The Limits of Labels

I have insomnia tonight – a rare occasion these days. I’m not in the mood to read any more about the use of Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle in Practical Theology so I brewed some coffee and revisited some of the online happenings from the past couple of months.

I found 3 pairs of things that I think are worth bringing up again. I will attempt to state everything in the positive as much as possible.

A couple of months ago, I made a case for the usefulness of labels. That included a couple of clarifiers:

  • that the label was used to more accurately locate a person or a thought – and not as a pejorative.
  • that the label was used accurately and not as a means to marginalize or discredit someone.

As I have attempted to make clear in various places, that when those two conditions are not the case it can be not only unhelpful, but flat-out inaccurate.

The second thing I thought was worth revisiting is that original Roger Olson article that got all of this started. Dr. Olson proclaims why he is not a liberal christian. I too have declared that I am not a liberal christian. However, I vary from Olson in my approach in several key ways.

  1. I say that being a liberal christian is a perfectly valid thing to be and that if I were one I would be so proudly. Dr. Olson doesn’t seem to have such a favorable disposition to it.
  2. I attempt to make a distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’. Dr. Olson uses them seemingly interchangeably – especially in the beginning of his article. That impacts his conclusions later on.

These two points of departure are illustrative. I say something positive about the liberal tradition and I distinguish it from the ongoing trajectory of some of it’s heirs.

Here is why that is significant:

First, Dr. Olson references 2 renowned scholars as to their summation of the Liberal tradition.

  • Claude Welch: “maximal acknowledgment of the claims of modernity” in theology.
  • Gary Dorrien: defines liberal religion as rejection of any authority outside the self.

I find myself in neither of these maxims. I know people who fit them to a ‘T’ though.
I ,however, have engaged far too much post-colonial, liberation and feminist theology and am too deep into the hermeneutical turn to be there.

Second – and most importantly – Dr. Olson uses the term freely to say “If you don’t hold to this traditional/classical position .. I think of you as a Liberal.” I am saying that the term should be used very specifically by:

  1. Its historical connection to the tradition of Schleiermacher. 
  2. Its basis in the centrality of the conception of the self as primary.
  3. Its ongoing expression as a ‘constellation of loyalties’ that are in line with the previous two as well as in contrast with Conservative/Fundamentalist positions on the ‘foundationalist’ spectrum.

I don’t follow Schleiermacher, I don’t subscribe to the primacy of the self and I am post-foundational. I am therefore 0 for 3 in the classic conception of liberalism.

I hope these clarifications help clear things up. I have been very grateful for the robust conversation of the past weeks. The pushback has helped me greatly to clear up my position here and hopefully to avoid some of the confusion in future conversations by listing the 3 distinguishing marks of liberalism as well as Welch’s and Dorrien’s summations.

 

 

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The Thing With Labels

On this week’s TNT I proposed that labels can be good and helpful. They don’t need to be divisive or negative. pantry_labels2

Now some people want to eschew labels all together. I get why they might want to do that but I find that not only a daunting task but a nearly impossible way to proceed through society and culture.

What I am suggesting is that labels are unavoidable and can be helpful – IF a couple of things are clarified.

Like labeling a Pilsner and a Pale Ale, it is necessary to know that you are getting a different product BECAUSE it has come through a different process and has different ingredients.

This is not a problem. An Episcopalian is different from a Nazarene and an Unitarian in pretty significant ways. No one balks at that.

Where this does become a problem is when

  1. You mean the label meanly – in a pejorative way. 
  2. When you don’t use the label correctly.

Both of these came up recently in an episode that is illustrative. In Fitch and Holsclaw’s new book Prodigal Christianity:

Please keep in mind – I am not trying to start-up the argument again and thus will not link to the original posts – I am trying to talk more broadly about HOW we use labels in theological conversation. 

