Talking #ProcessTheology, Roger Olson & Your Calls #NerdOut #GeekOut

Tripp and Bo tackle everything from the problem of evil (theodicy) to eschatology, kenosis to creation ex nihilo – all from a Process perspective in this mega-cast.TNT

We enjoy call from Evelyn, Nathan, Bill and Tony.

Roger Olson set off a fantastic conversation with blog post last week. We have been gearing up for this episode by responding to Roger Olson, engaging Tony Jones’ post, and fleshing out some pastoral implications of the Process persuasion.

Be sure to check our Deacon Gilmour’s Christian Humanist Podcast & the awesome Star Wars episodes!  Also get yourself subscribe to the new Christian Feminist Podcast.

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48 comments
willhouk
willhouk

My favorite line of the podcast was this: "The Baptists love those Catholic books of the bible if it fits their agenda." That is awesome.

Tripp I loved hearing you get fired up too. This podcast answered a lot of questions I had about Process Theology. It was great. Now I have a lot to "process!" Ba dum ching, don't forget to tip your waitress I'll be here all week.

JeffStraka
JeffStraka

Before heading into atheism, I was a big fan of Process. When my mother was suffering (and died) from dementia, it helped a bit with the "theodicy" by limiting God's power. It made better sense in light of the natural world. But now I see several problems with it. One, it implies a human/earth-centric God - God who apparently is obsessed with "persuading" the humans on this tiny remote planet in the vastness of the universe (if not multi-verse) towards the "better" (does he persuade animals towards the better?). Second, it implies that this planet was "fine-tuned" (by his "persuasion"?) just for us, that humans were the capping of his evolutionary "persuasion", and that he just wants to continue to persuade things for the better. Really? If that's the case, why are their asteroids whizzing all around the solar system, with all odds that there is a large one with our name on it? Remember that large one that hit Chelyabinsk earlier this year? Why would an all-loving, persuading God create such a universe? Can he persuade the asteroids not to strike us? So, while Process Theology is a far better option than the omnipotent, omniscience God of most Christianity, it seems to be that last remaining "training wheel" before realizing that it's just us and the natural universe And it always has been.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/25/tyson-asteroids-discussion-livestream_n_4163461.html

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

Here is a partial transcript prior to and of the quote of Whitehead (no heavenly music inscribed in this text):

For Whitehead, it is not just some philosophy that he came up with that we apply to Christianity, but in his metaphysical account, his metaphysical re-examination of the world, in light of quantum relativity [how space, time, and gravity work in a quantum universe] that actually opens up a vision that the way God and the world relates might have been more revealed in Jesus than in any of the others.


The metaphysics that he is trying to articulate are actually a cruciform, Christo-centric metaphysics, in that it coheres with the very notion of power in the God-World relationship as revealed in Christ--not the philosophy that Christian liberals that aren't really Christian use.


He's contrasting his thought with Aristotle's thought, which is the dominant philosophy of the church via Catholicism.  He says that "the notion of God as the "unmoved mover" is derived from Aristotle, at least so far as Western thought is concerned. The notion of God as "emmanently real" is a favorite doctrine of Christian theology, that God is living and active.  And then you have this notion of the unmoved mover that is thought thinking itself and should it think anything outside of itself then it is no longer perfect and no longer God. Those get stuck and combined. "The combination of the two into the doctrine of an aboriginal transcendentally eminently real, transcendent creator at whose fiat the world came into being, [creation out of nothing,] and whose imposed will it obeys is the falacy which has infused tragedy in the histories of Christianity and Islam. "


"When the Western World accepted Christianity, Caesar conquered; And the received text of Western theology was edited by [Caesar's] lawyers. The code of Justinian and the theology of Justinian are two volumes expressing one movement of the human spirit. The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages, uncertainly. In the official formulation of religion it has assumed the trivial form of the mere attribution to the Jews that they cherished a misconception about their Messiah. But the deeper idolatry, of the fashioning of God in the image of the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rulers. was retained.  The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar."  And then he concludes, 


"there is however in the original Galilean insight of Christianity another suggestion which does not fit very well into any of these main strands of philosophy. It does not emphasize the ruling Caesar, it does not emphasize the ruthless moralist, it does not emphasize the unmoved mover, it dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love; and finds its purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this wold. Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved; also it is a little oblivious as to morals. It does not look to the future; for it finds its own reward in the immediate present." (Whitehead, God and the World, Section 1).

