Saturday, 14 September 2013

Ignoring Pain with Post-Liberal Theology

Remember the good ole days when Christianity was all anyone ever talked about? You know those good ole days...sometime between 400 and 1800 Common Era. When all we talked about was the nature of Christ instead of Miley Cyrus. We knew the Bible inside and out because MTV didn't exist yet. The Bible was about something more then just who wrote it, when, and was about canonical inspiration, absolute truth...

The great theologians of the middle ages and the reformation had a lot of important theological insights, and much of it relates to the world we live in today. But the people who wrote the Bible itself also have a lot to say to our world. They often speak as a community in exile, often in the midst of persecution, often as sinners...they like us lived outside of Christendom. We like them live in a world where suffering and pain is a reality that exists all around us and the Bible has a lot to say about pain. Scripture is about more then just intertextual alignment.

In his unpublished systematic theology Post-Liberal theologian David Yaego tells us that before we engage in modern historical interpretation we need to first and foremost see Scripture as a signpost for our new reality in Christ. I would believe Yaego if every reference to our current culture context wasn't about theological is how the feminists get it is how our Christian culture falls into modalism...Who are you defending Orthodoxy to anyway? Who do you think is reading your book?

If we want Scripture to point to Christ in this world, here and now, then we need to acknowledge the suffering that is in it. Israel was God's chosen people and they failed. They got into bed with idols, they committed genocide, they were people enslaved who chose to enslave. Why? To build a temple. Even if God remains faithful to them, there is still consequences for actions and this consequence is often exile.

In the new covenant Christians are God's chosen people and we to have failed him. Christ called us to live counter culturally against the oppression of women, against the segregation of human races, against the slavery of people. There are consequences for actions and refusing to face this reality will not helping anything. I get it. If you read scripture solely for intertextual insight you never really have to deal with the emotional consequences of the people your reading about. Even better you can further transpose an Augustian, Lutheran, or Thomist perspective and get another step further away from the contextual reality and another step further away from the suffering and injustice that is in the Scriptures and in the world around you. You never really have to deal with the emotional and physical reality of how Israel failed and you never have to deal with how Christians failed and continue to fail.

Intertexuality is great, but it is meaningless if it isn't interrelation. I am not saying we pander to political ideologies or stop declaring the creeds. I am saying that only being a good Christian who reads his Bible, reads theology, prays, and goes to Church is ignoring reality; it is living in a fantasy world. Peter J Leithart declares that “Only the good can be good teachers; only the obedient can hear.” I am not convinced. I think the broken also hear God, the broken teach us about his true nature of Grace. Israel is desperate and God calls them to listen, Peter denies Christ and the prophecy is remembered, Paul is broken on the road to damascus and God speaks. The consequences for their actions have only just begun, but God is heard loud and clear. If we assume that we are to just live moral and obedient lives and relevant interpretation will come, then we are fooling ourselves.
Leithart goes on to say that “Again and again, Israel closes herself to God’s word. Isaiah preaches to the deaf and dull of heart, and Jeremiah’s audience closes its ears to his stern message of doom. Jesus, the last prophet, hears and does his Father’s will, and he spends his days making priests. With a touch, he loosens tongues to sing his praise. By the finger of his Spirit, he bores into our ears so the Father’s word can enter and capture our hearts.”

Amen. But we don't look like Jeremiah or Isaiah. We look more like King Saul desperately trying to hold onto his Kingship, we look more like David on his deathbed. If we want to convict culture and inspire new realities like the prophetic voices of old, we need to to first admit we have lost the kingdom, and for good reason.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Russell Brand the Postmodern Prophet

            The first time I encountered Russell Brand's thought was when he interviewed the Westboro Baptist Church and juxtaposed them with some rather liberal Christians. I found this exercise pointless and doubted I could ever give him another chance at bringing forward any meaningful conversation or thought to my universe. However, after a couple months I realized that if I can still enjoy Richard Dawkins on occasion, despite that fact he makes similar types of fruitless arguments toward the end of his book God Delusion (as though a handful of rude Christians or a handful of really open minded Christians represent any real spectrum of Christian thought) then I can give Brand a second chance as well.  
            My girlfriend also happens to be rather fond of Brand, so in an effort to give him a second chance, I acquired tickets for his Aug 23rd show in Calgary. The stand up show which is entitled Messiah Complex represents an interesting mix of religious pluralism, a touch of postmodern philosophy in the vein of Jean-Francois Lyotard's incredulity toward's metanarratives (whether Brand realizes it or not), along with a few standard sex jokes.
            Brand is fully aware that in today's context we have to be intentional about who we are and what we want to follow; otherwise what we understand to be true will be falsified and manipulated for the purpose of those who seek to control us. State authority, corporate advertisers, and religious leaders will often seek to manipulate what is true for their own gain. Che Guevara was a man who was respected for his firm communist ideology along with being incredibly violent. Today he is reduced to a t-shirt logo. Ghandi has become the symbol of all that is good in the world, yet he treated his wife in a way that most today would not approve. In order to describe the world faithfully it requires nuance.

Most impressive was Brand's introduction of modern philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and G.K.Chesterton. Brand described how Nietzsche declares that “God is dead” because society is no longer under the authority of a Christian nation. According to Brand, Chesterton counters that despite this reality; people will still create objects of worship of their own accord. This warning of idolatry continued all throughout his show. In the midst of a diverse and packed out crowd of young and old, Brand was preaching to an audience that most Canadian churches today would dream of having.

While I am excited for the ideas that Russell Brand is bringing forward in his most recent tour, my warning to him is that as a religious pluralist he will never truly be able to immerse himself in the truth of any one religion. For Brand the central message of Christ is simply to love one another. And this generically seems to be what he believes to be the centrality of most religions. By denying the particularity of a belief system, he will never be able to experience the truth of it from the inside out. It will always be as a passing critical observer. While Brand is correct in suggesting that there really is no conclusive historical evidence for any one faith over another, this doesn't mean that the best way to engage them is as though you are at a buffet. Christianity is most real when you are inside of it, and I assume that most people of faith who believe their religion to be ultimate reality would suggest the same. This doesn't mean that there isn't truth in most religions; it simply means that in order experience the heart of a tradition, you have to enter into it fully and submit yourself to it. For us Christians this means that Jesus Christ has never given us the option to simply see him as a good guy or a great teacher. He demands that we see him as God incarnate; he demands that we see his death and resurrection as the ultimate work of his power and glory for the world he created. If we refuse to see this, the truth we see in Christ will always be but a hint of who he truly is. If Russell Brand refuses to dive into one religion with all his heart, he will always be left with crumbs of truth, and never the meal.