Thoughts on “Kingdom-World-Church”

Nate Kerr has co-written a piece with Halden Doerge and Ry Siggelkow on the missionary nature of the church. It is natural that Nate would return to this question since it was such a hang-up during the hugely disappointing discussion of his book on various theology blogs — the fetish for “the church” is strong among theology bloggers, and in many cases it seemed to actively impede the understanding of a book that many of those same bloggers claimed to love more than life itself.

In general, the position advanced in the piece is what one would expect Nate to advance — a Barthian “insubstantial” ecclesiology, where the church exists for the salvation of the world rather than the world being saved through incorporation into the church as a substantial entity. I think of the Barthian church (and here one could also draw a connection to Dorothee Soelle) as a kind of avant-garde of humanity that is waiting in joyful hope for the day when it will cease to exist as such and simply be dissolved into the redeemed world, and in my forthcoming book Politics of Redemption I wind up putting forward a similar view of the Christian community.

There are plenty of responses to Nate that berate him for having an insufficiently strong ecclesiology, and those of you who are bored at work might find them to be a good way to kill an hour or two. (Executive summary: Nate needs a stronger ecclesiology.) I’d like to ask a few questions from another direction, centered on Nate’s key concept: “mission.” I understand that history is not destiny and terms can overcome their historical baggage, etc., but if there was ever a term with unfortunate historical baggage, surely it is “mission.” Indeed, it is inextricably tied up with the very Christendom that Nate and his co-authors all stridently oppose.

The strategy of reclaiming and reversing a term is certainly fine, but I worry that the Christendom-oriented idea of mission is always going to exercise an inertial effect — particularly when the church is conceived of as a matter of “religion” or “piety.” Nate does embrace the Barthian critique of religion, but I wonder if this avant-garde church might not need to exercise a little more asceticism in this regard. Why take the risk of turning the true God into another idol by means of worship? Idolatry critique starts at home: the first object of Christian idolatry critique today must be the idol that Christ has become.

In short: I wonder if a truly post-Christendom concept of mission can be anything but a purely secular mission. I take this from Yoder’s Body Politics: the church models for the world how to live better, in ways the world will recognize as better (even if the world wouldn’t have thought of these improvements on its own and could even be surprised by them). What role can a weekly liturgy have here? What place can there be for any vestige of a hierarchical power structure? Indeed — and here is another question — what is all this talk of “prayer” doing in the piece? I have trouble viewing that as anything but a pious gesture, empty of content. Perhaps someone can fill it in for me.

A final, somewhat stupid remark: I don’t get why “Kingdom-World-Church” vs. “Kingdom-Church-World” is supposed to be an evocative or helpful way of putting the central contrast of the piece.

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49 Responses to “Thoughts on “Kingdom-World-Church””

  1. Josh Says:


    Thanks for chiming in on this. I had read this article the other day and thought that it would drum up some good discussion.

    I am sympathetic to your suggestions here, but I am wondering about your gesture to Yoder. Why does what Yoder says here have to be construed as being “purely secular”? Could it be described in different, less loaded terms as you encouraged Nate to do with ‘mission’?

    I look forward to reading your book, as I did a year ago with Nate’s.


  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    It doesn’t have to be construed as “purely secular,” because I don’t think Yoder construes it that way. But I’m saying it doesn’t make sense to me as anything other than “purely secular.”

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m also not sure why “purely secular” is a loaded term, or at least not why it would be parallel with the baggage of “mission.” Pretty sure nothing “secular” has going for it quite measures up to a legacy of brutal colonialism.

  4. Brad E. Says:


    This betrays my ignorance, but I find myself relatively clueless about the actual history of the term “mission.” I’m aware, of course, of its origins in general, and I’ve read plenty in missiological studies, but your post made me realize I don’t know where to look for a history of where and how and why the term was appropriated explicitly, and so on. Any suggestions?

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    You’re not aware of the phenomenon of missionaries?

  6. dbarber Says:

    The idea of an intrinsic secularity (here distinguished from secularism) to theological or religious aims is something I agree with wholeheartedly, in a Yoderian vein as well. Something that strikes me in this post — something I now realize I’ve presupposed but have never really articulated, or understood — is what you’re calling asceticism. To give up alibis, which emerge as pious gestures. It is an ethical demand of sorts, to not give in to corrupted tools of thought.

  7. Nate Kerr Says:


    Thank you for your post, and your helpful critical prodding on the term mission. I don’t have time to respond extensively right now, as I’ve promised myself to spend my day reading and writing. (Does this count as reading and writing?)