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

Just finished listening to this TNT. I think you have just summited the peak of everything you have been striving for with Homebrewed in this TNT--good philosophy, good theology, good pastoring of the faith at perhaps the highest level of all three that I have ever seen. You are addressing the necessary issues of theology going forward in the context of Process Theology, and embedding them in pastoral faith going backward.  This is the cutting edge of Christianity, and what is considered revolutionary today will be seen as solidification of the faith going forward. However, much work is to be done, and you are laying the foundation in a wonderful spirit of integration. Can you make this TNT available in text. It is definitely worth a book or two.

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

Could someone please be definitive about what constitutes Christian Theology (CT) from what is Not Christian Theology (NCT).

BwalkerIII
BwalkerIII

you know @trippfuller, i'm starting to get concerned that you're spending too much time with JC#2 & #3, and not enough with the original :)

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

I won't say in response (God knows I've already done enough of that. Or does she?) 


So Cambridge theologian superstar Sarah Coakley accepts many of the traditional doctrines about God, trinity, creation, eschatology, substance metaphysics etc. but as a feminist just isnt susceptible to the "ceasar as God" claims that you make here. Kathryn Tanner--same story. Janet Martin Soskice---same story.  Have you guys read these folks? Also, Rowan Williams in On Christian Theology argues for creation ex nihilo and other "traditional" categories but gives a very different picture to the "ceasar as God" idea to claim too. I guess I'm just wondering if you've read any actually good argument for traditional accounts of God that isnt beholden to "ideological patriarchal power theology etc etc etc" I can't help but feel like all that is one big caricature. No one thinks creation, for instance,  is about God's power. Its about God's love. Pseudo-Denys, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine and many others suggest this. Where is the ideology you guys are talking about. Name some names.  Otherwise it sounds like a vague straw man. 

ngilmour
ngilmour

Thanks for the links and the commendation, friends!  I'll be sure to give this episode a listen come Monday and check back in!

Patrick Frownfelter
Patrick Frownfelter

@JeffStraka I think you're treating the Process God like you would the classical, omnipotent God.  I'm still pretty new to Process, but when I hear them talk about "persuasion," they talk about it having the capacity to fail.  A limited God who is not exempt from the metaphysics of the universe (though is the supreme example of them), is still going to create something with what can be perceived as glaring imperfections.  Therefore, the possibility of extinction via asteriod still exists, even if the process God would not will such a thing, because that God has limits on its capacity to create.  God does indeed "persuade," but that persuasion doesn't work to perfection.  It's going to fail.

trippfuller
trippfuller moderator

@JeffStrakaI don't know a Process theologian who thinks God is human-centric unless you mean that God values greater complexity and novelty.  Whitehead said there is no reason to assume we are at the top of anything.  Also, those who do talk of 'fine-tuning' likewise aren't focusing on humans but the diversity and complexity of life.  God wasn't chilling with Dinos for millions of years praying (to whom...) for an asteroid.

ngilmour
ngilmour

@wayneschroeder What fun would that be?


More seriously, writing as someone significantly more traditionalist than Tripp or Bo, even I'm not inclined to draw lines a priori.  In particular instances, I'll make evaluative claims, but setting up airtight categories ahead of time is a sucker's game.

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@BrandonMorgan2  

"No one thinks creation, for instance,  is about God's power. Its about God's love."

Great line here, Brandon. However I'd say most people, though--at least those that I know--would think that the doctrine of creation is at least a tiny bit about God's power. But if its about God's love, fantastic! Lets talk about love then. 

It's not just that God loves, it's that God IS love. And love, to me, is weak.


Times like this, I wonder if Feuerbach was right, though, God/theology is just the projection of the human mind. We want the god we can worship.

