John D. Caputo

Whips and Systems or, The Better Question May Be, “Why Them?”

If you have read here for very long you likely know I am a fan of Inigo Montoya. The daft swordsmen in Princess Bride who puzzles over linguistic imprecision. His almost constant refrain makes the point,

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Read More

The Present Pregnant with the Future or, Why You Need Good Conversation Partners

A funny thing happened on the way to the sermon this past week. The discovery startled me. How was it only one commentary made the connection between the way the Sadducees tell their theoretical tale and Jesus’ response? (Luke 20) More specifically, trained in an environment where word studies reveal exegetical and expositional gems, how is it the description of the as is of taking a wife gets glossed when compared to the middle voice of Jesus’ words describing the same event?

I am still ruminating. Still cogitating.

The Sadducees Enlist Jesus (Not) as a Conversation Partner

The Sadducees not only make Moses their source of authority, The Torah, but they institutionalize the as is structure of marriage they inherited. Read their outlandish tale of the woman who married a man with seven brothers. That is not the unbelievable part. What should set the reader on alert is that the woman married the oldest brother and before he died they did not have children. So, according to their source of authority (Judah and Deut. 25) the next brother was to take the woman as his wife in order to provide an afterlife of sorts by keeping his brother’s name alive by having children with his brother’s widow. This was their understanding of transcendence.

We could follow that simply enough. But in order to mock Jesus, and resurrection, the story included the fact that all the brothers died having taken the woman and yet did not produce any children, much less a male heir. The presumed unanswerable question, “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” The Sadducees did not anticipate Jesus’ response, or non-response. And, neither do we.

shesaidyesThe language used to describe marriage by the Sadducees was the as is – a man takes a woman. Despite the institutionalization of the King James language in the traditional wedding vows, modern marriage in the West does not occur by taking but by asking. “She said, ‘Yes!’”

Prior to the current way marriage works in our culture, marriage served other purposes than the romantic. Political or economic matters influenced unions. Consider the popular Downton Abbey as providing an on-screen illustration of how marriage functioned long after the Sadducees asked Jesus their (in)famous question.

Only Joel B. Green referenced the distinction between taken and Jesus’ use of the middle voice “given in marriage.” He noted that we translate the words in the passive. This, in our translations, maintains the as is structures. Women are given. We still ask, “Who gives this woman?” There is a sense that in Jesus’ answer, one that draws a distinction between this age and the age to come, the age of resurrection, something is getting done.

More Than They (and We) Bargained For

All others missed the middle voice of Jesus’ words. “Given in marriage,” is better “(they) he/she gives (give themselves) himself/herself.” Participation in his/her own giving is a subtle but important distinction. And since the context is framed in the question, “Whose wife will she be,” we must keep the emphasis upon her.

The question is framed as the woman acts passively and is taken in marriage. Jesus’ reply appears to call that into question when he elevates her role as one of participation rather than passivity. She gives herself in marriage. She is not taken.

Yes, you rightly notice that Jesus uses this phrase twice. First, he notes that in this age people marry and are given in marriage, or better, give themselves in marriage. Jesus responds to a theoretical and yet does not give a speculative answer. Is it that Jesus subtly calls into question their as is even as he begins his response?

inconceivableSecond, Jesus replies that in the age to come, the age of resurrection, people will not marry or be given in marriage. Careful. We are not surprised that in the age to come people will not marry or be given in marriage. But, that is not saying the same things as in the age to come there will not be any reference to who was married to whom. That no eye has seen, no mind can conceive, nor has entered the heart of man opens up inconceivable possibilities. Some make this point saying that in the eschaton there is no need for pleasure or procreation, as if those are the only benefits of marriage.

Whether or not that is the case is not the point Jesus makes. Jesus gives his response in relationship to resurrection, which is what is in question. The reason there will be no marrying or people giving themselves in marriage is that  “you will be like angels.” The qualifier is, “for they cannot die anymore.” The end of marrying in the age to come is related to resurrection, the end of death.

Marriage is not for creating transcendence. Children are not born so a man may experience some form of afterlife. Jesus takes up resurrection and as he does undermines the as is in favor of the to come, the eschatological.

The Pregnant Present

If Jesus subverts the view of marriage as for male transcendence by pointing up marriage as a participatory relationship, then be sure he undermines the way the Sadducees read Moses, The Torah. It should be a bit of a warning to modern readers not to instantiate the as is as part of the to come. Jesus returns to Moses to make the point.

