Theologians stick to your trade

January 14, 2013 § 4 Comments

In the creation vs evolution debate participants do not stick to their trade. This has very nasty consequences for the credibility of the Christian faith. Creationists think that one way or another Genesis 1 forms a blueprint for the actual events of creation. They make two serious mistakes. The first one is that of taking Genesis 1 literally. Who reads a texts needs to do justice to it. This starts at the very least by looking at genre, audience, and the authorial intention. The creation story in Genesis is quite probably intended by the author as an explanation for the existence and calling of Israel (away from the garden > back to the garden/promised land). To read Genesis 1 as a scientific text about the origin of the universe is in a strange way an ‘evangelical’ variation on treating the Bible with contempt. One wants to take the Bible seriously but ends up making a laughing stock of it by letting it act as a dummy on the lap of the ventriloquist (i.e. the creationist theologian).

The second mistake is that the insights gleaned from this disastrous reading of the text are then used as a framework for the interpretation of scientific data from geology and archeology. Wrong assumptions are exacerbated by a faulty method. Who really wants to do scientific research, will try to let the data speak for themselves, try to follow the trail wherever it may lead, whatever the conclusion. But in the case of creationism the result is a forgone conclusion (because God’s Word ‘teaches’ this or that). The scientific data are thus uninvited guests on a private theological party for which beds are quickly made ready in utter embarrassment. There is no genuine interest in making scientific discoveries but rather an attempt to keep the chasm between science and theology manageable.

Of course, scientists who promote evolution are not without guilt either. The comical arrogance with which some of them assert, with grave earnestness, that science ‘proves’ that God doesn’t exist, is a equally grave over-reliance on their own ability and that of the data they interpret.

Theologians really should stop playing scientist (‘scientific proof for a 6 day creation!’) and scientists need to tone down their rhetoric (‘we don’t need a god anymore’). If both camps simply stick to the interpretation of their own data (the Bible for the theologian and scientific data for the scientist) we already get a collection of ideas that defies the imagination. Theologian stick to your trade! That is really important if the Christian faith wants to remain relevant in the 21st century.


(Originally published as a column in Dutch)

A Slightly Philosophical Preamble on Hermeneutics and Praxis

December 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every theory starts with premises embedded in a Weltanschauung. This holds true for the theory undergirding this paper’s thesis. The Christian faith, however varied in its manifestations across cultures and times, holds that God, as supreme Being and Creator, exists and out of his free will enters into a relationship with human beings. His ultimate act of involvement with humanity is through his self-revelation in Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the Mediator, who gave up his life for the sake of humanity: her healing and her destiny. It is believed that this God walks with human beings and communities of human beings, inviting them to be transformed and renewed on their journey toward an ultimate goal that finds its expression and orientation in the person of Jesus. This orientation toward God is not merely a possibility given with humanity. Rather our very nature has an openness toward God as a basic anthropological fact. This too is a premise of the Christian faith. Anthropologically we are not primarily meant to know; we are meant to act, act rightly, that is, and in our acting to know in relationship. All of reality is, because of its being derived from and embedded in the Creator, inherently moral and as a result human beings find themselves as acting subjects in an environment that invites them to act justly. They are, as created in God’s image, moral beings at heart.
Thus our interaction with the world around us has clear parameters. There are undeniable epistemological limitations to the scope, precision and universality of our knowing. Were absolute knowledge to be our goal, we’d be hopelessly inadequately equipped. That is why human beings are to know in order to act. The question How do I know? is subservient to the question What ought I to do? Humans need to know sufficiently in order to be moral beings. In spite of their epistemological limitations, human beings possess a teleological openness to the future in order to facilitate the moral orientation. This future does not merely indicate a random set of possible configurations of reality but a well-defined point of unity between God and human beings, a point after which the openness of all eternity and immortality beckons. In order to bridge the notion of reality as moral framework with humanity’s teleological orientation, we can speak of an imperative to behave morally. Teleologically human beings are oriented toward both self-realization (as a moral dimension) and the Infinite (i.e. the beatific vision). The bridge between the present and our teleological goal is bridged by eschatological expectation (i.e. hope). This hope needs to be realized in praxis, through which a spiraling process leads us from embodied meaning to embodied meaning in an ever increasing reflection of the character of the One who is infinite. The encounter with God is then met and coincides with the self-realization of the human being.
Much if not all that we know about this journeying of God with people in the past has come to us by means of texts, collected by communities of faith that existed around the awareness of this God, as they trusted Yahweh or became followers of Jesus of Nazareth. These texts, if anything, attempt to impart in us that same awareness, transformation, and orientation toward the divine goal that those who experienced the narrated events underwent. It is upon us, receptors of the Biblical texts, then, to try to understand this process of transformation and being oriented toward this eschatological goal and to enter it. This, however, is not simply a process that moves from understanding the text to praxis, but also one from praxis to understanding. In fact, the only way to really understand the meaning of the Biblical text is to practice, indwell, and embody what it says. The understanding is in the praxis. In this sense there is a dialectic of behavior and knowledge, or, as Clodovis Boff notes, a dialectic of (theological) theory and praxis. While he (of course) means political praxis his observation that”…that the exigencies of reflective thought on the part of Christians living out their faith in practice imposes upon theology a change in the norms of its internal practice, a restructuration of its own field of operation” holds true as well in the realm of hermeneutics.[1] This is not merely understanding in the sense of epistemological enrichment, cognitive acknowledgement, that is, analytic thought, but an understanding that requires a thorough engagement with the existential realities pointed to in the text, resulting in a deep spiritual transformation with a different focus on self, reality, and God. This is because our knowing is always both embodied and social.