    Just a note on the usage of the Kingdom-World-Church/Kingdom-Church-World contrast. As John Flett has pointed out in his new book, The Witness of God, this is probably actually a false binary, as it assumes the idea that God must “choose” either “church” or “world,” or that God makes a “preferential option” for one over against the other. So, our use of the juxtaposition to set up the theses was primarily a heurtistic device to combat the kind of “ontological priority of the church” that we see articulated variously in the ecclesiologies of Jenson, Hauerwas, Heutter, Milbank, Ratzinger, etc. So we’re not bound to that formulation as such. We certainly don’t mean to suggest with that formulation that God effects some kind of “choosing” between church and world as you put it. So we don’t mean to suggest some kind of ontological or logical priority of the “world” as such over “church.” We just think the God-World-Church formulation is often assumed by the ecclesiocentrists in such a way that they are actually arguing that God does choose the church, and as such the church is set vis-a-vis the world and this defines their understanding of mission. At any rate, for me, the way I’d like to put it (and the way I tried to put it more in the comments) is that the church happens as God acts for the world’s reconciliation to God in Christ. God has elected that God’s act of the world’s reconciliation to God in Christ does not happen without human beings being given over and converted to active service on behalf of that world’s reconciliation — and thus the church is “that part of the world” which is given (converted) to live in active solidarity with the world for the sake of that world’s salvation as God does.

    On the historical baggage of the terms “mission,” your points are well taken. And just deferring to the term missio dei as many did in the mid-20th century does not help all that much, as it ends up just being a way of saying, “the church is the mission of God,” and then filling that with whatever religious or political content that we want to. I want to retain the use of the word “mission,” but I think it needs to be reworked severely as a dogmatic category, with a careful attention and critique and overcoming of the way this term has developed throughout
    Christian history and especially within “missional” theologies. That is, if mission really is about the life of God for the world, and not about some the church does as such, then mission is necessary about speaking of God’s being-in-act. Agan, I’ve learned a lot about this from John Flett’s recently released book, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of the Christian Community.

    Brad E.: Have you read Bosch’s Transforming Mission? I would suggest reading that and then reading the first half of Flett’s book as providing a good overview and critique of the problematic — the problems both throughout history, and the problems that remain in the attempts to overcome those problems in 20th century missio dei theology.

  8. John Anngeister Says:

    Actually the word ‘secular’ has as much metaphysical swagger attached to it as ‘mission.’

    Since Napoleon, every non-theist regime which has promised ‘national salvation’ from the injustice and ills of ‘the present’ in exchange for loyalty and military service may be considered a movement of ‘secular salvation.’ Yeah, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, you know.

    All of which we could easily lay to one side in order to ‘hear’ usages which promise more positive connotations.

  9. John Anngeister Says:

    As for ‘mission’ I think we have too long been overlooking a possible meaning content that doesn’t evoke the church’s unfortunate role as ‘arm’ of colonization.

    I think the concept of mission works better under the paradigm of diplomacy (and Jesus’ reference to himself being ‘sent’ and his use of the word ‘apostolos’ for his disciples would seem to bear this out).

    What if the church were meant to be a neutral ‘embassy’ or ‘mission’ of the transcendant king? Instead of featuring missionaries conducting recruiting programs, picture envoys offering the ‘protection’ of heavenly citizenship to all children of God. And in the spirit of our authors’ thesis 6, the entire secular population must be considered to be entitled to the offices of this embassy.

    We are all ‘in’ the world; some of us know that none of us are necessarily ‘of’ the world.

  10. Brad E. Says:


    I’ve read through Bosch’s book (i.e., skimmed some sections, read closely certain chapters), but that’s a good pointer. Thanks for that.

    Also, perhaps I should have been clearer: not the idea of mission as such, but literally the etymological use of the term “mission”: where it began, how it was used, etc. I’ll be sure to check out Bosch and see what I can find.

  11. scott Says:

    A genuine question, which I think is related to the use of “mission” language as well: does ‘intrinsic secularity’ (dbarber) or ‘purely secular mission’ (kotsko) demand that one give up all forms of past liturgical activity, simply because corruption has been done through them or in their name? (I’m also aiming at Adam’s prayer remark with that question.)

