Conclusion: Toward a Chaosmosic Church August 26, 2009Posted by Ryan in Books, WWJD.
by Zane Yi
This is the sixth post in a six-part series in the re-church Summer Reading Group. The six posts correspond to the six chapters of What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, by John D. Caputo. Thanks to all who participated!
What is a/the church?
Our forays together into the murky waters of Derridian deconstruction end with us pondering this question (and also with what is my favorite chapter of the book).
We’re familiar with some of the standard definitions of church. The church is “the communion of the saints”; where the bishop or priest offers the sacrament, where the Word is preached and where people are baptized; it comprised of “those that keep the commandments of Jesus.”
Caputo offers none of these standard definitions. Rather, he juxtaposes two kinds of churches, the Big church”, i.e. the institutional church, and “the working church.” The former is visible with “bishops, buildings, power, and the photocopying machines”, the latter exists on the margins and “is left on it’s own to face a brutal world” (119).
What Would Jesus Do…about health care reform, for example? August 10, 2009Posted by Ryan in Books, WWJD.
By Ryan J. Bell
This is the fifth post in a six-part series in the re-church Summer Reading Group. The six posts will correspond to the six chapters of What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, by John D. Caputo. Next week’s post will be written by Samir Selmanovic, founder of Faith House Manhattan and author of the forthcoming book, It’s Really All About God.
This is the chapter we’ve all been wondering about, I think. What would Jesus deconstruct, specifically? In this chapter Caputo takes the deconstructive virus that he has been cultivating in the past few chapters and injects it into contemporary American culture. He focuses his deconstructive fury on four areas of American social life: economic justice, militarism, patriarchy, and sexual issues (abortion and homosexuality). If you tend to be on the liberal side of the political spectrum you probably enjoyed this chapter immensely, maybe even pumping your fist a time or two. If you are on the conservative side of things you probably had a hard time getting through these 28 pages. But regardless where you stand on these issues, you may have had a thought something like mine: “Isn’t this just too convenient? So you apply a Derridian deconstructive move to Jesus and he comes out looking like a liberal Democrat. How nice.” In other words, is Caputo really working backwards from what he wants Jesus to stand for? Is he creating Jesus is his own postmodern, liberal, democratic image?
What I would like to do in this short post is focus again on Caputo’s hermeneutical framework. Rather than going through each of the four major areas that take up the majority of the space in this chapter and tell you what I think and why (which is really not that relevant or important), I would like to ask the question, does Caputo’s hermeneutic make sense and does it rightly yield the kind of outcome he says it does in modern life? But before I do that, let me make this very personal with a short story about something that will happen tomorrow in Hollywood.
As you must know, unless you’ve been on silent retreat for the past 3 months, America is in the midst of a (now quite ugly) debate about health care. Congress is officially on summer recess and during this time the debate about health care is moving to the local front. Tomorrow, at one of the churches in Hollywood, I will be speaking on behalf of the 25 member congregations (churches and synagogues) that make up LA Voice, about the moral and religious values that we feel call us to speaking out for health care reform. (If you want to know more about our message, visit http://www.coverallfamilies.org). Congressman Xavier Becerra will be present, as well as dozens of other clergy and leaders from our congregations in Los Angeles.
Is this what Jesus would do? Would Jesus speak out for health care reform? I think he would, for some of the reasons that Caputo names in this chapter. And for me, it comes down to hermeneutics.
You will not find a passage in scripture that tells us to try to influence our government for more just policies that will benefit the poor. In fact, as Caputo points out, Jesus works outside the dominant political structures of his day. He challenged the social order (remember he ended up on a Roman cross, convicted of high treason). But you don’t see Jesus trying to become the next Caesar or even stage a coup.
The funniest expression of Caputo’s hermeneutic comes on page 91 when he says:
My basic hermeneutic formula is this: if you want to draw your vision and inspiration from the New Testament, bless your heart, but you need, in addition to a good reading of the text, an independently good argument.
What I think he’s saying here is that your interpretation needs to work in the world you live in. This is the hard work of living Christianly in the world. We have to use our heads and think. He gets a bit more specific about this.