The age of the resurrection will not follow the orientation or patterns of the present age. Jesus points to the way the present is pregnant with the future. Moses writes, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Jesus interprets the statement as indicative of a living God. On their face, Moses’ words do not demand Jesus’ reading. Instead, Jesus re-reads Moses to the Sadducees and emphasizes the is of God as indicating the is of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a living God of living patriarchs.

futureA recent conversation caused me to think of the future differently. Feuerbach believed God was little more than a psychological projection of an idealized human. Maybe there is really in all people a secret longing to fill out some idealized human vision and this is God. Jack Caputo made the point that rather than God as a projection could it be God as projectile. Instead of something that is cast out into the future via our imaginations, what if God were a projectile hurtling into the present. I could not help but think this is a good way to talk about Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom come.

For the sermon I could not see how this philosophical conversation could make its way into the church. But, since the initial question is about the absence of children why not borrow from the experience of pregnancy to suggest the present is pregnant with the future. All of this coming through a willingness to be open to unconventional conversation partners.

Two people marry. Amidst all their hopes and dreams they discuss one day having children. Time passes and physiological and biological changes call for a doctor’s visit. The news is good – a baby is on the way. No one expects the couple to wait until the baby is born to prepare a nursery, to buy clothes, to buy furniture, to consider names, and on we could go. No, they begin re-orienting their lives and relationship in anticipation. Changes are made. The future projects itself in the present. This is the Kingdom Jesus announces.

Who has/have been your unsuspecting conversation partners?

Image Credit – He Asked, She Said Yes

Image Credit – Inconceivable

Image Credit – Future

 

No Miracle for You or, Perhaps John D. Caputo Gives Faith a Chance

Jesus concludes the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus by noting a miracle will not help. Hardly the sort of encouragement from him who turned water to wine, who walked on water, and who bid Peter to get out of the boat. The modern imagery conjured by the prospect of Dives’ brothers, where Dives is a fictitious Latin name added later, being warned by Lazarus returned from the dead would be the stuff for many a Judgment House. The problem is Jesus says, “No, it won’t work.”

The Law calls a material structure possible to cultivate a culture of neighborly well being, if practiced. Before John preached, urging as it were, the Kingdom of God, the Law insisted God. Actions and behaviors commensurate with the Law called for human beings to create a community that did not cohere with normal human desires. The call to radical humanity insists God. And, as such connotes that the mission of God requires such a community of radical human beings.

Ignoring the sort of material structures that leave people begging for crumbs at the tables of the wealthy haunts us all. Confessional-ly we point up human dignity and worth. We claim exclusive right to talk about the Kingdom of God, to build the Kingdom of God, to live in the Kingdom of God. Pragmatically we engage in a play of words that leaves us, like the Pharisees, exposed. Our desires find structural safety in the very way we, that is a good many Christians, seek to comfort the sorrowful with thoughts of what is to come as much better than what is. Yet, we do little to challenge the structures and systems that continue to produce pain and sorrow. And, we insist God exists.

Imagine as it were the Pharisees consoling beggarly Lazarus that if he just holds on, he will find it better in the life to come. All the while the Pharisees claim the very resources intended to help care for their aging parents cannot be used as they have been dedicated to God – Corban. The Pharisees know that once their parents pass from this life those same resources would then be free of obligation, as God surely would want them to have a new house with the very wealth they had dedicated to God. And, the Pharisees insist God exists.

insistenceI thought I would try my hand at something of an acknowledged abridgment of the first chapter of John D. Caputo’s recently released, The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps. It certainly contains interpretive moves.

My friend Tripp Fuller organized a Blog Tour around Jack’s book, as some know him. Surprise might be too soft a word to describe that one of the lead off participants in the Blog event serves as a pastor of a Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma. There is little doubt I may receive an email, or more, like the one I did after having referenced Walter Brueggemann years ago that included, “What is a Southern Baptist doing reading Brueggemann?” Only I suspect emails that may follow this piece might begin, “How could you?!”