    If so, I don’t see how this move toward ‘secular’ activity can be Yoderian at all, given the central place of doxology and praise of God as constitutive of even the ‘exilic’, post-constantinian community’s identity, which is tied not least of all to the community’s renewal through ‘looping back’ to scripture. I think the worries in this post have substance, on Yoderian grounds, and agree there are points at which a theologian or Christian need to give up on certain concepts, language, forms of action, etc., due to the meaning they have taken on in a specific context. But I take such ‘ascetism’ to be a complex matter of historical judgment, rather than a blatant dismissal of any traditional forms. What would make a Christian ‘secularity’ Christian if it wasn’t in any way tied to ‘liturgy’ (doxological vision / praise) or funded by ‘scripture’ (narrative / communal memory)?

  12. geoff holsclaw Says:

    nate, I would be interested to know what you think the problems are with current missional theologies.

  13. dbarber Says:

    scott, I agree with the basic gist of your comment, at least I think I do. I’m not calling to give up all previous forms of liturgical activity, and I agree that much of this is a matter of complex historical judgment, as you say.

    My work, though, is basically on concepts. And I guess what bothers me, first, is the maintenance of certain concepts — I suppose that what I’m aiming at is the sort of judgment you mention. Second, and more importantly, there is the way that the _concept_ of liturgical activity, or of the bases / loci of such activity, functions. About this i am more suspect, and I suppose that, for me, the object of ascetic renunciation would involve primarily the ability to rely on certain concepts, or certain patterns of thought. But I think it is possible to advise asceticism with regard to concepts / patterns of thought while still engaging in a collective practices that such concepts / patterns of thought seek to name.

    This is a difficult question, because it is an important one. But this also makes it difficult to answer briefly (in certain ways it is the very thing I’m writing a book about at the moment) — does what I’ve said make any sense?

  14. Thursday Link Post | The Anti-Moderate Says:

    [...] Kotsko also posted an excellent intervention, bringing up something that has bothered me in my (albeit not yet very deep) experience of [...]

  15. John Anngeister Says:

    Adam, you write:
    “what is all this talk of “prayer” doing in the piece? I have trouble viewing that as anything but a pious gesture, empty of content. Perhaps someone can fill it in for me.”

    My comment:
    In my view the filling-in of prayer in your case would require that you first dump out all thought of “pious gesture” (there’s more than one Gospel ref on this). Next, forget about all vain petitionary prayer and praise which seeks material ends for self, friends, or enemies by any miracle of Nature (i.e. your childhood devotions).

    What’s left is (1) thanksgiving – which is to say, Eucharist; (2) ethical prayer – not for self nor for any friend or relative, nor involving the taking away of anything from anybody; (3) whatever else besides (1) and (2) you think Jesus was doing those times he was in the hills.

    Other than those 3 acts, there really is nothing at all to religion. God gives only that which God only can give. All the rest is politics.

    Everything is trust . . . all the rest is dust.
    -Gordon Lightfoot

  16. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    You know, there is an interesting book that reconsiders the secular you might all find interesting….

    I still don’t see how what John has said here is anything other than a restatement of pious gesturing w/r/t prayer.

  17. Adam Kotsko Says:

    What would make a Christian ‘secularity’ Christian if it wasn’t in any way tied to ‘liturgy’ (doxological vision / praise) or funded by ‘scripture’ (narrative / communal memory)?

    Why does “Christian” identity self-evidently matter? Why can’t Christianity be an inherently self-dissolving thing?

  18. IndieFaith (David CL Driedger) Says:

    Have you read Ruth Marhshall’s work Political Spiritualities? I have not got my hands on it yet but I read the opening quote which is a Nigerian pastor calling for strategic, militant, aggressive prayer. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on that sort of situational articulation of prayer (if you are familiar with the work).
    Would it be accurate to restate your issue with prayer in how it functions as a sort of magical fuel for a theological project as opposed to a demonstrative requirement for the larger aims and methods?
    As I understand it you are interested in materialist readings of these traditions, will that always render prayer suspect for those who approach this in a more relational (feel free to read ‘pious’) posture?
    I found your response quite helpful and clarifying.

  19. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Calling for “strategic, militant, aggressive prayer” is completely meaningless to me unless he explains how prayer can be “strategic, militant, or aggressive.” Evangelical preachers could easily use the exact same language, and it would be total bullshit. Maybe this guy has something else in mind, but I’d be really surprised.

    My issue with prayer is that it seems completely meaningless, especially when it’s used in theological dialogue — I don’t know what people could possibly mean by “theology must be grounded in prayer” other than “theologians have to be pious people.”

