Interpretive Communities, a Request, and a Heraldic Gospel

On a recent video from the Transforming Theology project, Phillip Clayton asked Tony Jones how the internet and Google have been at work changing theology. Jones replied that it allows for a greater, more broad based, access to information, and forum for feedback.  I agree.

In a Dec. 14 post on his blog, Jonathan Brink writes about uncertainty, truth, interpretation, and Stephen Colbert’s interview with the Conservative Bible Project guy.  Those are all things I love thinking about.

In a Dec. 14 post on his blog, Blake Huggins writes about Jurgen Moltmann, Jean Francois Lyotard, and Chris Rosenbrough commented that “… these are first and foremost the questions that need to be asked and definitively answered and those answers are found no where else than in the inerrant and inspired text of scripture.”  Blake replied that “… I think it is impossible for anyone to simple “begin in the text” or pose the question “what does the text say?” I don’t think the text or us as readers exist in a vacuum.”  This reminds me of Stanley Fish’s comment that “”strictly speaking, getting ‘back-to-the-text’ is not a move one can perform, because the text one gets back to will be the text demanded by some other interpretation and that interpretation will be presiding over its production.”

In a serendipitous convergence of things, this very day I finished writing a piece called “Towards a Heraldic Gospel: From Monorthodox Doctrine to Theopoetic Perspectives on Revelation and Repentance.”  It addresses all the things that Jonathan, Blake, and Chris were discussing, and I wonder, if, in the spirit of the Tony Jones and Phillip Clayton conversation, real people are interested in chomping down on some theology with me and giving it a read. That’s my request: given that you are a hyper-extended community of interpretation that might actually be interested in theology, is there anyone out there who would be interested in chatting?

There have been a few great back and forths on The Image of Fish already, and I thought it might be worth testing the waters to see if this larger scale communique would be received as well.

Anyone who would be interested and giving it a read can download it directly here.  If anyone does bite, I’d love to do a back and forth via skype for a few minutes so that it could get posted here as well… Comments are good too though.

“strictly speaking, getting ‘backto-
the-text’ is not a move one can perform, because the text one gets back to will be the text
demanded by some other interpretation and that interpretation will be presiding over its

10 Responses

  1. I’m definitely grabbing the paper. I’ve got a pretty hectic schedule the next several weeks so I don’t know how long it will be before I can give it a serious look. If it sparks some thoughts I’d love to connect in some way though. This is a very live issue for me as well.

  2. Callid, Some feedback. I tried to read the paper but it was honestly quite beyond me. Doesn’t mean it was bad. Just didn’t quite understand what you were communicating. Best to you on it.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement Jonathan. I appreciate it. Translating it out of academic-ese into 10 minutes of youtube ready explanations seems like a great task for me to take on. It definetly couldn’t hurt to try to make it more accessible. If I somehow manage it I’ll let you know. Thanks again for taking the time.

  4. For those that are interested, it appears that Thomas Jay Oord beat me to the punch line of my own joke without even knowing (I assume) that he was doing it. He has an AWESOME post on his blog that concisely hits the core issues for me on many of these topics. Different approach and not the same trajectory exactly, but great stuff very much in line with this. Check it out for sure:

  5. I like Oord’s post for the most part. But he makes the same mistake of other critics of deconstruction. No one, not even Derrida himself, is arguing for moral relativism.

  6. @ Blake I agree. Well, at least in as much as I am not arguing for it. I don’t believe Derrida was either, but I am not so sure on that. Unrelatedly, did my article make sense to you? and/or As another interpretive communities nut, did you think that it was of any use?

  7. Callid,

    Thanks for alerting me to your site. It’s great! Thanks too for the shout-out for my site.


    Thanks for reading my post on pomo. You’re right that Derrida doesn’t argue for moral relativism. In fact, he argues pretty passionately for an ethic of hospitality in his later works. I appreciate that. And my friend, Jack Caputo, takes many of these ideas and argues for the supremacy of love — something I’m really happy about. (See his What Would Jesus Do? book)

    But especially in Derrida’s case, I see no grounding for the kinds of moral moves he (rightly) wants to make. In the end, I ask, “Why should I be loving and hospitable?” I find no constructive Derridean answer to my question.

    At least that’s how I read Derrida. I could be wrong, of course. But given that so many others also read him this way, my reading is likely not too far off.

    Thanks again for engaging my blogpost!


  8. @Callid. I just finished reading through the paper for the second time. I really enjoy it. I am relatively new to these notions of communal hermeneutics (vis-a-vis philosophical hermeneutics) and theopoetics, but I am very interested in the direction you take. To answer your question, I think it is of great use.

    One of the questions I have is where you see systematic theology, as a large project, fitting into all this. As you might imagine, I have a love/hate relationship with systematics as it tends to be wedded to a very modern, scientific mindset. I do, however, see some potential in what persons are now calling “constructive theology.” When I read statements in your paper like this one, “A Heraldic perspective on theology would necessitate the rejection of any systematic or doctrinal claims that suggest a wholly accurate, complete, and closed interpretation of revelation and the Divine,” I get the sense that you share my concern with large, totalizing theological systems. Yet, still believe there is some benefit in that line of inquiry even if it resist settling into static codification. Do you have any thoughts about that?

    @Tom. Thanks for the clarification. I really enjoyed your interview over at the Homebrewed Christianity podcast and, as a fellow Wesleyan with process sympathies, I found the book you co-edited with Bryan Stone very helpful (I am one of Bryan’s M.Div. students at Boston University, by the way).

    I certainly think that is a valid reading of Derrida. And I’ll admit that I am a little lost myself when I take him alone. At the moment, I find the direction that Jack takes him — especially with his notion of “undecidability” — to be a better approach. While I understand the pull to locate and name an ultimate ground or metaphysical foundation, I am very suspicious of doing so. I don’t make that move to dismiss your “why” question, but to underscore the possibility of there being more than one answer to that question and to accentuate that our attempts to do so are deeply polymorphic. In some ways — and here I think Jack is maybe more Derridean than Derrida himself! — it would seem that finally coming to rest upon some ontological center or ultimate ground limits one’s ability to be open to the other others that are always already present and lay claim to us. At any rate, I think that is the (responsible) question that deconstruction is always posing before us, as you point out in your post. Given the propensity of some detractors to throw out the “r-word” as a sort of rhetorical trump card rather than accepting the challenge of deconstruction, I always try to make the case that it is a bit more nuanced and complex

  9. @Blake

    I’m not sure if I would even go so far as love/hate with systematics. I love them the way I might say I love a certain television program: it engages me and I like setting myself down in front of it, but it is not the same as loving something with its own life in it. To the extent that I might love some great TV show (or theology) it is not because of the thing itself, but to the degree that it evokes some resonance in me of some living thing/Presence/idea/experience.

    I think that we humans like (perhaps need) attempts at naming the ground of being. My call is not to search for ways to get to the end of that (like Rorty would like), but to acknowledge that our favorite explanations and words for that ground are important but not final. This opens up the chance that others’ “finalities” are possibly as valid as our own. This is somewhat like Caputo’s undecidability as I understand it, but the reality is that functionally I have not encountered ANY community that actually has a praxis of value-neutral “undecided” theology or doctrine. Even we Quakers who “have no doctrine” have doctrine. It is just less clear, which paves the way for more problems.

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