Perhaps, for Caputo, becomes the cut between traditional binaries giving space for the event of God’s insistence. Strong theology is the place where certainty lurks and is an affront to faith. Weak theology is not an indecisive, inept project but one where real possibility exists and God insists. Caputo argues that talk of possibility is problematic where strong powers dominate the discourse. Real possibility must include the possibility things might not turn out as we hope. This is truly unsettling, decentering. But, we who often quote Philippians 4:13 cannot but be drawn in by the thought of an omni-potentializing, omni-possiblizing God. (p.14)

In order to raise the specter of something needed in Confessional Theology, Caputo calls for a Derridian “hauntology” of Confessional Theology.(p.5) And, perhaps is just the word to unsettle the powers of a Strong Theology. Caputo argues, as he has elsewhere, for a Weak Theology. Such a theology is haunted by the “may be” God of perhaps. For Jack, Strong Theology minimizes human responsibility. Weak Theology maximizes human responsibility.

The first chapter introduces the insistence of God. If it is not de-stabilizing enough to consider the need for a haunting of Confessional Theology, perhaps, one may be scandalized as Caputo invites readers to consider the insistence of God above the existence of God. The theme, and title of the book, will unfold throughout as he explicates the three pills that Confessional Theology must swallow to get over its fear of perhaps – The Insistence of God, Theopoetics, Cosmopoetics.

Perhaps I look for Caputo’s newest book to give faith a chance where faith no longer arises from the certainty of Strong Theology that in its discourse looks very little like faith. Perhaps I wonder if Caputo will take his own omni-possiblizing, omni-potentializing of the Event of God to the place where a metaphysics, even if a weak metaphysics, is possible. Perhaps I wonder how a Confessional Theology that places great emphasis upon human responsibility will respond to a Theology of Perhaps that creates a hyper-human responsibility.

Perhaps you will get a copy and risk reading for yourself.

I received this book for free from Indiana University Press for this review.

And, it has been on my Wish List since it was announced to be published.

Perhaps, Facebook Exposes Original Sin and the Need for a Missional Quest

You will be disappointed. After a fairly long hiatus from writing beyond an occasional photograph, I choose a title sure to generate traffic. You clicked. My intent is to point out what is to come here on the blog.

Perhaps

perhapsNext week I will participate in a Blog Tour around the recent release of John D. Caputo’s, The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps. My contribution will be to write about the first chapter, God, Perhaps: The Fear of One Small Word. All readers will wonder. Some will think I have lost my mind. Quietly, or not so quietly, you may think I have lost my faith. The truth is I have long thought there is much to learn from critiques of religion, even of Christianity. The Masters of Suspicion continue to influence those critiques that eventually produced what goes under the banner of Radical Theology. What Caputo will do in his recent book is describe a Radical Theology. Always interested in the play of words, Caputo, intentionally or unintentionally, opens us up to recognize that when people talk about Christianity, they may be describing a Christianity.

My fearful readers will no doubt find confirmation in that last line that I somehow believe there are multiple Christianities. A better way to get at what I suspect is that in Christian discourse, outside of our tribal confines, reveals to onlookers as if there are multiple versions of Christianity. The Christianity described by Joel Osteen would not be what many in my tribe would consider Christianity. The Western and Eastern Churches have long emphasized their differences in such a way one could suggest they are two different versions. We have not even begun to describe regional expressions in other parts of the world. The description does not negate, or invalidate Christianity, but it seems to equate to Lamin Sanneh’s description of Christianity as the translatable religion, not ethnically tethered.

Other readers will wonder what an Evangelical Southern Baptist pastor is doing reading the sorts of things that stir their intellect as well as their understanding that Christianity should not be less than materially lived. These friends would see the contribution of Radical Theology something akin to religious chemotherapy for a Christianity that is too other-worldly. In fact, this group would find it hard to understand Christianity and its lived expression as not less than political, and not in the partisan sense. Instead, Jesus charts the way for those whom Paul describes as new creations in Christ. These living human beings live out their faith in all relationships as people giving allegiance to a new Lord, not an old Caesar.

Facebook

barrytaylorMy friend Barry Taylor concludes an interview with, “Facebook is the new suburbia.” No explanation. No exposition.

We live in a community best described as ex-rural. According to some descriptions, Tuttle is a suburb of Oklahoma City. Maybe what Barry is getting at pertains to the way suburbia tends to be a place where broken lives are shielded by nice homes, manicured lawns, and evidence of expensive hobbies. The jig on suburbia has long been up. Currently the trend is back to the cities.

