Tilting at (Real) Theological Windmills

Tilting at (Real) Theological Windmills March 16, 2010
Tripp "Sancho Panza" Fuller and Philip "Don Quixote" Clayton, by Dave Huth

If there’s a Don Quixote of theology, it may be Philip Clayton, in that he attacks orthodoxies with an evangelical zeal rarely found in liberal and progressive ecclesial circles.  Tripp Fuller, Clayton’s erstwhile doctoral student and cornhole zealot, shares the wry, earthy wit of Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza.  I first made this allusion in the preface to Transforming Christian Theology: For Church and Society, the book penned by Clayton and Fuller, and they proved true to these characterizations last week at Theology after Google.

My thanks to them for bringing together this event.  In many ways, it felt like an early emergent event, in that the quality and curiosity of all participants — those in front, and those in the audience — was uncommonly high.  And also, because of that quality, the participants walked away somewhat disappointed.  That’s because this was a demanding group, and because events, by their nature are bound to disappoint.  Someone’s constituency is always underrepresented; someone else’s ego not sufficiently stroked; and someone else is convinced they could have given a superior presentation (which surely they could have).

For these reasons, it’s a difficult task to produce an event — more difficult, I’ll say, than producing something more static, like an article or a book (or a blog post!).  So, I write to publicly express my gratitude to Don and Sancho for sharpening their lances and throwing a great party last week.  Bravo!  (And thanks to Dave Huth for taking me up on the challenge of the above illustration!)

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  • Here here! Well said. Thanks, Don and Sancho!

  • Good work with this event, Tony. It was good to see you again, and I came away thinking about lots of different stuff.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    This is so very unique and interesting. Would love to have been able to participate in person or on the internet but could not. Love the picture of Tony and Tripp. Keep up the good work.

  • Great picture! I had a discussion with Dr. Clayton a few months back, and I really appreciate the time he took with me. He is really down to earth, empathetic, and geniunely interested listening to what people have to say.

    Thanks for the video.

  • Well, it is good to see Don Quixote and Sancho Panza riding again — You asked for it, and someone provided it! Good show.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    I just read my previous comment and I meant to say Philip Clayton. Sorry Tony !!

  • Sancho approves!

  • Benjamin Chicka

    I find the self referential praise and justification through blog hits of your friends idiotic. Referencing each other because you like each other has nothing to do with the justification of your theological positions. Being proud because you sold books and have blog followers does nothing to answer my critiques of theism. Hitler was popular too.

  • Philip Clayton

    Ben, I’m sorry to disappoint. But isn’t the world a better place when theists — Christians, no less — can be funny and know how to laugh at themselves?

  • Benjamin Chicka

    Philip, you know I will say yes to that. But I am trying to be the obnoxious guy on purpose. I do think it is interesting that I actually got along quite well with everyone at the conference. So on the practical level great good would come to society if more people adopted this flavor of Christianity. However, I think there is room to be questioned theologically. I found that element lacking. Surely you still that that probing element is still important to the religious life.

  • Benjamin Chicka

    Correction: Surely you still think that probing element is still important to the religious life.

  • Tony, I don’t think you can use the phrase “cornhole zealot”, I’m just saying. . .

    Also thank you for confirming the fact that our podcast is the most important in Christendom, I feel validated by you and have now put you on an elevated plane in my heart.

    • Ah, but Nick, haven’t you heard, Christendom is dead. And it was the worst thing to ever happen. Ever. 🙂

  • Benjamin,

    I appreciate your criticism, but I don’t think anyone was implying that camaraderie is any indicator of the veracity of a particular theological truth, or any truth for that matter, as you have rightly pointed out. I think that when people have similar interests and similar beliefs that it lends itself to a more peaceful, less-abrasive talk. After all, if people agree on everything what is there to question? That is why we appreciate people like you coming in and stirring the pot. God forbid we should we “ride” our theological assumptions too far off course on the “horses” of a euphoric communal amnesia.

  • Benjamin Chicka

    I was going to wait for Philip to respond to see if he agreed with where my last post ended, but it is not really a question since I have heard him speak about the matter before and imagine he would agree endless questioning is part of religious belief. If others on here agree, then then inherent tension in this post-google approach I have tried to highlight by my brash comments is as follows.

    There is a functional split between doing theology and getting together and talking about emergence Christianity and new forms of church life via new social media. So the conversation becomes people who already agree with each other getting excited over people they agree with being successful. Those not part of the post-google conversation then look in and see the conversation as stupid because it appears to only be for people with religious position x. So no one not already interested in new media is excluded from learning something. If not one of those in group x, one can ignore all the fuss. However, I suspect Philip Clayton and most others at the conference would say they love theological debates and are open to changes in their positions. But that is not how this conference presented itself.

    Many of my own friends have responded to what they saw online with “no one needs to care what those people have to say” because my friends disagree with the presenters theologically. The practical benefits of what many at the conference know could have reached more people if mixed with a healthy sense of theological openness and debate. The fact that the conference did not appear as such to so many is perhaps its most significant failing. So it really should be pointed out that you all still appear to be idiotic, as my first post said, to so many who would be willing to engage in dialogue and learning if the public presence of the content was different.

  • Benjamin, I’ve come around on this in the recent past, and the TAG event has pushed me even further: affection and theological correctness need not be seen as enemies. That so many people in the emerging Christian theological conversation hold each other in such high regard is a sign that it’s doing something right theologically. That’s not to say that discord equals bad theology. It’s just that I’ve watched this conversation from the sidelines for going on 10 years now, and I’m more convinced of the theological merit of it largely because of its convivial character.

  • Benjamin Chicka

    P.S., I was intentionally playing a part. I wanted to make people angry, then say they neglect something they probably do not, all to point out a problem with the way the conference was presented that would lead people to react in such a way. Ie. Compared to the old style of academic theology, I’m not sure this movement does a better job of reaching those not already paying attention. The people at TAG just start with a larger audience.