TNT: Facebook, Theology and the End of the World

Bo and Tripp work through some social media problems – then turn to theology before handling some eschatology.TNT

Go ahead and leave your thoughts on the SpeakPipe (the microphone on the right hand side of the homepage) for a future TNT.

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N is for Neoplatonism

In the same way that Empire influences and underlies nearly every thing in the Bible – and yet many do not know about it – Aristotelian thought, Platonism, and neo-Platonism saturate early church history and thus the inherited tradition.N-NeoPlatonism I had also suggested (in Liberation & Logos) that all theology has philosophical underpinnings – whether it admits it or not. It is no surprise then that much of the what would become Christianity had integrated/appropriated the philosophy of the world that it emerged from.

Neo-Platonism: The last stage of Greek philosophy (identified with Plotinus), which greatly influenced certain early church thinkers, particularly *Origen and *Augustine. Neo-Platonists taught that everything emanates (flows) from the transcendent principle of the One and is destined to return to the One through a process of purification.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 921-922). Kindle Edition.

Justo L. González. has some helpful additions:

In these emanations, the One moves toward multiplicity. Evil as such does not exist, but is rather the deprivation of the good, so that something is said to be “bad” or “corrupted” as it moves toward multiplicity and away from the One. True knowledge is attained through the contemplation of higher realities, and specifically of the One, and its goal is to culminate in *ecstasy, where the soul contemplates the One directly and loses itself into the One.

It is interesting to think about how influential these philosophies have been and to discover when they have most popular. Neoplatonism was initially rejected by christians.

Augustine (354-430) found Neoplatonism helpful in dealing with some of the difficulties he had with Christian doctrines such as the incorporeity of God and the *soul, and in dealing with the problem of how evil can exist in a world created by a good God (sec *Theodicy). He thus became one of the main channels through which Neoplatonism impacted Western Christian theology.

 Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 2887-2896). Kindle Edition.

Neoplatonism was tweaked a bit (losing its objectionable elements) and was the dominant thought in Western Christianity until the 13th century when Aristotle was reintroduced – mainly through the work of Thomas Aquinas into what become known as Thomism.

I wanted to put this entry into the ABCs series because we live in a time when many are unaware of their religion’s philosophical past relationships. I will often hear concern from sincere and devout evangelical,charismatic or conservative believers who say “why do you mess around with all of that philosophical mumbo-jumbo? We already have the Bible and it should be enough. Just preach the Word.” It isn’t that easy of course. As I pointed about the Gospel of John with its use of the Logos, both scripture and church history draw deeply on philosophical underpinnings. I would actually argue that we owe it to out faith and to the contemporary culture to engage (not just combat) the contemporary philosophy of our day! If you want to follow-up on this historic precedent and trajectory, I would recommend Philosophy and Theology by John D. Caputo. It is thin and written for a wide audience. His writing style is also wonderfully light-hearted.

Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri

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J is for Justification (a snapshot of theology)

The word Justification in English has the same convenient memory device as atonement did. Many use the Just-as-if to remember ‘it is just as if I never sinned’. J-Justification

Here is how our pocket dictionary defines it:

Justification, justification by faith: A forensic (legal) term related to the idea of acquittal, justification refers to the divine act whereby God makes humans, who are sinful and therefore worthy of condemnation, acceptable before a God who is holy and righteous. More appropriately described as “justification by grace through faith,” this key doctrine of the *Reformation asserts that a sinner is justified (pardoned from the punishment and condemnation of sin) and brought into relationship with God by faith in God’s grace alone.

 Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 764-767). Kindle Edition.

Our other resource for this series, Essential Theological Terms by Justo L. González, provides a helpful distinction about the heated debates between Protestant and Catholic thinkers during the Protestant Reformation.

The difference lay in that for Luther and the main Protestant theologians justification was God’s gracious act of declaring a sinner just, even in spite of the continued presence of sin, while Roman Catholics saw justification as God’s act of infusing *grace into the sinner, who can then perform acts of justice-good works-and thus become just.