But, what Taylor may help us understand is that we have long desired to desire a better projection of ourselves. People compose their identities on Facebook in the same way a nice picket fence in suburbia shifted attention from those living inside to how things look on the outside. The issue is how we understand the self and identity formation. Who could deny we continue to miss these issues amidst the politicization of identity in our politics?

Original Sin

eagletonEnter Terry Eagleton. Ironically, a Facebook post by a young friend in Divinity school pointed me to Terry Eagleton’s, On Evil. Though I am not finished with the book, he describes original sin in greater breadth than simply a pointer to Adam’s fated choice in the Garden. Instead, in the lived experience Eagleton points human brokenness as a trace in our histories. He personalizes human experience in a way that reference to a first parent cannot.

He writes,

Original sin, however, is not about being born either saintly or wicked. It is about the fact of being born in the first place. Birth is the moment when, without anyone having had the decency to consult us on the matter, we enter into a preexistent web of needs, interests, and desires – an inextricable tangle to which the mere brute fact of our existence will contribute, and which will shape our identity to the core.” (p.35)

I am interested to finish and work through my own understanding of Original Sin as bequeathed from what I suspect is an overly simplistic vision, strictly intended to target an individual without accounting for the world in which he or she will live.

Missional Quest

missionalquestBrad Brisco and Lance Ford‘s recent book, The Missional Quest: Becoming A Church of the Long Run, arrived in the mail compliments of IVP. I responded to the query to read their new release hoping to see what one virtual friend (Brad) and one real-time friend (Lance) describe. I am hopeful they have in mind something like Eugene Peterson’s, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, with the Church in mind.

My interest is beyond getting a free book. I am in my 20th year at Snow Hill. In Baptist terms, even Southern Baptists, that is a long run. And, I am not tired. It will be interesting to see what sort of parallels may be found between what I would describe as theorists, and that is not intended negatively, and a practitioner. We need those 30,000 foot thinkers. But, if there is not translatability at ground level, someone is wasting their time. I suspect Brad and Lance will not be wasting ours.

These Things and More

All of this is to come. The careful reader will know that blog posts on these subjects will have a measure of the eschatological to come. Amid best intentions there is always the regular work that comes with pastoring and sharing life with those in our congregation. When you witness the occasional infrequencies in the flow here at The Edge of the Inside, know that there is always the to come.

As always, thank you for reading and commenting.

Abridging Schools of Thought, Tony Jones the Conservative, and The New Materialism

Jack Caputo criticizes those who abridge postmodern philosophy. It seems especially so when talking about theological proposals. I have listened to many of his lectures posted online and on more than once occasion he makes this sort of statement. (More on this later.) I understand.

Caputo’s challenge is not unlike what is faced when my tribe, Southern Baptists, tussle over Reformed Theology. Baptists, even Southern Baptists, who self-describe as Reformed, abridge Reformed Theology. For instance, to my knowledge you will not find a Southern Baptist Church that practices infant baptism.

When the subject of baptism comes up Reformed Baptists defer to the Baptist distinctive, Believer’s Baptism. One could argue this practice stems from the Radical Reformers, most notably Anabaptists. However, Southern Baptists do not practice community discernment or pacifism characteristic of most Anabaptists. As such one could argue Baptist Theology inherently abridges multiple schools of thought or, as I think of it, is derivative theology. We who inherit our Tradition from the Free Church find this liberating and at the same time inherently contentious.

We Southern Baptists are notorious for our internecine, insider, conflicts when groups divide over just how much or little another group abridges the theological strains present in our heritage. The matter worsens when you introduce a new stream, one that is always reduced by opponents to an old stream, and often deemed a heresy by those same opponents.

More than ten years ago an upstart group of Evangelicals gathered around their analysis of the Church in North America. Early on their sensibilities were embraced without question as it initially tended toward the pragmatics of ecclesial matters. Once a group within the group asked theological questions of the perceived Tradition, camps formed and the splintering began along with the accusations of traversing the proverbial bridge too far. Denouncements, pronouncements, and anathemas were stock and trade.

Imagine that more than ten years later Tony Jones, participating in a theological gathering, would find himself the conservative. My Southern Baptist friends, the ones who are still reading, just dropped their coffee cups on their keyboards. Now that they have wiped their screens to be sure they read correctly, I want them to know yes, Tony Jones the Conservative.

