So, if you haven’t heard yet, I’ve given up for Lent. Meaning, I’ve given up trying to be a Christian in any way shape or form, and am instead just being myself for a while. Subsequently, my primary orientation as “Christian” is what I’m stuck with, and I am left reflecting upon and parsing out possible futures for my given theological narrative from the exterior. The benefit of doing this while “giving up” is that I am untethered to any form of Christianity itself – denominational, ideological, theological, or otherwise. That is, I am unregulated and fully free to let “God” as a being, construct, anthropomorphism, or any other spatter of devices lead me where it may. I am allowed to do theology (or not do theology at all if I don’t want to) from a completely different location, outside the box…one that has to answer to no authority except for the expounding of my honest experience, or sometimes lack thereof, of God, through my own unique interpretive lens. Take that Wesleyan quadrilateral!
Now, it must be said at the outset that, for this to truly be a giving up, nothing can be off the table, even more opulent notions like atheism. Let’s be honest, we’ve all at least had the experience of atheism on some days, have we not? In full disclosure, I don’t suspect atheism will be my own conclusion given my affinity for process philosophy and theology as a metaphysical possibility (I have already done much of the legwork in my own quest for God, and I suspect that, at this juncture, I won’t likely wander far from my own theopoetic/radical theological mishmash of Caputo’s insistence and a Whiteheadian metaphysic akin to Keller’s). However, I say that only to divulge that the theological endeavor is, and always will be for me, a relational exercise rooted in intellectual and existential honesty. Every question can, and must, be asked of the faith, if faith itself is to survive. And so I remain fully open to any postulation, and am always looking for friends and conversation partners in every camp.
I suppose in many ways that as I take on this “Giving Up For Lent,” I am mainly formalizing what has been a much longer journey of discernment into what bones are left to my Christianity after having walked away from so much of it. In essence, throughout my journey, I have already given up so much of what I used to hold to be true that it seems that what I’m left with is at the very least a progressive theistic form of the Christian faith, or at the very most, a hopeful secular-humanist tangential engagement with the Christian tradition and the historical Jesus. Whatever future distillation ends up giving form to my own theopoetic posture and relationship to the Christian faith moving forward, I am indeed, for now, situated at least on the outskirts (more likely way way outside the borders) of what used to be the hometown for this post-fill.in.the.blank 80’s child…estranged from many of the ideologies, theologies, and people that used be so familiar. But yet again, this is not a new development.
And so we take a brief intermission that is both a preface to the next 33 days of Lent, and a personal admission that I am unapologetically stealing and augmenting from one of Bo Daddy’s lines: When it comes to Christian theology and praxis, I admit that I am always moving towards the way, while fully acknowledging that that way is not my way. And boy, am I glad about that. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of investment in rightness. As Derrida’s deconstruction offers us, that pure form (of justice, there) is always beyond our grasp. So, let’s just say we’re heading after something together. And it likely isn’t my way of doing things, nor yours. Let’s inspire each other to something beyond our individual ways.
That said, I see this post (and really my own theological pursuit on the whole) as a response to the linguistic turn of the 20th century. From this point, if we cannot have a conversation about our interpretive pursuit going all the way down, especially in regards to the Bible, but also in the engagement of the contextual, chronology-bound theologies that have developed over the past 2000 years, then we cannot move forward. Meaning, if we cannot admit from the get-go that our allegiance to, and engagement with a certain text or doctrinal hypothesis always comes to us through a lens, a lens which is inseparably linked to each part of our own imbedded perspectives (which is no less true of the Biblical authors themselves and the later claims of special revelation imposed upon them), then I would be willing to bet that our conversation won’t go very far, nor will it be much of a dialogue. In short, if our a priori assumptions about the hermeneutical task are not in alignment, then this, in my experience, has been the breaking point. It’s rare that I encounter someone who disagrees with me on this one proposition, and is able to have a constructive dialogue about where the tradition heads from there…but I love those anomalies who break through my suspicions! It is, unfortunately, more often than not a very real fork in the road for the future of theology.
“But, isn’t this just classical liberalism?,” some might ask. For the sake of the future of millions of Emergence Christians, I genuinely hope it is not dismissed as such. For many conservatives, “liberalism” has been a dirty word that has no place in the dialectical theological environment. No doubt the linguistic turn in theology renders the tradition vulnerable to the repercussions of contemporary historical-critical scholarship, continental and post-continental developments in philosophy and psychoanalysis, current scientific exploration, and the list goes on. But necessarily so! These are inevitable evolutions in the progression of human consciousness and the unfolding of the Christian tradition. They are not exempt from, but are crucial to, its progress. The non-dismissive engagement of the reverberations of postmodernism will be essential for the future of churches and Christians everywhere. Like I said, I know this is nothing new, and I don’t have much investment in sustaining the future of the church structures as-is, but millions of future Emergence Christians’ ideological and practical health is at stake in this discussion. Hopefully we can learn together to let our words move toward becoming enfleshed in ways that will serve the next generation well.
As it is, I see three main spheres that need addressing, each of which pervades nearly every aspect of the discourse surrounding the Christian tradition and praxis. Over the remainder of Lent, I will parse out these radical (and yes I use that word intentionally!) shifts that may lead us to freedom from some of the more stunting developments in recent Christendom:
1) Theological – The linguistic shift away from a fideistic biblicism, and toward embracing a theopoetics.
2) Practical – The lived shift away from a dualistic moralism, and toward a holistically sacred humanism.
3) Relational- The social shift away from a tribalistic divisivism, and toward a mutualistic identity of benevolence.
What do all these istics and isms mean? Are they even real words? What are their implications for the future of the faith? Tune in to find out in weeks to come!