Physicality, Absolutes, and Exclusive Coolness

A video inspired by Tripp Fuller from Homebrewed Christianity, who suggested I give a listen to an episode of The Christian Humanist Podcast about the Emergent Church and the Neo-Calvinists.  Well, I gave it a listen, and it was interesting to hear folks from outside the conversation about their sense of Emergent thinking/Church.  I especially appreciated that while they were critical here and there, I felt that they generally (with a noted “coolness” exception I address in the video) engaged the material respectfully and in a way that was thought provoking.  So much so that three things popped up that seemed like they were work considering:

  • To what degree is the “Emergent Church” a movement of actual buildings and congregations? Is it a series of building?  Books? People?
  • When does inclusivity go so far that it is merely an excuse for wishy-washy theology?  Does we have to have a firm theology?  Is it possible to live in intellectual limbo or are we fooling ourselves?
  • When does the attraction to like-minded folks and engaging dialogue lead to demarcation and exclusivity?  Can people be authentic and “cool” at the same time?  What is the relationship between the Emergent Church and culture?

These questions are not particularly new to the theological conversation, so don’t expect anything mind-blowing, but they are what is live for me at the moment, so there we go.

I’d be interested in hearing from other folks out there about their responses to the above questions and my responses in the video.  I would be especially interested in hearing from people that are not directly involved with the Emergent shebang, so if anyone out there has means of sharing this outside the Emergent  blog-o-sphere and can get feedback to share, I would love that.

What is Postmodernity?

Often times those interested in Postmodernism are so interested in the topic that they sometimes struggle to talk about it in a way that is concrete and accessible to folks not already interested.  In this video I try to explain my understanding of postmodernity in a way that folks can get at without needing a degree.  As a result of the simplicity I'm leaving lots out and cutting corners, but the hope is that it is worth it. One of the things I hit on in the vid is my problem with calling the whole shebang "post"modern, when, in fact, modern thinking is hardly past. I think its very name sets it up hurdle to understanding… Has anyone out there also been bothered by this? Invariably, when Christianity and Postmodernism cross paths, the issue of relativism and absolute subjectivism pops up.  I have unabashedly skipped this issue all together. It certainly does require consideration and IS A PROBLEM that some folks with sloppy thinking do  run into. I run into it too, so don't think I'm unaware…  I'm not planning to dodge it forever. Its just that I'm currently writing a paper on the topic and trying to sort through my own thoughts. Eventually I'll address it. In the meantime though, I'd be curious to know what others think:

  1. How would you describe postmodernism to someone who doesn't quite know what it is?
  2. What are the benefits of postmodernism to a life of faith?

Oh, and Wess Daniels, mentioned in the vid, is online here: Gathering in The Light

Postmodernity, Hermeneutics, and the Second Naïveté

This morning, Tony Jones published on his blog the contents of a chapter he wrote for The Justice Project. In it he discusses the utility of some aspects of postmodern thought to the faithful Christian.  His particular consideration of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur and the hermeneutic of humility prompted me to add on to some thoughts I started in my comments of the transforming possibility of text.  I have been engaged by the work of Paul Ricoeur since I first read him, and I imagine I’ll further address some of his thoughts as I proceed.  He has lots to offer.

In this particular video I am mostly concerned with his idea about the Second Naïveté.

Žižek, Narrative, and Transformation

Over at his blog, Matt Gallion raised some interesting questions, via a comment from Slavoj Žižek, about the role of narrative in our thinking.  Long story short, the question seemed to me to be about effective and persuasive communication:  Are we best served by prosaic and uber-clear communication, or is there something to be said for subtlety?  Also, should we shy away from narrative, just sticking to the facts ma’am?

My take is that narrative and creative engagement with ideas are foundational aspects of human social life, and while we often have the tendency to like to make everything as reductionist as possible so we know easily who to hate, I think the world is often murkier than we can make it seem.  There is only one white and one black, but an infinite number of grays.

One of the problems of course is that liking narrative for narrative’s sake, and believing in the transformative power of language can once again but you (singular and plural) on the slippery road to unhinged subjectivity.  For example, while I like much of this sermon I found online,  it contains the following, which I think can become problematic:

Some people are very concerned to know whether [the events in the Bible] actually happened, and they will either believe it or disbelieve it based on whether it actually happened to an actual person at a real time in a real place. Curiously enough, these people are sometimes found in the pews of fundamentalist Christian churches, and sometimes in the pews of humanist Unitarian Universalist churches. I respect their desire to know what really happened in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. But I am not personally interested in it, any more than I am interested in whether there was ever a real King Lear or a real Mary Lennox. That question seems rather beside the point. These people are real and Jesus is real insofar as their stories, the lies that were told about them, tell us some very important truths. The truth the story of Jesus tells, like the truths in all of these stories, is born of its lies, its beautifully, skillfully told lies.

While I think the power of story is such that it can transform regardless of its historical-critical veracity, I think that routing one’s faith in something that even the believer understands to be a lie is risky business to say the least.

Though I think that the power of theological inquiry is greatly supported by a creative and imaginative quality of thought, I don’t think that doing away with the whole notion of truth in text is the way I would want to go.  I believe than we can simultaneously embrace transforming narrative and tradition.

Books Mentioned in Video:

Amos Niven Wilder’s Theopoetic: Theology and the Religious Imagination

Sandra M. Schneiders’ The Revelatory Text

What is The Image of Fish?

This past weekend, November 6-10, I was at the American Academy of Religion Conference in Montreal.  While there I made a number of great connections, including some longer conversations with Tripp Fuller (of Homebrewed Christianity) and Phillip Clayton, both at Claremont and involved with the Transforming Theology Project.  Well, long story short, both those fellows were encouraging about the work I’ve done over that THEOPOETICS(dot)NET and inspired me to get more of my work out on the web instead of just focusing on printed output.  This is the beginning of what I hope with be one or two videos a week engaging theological work (in print and on the web) with some smaller textual summary below.  Cheers!