Tony Jones attended Subverting the Norm 2 where the conference planners wanted to address the question, “Can Postmodern Theology live in the Church?” My Southern Baptist friends and peers still reading may feel the visceral need to shout at their screens, “No!” But, I am interested. Many carry on with little recognition of the way other philosophies have impacted their/our systems of belief during the course of Church History. A course in intellectual history in college helped frame the analysis. Movements are not the serendipitous consequence of human experience. There are intellectual moves that fund these events.

Some might be interested to learn that the very conservative James K.A. Smith was a student of John D. Caputo’s who decided to follow another school of thought that harnesses both postmodern philosophy and the postmodern critique to fuel Radical Orthodoxy. Of course the student would disagree with the teacher in this scenario, but if you have read Smith’s, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, you may get a different way to hear helpful critiques and find ways to abridge a school of thought for the good of the Kingdom.

Many who attended both STN events were eager to hear Jack Caputo. He spoke at the evening Main Session on the first day. Tony responded to Jack Caputo’s main session talk. He stirred things up to say the least. But, if you know Tony, it is his gift.

How is it that I assert, Tony the Conservative? Believe it or not, Tony actually believes in a real Jesus, a real atonement, and a real resurrection. He is a realist. Depending on the angle, I am not sure Caputo is a realist. Non-realists, of varying stripes, explore the power of belief without the encumbrance of truth as correspondence, my perception. Put more simply, what makes something true is the material impact on a person’s way of life. Again, my interpretation, and certainly would suffer criticism as an oversimplification and too reductionist.

What does this have to do with me? Why would I be interested in STN2? I will respond by referring to a friend who recently wrote about messy reading. She writes,

I have been reading a book of essays titled In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe. I haven’t read a book I so strongly disagree with in a long time. Someone asked me, “If you disagree with this book so much, why do you keep reading it?” Fair question.

The author is articulate, intelligent, and well-read. It is of value to me to be able to read and read carefully the opinions and thoughts of someone I disagree with, especially if I find something in it offensive. Why am I having this reaction? Why am I offended or defensive? Be calm. Form a thoughtful, careful, polite response, but not before considering all angles- and everything I can outside the angles. Where is this person coming from? What is behind what they are saying? This kind of reading helps me think a little more deeply and is only good practice for conversations that I may have with others now and in the future. In the end, it’s not about changing anyone’s mind, but about understanding others and shaping myself over time. If I read and listen only to people who I agree with now or back up what I already believe or think, how will I grow? How will I change? How will I get better at loving and listening to people who are different than myself?

So, I will finish the book as long as it remains interesting. And it definitely has that going for it.

For more than twenty years I read from the approved list. I recall being taught how to gauge the conservatism, or lack thereof, of a book by noting the publisher. We were offered a spectrum to consider so that if a title intrigued us but we did not know the author we could surmise the theological commitments by assessing the publisher on the given scale. Things have changed over the last fifteen years. The existential experiences, the life happens moments, would require another post or put the rest of you who are still with me to sleep were it appended to this post.

It is enough to say I am asking different questions these days. Much of it is derived from life as a pastor living with and in the midst of a group of people over a long haul. Short-term pastoral ministry is different. I have done both – 17 months and four years. No, the 17-month stint did not result in my firing. I moved to be closer to seminary for my terminal degree. And boy, am I terminal. I prefer the longer versions of pastoral ministry but believe they are riskier to the certainties of faith than shorter ones.

The one thing that keeps me awake at night is the way we still seem to be attempting to overcome a faith that is chiefly ethereal, in the head. Statistics continue to support distinctions between stated beliefs and lived reality. We may want to re-hash Luther’s argument with James at this point but what really gets me thinking is what happens in material reality, the stuff God created. How is it we may traverse God’s good planet and not consider the materiality of our faith in favor of something more distant and esoteric when the Incarnation is so central to the Christian faith?

Tomorrow I will offer a review of Religion, Politics and the Earth: The New Materialism by Clayton Crockett & Jeffrey W. Robbins. My main focus will be their chapter on religion. Too often, in my experience, we have taken a dismissive approach to the materialist critique of religion. It may be a mistake. Crockett and Robbins pick up something of a new materialist critique of religion, one that seems to scratch my itch for how we think about our faith in material reality. More tomorrow.

I close with a reminder from my young friend,

If I read and listen only to people who I agree with now or back up what I already believe or think, how will I grow? How will I change? How will I get better at loving and listening to people who are different than myself?