Theopoetics Book Blog Tour

Theology Nerds! It is time for a book blog tour with one of our very own!

Way to WaterIn fall 2014 Callid released his book, Way to Water: A Theopoetics Primer with Cascade Books and they’ve been awesome and said they’ll kick in a dozen books for you all to get your nerdy hands on. The book itself is chock full of goodness with chapters on process theopoetics (including Catherine Keller), the intersection of biblical and literary studies, Rubem Alves‘ liberation theology, and the sweet Continental philosophy of John Caputo, Richard Kearney, and Karmen MacKendrick.  So many people reached out from so many perspectives that this is definitely going to be sweet. Throughout the week of 2/23/15 folks will be posting their thoughts and we’ll link them below with hopes you’ll engage them as you like.

But wait, there’s more! On Thursday March 5, the week after the blog tour, Callid and the West Coast HBC Crew will got on to a public Google Hangout and it was an open free-for-all to grill Callid (lovingly!) about his inconsistencies and theological missteps. Or, you know, say something nice or ask questions about the book and/or theopoetics in general. That Hangout is now a TNT episode here.

If you’re looking for a better sense of what this whole topic is about, check this short post Callid did about theopoetics this summer as part of the ABCs of Theology series. But mostly… read these sweet blogs!

Book Tour Blog Stops

Katelynn Carver at Spiralling Ecstatically This offers a wildly thorough engagement with the text, thinking alongside it from a lens of interdisciplinarity and asking how  theopoetics might stretch to include conversations beyond theism itself.

Patrick Reyes reads the book from a post-colonial and embodied lens, making some suggestions as to how theopoetics might help make decolonizing moves.

Tuhina Rasche at This Lutheran Life  brings in Yoda, reflects on the relevance of the book to her vocation as a pastor and questions the reality of “safe spaces.”

Rick Quinn — in part 1 of a 2 part post — thinks about maps and racial injustice, drawing some parallels between the book and the work of  Sallie McFague. In Part 2 of the post, he lets himself be moved by the work of James Cone in reflection on “Which Lives Matter? Theopoetics, Black Rage, and White Privilege.”

Graeme Fancourt at The Reluctant Blogger takes a look at the book from a Church of England perspective wondering if the book isn’t pointing to a CoE kind of vibe.

Laura Stone at The Patchwork Pietist comes at things from an anabaptist perspective and wonders if theopoetics might be a good fit for non-violence theology.

James Hill Jr. reviews the book from “an ontologically hip-hop” perspective and reads theopoetics as a stance that “refuses to offer sacrifices before the altar of Western epistemology.”

Jon Gill / Gilead7 launches full force into a hip-hop genre’d, Mobb Deep inflected take which careens all through the book with a unique style.

Emily Richardson at Where do I Begin? steps into the fray as a self-proclaimed “newcomer” and nails it, saying  “When I could no longer carry on in the academic environment because of the limitations of my body. That was when I needed to find new ways of doing theology.”

C. Wes Daniels at Gathering in Light comes at the topic as a Quaker pastor and a theologian whose work is in intercultural studies.

Robyn Henderson-Espinoza reads the book as pointing toward a “materially becoming queer relationality.”

Jeremy Fackenthal recognizes the book tries not to flatten things (and the various types of theopoetics) in spite of dissonance.

Joe Davis is a spoken word artist who also works as a trainer and art-for-activism advocate, bringing this to bear as he reflects on the book.

With Imagination, Anything is Possible: Process Theology, MacGyver and Non-Violence

MacDoes God ever call us to injure other people? Again, I think the answer is affirmative. If killing Hitler could have stopped the Holocaust and shortened the war, Bonhoeffer was right to support that project. On a much lesser scale, Jesus used violence to cleanse the temple.

Whitehead pointed out that “life is robbery.” For one creature to live, other lives are sacrificed. Certainly human life involves enormous killing of other creatures. That is the kind of world we live in.