I may be forgiven…if I have concluded that the private-charity argument is a cynical cover for greed, which as a way of working things out so that I get to keep as much money as I can for myself and let the poorest of the poor go to the devil. I have the idea that this is precisely the sort of hypocrisy that made Jesus flash with anger, so that if Jesus showed up on day uninvited and caught me holding forth on that point, the “revelation” I would experience would be of his meaner side. The more Jesus-inspired thing to do today, in my opinion, is to translate the gospel’s commitment to hte poor into an effective public policy that would actually implement an evangelical imperative, to come to the aid of the weakest and most defenseless people in society, above all the children (93, italics supplied by me).
This is not to say that the government is the answer to the world’s problems, or to shift the locus of God’s kingdom to Washington, D.C. I think it is possible to maintain that the church, filled with the Spirit and commissioned by Jesus himself, is the primary locus of God’s action in the world and that it is the role of the church to bear witness to Christ and his kingdom by doing everything possible now to enact that kingdom in the world we actually live in. Bill Colburn commented on the last post and quoted Stanley Hauerwas as saying, “To be a Christian does not mean that we are to change the world, but rather that we must live as witnesses to the world that God has changed. We should not be surprised, therefore, if the way we live makes the change visible.” (You got a reference for that, Bill?) I think this gets the balance exactly right. To say, the church itself is the message and the witness is not to absolve the church from putting it’s faith into tangible action in the world as a witness to future God’s is bringing into our present.
It is our responsibility to breathe with the spirit of Jesus, to implement, to invent, to convert this poetics into a praxis, which means to make the political order resonate with the radicality of someone whose vision was not precisely political. We need hermeneutics, which means understanding linked to historical context, and deconstruction, which means an interpretive theory that is mad about justice, in order to make this translation (95).
This statement above comes the closest, I think, to saying what Caputo is up to in this book. This deconstructive hermeneutic peels back the layers of our hypocricy and complicity with systems of power that benefit the wealthy and franchised, and exclude the poor and disenfranchised. So, in the areas of economic justice, war and violence, patriarcy and sexuality, how does this hermenutic apply? Do you find Caputo’s application of his own hermeneutic compelling? Would you like to argue with him about this?
For example, how does this statement below set with you? Can you read the Bible in this way or has Caputo gone too far?
I appreciate the scholarly work that has been recently undertaken to interpret what the Scriptures have said about homosexuality and I wish it well. But even were this research not to hold up, I could live with the idea that Paul condemned what we today have constituted as “homosexuality: and that if anyone ever asked Jesus about it (and if they did we have no record of it) he would have said the same thing as Paul….
In my view even if there is a dominant view against homosexuality in the Scriptures and tradition…I would argue that on this point the Greeks were right and the dominant tradition among Jews and Christians is wrong, just as the Scriptures are wrong to underwrite slavery and the oppression of women (108-109).
Ryan Bell is the pastor of the Hollywood Adventist Church and the co-founder and coordinator for the re-church network.
Jesus’ Theo-poetics: The Politics of Jesus Revisited August 4, 2009Posted by Ryan in Books, WWJD.
By Zane Yi
This is the third post in a six-part series in the re-church Summer Reading Group (click these links to read parts one, two and three). The six posts will correspond to the six chapters of What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, by John D. Caputo. Next week’s post will be written by Ryan Bell.
“Truth” and its relationship to power has been analyzed by numerous post-modern theorists. If there’s something to Nietzsche assessment that the “will to power” motivates all our claims and actions (I think there is.), and the analysis of his more contemporary disciple Michel Foucault correctly illuminates (I think it does.) the way institutions use the rhetoric of “truth” to dominate and control others, we Christians should be doubly cautious of all the unholy ways we have done and do the same.
A brief overview of our own history reveals our checkered record when it comes to the political use of power. When Constantine became a Christian, and Christianity was no longer a persecuted minority, we tried in many ways, to dominate the political order, or at least use it to carry out our ends. (Christians began persecuting others!) During the Reformation, Luther and Calvin, while critical of the church’s theology, were willing to continue working with political authorities. During this time, Christian from different traditions, in the name of God and doctrine, went to war with each other.
Evidently, the people of God are not immune from the lust for power that Augustine, in his City of God, attributes to the city of man; we are all infected.
It was the radical reformers, i.e. the Anabaptists, who deplored all political involvement, seeing it as the first steps of spiritual compromise; they advocated a withdrawal from secular affairs. The church should not yield political power in any form, nor should Christians be involved in the affairs of government.