(Kindle Locations 2246-2248). Kindle Edition.

Justification provides a telling snapshot about the task of contemporary theology.

  1. The concept is vital within the realm of theology.
  2. The underlying truth plays a central role with the christian tradition.
  3. There are many excellent theories and explanations regarding the concept.
  4. Consensus can be difficult to come by due to competing theories and explanations.
  5. Much of the work is subject to speculation.
  6. If one does not subscribe to the assumed presumption (in this case like ‘original sin’) then the solution seems arbitrary and unnecessary.

This is why I selected justification – as an illustration of the grand, elaborate, nuanced and speculative nature of much theology.

You might be surprised at how excited I get about the topic of justification and how committed I am to both proclaiming and explaining it to congregations that I pastor.
One of my favorite sermons is a high energy presentation of Romans 5 which begins:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I then take v. 12-21 and convert the words into math formulas in order illustrate the fantastic work of God in Christ!

Keep that in mind when I say that justification is illustrative of the theological endeavor.

  • It is vital to the faith.
  • It is central to the tradition.
  • It is contentious as points.
  • It can be speculative.
  • It is rooted in suppositions that may be outdated or even antiquated.

This is a great snapshot of our task in contemporary theology: to take the tradition seriously, to account for the variety of perspectives and frameworks, and to adjust/adapt the ‘answers’ to the questions being posed by our present situation.

This is why simply parroting the answers of the past is often not sufficient. There are new considerations provided by sociology, biblical scholarship, history and science.
This is also what makes the theological endeavor A) exciting B) important C) difficult and D) complex.

 

Thanks to Jesse Turri for the artwork for this series.

 

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The A B C’s of Theology: A New Series

Family needs and school matters forced me to take a break from blogging for the past several months. I have missed the conversations. My Summer language intensive is almost done and I will be returning to the blog this Friday.

I am also aware that we have picked up a lot of new listeners (this is primarily a podcast after all) and thought it would be good to wade back in via some introductory material. It will be a nice way to orient folks to our unique flavor of christian theology.complexity

Starting this Friday (with A), Callid and I am going to work our way through the alphabet – highlighting each day a different topic and why it matters. I will be asking (as I am prone to do) ask if it might look different in the 21st century.

We will start with ‘Atonement’ on Friday and I am leaning toward ‘Baptism’ on Saturday. I am going to utilize two resources:

 

What topics would you like to see covered? I am open to suggestions.

 

After we go through the alphabet, I am going to circle around and covers theologians/authors who’s work is important to know about.
I will pair 2 each day:

- Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Catherine Keller for K,  - you can hear the podcast with Kim [here] and with Keller [here]

- James Cone and John Cobb for C, etc.

 

This should be a fun Summer Series to get new people involved and oriented to what we do around here!

_____________________________________________

A is for Atonement

B is for Baptism 

C is for Christology 

ABC Podcast (TNT)

D is for Deconstruction 

E is for Empire 

F is for Fideism 

DEF Podcast (TNT)

G is for Genre

H is the Hermeneutics 

I is for Infallible, Inerrant, Impassible, Immutable 

GHI Podcast (TNT)

J is for Justification

K is for Kenosis (and Kingdom) 

L is for Liberation (and Logos) 

Podcast for J K L (TNT)

M is for Metaphor (and metaphysics)

N is for Neoplatonism

O is for Open & Relational 

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10 Not-So-Shocking Things You Learn in Religion 101

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Greg & Tripp Chatting

CEM47354539_129436297782Tons of people that are ‘religious’  would be shocked if they just took a religion 101 class.  The divide between the academic study of religion is so huge that the experience of many students in their first religion class is disorientating.  I don’t think this is because religion professors hate religion and want to ruin people of faith’s confidence.  Largely it is evidence of just how poor our religious communities educate their members.  In this episode I am joined by Greg Horton, ex-pastor and undergrad religion professor in Oklahoma to look of  a list of 10 Not-So-Shocking Things You Learn in Religion 101.  Well we get through half of it in this episode.  Next week we will finish

