What Happened on the Blog this Weekend

What Happened on the Blog this Weekend September 23, 2013

On Saturday, I published a guest post here. That’s not particularly uncommon. I have, of late, invited posts from guest authors. In fact, when someone emails me to express an opinion that is contrary to something I’ve written, my usual response is, “Why don’t you write a guest post on that, and I’ll publish it.”

A couple things come to mind about this stance. For one thing, I am only a person who writes books and a compensated blog because, starting in 1999, kind people shared their platforms with me. Sure, I suppose they thought I had something to say, but they also chose to give a 30-year-old youth pastor a chance to write books and speak at conferences. A decade-and-a-half later, I’m happy to do the same for other, new voices that I think you might appreciate.

Secondly, I strongly believe that writing is a meritocracy. If you have something interesting to say, and you’re relatively articulate, people will read your writing. So I feel like there’s not much to lose, and a lot to gain when I publish a post by a new voice.

What happened this weekend follows both those rules.

I’ve published a couple pieces about Slavoj Žižek. He’s not a household name, by any means, but among the readership of this blog, he’s a known commodity. A postmodern, Continental philosopher, he has a relationship with Christianity. He often talks about Christian theology, and he’s written about it. His ideas have been used extensively by friends of mine as diverse as Peter Rollins and David Fitch.

When Nathan, the author of Saturday’s post, emailed to tell me that he disagreed with Zane’s post from a week ago, and that he’s read some Žižek, I told him that he could write something up if he’d like. And he did.

When I got his post, I emailed to tell him that I think he was misunderstanding people’s interest in Žižek, and that I disagreed with the premise, but I went ahead and posted it anyway. The bottom line is that Nathan thinks that, while interesting, Christians should never look to Žižek for theological insight. In fact, he thinks that Christians should never take any theological insight from an atheist.

Well, I think that’s hogwash. (Nathan defends this as a teaching of the Orthodox Church, but I have not been able to substantiate that.) Theological insight comes from all sorts of places, atheists included. Indeed, if we’re reliant solely upon the church for theological truth, then two things are true: 1) God is bound exclusively to one human institution (a laughable idea), and 2) we’re pretty much screwed (because the church is so clearly fallible).

On Twitter, some people were justifiably questioning why I posted something like this. Maybe I shouldn’t have. But I don’t think that the post was stupid, and it surely wasn’t offensive. It was thoughtful, and it defending one perceptive, even if it’s not my own.

And, I think that this episode shows that premise #2 above holds: Nathan’s ideas, like my own, will rise and fall in the public square based on whether they’re good ideas and whether they’re well argued.

Read the post yourself, and you be the judge. UPDATE: Based on the behavior of that guest author, the post has been removed.

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  • It’s one thing for a commenter to scoff the host and try to empty the room. It’s another for a guest to.

  • Scott Paeth

    It’s funny, I didn’t think that Nathan’s piece was inappropriate. Totally wrongheaded yes, but not an inappropriate response. But as you said, the strength of the ideas will determine if they rise or fall. I decided to post my response to Nathan for precisely that reason. It’s a good conversation to be having.

  • Muzi Cindi

    How will Nathan respond to this quote from Bishop John Spong:
    “Theism is not a name for God or even a name for one who believes in God. Theism is the name of a human definition of God that is no longer believable. Atheism does not mean that there is no God. Atheism means that the theistic understanding of God no longer translates into the world of our experience”.

  • Tom McCool

    I love talking to atheists. I’ve engaged many in online discussions. I can confidently say that my faith and knowledge has increased because an atheist make me think about my beliefs. Instead of weakening my faith, it has actually strengthened my faith! Zane’s post is an example of the kind of deep thinking and revelation that I’ve experienced. Yes, we can learn from atheists, and maybe not in ways that atheists would expect. Nathan’s post, on the other hand, only tells me that Zizek is wrong without telling me why he’s wrong. Obviously Nathan doesn’t see Zizek as a “legitimate, actual’ theologian (What does that mean?), and so discounts him solely on that basis. Claiming something is heresy doesn’t make it so; tell me why you think it’s heresy.

  • Bill Sahlman

    great pushback. and kudos for taking the risk on your blog to open these conversations.

  • DanLambert

    “All truth is God’s truth, no matter where it is found.” That may be the truest truth of all. To believe that only Christians can know theological truths is a scary form of inbreeding.

  • Thanks for both this clarification post as well as allowing multiple perspectives on the blog.

    I, for one, welcome multiple perspectives on how to engage Žižek, etc.

  • Let me also say that I think some Christian leaders are too quick to embrace “edgy” thinkers like Z. He’s probably not as helpful to Christian theology as some people think.

    • The problem I have with the statement ‘some Christian leaders are all too quick to embrace…..’ is how can one possible measure it.

      Is there a certain speed at which Christians leaders are allowed to embrace such writers? Should we have a waiting period after reading such works before using their ideas.

      It’s seems like a throw away comment aimed at some of those who challenged you rather than anything useful.

      If you don’t think his ideas are useful say so but such an unmeasurable statement leaves us with no way of knowing whether we are guilty of such a speedily embrace of Z.


      Which Christian leaders have been too quick to embrace Z?

      How is this manifest? What does it look like?

      What should they do instead?

    • Muzi Cindi

      There’s a hypermarket of experiences within Christianity. I had a spiritual experience after reading Richard Dawkins book, THE GOD DELUSION. That experience brought me back into Christianity; when I was on my way out. I need Zizek’s thinking, as it makes me stay within Christianity; otherwise; I would be a militant atheist by now. Which is better FOR ME?

  • willhouk

    To me the piece seemed unnecessarily abrasive. I couldn’t, and still can’t, seem to understand why it was so dismissive of Zizek. One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate about you Tony, Bo and Tripp, Peter Rollins, and this whole community is a willingness to grapple with difficult topics. That piece seemed to throw all of that out the window.

  • spinkham

    The most problematic and potential offensive line was this:

    “An atheist using Christian concepts and terminology for anti-Christian ends is just atheism, if not something worse.”

    The problem beyond the strong “I *obviously* know the good, and label you as worse than I simply because you’re not in my club” mindset is by “anti-Christain ends” he doesn’t seem to mean that Žižek is against feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoner, etc. It seems to me when Jesus (reportedly) taught about who following him in doing the work of his Kingdom, that’s all he thought was important enough to mention.

  • Lisa Carson

    I actually liked how it brought about the other ideas of Christian thought among Christian thought, and how even in attempts to line up ideas there are also ways in which ideas can seem to sit close and aim jabs at the same time. How we can have ideas about God, similar names, and still – we can’t seem to find God in them or find a way to meet in a sense of our already present compromise.

  • R Vogel

    “Indeed, if we’re reliant solely upon the church for theological truth, then two things are true:”
    Three things. Given that Christian theology is heavily rooted in and dependent on Greek philosophical thinking, it might not exist at all! 🙂