“On the one hand, we are less than satisfied with what the “new kind of Christianity” has become. Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and others have helped us ask important questions and contributed greatly to creating a generous and compassionate Christianity, and to them we remain grateful friends. But their answers have often lacked substance on which we could live, and what goes by the name of “the emerging church” now appears to have settled into another version of mainline Christianity.”

This is a horrible couple of sentences. First, because Tony Jones rails against the mainline.  Second, because as a mainline pastor (which I am) the use of that phrase is not remotely being utilized correctly.

Mainline is an expression of church. It is both a model of organization and a historic expression.

I think that what Fitch meant by it was a liberal theology. But liberal is a constellation of loyalties – a series of commitments that form and APPROACH to theology.

Now you can see the problem. The term was meant to distance the authors FROM those other 3 (McLaren, Jones, Pagitt) AND it was used incorrectly. 

Pilsner and Pale Ale,  Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon,  these are labeled as such and that is not a problem. But something happens theologically when labels are assigned BY others instead of letting one self-identify and when those labels are not accurate.

____________

In a post-script, Tripp says in the TNT that he thinks something else is going on entirely.  He thinks that this error is really the result of trying to say something theologically when in reality is it ethics … but you don’t want to say so!

Jones is theologically orthodox. Fitch is probably left of Jones politically (due to Zizek). Tripp think that this is really only about homosexuality but that Fitch doesn’t want to say it – so he attempted to get at it theologically and thus missed his mark, causing confusion and conflict.

_______

I would love you thoughts on this issue of labels: their utility and their misuse. 

 

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The Resurgence of René Girard

René Girard is popping up in the most interesting places.  Among others:

In fact, Jones quotes Alison in his book:

The most recent major player on the scene of atonement theories is one developed by an anthropologist/literary critic who is still alive: René Girard and the Scapegoat theory. But before getting to his take on the atonement, here’s a brief background on Girard’s thought. René Girard is a professor emeritus at Stanford University and one of only 40 members, or immortels, of the Académie Française, France’s highest intellectual honor. Girard’s breakthrough, according to James Alison, is this:

Professor Girard has made what he takes to be an authentic anthropological discovery…, to wit: that human desire is triangular and mimetic. It is mimetic in that it is to do with imitation; it is triangular in that the transaction is three-cornered: the source (model) which stimulates the desire, the respondent (disciple) in whom the desire is implanted, and the thing (object) then desired.[15]

Jones, Tony (2012-03-18). A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin (Kindle Locations 520-527). The JoPa Group. Kindle Edition.

But there is something that I can just not figure out: why is the resurgence of René Girard happening now?

I first encountered René Girard in Graham Ward’s edited text “The Postmodern God: a Theological Reader” and I 100% get the appeal of Girard.
I get the the whole thing about how we mimic and are socialized by mimicry.
I get how this morphs into social groups who use violence to justify sacrifice.
I get how these social groups look for ‘scape goats’.
I get how this applies to Jesus’ crucifixion.

What I need help with is understanding why this is coming to prominence now.

To what do we owe the resurgence of René Girard?

SO Deacons – can you help me out? I am not a historical theologian. I am not a systematic theologian.I am not a philosophical theologian.  I am just a lowly practical theologian : what am I missing?

Don’t get me wrong – I really like René Girard!  I think that the theories are fascinating.

But why is his prominence coming now? Is this a reaction to the retrenchment of folks like the Gospel Coalition and Radical Orthodoxy? Is this a response to the decline of the Mainline voices? Is this just a matter of a thinker ‘before his time’ ?

I have the odd sense that I am missing something important  - and I am hoping that someone can provide the insight that I lack on the subject.

Does this have something to do with “Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross” by S. Mark Heim ?

Or  “The Nonviolent Atonement” by J. Denny Weaver ?

I like René Girard. In fact I think that he brings several important elements to the table. My question is to why we are seeing a resurgence of his ideas now?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.  -Bo

 

 

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The John 14:6 Challenge Edition!!! [TNT 39]

Over 50 different HBC Deacons have answered the call.  They responded to the John 14:6 Challenge & now Bo and I get to Nerd Out with some of your calls!  It was a ton of fun to interact with you all and we will be looking forward to more interactive fun in the near future.