[1] Boff, Clodovis. Theology and Praxis : Epistemological Foundations. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1987, 156.

Introducing Liberation Theology: A Review

July 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Introducing Liberation TheologyIntroducing Liberation Theology by Leonardo Boff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leonardo and Clodovis Boff wrote ‘Introducing Liberation Theology’ together. Their theology is an ethical call to address the issue of wealth and poverty, or more precise, the reality of the poor and what we are to do with, or rather, are to respond to, their presence in the world. This theology is born out of the confrontation of predominantly Roman Catholic clergy with the grim reality of extreme poverty in Latin America in spite of the economic progress that was made in these countries during the 60s. It sometimes bears the marks of an ad hoc approach inspired by the urgency of the need of the poor and driven by the ethical response to it demanded by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Its main feature is the starting point of this theology, both spiritually and methodologically, with the existential plight of the oppressed. Spiritual because one encounters the suffering Christ in the poor; methodological, because proper a proper theology of liberation cannot do without first analyzing the structural underpinnings of poverty. Though dated, the book presents plenty of facts and figures that have become irrelevant, this is a fascinating read that still confronts our complacency and urges to action. While brief and concise overall, the Boffs show great theological erudition and are conversant with tradition, history and contemporary theology.

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Immanuel Can’t

February 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

English: , Prussian philosopher. Português: , ...

Immanuel Kant is the bad guy. Or so the story goes. He did not live up to his name. Immanuel means ‘God with us’ and Kant made sure God could no longer be with us. Maybe it would be appropriate to change his name into ‘Immanuel Can’t’.

After all it was Kant who created a dichotomy between the things and the perception of them. In Kant-speak: the distinction between the noumenal and phenomenal. ‘Noumenal’ refers to the way things are in reality. According to Kant we can forget about knowing them as they are. Their true essence or nature is unavailable to us since those things get filtered through our senses and are molded by what our mind does to them. The impressions of those things is all we have in our mind and that’s what we have to work with. They only appear to us in a certain way; they are phenomena. « Read the rest of this entry »

Christians Ought Not to be Called Resident Aliens

February 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

‘Resident Aliens’, co-authored by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, was published in 1989 by Abingdon Press, and is still relevant. But so is the critique that can be leveled against it.

The book constitutes a powerful message to the church to be true to its calling. The authors show how on both ends of the conservative-liberal spectrum the Church fails to be true to itself. Conservative tendencies to equate the Gospel with a politically conservative stance combined with a literalist hermeneutic and Scottish realist epistemology falters as much as the liberal idea of doing ‘generic’ good and not feeling compelled to take the Biblical narratives seriously in a hermeneutic derived from the faith community itself. With the breakdown of Christendom (i.e. a Christianized society in which the Church enjoys the favor of the state) a new opportunity is offered to the Church to truly shine again in accordance with its divinely intended purpose: to be a colony of resident aliens, an outpost of the Gospel in a world hostile to the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. The Church, then, lives out an ongoing story that longs for God’s eschatological purpose. It offers an ethics that is revolutionary, alternative to the status quo, and eschatological; a virtue ethics that can only be discovered and understood by becoming part of and living out the particular story of Jesus and his Church. « Read the rest of this entry »

Apocataphatically speaking . . .

February 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Better not to speak of the unspeakable
except what you are unfathomably not

unthought of

I begin to think
but the mere thought of you
initiates an explosion that exceeds
my capacity to contain

You, non-construct of my feeble attempt
make yourself known without words
leaving me exasperated
without tears left to shed

why do you invite me
to the abundance of your poverty
to the plurality of your simplicity
do you envelop me in a knowing
that crushes my mental faculties?

I can barely verbalize the experience
the words come stammering
haltering even to describe what it was not

How do I bear this unknowable knowing
this weight of your unspeakable speech-act?

Oh my goodness
Oh my not-badness
Oh my God

I have no words for you
I better shut up!

The Plurality of Truth, Mortal Sin or Divine Blessing?

January 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

John Franke’s Manifold Witness, the Plurality of Truth is a bold attempt to recast Christian faith, Church and theology in a mold that is in accord with the best postmodernist deconstruction has to offer while remaining true to the exclusivist character of the Gospel of Christ. Franke argues against a monolithic understanding of truth and in favor of a multiplicity of views regarding truth. His arguments are anthropological (human knowing is always perspectival and incomplete), historical (there is no “one” tradition of the historical Christian faith), liberationist/deconstructivist (one theological construct tends to dominate and marginalize the voice of the Other), scriptural (the Bible evidences a plurality at every level), revelational (the trinitarian God reveals himself as plurality), cultural (the incarnation and the Bible are given in an embedded enculturated situation), missional (a plural witness is part of the missional character of the church and does justice to the mysterious object of our proclamation), and eschatological (our knowing will only be complete in the future). « Read the rest of this entry »

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