Anyway, you're wondering about the ideology of patriarchy existing in Christian Theology. Here is a point which few would argue: Church history (and to be fair, humanity in general) is rife with misogyny and patriarchy (among other types of horrible oppressions). I would naturally think that the theology Church leaders are employing contributes to this patriarchal type mindset.


But here, a concession (I'll take the Tony Jones approach here): maybe you're right, Brandon, patriarchy may not be explicit in those "traditional doctrines" and the theology of Augustine, Gregory of Nysaa et al., but it's definitely implicit.


Peace.

Jeremy R
Jeremy R


@BrandonMorgan2


I am also suspicious of the historical theology narrative that was presented in this podcast, particularly around this notion of Constantine and power. It reminds me of Hartshorne's work. I'm not buying it. I pissed off Bo months ago when I pointed out how Radox and Process Theology both rely on some sort of "fall narrative" in which Christianity took the wrong philosophical road that led to the corruption of the gospel. But I won't go there today. 

trippfuller
trippfuller moderator

@BrandonMorgan2Kathryn Tanner made that case when we had her on the podcast.  So did Elizabeth Johnson on her second visit.  I think Coakley's stuff is cool but I haven't talked her or the Archbishop of Sideburns into coming on the podcast yet.  Philip Clayton (who will identify as a Process theologian) even argues for ex nihilo twice on the podcast. 
 

If I had to pick my favorite response to the general Process thrust about power it would be Pannenberg's because he insists the character of divine omnipotence is defined by and through God's self-revelation which for him means it takes a trinitarian form and takes place in history.  


Here's a question...if someone like Tanner keeps the "traditional doctrines" of Creation and Eschatology by saying that theologically we can speak about a beginning and an end without there being an actual beginning or an end does that mean she affirms them?  She points toward Aquinas who argued with the "traditional doctrine" and Aristotle that there is nothing internally inconsistent with an eternal AND created world.  She argues that Auqinas reinterpreted Creation in the face of the best Aristotelian science of the day and in doing so pointed out the "irrelevance of the question of beginnings" to what is being affirmed theologically, namely the "a relation of dependence" between God the Creator and the world.  I see Tanner and most Process theologians engaging in the same kind of constructive activity.  I am also sure that most Process theologians would say God is much more active than Tanner draws up in the last chapter to 'Christ the Key.'  Yes she uses more traditional categories linguistically but I don't know how that is inherently a more Christian theology.  

I loved "Christ the Key" and think the connections she draws between Luther and Nyssa are awesome.  Philip & I taught the book to a bunch of Claremont Seminary students (@BwalkerIIIwas one of them) & when we did we tried to make her case as strong as possible.  She made it again on the podcast and I encouraged everyone to go get the book and read it themselves.  That @theBoSandersand I try to entertainingly make a case for Process on the TNT sometimes in not because we ignore or don't understand how other Christians could (& should for theological diversity's sake) come to other conclusions.  In fact we each spend 10 hours a week reading, editing and putting out interviews with people we don't agree with on everything & 3 on the show where we speak for ourselves so people can brew their own theology.  While we may be theology nerds & we may occasionally make a passionate partisan plea on the TNT, first and foremost we are Christians.  We both cherish our identity as baptized members of the family of God before any other and we both feel called to spend our time on a hobby that can encourage people all over the world to take their faith more seriously, ask bigger questions, and hear how a diversity of thinkers understand the God revealed in Jesus.  If the tone we take sometimes doesn't encourage that or sounds as if I have never even thought about other live options then I'm sorry.  Just assume we are having a bunch of fun doing this, that we appreciate all the push back, and love the conversation more than our own conclusions.

trippfuller
trippfuller moderator

@ngilmourget your Christian Feminist friends to call the SpeakPipe with an invite for our listeners to check out their show.

JeffStraka
JeffStraka

@Patrick Frownfelter @JeffStraka When I consider the practical application of the Process God, other than the "persuasion" piece, I see no distinction from a naturalist/pantheist concept of God. And as I responded to Tripp above, I really see no evidence of "persuasion" other than what we ourselves impose. But don't get me wrong - PT is FAR better and logical that traditional theism. 