  20. IndieFaith (David CL Driedger) Says:

    Sure, fair enough. I suppose you have not looked at Marshall’s larger work (it seemed broadly in line with my understanding of some your orientation). But I certainly cannot claim anything on behalf of that quote. I hope to order a copy in the next while.
    I suspect that there will remain an incommensurable impasse here when some theologians work from a relational framework and when prayer serves as a primary mode of orienting that relating (I do not assume that can be translated absolutely as piety but I cannot say for sure that I completely understand your use of the word so I will have to consider that further). But I appreciate the pressure applied to that issue.

  21. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I wish you would work on speaking less vaguely. It’s extremely difficult to ever understand what you’re saying.

  22. John Anngeister Says:

    APS – I can accept both the words “pious” and “gesture” under definitions which seem to escape you just now, but that is maybe the subject of another post.

    Adam – Before the evangelicals F’d-up the concept of prayer, it was a varied practice which covered the whole range of possible experience in religion. Not necessarily true experience, but the possibility of experience. So if theology is to be based on some category of experience, I would say by definition it cannot be ‘evangelical’ and it must be related to prayer.

    I agree that the Nigerian quoted is not reaching me either, on any spiritual level of meaning.

  23. IndieFaith (David CL Driedger) Says:

    I’ll try to set aside some time to give this a better fleshing out.

  24. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I’m not asking you to say more, I’m asking you to say what you do say more straightforwardly.

  25. IndieFaith (David CL Driedger) Says:

    I suppose I was trying to clarify what I felt was unclear in your post.
    1. Is someone who holds that theology is relational (i.e. God actually relates personally and socially) defined by you as pious and therefore suspect in theological discourse?
    2. I suspect that you don’t actually care if someone holds that understanding only that it does not further or benefit the larger discourse (remains suspect by your model of reading)
    3. Therefore could it not be that there will remain aspects of the discourse that remain incommensurable given prior assumptions.
    4. So while you find it to be meaningless baggage they can do no other and may never infuse that language with meaning that registers for you.
    5. So the exchange ends or remains fruitlessly frustrating on that point.

  26. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

    Your religious experience may be relational, and you may not be able to let that go or even think letting it go would be desirable — and on this, I can only go with Paul: “Let everyone be firmly convinced in their own minds” — and yet I still don’t see how theology as such, as a discourse, can be “relational” in that way. Do you only write theology when you’re praying or when you’re in church? Do you pray for solutions to intellectual difficulties and regard them as gifts from God when you discover them?

    If that’s your bag, then I guess that’s okay — but your discourse has to be publicly available, even if your own personal experience of how it is generated cannot be. And trying to inject that kind of personal piety into the “content” of theology itself simply makes it incomprehensible. Saying that theology should be incomprehensible in the last analysis is just question-begging — no discourse can be transparently grounded, but why should the incomprehensibility be precisely there? I’m with Robert Jenson on this: the appeal to mystery is most often theological laziness. In my mind, you have to earn your appeal to mystery by demonstrating that you’ve really exhausted the intellectual possibilities.

    I know that people think that non-pious or non-church-related theology is intellectual masturbation, but I find theology injected with piety to be the worst kind of intellectual masturbation insofar as it’s not actually advancing anything intellectual — the pious things just seem to be things that people feel good saying (note how often the pious gestures will literally be in italics!).

  27. IndieFaith (David CL Driedger) Says:

    I hope I did not confuse incomprehensible with incommensurable.
    And I definitely accept the critiques of laziness.
    I guess where I am thinking about incommensurability is in the definition of theology as such. I am comfortable with a much wider swath of discourse as constituting the work and articulation of theology, however, I recognize that what AUFS seems to be doing here is something different. So I have been trying to practice the discipline of the discourse being engaged here because I see its value, it is critical and prodding. But I also accept the discourses of edification and up-building (sorry to borrow from SK here) and of gratuitous and superfluous praise. That works on a larger theological meta-level for myself but again, I recognize I can’t bring that shit in this house (at least my understanding of it). That is why I raised the issue of incommensurability. I don’t want to labour the point only address it for further purposes of clarification.
    That is why I read the originally cited post as a sort of ‘blended discourse’ that would understandably not make sense in this context.
    I can appreciate the Jenson citation but my intellect is almost always exhausted so what’s a poorly endowed guy to do!
    Oh and I will try and stop masturbating . . . full agreement on your point there!