Greg Horton was one of the inspirations behind starting the podcast.  I have stalked him online for a long time and then we got to have some fun in person on my visit to Oklahoma.  It was turned into this popular episode of the podcast.  Then he came back on the podcast to share 10 Dirty Secrets About Being a Minister.  Way back when he had a podcast called ‘the Parish’ on the wired parish podcast network. Back then he was an emergent Christian and has since left the building. Throughout his journey I have loved following his blog,hearing about his undergrad religion and ethics students, and thinking through some of the serious criticisms he has leveled against the church. Plus he also does some wine reviews.

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Between Radical & Confessional Theologies: Whitehead’s God

Guest-post by  Austin Roberts.
He is a PhD student at Drew University, studying with the incomparable Catherine Keller.  
[listen to her podcast here
You should 100% follow his blog and you might want to read his book on eco-theology Process pairing Jürgen Moltmann and John Cobb

As a process theologian, I often find myself in the position of needing to explain or even defend the God that Whitehead affirms.  I have these conversations with fellow academics and intellectual types who just can’t see how some of us can still call ourselves theists after the ‘death of God,’ as well as fellow Christians who struggle to see how one could reconcile process panentheism with the God of the Bible.

While the former group tends to be extremely critical of any hint of transcendence (whether in reference to God or otherwise), the latter group gets uneasy with the process theologian’s special emphasis on God’s immanence.  For the former, transcendence is more-or-less relativized – if not entirely eliminated – by immanence.  For the latter, it is usually the other way around: God is infinitely transcendent and created everything out of nothing.

For those who care to go into this kind of discussion, the core theological question up for debate is this:
how immanent and/or transcendent is Whitehead’s God?

I’m certainly not going to try to answer this with any sense of finality.  What I primarily want to do here is to point out the difficulty of this issue when we have, broadly speaking, two types of theologians reading Whitehead in different ways today:

  • those who resonate with Radical Theology
  • those who are committed to Confessional Theology.

This is exciting to me, even as it brings new challenges to process theology.  I’m not claiming that there is a full-blown contradiction between these two approaches, and perhaps there’s a way to bring these two approaches closer together.  Even so, they are starting out with different assumptions and concerns that certainly shape their contrasting readings of Whitehead’s theism.

At the risk of oversimplifiction, there’s a sense in which Radicals tend to read Whitehead primarily through a poststructuralist lens (Derrida, Deleuze, Butler) while Confessionals read him primarily through the lens of tradition and scripture.

This makes for a rather striking difference between the two.

One could always follow the “Whitehead without God” approach (Bob Mesle, Donald Sherburne). One can also see Whitehead’s God as nothing more than a cosmic function – and therefore wholly “secularized” – that is necessary for a coherent process worldview but totally uninspiring for spirituality or religion (Steven Shaviro’s reading in his “Without Criteria”).

Personally, I think there are serious problems with these interpretations (that’s for another post) and they remain minority reports within the process community.

Let’s consider two streams of process theology, what I’m calling the Radical and Confessional paths.

On the one side are those who read Whitehead’s God in ways that strongly emphasize immanence – a kind of Radical theology, perhaps, usually with the help of Deleuze’s poststructuralist philosophy of immanence.  Few process thinkers go so far as to deny God’s transcendence entirely (although see Kristien Justaert’s process pantheism in “Theology after Deleuze”), but the concept as more commonly understood is very much relativized by a more immanent God.  This is rapidly becoming an influential way of reading Whitehead (I can confirm this based on my experiences at both Drew and Claremont where most students of Whitehead tend to lean this way).