JeffStraka
JeffStraka

@trippfuller @JeffStraka That "valuing" is kind of what I'm referring to as I listened to the podcast. When you consider the vastness of the universe, most of it seemingly void of complex life, it seems arrogant (and human-centric) to think that the supposed creator of all this would be concerned with valuing certain potential outcomes in our lives over others. As I understand evolution (and Whitehead would have been unaware of all the genetic support that came later), it has no place for a "steering" or "persuasion" - that seems to be implying an intelligent "designer". Some forms of greater complexity (and diversity) are here simply because that accidental mutation was able to reproduce and pass on their genetic code. Of course, some ancient forms of simplicity, such as bacteria,and viruses, continue to thrive (and in fact, are one of our worse enemies). 


I think the "persuasion" and "wooing" and "valuing" (some might call this "love and compassion") we humans detect is something genetically wired for our survival as a species (and it is not unique to our species by any stretch). Our development of a complex language system (memetics) has greatly impacted our proliferation, but it may ultimately lead to our demise. (Think about that for a while...)


So, I'm forever grateful for having been exposed to Process Thought, but in the end, I had to move from panentheism to pantheism. Blame science. :)


P.S. - The interesting thing about theology is that it, too, appears to be very memetic in nature. If I were a starving, displaced refugee in Sudan, I would likely prefer to believe in a Liberation God (if not a God of retributive justice). The impotent God of Process would be of little comfort. It seems that Process might be a more privileged theology. 



wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

@ngilmour @wayneschroeder 

I don't think of it as a sucker's game so much as revelatory of one's position. You do well to point out the problem with the a priori and airtight categories.  Why I asked this question is because there are so many without your restraint making a priori statements about airtight categories regarding theology.  I think that is the primary dialogue that needs to be had.

BwalkerIII
BwalkerIII

@trippfuller if you'll let me (non-coercion), I've got a loving and relational response for the blog

Patrick Frownfelter
Patrick Frownfelter

I'm with Jesse here. I don't think the early Christian councils started by saying, "Let's make sure these creeds are in line with the patriarchy."  It's simply that they were influenced by their culture.  Just as Aristotelian and Platonic metaphysics dominated the writings of the early church, including the creeds, so did their ideas about gender and about government.  It was what they knew. That's the thing about things like the patriarchy; they're implicit.  In talking about privilege, Peggy McIntosh calls the concept "invisible." To those who benefit from it (in this case, the church fathers), it carries no weight and cannot be seen except by those who do not have it. 

However, that doesn't mean it's not there.  I think Bo and Tripp do a good job of showing how creedal doctrines come with patriarchical baggage through thinkers like Cobb, Whitehead, Keller, Coleman, and others.  Now, they're going to use this to promote Process as an alternative to classical theology, but that doesn't mean, as Tripp points out with people like Pannenberg, that you can't maybe reappropriate those doctrines to understand their origins and to act in spite of them.  No theology is airtight, to be certain, and as long as one understands that as they articulate their own, they can still work toward fulfilling the Kingdom of God.  The goal should be to listen to these criticisms and respond appropriately.

wayneschroeder
wayneschroeder

@trippfuller @BrandonMorgan2 @BwalkerIII @theBoSanders 

Tripp, 

On the theological hunt regarding omnipotence and Pannenberg, he states on page 421 of his Systematic (Vol. 1) that " the realized  . . . relation that corresponds to God's deity . . . takes place through the eternal Son, who in consequence of his self-distinction from the Father takes the place of the creature and becomes man so as to overcome the assertion of the creature's independence in the position of the creature itself, i.e., without violating its independence."


