting about Rob Bell’s controversial new book, Love Wins. And this Sunday, April 10, I’ll be guest hosting Doug Pagitt Radio from 12-2pm CDT, talking with Keith DeRose, Michael Horton, and a special surprise guest! The entire two hours will be devoted to a discussion of the book, in advance of Rob’s appearance the following night at Wayzata Community Church.

A couple weeks ago, I mused about a theme that has come up in several interviews that Rob has done since John Piper started the kerfuffle surrounding this book.  Rob has said repeatedly that human freedom is pivotal to his thesis in the book.  In fact, his premise regarding freedom seems to be more philosophical than theological:

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