My former professor Roland Faber, signaling a stronger shift towards immanence with his Deleuzean reading of Whitehead, argues for “trans-pantheism” as opposed to the more standard reading of Whitehead’s panentheism.  He digs deep into the Cusan paradox of God as “Not-Other” and places a stronger theological emphasis on Whitehead’s immanent creativity.  He interprets the later Whitehead as seeming inclined “to replace any remaining connotations of God’s transcendence with a totally immanent divine creativity” (Process & Difference, 216).  As with John Caputo’s radical theology, Faber will also say that God does not exist but insists as the interrupting event of the new.

For Faber’s radical process theology, God is always “In/difference”: the insistence on difference and relationality of all differences.  For the Radical approach, questions of Christian doctrine (Christology, Trinity, Revelation) tend to be secondary (at best) to the political and ethical implications of theology.  The thinking here is that an immanent theology is better equipped for this-worldly activism based on democratic practices, over against difference-denying oppressive forms of hierarchy that are rooted in transcendence.

On the other side are those who read Whitehead’s God in ways that try to maintain more traditional theological intuitions of transcendence.  I see this as a kind of Confessional trajectory for Whiteheadians that has been much more common for Christian process theology over the last fifty years.  Confessional process theologians are not necessarily Orthodox in their beliefs, but they tend to have a stronger concern than the Radical process theologians to maintain ties to the Christian tradition and to more thoroughly align their theology to the Bible.

John Cobb is an obvious example here, especially evident in his rather high Christology in which he intentionally remains close to the creedal confession that Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” By reading Whitehead’s God as a balance of immanence with transcendence, he can affirm that God is the most powerful reality in existence, that our existence is radically contingent upon God as our Creator, and that we depend upon God’s grace.  Attempting to do justice to key themes of the Bible and Christian piety, Cobb will claim that because God is always working for the good in the world and truly loves her creation, God can genuinely reveal herself in particular ways, our prayers can be answered, people might even sometimes be healed through God’s action in the world, and that death ultimately does not have the last word.

Unlike Radical process theology, Confessional process theologians unequivocally affirm God’s existence as a real being (e.g., David Ray Griffin’s cumulative argument in his Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism).  A neo-Whiteheadian approach, as in Joseph Bracken’s theology, pushes even closer to traditional commitments and asserts a stronger (“asymmetrical”) sense of transcendence than even Cobb.  Like Thomas Aquinas did with Aristotle and Augustine did with neo-Platonism, Bracken will use Whitehead as a general philosophical framework for special revelation in scripture and tradition, allowing the latter more authoritative sources to revise the former when necessary.  The doctrinal results for him are an orthodox view of the Trinity, creatio ex nihilo, and bodily resurrection.

Some of us might cringe at the Radical approach, others at a Confessional approach.  To Confessionals, the Radical approach might sound even more esoteric and complicated than Whitehead himself and irrelevant for practical or spiritual life outside of the academy.  To Radicals, the Confessional approach might sound outdated and naïve at best, or imperialistic and oppressive at worst.  Or some of us might instead be able to see the two as constrasting rather than contradicting and perhaps look for a way to learn from both, even if we share the more basic assumptions of one or the other.

If the Radical approach is helping to keep Whitehead relevant to postmodern intellectuals, religious skeptics, and academics – perhaps even effecting a “Whiteheadian revolution” or a “return to Whitehead” in contemporary philosophy and science – the Confessional approach tends to have much more traction for pastors and laypersons.

This distinction seems to me to exemplify the challenge of identifying the task of theology today: is it important to do theology primarily for the sake of the life of the confessing church, or can we (should we) move on and do theology primarily because of its continuing politically subversive and ethical power for society?  This is not a question just for those of us in the process community, but rather for any theologian who finds herself in this predicament, between the Radical and the Confessional.

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Caputo Responds AAR part 2

In part 2 we hear from friend of the podcast Jeremy Fackenthal and then get Caputo’s response to all the papers – including those from part 1.Beer_Labels-Caputo-phone_rev03

If Jeremy Fackenthal sounds familiar, you may have heard him from the popular breakout session at EVTC 2012 session “Marx & Whitehead” or his previous AAR session on Occupy The Church.

