TNT: Homebrewed Never Prays Again

Two Friars and a Fool come by to explain why they think you should stop praying. It’s an interesting conversation about their concept of prayer and action. 2friars

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Theology and the End of Doctrine with Christine Helmer

Christine Helmer chats with Tripp about her book Theology and the End of Doctrine. You can check out a sample chapter at WJKbooks.com or just get the book on Amazon.Helmer

Christine Helmer is Professor of Religious Studies and German at Northwestern University. She is the author of The Trinity and Martin Luther (Zabern 1999) and contributing editor of numerous books on biblical interpretation, historical theology, and contemporary theology, including The Global Luther: A Theologian for Modern Times (Fortress 2009).

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Plug in ‘the Church’ as an experiment

An interesting way to expose the difference between two things is to take out the subject of great quote and replace it with something else to see if it still works.church-300x199

If your replacement X cannot work in place of the initial Y then you are forced to ask ‘why is this the case?’

Let me give you an example:

(The Church) was there to remind the (society) of what it had flouted: art, pleasure, gender, power, sexuality, language, madness, desire, spirituality, the family, the body, the ecosystem, the unconscious, ethnicity, life-style, hegemony. This, on any estimate, was a sizable slice of human existence.

When I find a great quote or list, I try to plug-in ‘the church’ and see if could be true historically.

I would love to be able to say that the church has been about these things:

  • art
  • pleasure
  • gender
  • power
  • sexuality
  • language
  • madness
  • desire
  • spirituality
  • the family
  • the body
  • the ecosystem
  • the unconscious
  • ethnicity
  • life-style
  • hegemony

If that has not been the case, then, I have to ask “why not?” and it is often that search which is telling.

If the church has not, or is not, about promoting those things then what has it represented? It is that search which is illuminating.

What is keeping that sentence from being true of the church?

 

Here is a second set of examples. All of these quotes are from the same chapter:

(The Church) refuses to identify freedom with any institutional arrangement or fixed system of thought. It questions the hidden assumptions and purposes of competing theories and existing forms of practice. It has little use for what is known as ‘perennial philosophy’. (The Church) insists that thought must respond to new problems and the new possibilities for liberation that arise from changing historical circumstances.

I want the above quote to be true! If it is not, then what is keeping it from being so?

 They investigated the ways in which thinking was being reduced to mechanical notions of what is operative and profitable, ethical reflection was tending to vanish and aesthetic enjoyment was becoming more standardized. (The Church) noted with alarm how interpreting modern society was becoming even more difficult. Alienation and reification [turning people into things] were thus analyzed in terms of how they … robbed the world of meaning and purpose, and turned the individual into a cog in the machine.

The above quote is challenging because it is almost possible.

The next one is just for fun.

(The Church) lost its ability to offer an integrated critique of society, conceptualize a meaningful politics, and project new ideas of liberation. Textual exegesis, cultural preoccupations, and metaphysical disputations increasingly turned (the church) into a victim of its own success. The result has been an enduring identity crisis.

Any guesses as to who this was actually referring ?

  • Textual exegesis
  • cultural preoccupations
  • and metaphysical disputations
  • victim of its own success
  • enduring identity crisis

These 3 quotes are from chapter 1 in Critical Theory a very short introduction. The first quote was from Terry Eagleton. After Theory (Kindle Locations 325-327) in reference to Cultural Theory and the traditional Left.

Why am I attracted to both Cultural and Critical Theory? Maybe it is because they are often about the things I desperately wish being a pastor was about …

I find this experiment helpful in attempting to crack assumptions about what the church is and has been.

I will never tire of reminding people that there is a gap between what many think the church is and what the church can be.

 

What do you think? Does the experiment work? Is it helpful? 
Any quotes that you love we could try it with? 

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Christianity Without A Cross?

On this week’s TNT I introduced an interesting thought experiment: take the cross out of the Jesus story and see what you can still do.cross-150x150

This this thought experiment appeals to me for two reasons:

  1. Modern Protestants have overdone it on the cross
  2. The incarnation and resurrection hold far more interest and power

 

I have started to get some great responses to my assertion that one could still come up with over 90% of Christianity without the cross.

I thought it would be good to give it more form here and open it up for conversation.

Keep in mind what I’m saying and what I am not saying:

  • Just because Jesus’ story went the way it did doesn’t mean that it had to go that way.
  • Just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean that they have to stay this way.
  • Jesus’ resurrection could have followed any death – not just the cross.
  • The incarnation is where the old formulation of divine/human or transcendent/imminent are breached or fused.
  • The Christianity that we have was formed in the aftermath of the cross and resurrection … that is not evidence of the cross’ necessity.
  • Had Jesus died some other way, he still would have died once for all.
  • The satisfaction, propitiation, expiation and reconciliation that so many focus on in atonement theories are still there without the cross.
  • The Christianity that would have emerged would have been slightly different but still largely the same.
  • Jesus’ jewishness, the incarnation, resurrection and Pentecost are the 4 things that still anchor the Christian church.
  • The cross really doesn’t play that important of a role – not like the previous 4 – it’s main purpose is decoration on our buildings, necklaces and t-shirts.

