More on Wheaton

More on Wheaton April 24, 2007

Well, I’m glad that Al commented on the last post to clarify that the fellow theologians don’t consider me a real theologian. I wonder if that has more to do with the powerpoint, or that I haven’t finished my dissertation (or that I didn’t wear a tie). At least Ken Silva has the cojones to call me an anti-theologian. (In fact, I think I like that title!) My thoughts on academic guilds are well known, and it does not surprise me that they esteem me not.

My “paper” went for a bit over an hour, then there were about 40 minutes worth of questions before Vince Bacote and I finally had to cut it off. I’ll likely publish a version of that paper somewhere, sometime, so I’m not ready to give it all away here. But, the gist of it was that I said that orthodoxy doesn’t “exist.” Instead, orthodoxy is an event, in the Derridean/Caputoean sense. That is, orthodoxy happens when human beings get together and practice it (talk about God, worship God, pray to God, write books about God, etc.). There’s no orthodoxy somewhere out there that one can point to and say, “See that? That’s orthodoxy. That’s what we’re trying to get to.”

The thrust of the conference was to talk ancient-future, to bring the patristics to bear on the present. I argued that the way we are faithful the Fathers (and Mothers, and the many marginalized voices in the history of the church) is to be conversant with them as we are attempting to be faithful in our time and place. I suggested that the Council of Chalcedon, for instance, was a messy, political event that eventuated in the “orthodox” rendering of Jesus the Christ as two substances, one person. Now, I don’t reject that articulation of Christ, but I do want to acknowledge that it was a human and political process that resulted in that event of orthodoxy.

I received some comments during the Q&A time, as well as a couple of emails, all suggesting the same thing: I’m opening the door to liberalism. One emailer has asked if I’ve not abdicated all realism to the infinite deferral of deconstruction. But, like he said in his email, liberalism and conservativism are two sides of the same coin. They both rest on foundationalist assumptions that I reject. So I see no fear of sliding into some kind of neo-liberalism.

I used the analogy of a baseball umpire who has to call balls and strikes during a game. While the rulebook declares what will constitute a strike, and the umpire can quote that definition verbatim, there is really no such thing as a strike until the ball is thrown and the umpire declares it. I asserted that, though the Major League strike zone does not accord exactly with the rule book, there will not come a time when batters will be required to swing at pitches over their heads. The community of baseball (umps, managers, batters, pitchers, catchers, fans, and MLB officials) all hold the strike zone in a dialectical tension.

Similarly, Christian orthodoxy is held in tension by you, me, the Pope and Benny Hinn — by all 2.2 billion of us. Plus, we’re also listening to the interpretations of those who’ve gone before us — the church fathers. (Sadly, we don’t have the voices of the mothers and the slaves to guide us, but we’re getting better at that.) As such, I do not consider the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed a perfect articulation of the Christian faith. They are remnants of our liturgical past, and, as such, they carry much hermeneutical weight. However, they as limited as all human language is limited.

My best argument that the “strike zone” of orthodoxy will hold is the 2,000 year history of the church. From the Early Church through the Conciliar Age, from the Dark Ages, through the Middle Ages, the Scholastics, the Reformation, the Modern Era, and until now, the worldwide community of faith has adjusted the strike zone, but also guarded it. Now, wrested from the hands of ecclesial elites and placed in the hands of bloggers and “laypersons,” the same thing will happen: we will all work out our orthodoxy together.

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