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.

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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Post-Cynical Christianity

The pope visits one of the poorest barrios in Rio.

“I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!” he said, speaking off the cuff in his native Spanish. “I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!

Those were among the comments that Pope Francis made yesterday in Brazil, as a part of [Catholic] World Youth Day. The pope continues to talk about Christianity in a way that makes it seem like a different religion than his predecessor’s. He was even more poignant in his comments while visiting one of Rio’s barrios (aka, slums):

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Two Podcasts, No Waiting

Homebrewed Christianity

I took some time away from the blog this weekend, due in part to a power outage caused by major thunderstorms in Minnesota. I also spent most of Saturday tracking down a swim raft from Craigslist, floating it into the lake, and subsequently vanquishing all comers who attempted to dethrone me as King of the Hill.

But we awake Monday to two Homebrewed Christianity podcasts featuring items of note:

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Cornhole Extravaganza

Two years ago, my Fuller Seminary D.Min. cohort made mincemeat of a motley collection of bums from the Claremont School of Theology, taking the Seminary Cornhole Championship. Now Tripp Fuller and his team from CST has challenged us to a rematch, which will commence on a gorgeous rooftop in Malibu, California on Tuesday night. Being that cornhole is the ultimate spectator sport, and that you’ll get to see me throw bags with Barry Taylor, you should think about attending. $15 gets you entrance and beer, and to be in the audience for a taping of Homebrewed Christianity. There are only 50 tickets available. Hope to see you there.

BUY TICKETS HERE

Obituary for the Residential Seminary

There’s lots of talk around the Twin Cities about what’s going on at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. The largest seminary of the ELCA, Luther’s president and CFO resigned late last year after disclosing a $6 million shortfall in 2012 (our of a $27 million annual budget). More recently, the interim president announced big cutbacks:

  • 18 of 125 staff were laid off immediately
  • 8 of 44 faculty members will retire this year and not be replaced
  • 5 more faculty will retire next year
  • The Masters of Sacred Music degree was terminated
  • No new PhD students will be admitted for at least 3 years

 
What exactly went wrong at Luther has not been disclosed, but the trends can no longer be ignored. Inside Higher Ed reports,

The changes at Luther have been unusually swift and dramatic. But the trends driving them are the same ones that seminaries are facing across the board. Enrollments are falling. Costs have increased, while student debt has become a bigger concern. Many Christian denominations, seeing their own ranks shrink, are providing less financial support than in the past. And as Americans as a whole become less religious — almost one-fifth of adults now have no religious affiliation — seminaries face an uncertain future.

The ELCA is indeed shrinking. As The Lutheran magazine reported in January,

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Why Does Integral Philosophy Sound Like New Age?

I can’t make heads nor tails of this.

A lot of my friends like integral philosophy. I remember years ago when evangelicals readers were scandalized because Rob Bell had a couple endnotes citing Ken Wilber in one of his books. I’ve been encouraged to read Wilber by others, like Brian McLaren and Shane Hipps. I’m not saying Brian and Shane are fanboys, I’m just saying they’ve told me I might like it.

Some, however, are fanboys. Every once in a while, I’ll run into someone for whom integral philosophy in general, and Wilber specifically, is the key that unlocks the door. It’s the answer to all of life’s questions. Honestly, it reminds me of the Preterists I know, who basically claim, “If you could only see what I see, everything would make sense!”

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Debating Creatio Ex Nihilo

In response to my quote bomb, Tripp has bombed me back with a very good post debating the merits of the traditional doctrine of creatio ex nihilo — that is, the belief that God created the cosmos out of no pre-existent material. That God created everything that is out of nothing but Godself.

I agree that there are some problems with creatio ex nihilo, and I’ll be exploring them with my DMin cohort next month (as we canoe in the BWCAW – jealous?). For now, I encourage you to read Tripp’s post, and let me know if you agree with him that creatio ex nihilo is problematic.

Creation Out of Nothing isn’t Biblical, as in it isn’t in the Bible. If you read through the Bible you will not find the affirmation that God created the world out of nothing. It’s just not in there. In fact, even Biblical scholars who in the end want to affirm the doctrine for theological reasons will not point to the idea being present in the Bible. Just re-read Genesis 1 and ask yourself ‘where did the darkness and waters come from?’ They weren’t created but were there when God began to create.

Read the rest of Tripp’s objections: Creation Out of Nothing is Overrated (For Tony Jones).

Why Turn to Process Theology? #WhyPray

 

Maybe Alfred North Whitehead was right...

I haven’t.  I’m not (yet) a full embracer of process theology. But, I’m writing a book on prayer, which has me thinking a lot about the interaction of God with creation. That interaction, from any rational perspective, is highly problematic.

On the one hand, I want a God who is Other, with whom I can have a differentiated relationship. There seems to me little reason to pray unless this is the case.

However, a God who is differentiated Other seems, by all empirical evidence, to act in arbitrary ways. One might even say unjust ways. How does our prayer effect that kind of God? That’s the sticky wicket I’m trying to get through.

Process theology has solved that, but in a way that is difficult to jibe with the biblical narrative, and with classical orthodox theologies.

Anyway, I’m just working this through and thought I’d float it out there. Surely this post will give Tripp a little thrill.  If you’re interested, you can learn more about process theology at this year’s Emergent Village Theological Conversation (unfortunately, I can’t attend).

Leave your thoughts here, or follow the hashtag #WhyPray on Twitter.

Breaking News: Process Theologian Believes in God!

At HBC, Tripp has posted some sweetness from living legend, process theologian John Cobb.  If you harbor misconceptions about process theology, take seven minutes and read this post (plus, as an added bonus, Cobb accurately diagnoses the problem with mainline Christianity today):

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