The above passage comes from an essay by written by John Cobb. John Cobb is perhaps my favorite theologian and philosopher of all time. In fact, there is a good chance that he may even be my favorite writer of all time. I agree with so much of what he says and writes about in fact (concerning God, ecology, interpreting Whitehead etc…), that I have often wondered if there was anything I might disagree with him on. Well, as it turns out, I disagree with him on killing hypothetical people.

Full disclosure, at this point in time I resonate (and have for a while now) with radical streams of Christianity that subscribe to non-violent, semi-violent, non-lethal, and/or anti-violent resistance; i.e. peace theologies such as those found in Mennonite, Quaker and some liberal/mystic Catholic traditons, for instance. I think one of the things that has captured my imagination so much about these types of radical ideologies is their emphasis on undying, unconditional love, and forgiveness, which of course, according to proponents of these types of radical peace theologies, is found to be exhibited and modeled in Jesus.

So, suffice it to say that I was really disheartened to learn, while watching a lecture by Bob Mesle which he gave at Claremont recently, that John Cobb would be willing to kill 15 people if it meant saving the whole planet. Now, to be fair, Cobb was responding to a hypothetical either/or scenario and he did clarify by saying that he couldn’t imagine a case in which this would ever be true.

The hypothetical situation Cobb was responding to sounded like, to me, a process version of the trolly problem found in ethics text books. According to the process view, relational power opens up possibility while coercive power closes down possibility, but it may indeed be so, according to John Cobb, that the best possibilities we are left with in a given situation may be the least of some perceived “evils.” For example, in the case of the trolly, choosing a track that will kill one person in order to save five.

So, here is where I start to wonder.

One of the reasons I have come to appreciate process thought so much is because of it’s unique emphasis on openness, creativity and novelty. So, it was absolutely baffling to me when I heard a room full of Claremont academics seemingly fall into the binary trap of the trolly problem. It seems to me that hypothetical either/or situations, like the one found in the trolly problem, are problematic if only because they don’t leave room for a few things that are so absolutely critical in process-relational thinking, namely: improvisation, openness, and creativity; or what I like to call “the MacGeyver Possibility.”

In the trolley scenario, we’re faced with the impossible choice of having to decide on killing 1 person to save 5 people by pulling a lever which alters the runaway trolley’s course.

Anyway, my theory (and I’m sure it’s not original) is that by adding MacGeyver to the trolley problem/equation, the outcome could indeed change because there is a significant chance that the 1980’s fictional TV hero could figure out a way to stop the trolley completely, using only a tooth pick and a swiss army knife.

Leaving room for the MacGeyver Possibility makes sense, I would think, if one was coming from a process-relational perspective, especially since, according to folks like Cobb, God lures us to act in a certain way that would be thought best in any given circumstance. Cobb writes:

“By introducing possibilities of such action that go beyond what the situation would otherwise allow, God expands our freedom. Violence as we ordinarily understand it restricts the freedom of its object.”

The words Cobb writes above seem to me to speak very much to what is going on in the MacGeyver stories. One of the reasons MacGeyver consistently seems to get out of perilous situations is because he’s able to overcome what gestalt psychologists call “functional fixedness.” So, essentially, MacGeyver is able to look at objects (or situations) and not get hung up on their typical functional purpose. Rather, he is able to see an objects potential role in solving a problem. MacGyver demonstrates a remarkable lack of fixation. The objects in MacGyver’s environment can have many different purposes other than their typical purpose; in Cobb’s terms, MacGeyver ‘expands the freedom of objects around him.’

In this sense, then, MacGyver could be classified as a strong divergent thinker. Objects then, for MacGyver, are essentially pieces of a larger puzzle that fit together to form larger tools. Objects don’t just have one purpose for MacGyver. This type of thinking, or restructuring, is what makes it possible for MacGyver to use nonviolent (or at the very least, semi-violent) methods to move from initial states to goal states.

To bring this all back to theology then, I imagine the God of process-relational theology to function very similarly. I mean, If MacGyver can assemble a slingshot out of a mattress to get himself out of a tricky situation, I’d say it’s indeed possible for God and/or humans not to have to kill hypothetical people (or real ones for that matter) when faced with tough dilemmas that life will inevitably throw our way.