We look forward to your feedback on these fantastic papers – which will be available in E-book format next month.IMG_3164

The Theology Nerd Throwdown is excited to welcome Chalice Press. They are the offical publishing sponsor with lots of great books and resources for theology nerds, preachers, and church planters. They just might become your #1 favorite progressive Christian publisher. So check them out.

 

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference, Live Podcast and Craft Brewery Fun.

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference and Craft Brewery Fun.

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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Taking Caputo into the [insert practical places discussed]

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3 Books for the Price of 1!

6 week online class w/ Peter Rollins

6 week online class w/ Peter Rollins

The Caputo Session at AAR from the past year was amazing! This is part 1 of that night. Part 2 will follow in just a couple of days.

We look forward to your feedback on these fantastic papers – which will be available in E-book format next month.
The Theology Nerd Throwdown is excited to welcome Chalice Press. They are the offical publishing sponsor with lots of great books and resources for theology nerds, preachers, and church planters. They just might become your #1 favorite progressive Christian publisher. So check them out.

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference, Live Podcast and Craft Brewery Fun.

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference and Craft Brewery Fun.

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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Subscribe to the new stream.

 

Subscribe on iTunes Here!

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The Meat and Potatoes of Theology

Have you ever overheard two doctors talking to each in medical speak?

Ever had a plumber try to explain to you why this or that fixture/joint is not compatible with this or that coping/fitting?

Ever gone to a ‘do it yourself’ weekend-warrior class at the hardware store, then tried to rewire/retrofit that thing only to make a second trip to the hardware store?

Ever listen to someone in the military tell a story that has so many initials, codewords and acronyms that you get L.O.S.T. in the W.E.e.D.s ?

Every craft/profession has its own vocabulary, short-hand, and set of tools that are specific to that discipline. No one seems to mind this at all. Then there is theology.

When it comes to the theological endeavor, the expectations can change. MP900405058

My theory is that is has something to do with the reality that everyone – no matter age or education level – has access to spirituality.

So everyone should be able to talk and understand what is going on in theology since everyone participates in its subject.

That is how the thinking seems to go. My desire is to clarify that while it is true that religion/spirituality is the primary activity … the theological endeavor is a secondary reflection upon that primary activity.

Theology is not the thing itself. Theology is a second-tier discipline that reflects upon the primary.

[Side note: I find it helpful to break the theological endeavor into 5 main branches and acknowledge that each has sub-disciplines within that. Practical, Biblical, Historic, Systematic and Philosophic are the Big 5 then.]

Have you ever watched a cooking show where a master chef dazzled you with culinary techniques you would not have thought of if you were given 100 years to experiment?

We love that stuff!

Once in a while some ernest person who loves God and is invested in the life of the church will complain about not understanding something I posted or said. Fair enough. 

I know that the gospel is simple enough that a child could get it. I know that the kin-dom is easy enough to enter that there are no limits for economics, education or any other category.

Here is something I would like to add to the conversation: The meat and potatoes – or bread and butter analogy. These two combos are often used to try and say ‘keep it simple’ … but here is the thing:

  • If you have ever tried to grow potatoes – it takes a while.
  • If you have ever harvested an animal for meat – it gets messy.
  • If you have ever made bread – it is complex.
  • If you have ever churned butter – it is not easy work.

Also, most of those activities require specialized equipment that had to be fashioned by a master craftsman.

My point is that ‘keeping it simple’ is often the end product of a very labor intensive, messy, complex, and lengthy process.

Simply putting meat, potatoes, bread and butter on a table is no simple undertaking. That meal that is consumed in 15 minutes took hours to prepare and more than a year to cultivate.

While a sermon probably should not contain words like ontology and meta-physics or phrases like post-Derridian phenomenology, it does not mean that those pursuits are wastes of time.

