Tag Archives: Pluralism

(Review) Beyond the Modern Age

In Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard (Free University Amsterdam) and Craig Bartholomew (Redeemer College) provide an in-depth examination and critique of four modern worldviews. These four worldviews are: 1) the classical modern worldview, 2) the structural-critical worldview, 3) the cultural-critical worldview, and 4) postmodernism. In formulating their critique they lean on the work of Philip Reiff on culture and religion, Rene Girard on desire, and Len Goodman & Abraham Kuyper on pluralism. 513vpc01u1l-_sx322_bo1204203200_With this arsenal of contemporary thinkers, they proceed to put forth a positive proposal for a worldview which can contend with modern worldviews. This is a worldview which is thoroughly Christian but also fits well within our increasingly pluralistic world.

So what does this proposed Christianity for public life look like? The authors propose that Christianity which will be able to engage in our pluralistic world, and compete among the panoply of worldviews will be marked by the following:

  1. It will be self-critical, willing to take a close look at itself, explore how it has been positively and negatively shaped by modernity, and resubmit itself to the authority of Scripture and tradition.
  2. It will see clearly the relevance of the gospel for the whole of creation, for the whole of society and not just the individual soul or the institutional church.
  3. It will be genuinely committed to the flourishing of all creation.
  4. It will have a preferential option for the poor.
  5. It will take spiritual formation seriously.
  6. It will attempt to “live the solution.”

Their positive proposal is essentially and expansion upon points 3, 4, and 6. The problem of modernity, as they see it, boils down to an interconnectedness between population growth, environmental crisis, material production and consumption, economic crisis, decreasing global security, and deepening world poverty. The four modern worldviews have proposed solutions to these problems, however, they have not only failed to provide an adequate solution, some of these worldviews exacerbate the problems! Their answer to these problems is to set forth a solution in light of Reiff’s work on the sacred in culture, Girard’s work on desire, and the preferred option for the poor. They call this solution an economy of care. An economy of care flips upside down what modernist economies say is the “bottom line”:

Suppose our first priority is not dynamic economic growth but rather the ability to safeguard time, provide justice for the poor, protect and restore the environment, create more opportunities for meaningful employment, and care for the vulnerable. There is nothing to prevent these needs from becoming the starting point in an economic approach rather than expansion of material prosperity at all costs. (235)

They call this approach an “economy of care.” Although it may sound crazy, they are convinced that it is not simply wishful thinking. The authors point to several small scale instances in which an economy of care has worked for local communities. They also point to how an economy of care has had an impact upon the well-being and even economy of Holland. A Dutch study has shown that long term an economy of care would have a more favorable impact than either the market economy or welfare state on 1) employment levels, 2) quality of work, 3) the environment, 4) energy saving, 5) capital transfer to the South, and 6) government deficits. (254) And this economy of care could be implemented if “the Dutch people were willing to maintain average income and consumption levels at their present level and if they agreed to cooperate in orienting society, as a whole and in parts to these broader ends.” (254) All this to say, an economy of care seems not only plausible, but realistic! That is until we start thinking about the sinful condition of humanity. Maybe its my Calvinist bent (or maybe my realism), but I tend to believe that people are actually pretty selfish. Maybe they aren’t selfish with people they love and know, but they are certainly selfish about people that bear no relation to them. Not only that but people have a near future bias. In other words, people are prone to taking actions which serve their near futures rather than their further out futures. This means, that even though it may be irrational, people in general will be less likely to make sacrifices in the near future for the sake of a more secure future further out. Think about how people treat their health. Most people are more likely to not workout now because its painful for the near future even though rationally they know it is best for their far out future. If we can’t even get people to work out, how will we convince people to sacrifice their economic good in the near future for the sake of their far-out future, and more so, for the sake of the far-out future of other generations and of people from other nations and states! There is absolutely no reason to do so. That is, unless, there is a stronger drive compelling them to do so. Something like the gospel. The gospel has the power to reshape our desires, to shift our desires from self-centered and near-future oriented, to other-centered and eschatologically focused. The gospel really does have power. This book shows that the gospel really could have an impact on the flourishing of this world, and if taken seriously, provides a stronger alternative to the current worldview that are available.

 

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

 

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Tolerance is impossible…

To insist that all religions are right, that all the roads are going to the same place, is actually silly… We’d have to be intellectually intolerant.

Hitler, for example, believed he was on a divine mission… Nazism really had very religious roots, and yet the world by consensus has decided that it’s not valid. As soon as you send judgment on that particular religion, then you’re already denying your original principle.

Theological tolerance of religions is absolutely impossible for anybody. When you say to me, “You mustn’t try to convert people to your religion, as if your religion is superior,” what you’re really saying is, “I want you to abandon your inferior view of religious truth and take my superior view”… [saying] that your view of religious truth— that all religion is relative— is superior to my religious truth— that some religious truths are absolute. And so you’re doing the very thing you say I shouldn’t do… What you’re immediately saying is “Your road doesn’t go the same place. You’re actually saying, “My view of religion is superior to your view of religion.”

So to say all religions are relative is a religion… To say you can’t judge between religions is to judge between religions. To say you can’t determine right and wrong beliefs is a determination of right and wrong beliefs… To insist that no religious truth is superior (and by doing that insist that your religious truth is superior) is completely inconsistent.

-Tim Keller from “Authentic Christianity”

Theology Under Crisis

Today, theology finds itself facing an identify crisis. Who are theologians, and what are they doing? Are they historians with a special focus on Christian Church history? Are they analytical philosophers of religion? Or are they simply linguists with a special focus on Greek and Hebrew languages? Theology is in an identity crisis and common sense tells us that having a crisis makes one vulnerable. In the academy, theology is thus increasingly sidelined and marginalized. This is reflected by the global phenomenon where the theological faculty is simply swallowed by the – perhaps more pluralist – religious studies department… (Michael Brauitgam)

In your opinion, what is a theologian? And where does theology fit in to the academy? Does it? Should it?

Black Jesus

Lately I have been reading through Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World: Christ and Reconciliation for a book review that I am supposed to write. The book really is a one of a kind book, its rooted in the thought that systematic theology, or what Karkkainen calls “coChrist and Reconciliation - Karkkainennstructive theology,” needs to be in dialogue with non-traditional – that is contextual – theological voices. Also, constructive theology needs to be in dialogue with other world religions. The fact that he wants to engage contextual theologies and other world religions might worry some people that he has bought a bit too much into pluralism; but there is nothing to worry about here, Karkkainen’s views are thoroughly evangelical.

Amid his discussion of contextual Christologies, Karkkainen takes up the topic of Black Christology. Within this section he mainly enters into dialogue with James Cone, Albert Cleage, Tom Skinner, and J. Deotis Roberts.

On one end of the spectrum you have “Black Christology” like that of James Cone who believes that “the norm of all God-talk which seeks to be black talk is the manifestation of Jesus as the black Christ who provides the necessary soul for black liberation.”

Like Cone, Albert Cleage takes up Christology as a way to promote social and political activism. Yet unlike Cone, Cleage makes the radical claim that Jesus of Nazareth was literally black. He argues that Jesus was a part of the ultranationalistic Zealot movement committed to bringing about a black nation of Israel.

Black jesus

On the other end of the spectrum, there is Tom Skinner. Skinner believes that Christ is liberator but does not identify with any particular color of people. Jesus’ only allegiance was to his Father and to the Kingdom of God.

What do both of these positions leave us with? Well it leaves us with two rather uncomfortable options – one option that over-identifies Jesus with one particular color (Jesus is Black), the other option under-identifies Jesus with the particularities of race (Jesus does not identify with any particular color of people). Both of these positions are unsatisfying.

Is there a way forward? (If there wasn’t I wouldn’t have asked…) Why yes there is! I think that J. Deotis Robert’s position brings some helpful insights to this conversation. According to Karkkainen Roberts believes that Christ is the Redeemer of all, but also of each specific group. He says that the “Black Messiah” is particular, while the Messiah of the Bible is universal.

Its important to understand that for Roberts there is a dialectical relationship between the particular (Black, White, Asian, Poor, Latino) Christ and the universal Christ. Accordingly, the universal Christ is particularized for the sake of a particular group of people. Quite simply this means that Jesus is the Messiah for humanity in a general way, yet he is Messiah for Blacks, Whites, Asians, Latinos in a particular way. Christ redeems humanity as a whole – dealing with the issues of humanity: sin, death, and Satan. Yet Christ is also the redeemer of theses particular groups – dealing with the particular issues of Whites, Blacks, Asians, Latinos. So in one sense, we can call Jesus the “Black Messiah” because he is the Messiah for blacks. We can call Jesus the “Latino Messiah” because he is the Messiah for Latinos. Yet his Messianic status is not limited to Blacks or Latinos, etc. Christ is first and foremost humanity’s messiah.

This is an important insight, primarily because it follows the Bible’s theology of race, which neither over emphasizes nor ignores the particularities of race, tongue or tribe.

Within Scripture the categories “race, tongue, and tribe” are never erased or blended together, but they aren’t made primary identity marker either.