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TNT: The Resurrection, Divine Knowledge, & Other Todd-Picks

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This is a very special edition of the Theology Nerd Throwdown.  Not only does the BoDaddy try to provoke me (theologically speaking) toward a rowdy defense of the resurrection but we have a very special guest – Todd Littleton.  Todd is the greatest Southern Baptist Minister on planet earth.  He is also the technical brains behind our High Gravity online classes, pastor to the HBC Deacon of the Year, & now officially an Elder.

Hence forth all ye Homebrewed Christianity Deacons shall know Todd Littleton as Elder of the Okie.

Over the course of the episode we discuss the nature of the resurrection, the divine attributes, the function of doubt in faith, atheism as a spiritual practice, the church and its obligations to the poor, the World Vision debacle, and a number of other goodies. Here’s the blog post where Bo provoked the first segment.  It was a blast to have a group of local Deacons in the room hanging out after we finished the High Gravity session on Mary Daly.  If you are ever visiting LA tweet us up & maybe we will have a recording you can join in on.

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Emergence, Panenthesim, Science & Process Theology with Joseph Bracken S.J.

Bracken_JosephJesuit Philosopher and Theologian Joseph Bracken is our guest this week on the podcast.  He recently retired from Xavier University & was honored with an amazing tribute – Seeking Common Ground – which includes articles from John Cobb, Catherine Keller, and more.  In this episode we take a tour through Bracken’s influential career working toward common ground between religion & science, Aquinas & Whitehead, and Religious Pluralism.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading and talking with Father Joe.  Off the mic he is one of the most amazing nerds I have met & in conversation he has a quick & sensitive intellect.

On top of all the nerdiness you even get to hear a little inside Jesuit scoop about the new Pope Francis I.

Check out Bracken’s previous visits to the podcast where we talk Trinity & Process and then my favorite – Christology!  I am sure you are headed to Amazon to get a Bracken book.

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What is Process Theology? Let Monica A. Coleman Tell You!

Today the Emergent Village Theological Conversation on Process Theology comes to you!  This is audio from Session One where we introduced Process Theology.  Monica A. Coleman is Assc. Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology and is your guide into Process Theology!

She is the author of Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology (Innovations: African American Religious Thought), The Dinah Project: A Handbook for Congregational Response to Sexual Violence, and a contributor to the new Creating Women’s Theology: A Movement Engaging Process Thought.

There are a couple videos from the EVTC from Monica.  She discusses Life After Death & Creative TransformationCheck them out and share them!

You can follow her blog and all the other media projects that she does at

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A Calvinist Loving On Process Theology?

Paul Capetz – a real deal Calvinist, professional theologian, & Fuller Family Christmas Guest decided to replay to my sovereignty smack talking this week with a Calvinist rejoinder.  This is awesome and I am sure it will inspire you to get his book on the history of the doctrine of God (it’s awesome & for general audience) and check out the podcast 500th birthday we threw for Calvin.  Now…here’s Paul!

I applaud Tripp Fuller for initiating this stimulating and provocative discussion about Calvin’s theology and the question of metaphysical determinism.  As someone with a deep appreciation for Calvin (I have taught 6 seminars on Calvin at my school in the past 20 years as well as written a book on Calvin’s understanding of religion), I hope I can add some words that are intended not polemically but thoughtfully, thereby giving expression to some of the issues with which I have had to wrestle as a student and teacher of Calvin.

Let me begin by stating that of all the premodern theologians, Calvin best captures the whole of what is important in my understanding of Christian faith.  He is deeply indebted to Luther in his doctrine of justification, he is profoundly Augustinian in his understanding that religion is a matter of the heart and its affections, and he veers in the direction of Wesley with his emphasis upon sanctification.  Moreover, his high view of the Old Testament and his belief that the third use of the law is its primary purpose account for his oft-noted affinities with Judaism and thus make him an important bridge between Jews and Christians.  Finally, one cannot help but notice that Calvin is also vitally concerned with the political life and the shaping of society in the direction of greater justice for all and care for the needy.  In each of these respects, I follow Calvin without reservation!