The release of Brian McLaren’s new book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World  and our subsequent live event with him at Wild Goose West (audio here) got the ball rolling.  Then when Brian’s new publisher Jericho Books who hooked us up with some promotional copies we decided to open the mic up to y’all.

Bo has been blogging as we received the calls.  First he proposed an alternative reading to John 14:6 & now he is trying to get rid of Salvation altogether (sarcasm!).

At the conclusion of the podcast Bo started talking Christological smack so soon and very soon I will be leading Bo high up the Christological mountain where the divine Logos & Sophia make sweet eternal symmetry.

This episode is sponsored by Slave Free Earth – they are asking the deacons to join them in ending human trafficking and specifically sex slavery. Go to SlaveFreeEarth.com and join the 7 Community. Pledge to:

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What if John 14:6 isn’t even about Salvation?

Over the past two months we have been having a lot of fun talking about John 14:6.  The release of Brian McLaren’s new book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World  and our subsequent live event with him at Wild Goose West (audio here) got us started.

Then Jericho Books gave us some copies to give away so we put out the John 14:6 Challenge. People stepped up with posts and used the speakpipe to leave us messages.

I swung first with “Jesus wasn’t talking about Muslims in John 14:6″ and followed it up with “an alternative to John 14:6″ saying that one that famous passage is off the table for thinking about how to deal with other religions … where does one start? What are the alternatives?

Last week, Tripp and I recorded a TNT that will come out this afternoon where we listen to some of the calls and talk about some of the posts…  in that midst of that conversation, (beginning in minute 15)  we put out an idea that I thought should be in written form and not just audio.  Here it goes:

Not only is John 14:6 not about other religions – since it is a disciple’s invitation – but it is not even about salvation. It is about relationship and not salvation.

I blame it on lazy reading that results in conflating subjects. I think that Jesus is inviting those who follow him to relate to ‘the Father’ (Abba) as he relates to Abba by:

  • living the life he laid out,
  • walking the way he modeled and
  • embodying the truth we proclaim.

Tripp implies that is has something to do with Calvinism and it’s histroical impact of making salvation:
A) transactional instead of relational
B) individual instead of communal

So I want to ask the question (you may want to listen to the TNT episode to hear the whole context):

What if John 14:6 is not only not about other religions – but isn’t even about salvation? How would that impact your use of that passage and where else would you turn in the Bible for an alternative?

Personally, I would go to Acts 4:12 “God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”  Mainly because it has the word ‘saved’ in it AND sounds semi-exclusive … which is what people TRY to get John 14:6 to be – but simply isn’t.   That is the conflation that I am talking about.

Thoughts?  Responses?   

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McLaren Changed His Mind

Brian McLaren recently posted a very interesting note from a former fan who was feeling the need to ‘break ranks’ with the author over his position regarding homosexuality. 

I wanted to post part of it here for several reasons.

  1. I have been saying that ‘People Do Change Their Minds’. 
  2. We talked about Brian doing the religious  ceremony for his son and his son’s partner on the last TNT.
  3. In the post Brian quotes his new book – which we are giving away next week.
  4. Brian doesn’t allow comments on his blog so I thought it would nice to host a little comparing of notes conversation.

After the reader’s very cordial note, McLaren begins his response by saying that we don’t actually have to break ranks with each other.

So, it’s important for you to know that if you hold a different view than I do, whatever the issue – I would not want to “break ranks” with you. In fact, I am continually enriched, instructed, and challenged by people who differ with me on this and other issues – and I hope the reverse could be true.

Brian’s second point is that in the current configuration of conservative v. liberal positions, some groups place a lot of pressure of people to ‘break ranks’ with those who differ – or they are in danger of ‘guilt by association’.