  28. Adam Kotsko Says:

    In my mind, the edifying discourse just isn’t theology. Theology is a critical discourse reflecting on Christian teaching and practice, and that’s it. Doxology, spiritual up-building, etc., are separate things — things that may be worthwhile in their own way but that should not be confused with theology properly-so-called. You can even say that doxology and spiritual up-building are more important than theology (though you’d have to make a theological argument for that) and that theology should be aimed toward helping us do better doxology and spiritual up-building — but you can’t just absorb theology into doxology, etc., for two reasons:

    1. Then theology becomes a collection of meaningless pious gestures instead of a critical intellectual task — hence it’s useless.

    2. The collapsing of theology into “doxology” or “prayer” is always a hair’s-breadth away from demanding that theology conform to some kind of church authority — you can see this in Marion or Zizioulas, for example. At that point, it ceases to be a critical discourse and becomes propaganda for a particular institution, and therefore again it’s useless.

    It’s only as purely intellectual masturbation (i.e., intellectual labor for its own sake) that theology has any chance of being useful for anything. Pious masturbation and masturbation while thinking about some church authority are all I’m disallowing, not masturbation as such.

  29. Adam Kotsko Says:

    (Just clarifying why I hold my position — it’s clear to me from what you already said that you understand what I think on this issue.)

  30. IndieFaith (David CL Driedger) Says:

    Great response. Very helpful. Not much to add. Whether this is helpful or not I am beginning to consider that whatever else my convictions and assumptions (and postures) I need to think immanence.

  31. John Anngeister Says:

    Just to footnote my last comment: When I wrote that theology could not be ‘evangelical’ I did not mean that evangelicals could not do theology. I meant in fact that its deity-relational nature makes it unfit for discourse with non-believers.

    Adam, good discussion with David, but I think you are yourself ‘collapsing’ theology into psychology of religion and philosophy of religion (even history of religion, comparative religion, etc). Theology is a practice done from inside religious belief and experience, not from outside. The others are not so much that way. The others therefore are the locus of discourse, in my opinion.

  32. Adam Kotsko Says:

    John, Your second paragraph has no connection with what I’ve been saying. The link fo psychology of religion is especially random.

  33. Anthony Paul Smith Says:


    Right, so you’ve essentially but a little hedge around your beliefs and ideas so they can’t be criticized. That’s called ideology, which is surely a part of religion, though not one that I think should be encouraged.

  34. scott Says:

    In response to dbarber’s reply to me above:
    That does make sense, Dan, and is quite helpful in understanding what you’re aiming for with a kind of Yoderian secularity. I still think, as you admit, it’s a very tricky question – but I can see much more reason to disavow certain conceptual moves or habits than the idea that any form of ‘Christian’ praxis will be practically de novo. I look forward to reading more.

    Re: Adam’s Why does ‘Christian’ identity self-evidently matter? I don’t think it does ‘self-evidently’ matter; I just thought you were invoking Yoder as some kind of advocate or support for the ‘purely secular’ mission you seemed to be calling for – and I assume it’s clear that for Yoder whatever we’re about, as ‘Christians’, should have something to do with Jesus. So I was simply asking whether you’d want to completely dissociate God’s ongoing revelation, or the work of the Spirit — in short, how what we are about as Christians in the world comes to have anything to do with the God of Jesus — from all forms of liturgical activity, particularly the reading/telling of scripture and gathering to praise God. In a Yoderian parlance, I was just asking how the ‘memory of Jesus’ would be maintained, if acts as basic as gathering/reading were given up in the name of impiety. If that’s not what you’re after, however, your own question “What role could a weekly liturgy have here?” — which seems to me to sit quite oddly beside the appeal to Body Politics — could use come clarification.

  35. John Anngeister Says:

    Adam, I was addressing the pointlessness of your attempt to redefine theology as a study undertaken from outside a belief stance. You want discourse? Then you want to be in philosophy of religion or – yes – psychology of religion. Or comparative religion.

    Anthony, the hedge is philosophy of religion, and psychology of religion, and comparative religion. I would meet anyone there any time (except in a comment box).

  36. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I was taking one of the broad claims of Yoder’s work and drawing a different conclusion from it than Yoder himself does. I’ve stated repeatedly that I’m doing that, so I don’t know why you have to keep going back to “But you’re using Yoder.” Yes, I’m using part of Yoder, and I honestly only referred to him because he’s such a huge influence on Nate and this larger conversation. Move on.

    Perhaps it will turn out that there is a great role for liturgy and prayer, but so far all I’ve heard is the appeal to Christian identity, which is not convincing to me. Why shouldn’t Jesus himself be a self-effacing founder, for example? I want you to be able to offer some kind of argument that’s not a tautology. If you can’t, then what you’re saying is going to be pretty questionable in my opinion.