But there is another side of Calvin that explains the stereotypically negative picture of him.  First, there is his utterly deterministic view of divine providence.  Not only does God allow events we deem evil to occur but God is the active agent behind each and every event.  Of course, Calvin strives valiantly not to impugn God’s character by accusing God of injustice.  Still, it is hard for even the most sympathetic reader of Calvin’s theology not to find a logical problem in his theology at this point.  Second, his doctrine of election means that before creation God has predestined who is to be a recipient of salvation and who is to be damned.  Again, it is hard not to suspect that his position here leads to insuperable problems.  After all, what is the point of preaching the gospel if some people (indeed, the majority of people!) are incapable of responding to it by virtue of God’s decision to damn them before they are born?

As a theologian I employ an existential hermeneutic, if I may call it that.  What I mean is that I always look for the existential question being addressed behind any particular theological statement of doctrine.  So, for example, it is clear in the above two cases that Calvin is addressing two concerns near and dear to his heart.  First, his doctrine of providence is concerned to assure us that the events of personal life and history are meaningful because God is actively involved in all events.  Second, his doctrine of election is concerned to uphold the priority of God’s grace in human salvation.  But, having identified the motivating questions behind his formulations of these doctrines, we have to ask: are there other ways we could affirm these religious points without Calvin’s problematic interpretations of these doctrines?  This is how I believe we should approach the question of whether metaphysical determinism is really as essential to Calvin’s theology as most of those who call themselves “Calvinists” believe to be the case.

Process theologians and others with related viewpoints have correctly pointed to the influence of Greek metaphysical assumptions upon all classical Christian theology, whether Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant.  There can be no serious doubt, I think, that the classical tradition is guided by an unquestioned axiom regarding God’s impassibility.  I have found process theology particularly helpful in offering new ways to think about this issue, especially its insistence that there can be a perfect exemplification of receptivity in God.  If we let go of the classical bias that looks upon change and passibility as imperfections—and I think we should—then there might be another way of working through the problematic aspects of Calvin’s theology identified above.

There is, in my judgment, one other problem with Calvin’s theology and that is a formal or methodological one.  Calvin, like all the premodern Protestants, believed it is necessary to account for every single statement within the Bible and to make them cohere with one another in a “system” of doctrine.  Calvin’s Institutes of 1559 is probably the finest achievement in the era of the Reformation of this form of biblical theology.  Two centuries of historical-critical labor, however, have sufficed to demonstrate that there are multiple theological perspectives in the Bible that cannot be harmonized apart from doing damage to the integrity of the biblical text itself.  Let’s take the example of divine determinism.  Obviously, Calvin has plenty of exegetical support for his deterministic doctrines of providence and election in both testaments.  Yet the Bible itself also offers counter-examples where the emphasis is precisely to assert human responsibility and hope for a redemptive outcome of even the most desperate circumstances if only sinful human beings will repent of their destructive ways.  I believe that an honest reckoning with the Bible requires us to leave behind Calvin’s basic methodological assumption of a unitary biblical theology and to think systematically about the various possibilities offered to us by the Bible for thinking about providence and election.  But agreement with my view means that we have to move away from the understanding of exegesis and theology bequeathed to us by the sixteenth-century Reformers and to grapple with the difficult issues of modern theology that have arisen of necessity from the historical-critical study of the Bible.

In sum, I believe that there is much of importance to retrieve in Calvin’s theology but that it cannot be salvaged in its entirety.  But is this a betrayal of Calvin?  I think not.  If Calvin was able to adopt a critical posture toward Luther, why cannot Reformed theologians today adopt a critical posture toward Calvin?  I might note in closing that two of the finest heirs of Calvin’s tradition in the modern world have done precisely that: Schleiermacher and Barth.

Paul E. Capetz
Professor of Historical Theology
United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities