Sometimes you stumble into something so wildly different than anything you have encountered before that it can give you a bit of whiplash.
When this happens in the realm of theology – it can cause a level of trauma to your faith that it feels as if it will never recover.
This is where translators and apologist can come in and play a healthy role.
I am not a practitioner of Radical Theology per-se. I am more of a practical theologian who is in dialogue with (or informed by) schools of thought that might challenging to the population as a whole (or at least those who occupy the pews).
I received this week’s notes from one Mr. Tripp Fuller that he intended to utilize on the most recent episode of the High Gravity reading group co-hosted by the incomparable Peter Rollins. I took one look at them and thought to myself:
“Self… folks may not know what some of this stuff means. This is sad because much of it has deep implications on living out faith in the 21st century and even deeper implication on the cultural conversation that each of us finds ourselves caught up in the middle of.”
SO I thought it might be interesting to throw a few of the notes out there and to attempt to attach a helpful note on a few items.
Here is what I am up to: if you feel like you are interested in a Radical approach but find it out of reach or unclear … please respond in the comment section and we can either A) figure this out together or B) I will point you in a helpful direction if I know of one.
Before we start – couple of overly-simplistic definitions:
- Radical Theology – a theological approach that is not tied to a congregation, denomination or other sanctioning body. The freedom of not being anchored in a confessional approach allows thinkers to interact with daring, innovative and contemporary schools of thought without consequence of consideration of how the outcome will impact faith communities (at least not primarily).
- Confessional Theology – a theological approach rooted in both historic tradition and local expression. Confessional theology takes classical perspective and either tries to update it for the current context or attempts to return to some previous incarnation with the hopes of a purer expression or acceptable orthodoxy/practice.
- Theo-poetics – born out of an awareness that all of our god-talk is both perspectival and provisional. When we speak of god/the divine we do so in imagery, metaphor, and symbol. This awareness of our limitations of language release us to confess that our signifiers (symbols) can never fully or truly represent that which they signify. The result is a freedom to explore, innovate, ratify, renovate and adapt our god-language in order to both expose idolatry and inspire creativity in how we express our beliefs.
- Big Other – As Tom explains below “(in very simple terms) the set of customs and rules that regulate our horizontal social interaction and belief”. One way of conceiving of this is “That is to say, ‘the big Other’ is the ambience of the situation that comes through human ways of following situational “rules.” That is, without human beings, there is no ‘big Other.’” Addressing the Big Other is often manifest in a critique of a projection of a watcher in the sky sort of conception of god.
Here are some of Tripp’s notes:
Radical Theology v Confessional
1) Radical Theology is parasitic to Confessional Theology… on its behalf. Radical Theology is being faithful to what is harbored in the name of ‘God’ – the event & not the tradition on the tradition’s terms.
2) Radical Theology reserves the right to ask any question. Because Confessional Theology is accountable to a tradition & its institutions there will be places where questions\conversations\operating conclusions will serves as “conversation stoppers.” Places in which that activity of critical thinking puts one out of the building. (ex. Trinity or Same Sex Marriage)
3) Radical Theology seeks to be EXPOSED to the Event w/in the Confessional Theology tradition but not PROPOSE a new articulation of the tradition.
4) Radical Theology rejects both the apathetic silence about the Big Other & the theist\atheist debate about the Big Other. The Big Other does not exist.
5) Radical Theology displaces the boundaries & certainty of ‘belief’ w/in Confessional Theology – the “how” w/out articulating another ‘what.’ Why? Whatever the ‘what’ is w/in a tradition doesn’t correlate to ‘how’ it is enacted.
6) Radical Theology affirms the Event contained IN but not BY Confessional Theology.
7) Radical Theology is a material (therefore a political) theology. God’s insistence is about our existence, here in the world, in relationships, & not about our continued or reanimated existence elsewhere. Radical Theology is about faith enacted for this world, not faith in another.
8) Radical Theology leaves the logos of Confessional Theology behind for theo-poetics. For the Radical Theology there is no divine-logic to be learned or sacred syllogisms to be mastered. When ‘words’ are used to close the circle around the truth, the poet protests ‘words’ enslavement… their demonic possession of the impossible possibilities that vanquished on behalf of the actual – the certain – the final – the verdict of Confessional Theology.
I thought it would be helpful at this point to outline how Caputo frames the turn from Confessional to Radical Theology in his amazing and short book “Philosophy And Theology” . In chapter 5 he illustrates 3 turns that converge together to make the BIG turn.
First up is the Hermeneutical Turn – this a confession we each read a text or interpret our experience from an angle. We all have a location and that means that we all see things from an angle.
Second is the Linguistic Turn – this is a recognition that every discipline and every tradition has its own set of vocabulary and concepts that form the ‘rules of the game’. Just as one can not play ‘Sport’ but plays A sport (football or baseball) so one can not speak ‘Language’ but A language. One can not practice ‘Religion’ but A religion. One must learn and abide by the rules of language game that one is playing.
Third is the Revolutionary Turn – this is an admission that things change… or rather that the way we see things changes. Working off of Kuhn’s idea of ‘paradigms’ and scientific revolutions, we readily admit that even where the data does not change (the universe) the way that we conceptualize it does periodically alter in radical ways.
These three come together to form the Postmodern Turn. They are also helpful for illustrating the sort of thing that Radical Theology is up to.
If you have any questions or comments I would love for post them below!
I also want to acknowledge that I left out references to Hegel, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Tillich, Descartes, and Kant. We can do all of that in a subsequent post if you want.