Those are some of my thoughts about the variable of the cross.

My final point is not included in the same manner as those above, but to be honest: once the Roman Empire co-opted christianity (the Constantinian Compromise) the cross has mostly been a hood-ornament on the machine of empire. Except for a few places on the periphery and during a few periods of severe oppression and domination … the powerful church has been better, as Tripp says, at building crosses than bearing them.

This point does not prove the thought-experiment, so I don’t want it to distract the conversation, but in the end … I’m not sure how much the cross really does for us.

This is one of the many reasons that I promote being an Incarnational Christian. That is where the power is – incarnation and resurrection!

  • Jesus could have died of sudden-infant-death-syndrome or of old age and still died once for all.
  • Jesus could have been stabbed or beaten to death and it is still the resurrection where God vindicates the victim.

I would go as far as to say what the cross was meant to expose – the scapegoating and victimization mechanism – is still firmly in place and actually still employed by those who sing ‘The wonderful cross’ and ‘on a hill far away’ on Sundays.

 

There ya go! I have tried to make a case with this thought experiment – I would love your feedback, concerns, and questions!

Let’s have some fun with this.

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TNT: part 2 collected conversations

Incarnation, the Biblical conquest and worship for your benefit are our topics this week.TNT

We start with Victoria Osteen’s viral video. Joshua’s Canaanite genocide is up next. Then we flesh out the incarnation via an interesting thought experiment.

We end with a little game to see what Tripp learned during his comprehensive exams.

Outro music: Full Circle by Ben Kweller

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God Is Trouble For the Status Quo

Process theologies and Liberation theologies both provide a valuable resource – even for those who do not subscribe to them wholesale.small nyc logo

You don’t have to be an adherent of these approaches to hear the critique that they raise and allow those questions to interrogate the given order of things.

In the forward to their famous book Process Theology: an introductory exposition, Cobb and Griffin outline a number of conceptions of God that Process does not affirm. The fourth example they provide introduces the problem:

 God as Sanctioner of the Status Quo. This connotation characterizes a strong tendency in all religions. It is supported by the three previous notions. The notion of God as Cosmic Moralist has suggested that God is primarily interested in order. The notion of God as Unchangeable Absolute has suggested God’s establishment of an unchangeable order for the world. And the notion of God as Controlling Power has suggested that the present order exists be­ cause God wills its existence. In that case, to be obedient to God is to preserve the status quo. Process theology denies the existence of this God.

It is going to be important to hear the questions this raises: is God primarily concerned with order? Is God the source of that order? Or is God providing something else that challenges those established structures which limit and take away people’s ability to live fully and prosper?

They introduce the Process notion of God:

And, far from sanctioning the status quo, recognition of essential relatedness to this God implies a continual creative transformation of that which is received from the past, in the light of the divinely received call forward, to actualize novel possibilities. Although this divine power is persuasive rather than controlling, it is nevertheless finally the most effective power in reality. In Whitehead’s words: “The pure conservative is fighting against the essence of the universe.” (Adventures in Ideas 354.)

To classic virtues (properties of being) like truth, beauty and goodness, Process adds adventure and zest precisely because of who God is! The addition of adventure and zest speak to movement (change), progression and novelty. Process, if nothing else, fully recognizes the validity of time and change.

Hence, no type of social order is to be maintained if it no longer tends to maximize the enjoyment of the members of the society. Also, it is impossible for any form of social order to continue indefinitely to be instrumentally good. God, far from being the Sanctioner of the Status Quo, is the source of some of the chaos in the world. “If there is to be progress beyond limited ideals, the course of history by way of escape must venture along the borders of chaos in its substitution of higher for lower types of order.” (Process and Reality 169.) (God is said to be the source of only some of the chaos, since only some of it can in principle lead to a higher type of order and thereby a richer form of enjoyment.)

God, in a Process perspective, provides – indeed is the source of – some of the chaos that calls into question the status quo and challenges the established order that limits the prospering of creatures.

If you think that God likes the way things are and wants to keep them the same … you may not be worshiping the God of the Bible.

This was brought to my memory when I encoutered an interesting nugget at the back of another book that had nothing to do with Process thought. Terry Eagleton in After Theory illuminates an interesting Biblical concept.

In a revolutionary reversal, true power springs from powerlessness. As St Paul writes in Corinthians: `God chose what is weakest in the world to shame the strong … even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.’ The whole of Judaeo-Christian thought is cast in this ironic, paradoxical, up-ending mould.