McLaren’s third point is that if you just look at sheer percentages, that if roughly 6% of every population is homosexual …  if they were not forced to live in silence,  in denial, or in the closet  … that the numbers quickly become significant of people who are directly affected (parents, siblings, and friends) to the point that old views simply become untenable. [you will actually want to read McLaren's reasoning here if you plan to push-back on it.]

Then he gets to the quote from the book (p. 52).

I think of a friend of mine from the same background of Christian fundamentalism I hail from. When his son came out, he had no support to help him accept the possibility that his son could be both gay and good. With deep ambivalence, he stood with his tradition and condemned his son. The cost alienation from his son – was high, but it grew unspeakably higher when his son internalized the rejection and condemnation of his community and took his own life. Or I think of another friend, the mother of a gay son, also from my heritage. She came to me in secret to talk, knowing that one of my sons had come out around the same time as hers. Through tears she said, “I feel like I’m being forced to choose between my father and my son. If I affirm my son, I’m rejecting everything my father stood for. If I stand with my father, I’m rejecting my son.”
In religion as in parenthood, uncritical loyalty to our ancestors may implicate us in an injustice against our descendants: imprisoning them in the errors of our ancestors. Yes, there are costs either way.

Finally McLaren says the most interesting thing of all: 
“I want to add one more brief comment. You ask, if we change our way of interpreting the Bible on this issue (my words, not yours) “- what else will happen next?” Here’s what I hope will happen. After acknowledging the full humanity and human rights of gay people, I hope we will tackle the elephant in the room, so to speak – the big subject of poverty. If homosexuality directly and indirectly affects 6 – 30% of the population, poverty indirectly and directly affects 60 – 100%. What would happen if we acknowledged the full humanity and full human rights of poor people? And then people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses and impairments? And then, what after that? What would happen if we acknowledged the spiritual, theological, moral value – far beyond monetary or corporate value – of the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, of seas and mountains and valleys and ecosystems? To me, Jesus’ proclamation of the reign or commonwealth of God requires us to keep pressing forward, opening blind eyes, setting captives free, proclaiming God’s amazing grace to all creation.”

And that is why I thought the conversation might be worth hosting here.   What are you thoughts about the last part?  

 

 

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TNT: Bell’s new show, McLaren’s new book and Mormons in America

It’s Football season and in this episode of the Theology Nerd Throwdown, Tripp and Bo break it down for 4 full quarters.
Topic #1 is Rob Bell‘s new TV show.
Topic #2  is Brian McLaren‘s new book (and the John 14:6 Challenge).
Topic #3  is Mormonism and the changing role in America.
The final topic is a commercial for next week’s big TNT on the problems with Play

" href="http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2012/09/10/radical-orthodoxy-christian-materialism-justin-klassen-on-podcast-ep-164/" target="_blank"> Radical Orthodoxy & Post-Liberal thought.

Make sure to check out  the John 14:6 challenge!

And sign up for Mutiny!

Mutiny Live (10/25)

Come on out for a live mutinous podcasting experiment.  Join Captain Brewin, Peg-Legged Pete, & Barry the Skull Keeper for some philosophical swash-buckling & fresh brewed pints at the Monkish Brewing Co.

Kester Brewin is bringing the good news of pirate inspired mutiny to the USA.  We shall be seeking the wisdom of Blackbeard, Luke Skywalker, Peter Pan and Odysseus and other eye-patched heroines as we reflect on personal development, art, economics and faith.  If hearing from Kester about his newest book Mutiny! wasn’t enough… he’s bring two fellow philosophical swashbucklers, Peter Rollins & Barry Taylor, who shall assist him in over-throwing the intellectual & cultural scurvy.

Get your Mutinyt! tickets here.  They are $15 and there only 50 available so Go Over-Board NOW!

Those in attendance are encouraged to come in Pirate gear.  Should you NOT come with at least an eye patch you will be publicly shamed into purchasing Tripp an additional pint and yell ‘Arr’ with gusto.

For directions to Monkish Brewery go here.  Look at pictures so you don’t get lost… it has happened before.

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