My interpretation of this is that Jesus unites man with God by his own individuation (Kenosis?) from God and by his identification with man which creates the possibility of relationship with God without falsifying man's independence.

bwalkeriii
bwalkeriii

@trippfuller@BrandonMorgan2@BwalkerIII@theBoSanders Kathryn Tanner in the Christian Century, 2010: "How my mind has Changed": 

"The question of the legitimacy of theology shifts, in sum, from theology's ability to meet some scholarly minimum in procedure to the question of whether theology has anything important to say about the world and our place in it.  How might a contemporary Christian theology promote (or not) a more adequate understanding of the world and a more just way of living? What resources, for example, does the Christian symbol system have for addressing the financial calamity and environmental degradation we must now all face up to, whether we like it or not? How would the Christian symbol system need to be creatively and critically recast in the process?"

I think she converted from postliberalism to liberation theology :)

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@JeffStraka@Jesse Turri@trippfuller@Patrick Frownfelter 


Jeff,


I hear you. I guess all the evidence I need is to affirm the notion that the Universe, by itself, is divinely creative. 

Thus, in a way, the categories of theist/atheist don't really apply anymore.

But yeah, I'm careful not to go down the intelligent design path and confuse evolutionary value or purpose with a plan or blueprint which was fine tuned for us.


I'm with Integral folks like McIntosh when they say things like, "even if we accept a nontemporal first cause--or a primordial creative act--as the most plausible account of the big bang, this does not necessarily lead directly to theism; the concept of a first cause could turn out to be more of a principle than a personality, and is thus compatible with a variety of nontheistic notions regarding creativity in the cosmos…a first cause can also fit in with Hindu ideas of an impersonal Brahman, and even with some Buddhist conceptions of nondual emptiness."

Anyway, again, I find myself, at this point, in line with Plato, Whitehead and McIntosh, in the sense that I can't ignore the Divine Eros, which pulls me toward greater levels and realizations of beauty, truth and goodness.

Good chat. Peace out.

JeffStraka
JeffStraka

@Jesse Turri@JeffStraka@trippfuller@Patrick FrownfelterMy point is, though, that there is no evidence that there is a "persuasive force" involved, one that process is still trying to claim as "God". In the same way, there is no evidence that the universe was "persuaded" into making conditions "just right" in order for evolution and US to exist on this remote planet. This is why I can no longer be a "panentheist". At BEST, I might consider "pantheism" (if I were forced to pick a theism!) because it doesn't imply an outside entity. http://youtu.be/GGV_ngLmDYc

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@JeffStraka@Jesse Turri@trippfuller@Patrick FrownfelterAbsolutely, Jeff. This is an important point, evolution definitely does not advance linearly--there can be dramatic regression, in fact. But most experts would recognize though--however cautiously--a vertical trajectory in evolution (which is what I was getting at)--not linear necessarily (as you point out), but more like a sprawling bush, with no main trunk or obvious tip.

JeffStraka
JeffStraka

@Jesse Turri @JeffStraka @trippfuller @Patrick Frownfelter "Religious Naturalist" - I can certainly relate to that! I've just recently begin to read up on evolution and listen to talks and I understand that greater complexity is not always the "direction" natural selection moves. In some cases, it actually may lead to simplification (if you don't use it, you lose it). 

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@JeffStraka@trippfuller  @Patrick Frownfelter 

Jeff,


You say:

 "I think the "persuasion" and "wooing" and "valuing" (some might call this "love and compassion") we humans detect is something genetically wired for our survival as a species (and it is not unique to our species by any stretch)."

I think you're on the right track here, Jeff. Value is definitely natural. 

I consider myself to be a religious naturalist (among other things!), and a deeper understanding of evolution has revealed that evolution generates value naturally and prolifically as it unfolds, and these values play a central role in the evolution of the universe.

The important thing to remember, though, is that there are two kinds of value: instrumental and intrinsic.

Instrumental value would be something, obviously, that leads to something else good (e.g. an elephant's trunk is valuable because it helps them drink water easily and stay alive).

Intrinsic value is good in itself.

I like the integral conception of evolution's whole/part pattern, in which we find holons exhibiting both kinds of value as a result of their participation within their structural sequence. That is, in their function as parts, holons are instrumentally valuable to the larger wholes that embrace them. And in their role as whole entities, holons possess intrinsic value in themselves.