The wretched of the earth are known to the Old Testament as the anawim, those whose desperate plight embodies the failure of the political order. The only valid image of the future is the failure of the present. The anawim, who are the favoured children of Yahweh, have no stake in the current set-up, and so are an image of the future in their very destitution. The dispossessed are a living sign of the truth that the only enduring power is one anchored in an acknowledgement of failure. Any power which fails to recognize this fact will be enfeebled in a different sense, fearfully defending itself against the victims of its own arrogance. Here, as often, paranoia has much to recommend it. The exercise of power is child’s play compared to the confession of weakness.

Terry Eagleton. After Theory (Kindle Locations 1882-1892). Kindle Edition.

What do we do with those aspects of the established order which don’t fit – or even shame – the established order? Do we want to sweep the anawim off the streets and hide them from view in order conceal the fact that the current system does not work for everyone?

Do we put down the dissenters? Do we turn a blind eye to ‘the poor’ so as to not acknowledge that the bell-curve is inverted and seems to be more of a trough?

Before doing so, we may want to consider this:

The authors of the New Testament see Jesus as a type of the anawim. He is dangerous because he has no stake in the present set-up. Those who speak up for justice will be done away with by the state. Society will wreak its terrible vengeance on the vulnerable. (Kindle Locations 1893-1894).

This idea cast a strange light on the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ when it talks about God’s will being done on earth and forgiving debts …

Eagleton uses the Book of Isaiah to make his big point about the failures of the system:

The Book of Isaiah is strong stuff for these post-revolutionary days. It is only left in hotel rooms because nobody bothers to read it. If those who deposit it there had any idea what it contained, they would be well advised to treat it like pornography and burn it on the spot.

As far as revolution goes, the human species divides between those who see the world as containing pockets of misery in an ocean of increasing well-being, and those who see it as containing pockets of well-being in an ocean of increasing misery. It also divides between those who agree with Schopenhauer that it would probably have been better for a great many people in history if they had never been born, and those who regard this as lurid leftist hyperbole. This, in the end, is perhaps the only political division which really counts.

(Kindle Locations 1916-1920).

 In response, I would ask:

  • What if ‘the poor’ are not an exception to a good system but are actually an indictment of it exposing the flawed gears in the machine?
  • Is God interested in turning over the established order or in preserving it?
  • Is God there for those who are wounded and needy or is God ashamed of them?
  • Is our current system mostly good with some bad exceptions that we just need to work on and tweak? Or is the system itself flawed and in deep need of re-formation and renovation?
  • Is God interested in change or simply stasis? And if so, what does God provide for that work?

These are questions that both Process and Liberation theologies ask that need to be evaluated even if one does not subscribe to those schools of thought.

The answers will impact both how one views God and how one participates in the world.

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TNT: Conversations Collected part 1

Facebook & Ferguson 

Bo is back and publishing some of his conversations recorded over the past months. TNT

Tripp and Bo intro the episode then Micky Jones (starting at 7:50) and Bo chat for a half-hour.

The second half is the Theology Nerds fielding phone calls about different types of  Christianity.

 

The 2nd half of this episode will come out in 2 days. 

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Bo’s Bookshelf

I like Top 10 lists … and I love books.  These lists of books that have been going around FB lately have been an interesting snapshot to see what books have impacted folks. old-books

Here is my ‘Top 10 Books that have stuck with me’ list and I would love to see yours.

 

Books that Changed the World (earlier edition) by Robert Downs

The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen

The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garraeu

Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin Barber

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone

She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson

Native and Christian by James Treat

- The Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges

What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by John Caputo

- Process Theology by Cobb and Griffin

 

Best Books I have read this year: 

The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class

 

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We are at war again?

The President just finished his news conference about the plan to combat ISIS (ISIL). 11obama_video11-master675

I am somewhere between confused and infuriated – baffled and livid.

The beheadings are horrific. The threat is undeniable. But … is this really the American response?

 

My concern is that the US has created a Frankenstein.
 America is combatting a hydra of its own creation!
You cut off one head and another pops up.

 

The revival of ‘jihad’ in the 80’s to combat the Russian threat … the subsequent ‘war on terror’ after the events of 9/11 2001 … have lead to this newest manifestation … how does it possibly resolve?

 

  • There are those who buy into the ‘Class of Civilizations’ myth.
  • There are those who point to the ‘End Times‘ idea.
  • There are those who hold to the ‘American Exceptionalism’ party line.

 

One thing I know is that our Homebrewed listeners are more intelligent and insightful than I am.

 

Does anyone have some insight on this? Some thoughts to point a way forward?

I would really love to hear some alternative perspectives. 

 

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