Like people who know nothing about electricity or conductors just want the light to come on when they flip the switch, that seems to be the expectation of theology. You don’t want to watch the electrician work or see how the sausage is made. You want it to work.

You don’t want to be in the kitchen while the chef works – you want a filling and delicious meal.

Let’s just not pretend that meat and potatoes or bread and butter is as simple to deliver as it is to receive and enjoy.

________

I mentioned all of this in response to the first call on the most recent TNT.

I would also recommend this little pocket dictionary of theological terms – the kindle is $6

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4 Attempts at Approaching God

Over Christmas my brother-in-law, who is a fellow pastor, wanted to have a conversation about approaches to God – specifically as it related to epistemology.

Although we both went to the same Bible college more then 20 years ago, our paths have headed in different directions and our hope was to compare notes and see where some common ground might be found for future conversations about ministry and christian spirituality.

 I thought it would be fun to throw out my initial schematic here and ask for some help in refining / overhauling it. 

I started with 4 basic historic approaches and then added a layer where each of the 4 approaches had 2 directions. Each approach has the possibility of starting with the notion of ‘god’ and then working out to the concept or starting with the concept and working toward the notion of god.


 4 Approaches pic

  •  

    Ethics has been a popular approach in the past. It is not as popular after the events of the 20th century (WWII, global pluralism and post-modern theory being 3 reasons why).

The problem here seems to be that starting with ‘god’ does not inherently result in clear ethics. In fact, those who have attempted to take the ethics approach often run into the problem that the two don’t necessarily equate. It is obvious that those who believe in ‘god’ are not more ethical than those who don’t believe in that same god or any god for that matter.

To make matters worse, starting with ethics (the outside-in direction) has a tough time getting all the way to ‘god’ by trying to equate ethics with evidence that there is a god. While you can see that the ethics and belief in god may have some overlap, it is not the most efficient of effective approach and thus it has fallen out of favor.

  • Revelation is a tried-and-true approach historically. Protestants of almost every stripe love this approach. From fundamentalist to thoughtful Barthians and even the Radical Orthodox crowd feast on a steady diet of the revelation approach.

That God reveals god’s-self in creation, in history, in scripture and in experience is a staple of the christian religion. The problem is that there is often a gap. If you start with what is revealed you might not make it all the way to God… and likewise, if you start with God it can be tough to make it all the way out to what is revealed. The problems come in things like Biblical (historic) criticism, modern science and the pesky pluralism of the post-colonial era.

  • Reductive approaches are perhaps the post problematic. We are haunted in late modernity by this shadow of foundationalism. As we are all aware, the scientific reductionism of the New Atheists is just the flip-side of the coin from fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell. If you start out there, you never make it in to God. If you start with God, you never make it all the way out there.

This approach has left us with a nasty enlightenment hangover and many (if not most) people are weary of the contentious and often combative result of this attempt of making your way in the world.

  • Linguistic approaches (I include the hermeneutical crowd in this) seem to me the most promising in the 21st century. The problem, however, is that they can often be so different from classic or historic approaches that the uninitiated have a difficult time even recognizing them as the same christianity one is trying to engage.

Take for instance the much debated sentences of Jack Caputo. What does it even mean that God does not exist but that God insists? Is god just a concept of our highest good? And how does one fend off the Feuerbach critique that religion is nothing more than a human projection by talking about ‘language games’?

Does god ontologically exist or not? Is the linguistic approach just a fancy way of skirting the question of metaphysics? Most importantly, for the epistemology question that we were originally attempting to get setup, how do you even more forward if linguistics/hermeneutics are your preferred entry point?

So that is my “4 Approaches – 2 Directions” schematic. It lead to a fruitful conversation even while it clearly needed some adjustments.

I would welcome your thoughts, questions, concerns, revisions, suggestions and innovations. 

p.s. I’m going to start linking to the Kindle version of Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms at the bottom every post. It is only $5 and it is so helpful new readers of this blog.

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