Anyway, to be brief, I do not view evolution as purposeless. Quite the contrary, evolution's purpose is to increase complexity and realize greater levels of novelty and value.

Thanks for writing in. Great chat here.

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@BrandonMorgan2@Patrick Frownfelter@Jesse Turri  

"But it is a question-begging enterprise of the worst sort to suggest that that has anything to do with metaphysics, or that metaphysics is going to solve the problem."

"The problem is thinking that some account of God is the problem."

I would disagree with this Brandon. I'd say metaphysics/worldview has a lot to do with it. I'm a web designer/developer so I dig the OS analogy--we should constantly be making things better (not throwing the old stuff away, necessarily [all that old stuff is great for teaching and training in righteousness!] but taking the good, leaving the pathological, and improving).

Full disclosure here, though, I'm big fan of stuff like systems theory, emergence theory, developmental psychology and integral philosophy, and I think pshyco-social theories of evolutionary development are really helpful in understanding how cultures and societies transform over time to obtain higher states of organization. Developmental psychology, in particular, would say that the structures that organize consciousness (worldviews) are directly related to the stages of human history, i.e. the things we value as ultimately "real" dictate, in many ways, how we ultimately see reality. (Sidenote: For me, personally, in my lexicon "God" is a synonym for "reality")
 

Anyway, thanks again for the dialogue, Brandon. I've learned a lot from you :)


BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@Patrick Frownfelter @BrandonMorgan2 @Jesse Turri  


"It's that God that the crusades were fought over, that pogroms were committed, that allowed for the enslavement of millions of Africans, and that horrible things continue to happen today over.   Sure, Pseudo-Dionysius and Augustine have their own things to say about creation out of love and social matters like slavery, but I don't think that they're in the majority when they say them.  When your God inspires you to horrible acts, it is time for that God to go."


Who then are you talking about? Warring popes? Southern slave drivers? The subtly of Christianity also means it can get warped into various self-righteous endeavors. But it is a question-begging enterprise of the worst sort to suggest that that has anything to do with metaphysics, or that metaphysics is going to solve the problem. If Augustine is not "in the majority" as far as Christian theology goes, who is in the majority? Are you talking about the makeup of everyday Christian belief? No doubt that can be wakked out, but not irreparable within the discourses about God that we already have. The problem is thinking that some account of God is the problem. Why is it so hard to accept that humans qua humans do terrible things to one another? Why take the responsibility off of the blindness of people and blame a metaphysical picture of God? It comes off as avoidance of what is really going on when people do terrible things. It means they couldn't care less about God. But just because a certain picture of God was in play during certain periods of tragedy doesn't make that picture wrong? (Barth used the strongest Christological claim one can make against the Nazi's, which involved assuming the claims of traditional Christian doctrines about the freedom and lordship of God over history.)


Perhaps I have more at stake in this because I am a theologian in the academy and so feel the need to push on areas that I find wanting in other theological projects. But more than that, I think talk about the God Christians worship needs therapy from within the broadly conceived picture of God and Christ already at work, which is more universal and open than shoving a different operating system in parishioner's faces and suggest they should adopt it. That's a sectarian move, not an apologetic one. 

Patrick Frownfelter
Patrick Frownfelter

@BrandonMorgan2 @Jesse Turri @Patrick Frownfelter Finally chiming back in here.


I went to a Pentecostal college, and i remember sitting in Assemblies of God Doctrine and History one day, and the professor was talking about, how, during the formation of the group, the early founders felt that they were the most connected to Jesus and the Apostles because they had been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc.), and therefore felt no need to look at the entirety of church history to inform what they believed. The rest of the churches didn't have what they had, and had most likely turned away from God, so why bother with them?  It wasn't until they began to found colleges that this mindset began to change.