Deconstruction as Prayer? July 27, 2009Posted by Ryan in Books, WWJD.
By Zane Yi
This is the third post in a six-part series in the re-church Summer Reading Group (click these links to read parts one and two). The six posts will correspond to the six chapters of What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, by John D. Caputo. Next week’s post will also be written by Zane.
I like to think of myself as a generous person. This summer, my wife and I have had the privilege of attending several weddings. Each of my family members or friends received gifts from us. According to Derrida and Caputo, however, these so-called “gifts” came with some unstated expectation of gratitude or reciprocation. In other words, they are not really gifts and I am not really a generous person. I do not truly give gifts; rather my gift giving is a form of putting someone in debt to me!
The distinction between names and events is central to understanding Caputo’s provoking discussion of gifts and along with his thoughts on forgiveness, love, and hospitality. I will start by providing some further distinctions that I hope will clarify Caputo’s general claims regarding names and events, and then raise some questions for discussion. (By all means, feel free to add your own below, or to touch on topics I do not mention in the discussion below.)
A Felicitous Journey July 20, 2009Posted by Ryan in Books, WWJD.
By Samir Selmanovic
This is the second post in a six-part series in the re-church Summer Reading Group (part one can is here). The six posts will correspond to the six chapters of What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, by John D. Caputo. Next week’s post will be written by Zane Yi. Zane is completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Fordham University in New York.
When I first opened this book, the title of this 2nd chapter, “Spiritual Journeys, Postmodern Paths,” seemed innocuous. I find myself exhausted by all the deconstruction that is going on around me, theologically, economically, politically, personally. So, I was glad Ryan assigned this straightforward chapter to me. The words were familiar. In the parlance of traditional Christian spirituality, terms journey and path have been a way of comforting us on the demanding race of Christian life towards achieving an overwhelmingly all-encompassing perfect image of “being Christlike.”
Traditionally (here by “traditionally” I mean “before the blessings of deconstruction entered our psyche”) the destination was clear, good, and certain—but far away. To get there—we would say in our sermons—we need to take the Christian journey. The concept helped us focus our efforts and be patient. It was a way to keep ourselves going towards that perfect image, a way for a pilgrim to make progress.
Such a journey or path was something concrete, something we could envision, choose to take, and be disciplined about. It had maps and steps. And, importantly, it had a history and there was a concrete future awaiting us at the end. We were to hold on to “faith delivered to the saints once and for all” and cling to “hope that will not fail.” My contention here is that although we proclaimed the text that was authoritative, future that was certain, the present that was doable, we were not really comforted. There were too many things on the map towards God that did not correspond to the landscape of life, and no matter how beautifully attractive was the map, it produced anxiety within. (more…)
Can We Handle the Truth? July 13, 2009Posted by Ryan in Books, WWJD.
By Ryan J. Bell
This is the first post in a six-part series in the re-church Summer Reading Group. The six posts will correspond to the six chapters of What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, by John D. Caputo. Next week’s post will be written by Samir Selmanovic, founder of Faith House Manhattan and author of the forthcoming book, It’s Really All About God.
The title of the book, which we will be discussing here on the re-church blog, is a play on the title of the classic Christian novel, In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon. I distinctly remember reading this book when I was in college, over 100 years after it was originally published. It had a profound impact on me at the time. It helped me to see an important connection that I had mostly missed up that point in my life. Namely that my profession of faith in Jesus needed to have very tangible results in how I lived my life. Coming from a very conservative place at that time in my life, I was intimately familiar with the idea that my faith should make my life different. But that difference was always in the realm of personal piety and cultural taboos – “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col 2:21). But what Sheldon was suggesting is that my faith in Jesus had everything to do with how I treated others and even the systems of oppression that keep people broken.
At that point in my life I knew nothing of the social gospel (as an actual movement or as an epithet). Nor had the Christian marketing machine yet gotten a hold of this slogan, “What Would Jesus Do?” and made a mint off bumper stickers, T-shirts, bracelets and Special Edition Bibles. Since that time, as Caputo rightly notes, the slogan, “What would Jesus do?” has been used as a weapon in the modern culture wars. (more…)