At the end of the day, those who have submitted to the Messiah and chosen to follow him are identified first with being in Christ – i.e. being a part of the Kingdom – and then their cultural particularities are used to aid in their worship of God. That is because God values diversity in race, tongue, and tribe.

Book Review – Political Theology by Fiorenza, Tanner, and Welker

Political Theology is currently a flourishing field, with even atheists like Slavoj Zizek contributing to the task. This book, Political Theology: Contemporary Challenges and Future Directions, edited by Francis Schussler Fiorenza, Klaus Tanner, and Michael Welker capitalizes on this field’s popularity and seeks to give some direction to the current discussions within Political Theology. The goal of this book was specifically to articulate “an understanding of the future tasks and potential of Political Theology in a local and global context.”

For those of unfamiliar with this field, Political Theology seeks to articulate ways in which theological concepts (explicitly or implicitly) serve as a foundation for all political, social, economic and cultural thought. It isn’t simply a discussion of Church and State, neither is it simply concerned with God’s role in politics. When speaking of Political Theology we must understand that we aren’t doing Theology proper (that is why even atheists can do Political Theology). We might consider Political Theology a sort of Feuerbachian “Theology as Anthropology” or at least carrying that tradition into our day. Johan Baptist Metz makes this anthropological connection in his essay when he points out that his own Political Theology has been shaped by Karl Rahner’s “anthropological turn” of the discourse of God. All this to say, in this book we are dealing with a political “theology as anthropology.”

This short book (only 86 dense pages long) consists of six essays, all birthed out of a Political Theology conference at the University of Heidelberg in 2010. Jurgen Moltmann makes the first contribution – he highlights the fact that all theologies are political and gives us a brief tour of several forms of Political Theology. Johan Baptist Metz writes an essay contrasting his own Political Theology with the theology of Carl Schmitt. He advocates for a theology which is even more grounded in current contexts as opposed to a metaphysical timeless Political Theology. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza adds her typical feminist take to this discussion. She argues that Political Theology needs more feminist analysis. Her husband contributes an essay as well – he argues that politics in a pluralist context needs Political Theology because religiously shaped discourse contributes something that no other sort of tradition can. Klaus Tanner makes his contribution by examining the Political Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. Michael Welker concludes this collection of essays by contrasting the Political Theology of Habermas and Ratzinger. He argues that Political Theology needs to draw more from the social sciences, and that it could take its cue from the philosophy of Habermas.

Overall this book highlights three themes: 1) The future of Political Theology needs to understand the contextual nature of social relations, 2) Political Theology requires a higher degree of interaction with the social sciences, and 3) Political Theology must embrace multicontextual and pluralistic environments (XII-XIV).

Analysis

The two essays that I found most helpful were Motmann’s and Francis Schussler Fiorenza’s essays. Moltmann made a strong case that there is no such thing as a-political theology. He presents the reader with a strong overview of how his thesis plays out in various context (Latin America, places undergoing ecological crises, and other global contexts). He also makes a good point that one cannot have Liberation theology in non-Christian contexts since Liberation and justice comes in the name of Jesus Christ. Francis Schussler Fiorenza’s essay was also very helpful. More than any other essay, this essay explained Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology and provided a helpful contrast with it. He makes the case that much of American political theology has been shaped by Schmitt’s ideas – both liberal and neo-conservatives are full of Schmitt’s ideas. What is needed is a critique of his theology – this critique will involve two deeply Christian concepts, that of Sin and that of Transcendence.

There are plenty of things that I felt like critiquing as I was reading this book, but I am going to restrain myself from focusing too much on any one essay – rather I will explain one issue that I have with Political Theology in its entirety. The one problem that I had with political theology is that it really doesn’t seem to be “Political Theology” it really seems to be “Political Anthropology.” God actually plays a very small role in most of these theologian’s theology (except for Moltmann and Fiorenza’s). As I mentioned in my summary above, Political Theology is a sort of Feuerbachian “Theology as Anthropology.” Metz (it seems to me) would wholeheartedly agree. This is a shame because I had thought that Theology had moved past its Feuerbachian stage. I though that Barth had exposed the foolishness of “Liberal” theology, yet Political Theology (it seems to me) is Feuerbach redivius. Consider the fact that even atheists can do Political Theology – it doesn’t get more Feuerbachian than that!

Do I recommend this book? Yes I do. If you want a taste of what Political Theology is like, and you want a glimpse into it future then this is a great book. Yet to me it seems as though the entire project of Political Theology is built on a foundation of quicksand. Unless Political Theology starts doing a little more “theology” I am probably going to stay away from it unless absolutely necessary.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of NetGalley and WJK in exchange for an objective review.)