I certainly don't mean to be dismissive of traditional theology in light of patriarchal values (or anything else worth critiquing); I think it serves, at the absolute least, to inform our pursuit of knowledge today, though I also think it carries as much validity, if not more, than PT or RT.  I wouldn't, however, call their responses and call for upheaval unwarranted.  I don't think men like Cobb or Caputo are necessarily making a straw man up just so their thinking fits; they;re calling on real issues, and not just misogyny, but what they feel are legitimate metaphysical issues as well. Yes, the power critiques offered by Bo and Tripp are present, but it seems to me that there's far more to it than that (I am pretty new to PT and RT).   I don't think that the God they critique is a specter at all; that God is still incredibly alive at the very least in America today, and not just in backwoods areas either, but all throughout the country.  If anything, I'd say that PT and RT aren't well known enough throughout the church, at the very least so these innovations and critiques can be heard.


You are correct in saying that theology is a human language.  I think PT and RT are very clear about that, as are most classical theologians today.  However, I don't think that leaves the classical God off the hook, either.  It's that God that the crusades were fought over, that pogroms were committed, that allowed for the enslavement of millions of Africans, and that horrible things continue to happen today over.   Sure, Pseudo-Dionysius and Augustine have their own things to say about creation out of love and social matters like slavery, but I don't think that they're in the majority when they say them.  When your God inspires you to horrible acts, it is time for that God to go.  


I don't think you'd disagree with me here, and I really am not trying to rid the world of classical theology, but I do think that the straw-man you're claiming is bigger than that.  By all means, a classical theologian can take these critiques seriously and still be a classical theologian; I just don't think that PT and RT's pictures of church history are all that distorted. That doesn't mean arrogant dismissal, necessarily, but if someone were to ultimately come to that dismissal, I would think (at least hope) that it was through honest research and understanding.  I feel like PT and RT weighed and measured their gods and found them wanting, and I cannot blame them for that.

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@Jesse Turri @BrandonMorgan2 @Patrick Frownfelter 


Yes, we are on the same page I think. The reason I feel the need to say any of this was simply due to the largely pejorative picture given to all of Christianity prior to the 20th c. in the podcast. I particularly agree with your statement, "Why would they call themselves Christian?" I have the same question. But there is a point, which is not a definite moment or even an agreed upon moment, in which innovation bespeaks embarrassment. And so the question is matched by constructing an account of Christianity easier to adopt. (Perhaps the reason atheism appears to be an actual contemporary option is because we've given them less and less to have to deny) For some things to change as drastically as PT or RT (or radical orthodoxy...it works both ways) would have them change entails a sense of theological upheaval that I find wholly unwarranted. And making them 'warranted' can often skew the historical picture of how theology develops, which can lead to unsophisticated descriptions, like the idea that God's attributes conceptualize God as a despot because ancient Christian emperors were despots.  We need to keep in mind that theological language is human language and it develops naturally when certain disagreements arise. So I find PT and RT as rather unnatural responses because of the ways they misconceive or over-read the problems of ancient theology. 


I am great friends with Bill (we went to seminary together) and I totally agree with his critiques here about theological predication about God and problems about power and agency it can engender. As it stands, I think PT and RT of the consistent sort (the kind that Olson takes himself to be critiquing) are responding to a picture of theological speech about God that is a specter. I feel somewhat confident in that judgment because I spent years following the radical theology stuff (derrida, caputo, Rollins etc etc) and find their critiques fundamentally based on a false picture. I think a more natural picture of development is Barth. More biblical and creedal without being slavishly committed or disrespectfully dismissive. (Rowan Williams or Coakley are also good ways to go.)


This does not mean that we should not critique patriarchy, misogyny etc etc . By all means, we should. It is simply that those critiques are not always wrapped up in the traditional metaphysical picture of God within Christianity that the podcast seems to suggest. Perhaps a problem I have is that I know these guys (and students at Claremont) are more sophisticated theologians than this. And using the blog medium or podcast medium as an excuse for simplistic description ends up underestimating readers and listeners in an insulting way. It makes things so obviously black and white when they know it isn't. 

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

@BrandonMorgan2@Jesse Turri@Patrick Frownfelter  

Brandon,

You're totally of right, of course. Early Christian thought is neither entirely good nor bad, it's both. I do think we need to say things like patriarchy and misogyny are implicit though, if simply because of the cultural baggage (as you admit), and because of the need for honest critique. But that doesn't mean all ancient Christian theology is ONLY 'patriarchal or 'hierarchical,' right? There is tons of stuff about Agustine that I personally love (Privatio Boni being one of them).

Anyway, no person I know who calls themselves a "Christian" wants to completely throw out (or as you put it 're-appropriate') tradition and scripture and doctrine and everything that came before today (why would they call themselves a "Christian" otherwise?). I like the Catholic idea of democracy of the dead. But that doesn't mean we cannot, and should not, innovate (as Bill Walker points out in his recent HBC post).

I totally agree with you, Brandon, we need to read more carefully and be more charitable. But this should also be applied to those folks who were not present at the council of Nicea, right? Those voices count as well. Maybe if Cobb or Keller or Whitehead were present at one of those early councils, things would have turned out a bit different.

Thanks for all your great thoughts, man. You're fun to talk to.

BrandonMorgan2
BrandonMorgan2

@Jesse Turri @Patrick Frownfelter 


Don't get me wrong. I was not suggesting that ancient Christian doctrine is devoid of cultural baggage, or that certain ancient Christian thinkers thought about certain Christian doctrines with certain assumptions we might want to label patriarchy. I am simply saying that the doctrine of God, trinity, creation etc that early Christian thought did develop cannot be painted with some broad brush of "patriarchy" implicit or explicit. That comes off not only as overtly prideful and cynical, but misses the specific historical arguments out of which Christian doctrines did actually develop. Its as if the logic is something like this. 


1. Ancient Christian theologians were 'patriarchal' or at least 'hierarchical'

2. Ancient Christian theology was performed and argued for by ancient Christian theologians 


Therefore, all ancient Christian theology is 'patriarchal' or 'hierarchical' 


This doesn't even count as correlation, much less causation. You cannot simply say that Christianity adopted the metaphysics of aristotle, label that metaphysics implicitly patriarchal and then suggest that to the extent Christianity used aristotle, it became patriarchal. That is false and insensitive to the ways Christianity CHANGED ancient philosophy according to biblical presuppositions that God is equally present to all creation, just as present to the rock as to the king.  There is an account of doctrinal development that is more complicated and which requires careful scrutiny in order to suggest that the entire thing is 'infected' enough to dispose of. Pannenberg, for instance, doesn't do this. He does not reappropriate doctrine in order to critique patriarchy and his theology is not meant to perform such a task. He is not acting against the origins of ancient doctrine but along with them. (This is something Olson, for instance, does know something about, since he studied with pannenberg in Munich. (by the way, Pannenberg was quite conservative and almost became a Catholic...the ancient doctrinal formulations did not bother him)). 


There is cause to be more charitable and careful here in a way that is harder and more time consuming to deal with than simply labeling ancient Christianity as bunk, much less all of a piece. (Augustine implicitly acknowledged slavery as a necessary outcome of sin, Nyssa argued adamantly against the practice all together.) You don't have to go get a PhD in ancient Christianity for this. You just need to read more carefully and charitably. If we care at all, we should at least care enough to do that. 


"Why is it, however, that theologians sometimes refer to God as Yearning and Love and sometimes as the yearned for and the Beloved? On the one hand he causes, produces, and generates what is being referred to, and on the other hand, he is the thing itself. He is stirred by it and he stirs it. He is moved to it and he moves it. So they call him beloved and the yearned-for since he is beautiful and good, and, again, they call him yearning and love because he is the power moving and lifting all things up to himself, for in the end what is he if not Beauty and Goodness, the one who of himself reveals himself, the good procession of his own transcendent unity?" Pseudo-Dionysius


Perhaps the most neoplatonic writer in Christian history, has an account of God as love and desire.  Who is it again who doesn't see God and God's movement as Love and Longing? Would it count as a criticism at this point simply to say, "Well he says "He" for God and so is patriarchical?" No doubt that is a problem. But that does not make Pseudo-Denys' God into a despot any more than it does Augustine, Nyssa, Catherine of Siena, Bonaventure, Athanasius etc etc etc. Theology is a nuanced discipline. Lets try to read it as such. 

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