  37. Adam Kotsko Says:

    John, I would prefer for you to stop commenting here.

  38. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    No, there is either no hedge, or there is ideology.

  39. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I would hope our readers are astute enough to see the difference between an a priori decision that one can’t talk about something and asking the person who holds to that position to stop telling us over and over that this is how it is.

  40. dbarber Says:

    I would add that I don’t see how the discourse of philosophy of religion and the discourse of theology should correspond, respectively, to the position of non-belief and the position of belief. If materials are “theological,” then they can become the object of discourse, regardless of “belief”. Indeed, what is unthought here is what counts as belief — to insist on the position of belief is, in my mind, precisely the sort of conceptual move I said I was wary of in my comments above.

    To call for secularity is not to be anti-belief, but to affirm the possibility of speaking of theological or religious materials/objects without having to begin from a position defined as inside (“belief”) over against its outside — without having to accept the binary of belief vs. non-belief.

    If I might add two points:

    (1) It has been argued by Boyarin in _Border Lines_, compelling in my opinion, that the constitution of Christianity was inseparable from an operation of heresiology. That is, the inside of Christianity is inseparable from the production of an outside via heresy. So, to call for an a priori position of belief is to make it impossible to think about Christianity outside of Christianity. It is to forget, as Yoder said, that “it did not have to be.”

    (2) Practically speaking, in the contemporary, this is really important to keep in mind. For instance, an interpretation I gave of Yoder was once “refuted” by the assertion that it was “idolatrous.” What could this mean other than: you are outside. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial (for both those “inside” and “outside”) to approach arguments without relying on this move?

  41. scott Says:


    If you’d read my comments carefully, you’ll see I wasn’t simply saying “But you’re using Yoder.” I was asking a serious question of your position, albeit on what I take to be “Yoderian” grounds. You can read the last half of my previous comment without the parenthetical seems to me to sit quite oddly with your appeal to _Body Politics> (even though that is where you say your original summary says you “take” your query from), and see quite clearly that I was genuinely curious about your view.

    Not to mention that my initial post was structured:
    A genuine question: does … ‘purely secular mission’…demand ___x___…. If so, I don’t see how [it can be] Yoderian…..

    If I could’ve made my question clearer, apologies. I was genuinely curious, as I often am in related discussions on this blog, about how the impulse toward ‘secularity’ is seen by its advocates to square with the theological tradition’s relation to divine revelation, scripture, and conventional patterns of action the tradition has often relied upon and invoked (prayer, liturgy, etc.).

    It’s nice to be read so uncharitably (“move on”?), by people who seem take their own and others comments so seriously.

    I find the Boyarin suggestion intriguing. I’m going to have to read his book. For me the worry is not so much about belief/non-belief, but the question of what is funding the conceptual habits and tools one is working with. What is lingering behind this is the whole question of ‘revelation’ and what it means to think with a ‘tradition’. I don’t know if the latter is necessarily a question of ‘inside/outside’ or not, but it’s only a question of ‘belief’ for me insofar as thinking ‘as’ a Jewish or Christian intellectual depends upon receiving (directly or indirectly–and I do think it can happen by ‘osmosis’, as it were) certain patterns of thought that are made possible by a material Word. Christian theology might be, in my view, much closer to rabbinic discourse – that is, a conversation whose coherence depends upon a certain ethos of textual attention – than the affirmation or denial of sanctioned ‘ideas’, and at least in that sense I fully agree with you that the ‘belief/non-belief’ requirement is far too subjective and overplayed. I hope that somewhat illuminates where I’m coming from.

  42. scott Says:

    Sorry for the lapse in proper punctuation (fears being banned!!). The poorly written sentence above should read:

    You can read the last half of my previous comment without the parenthetical “seems to me to sit quite oddly with your appeal to _Body Politics_” (even though that is where you say your original summary says you “take” your query from), and see quite clearly that I was genuinely curious about your view.

  43. Alex Says:

    Presuming that the claims of a religion have a degree of intellectual coherence and some kind of internal logic and rationale, there is absolutely no reason that believers in a different religion or no religion can participate the religion’s theology. Take an Islamic mystic like Ibn al Arabi – I can quite clearly see that elements of his thought are imcompatiable with the mainline of Islamic theology, and even construct a defense of the claims of heterodoxy. Equally, I can see latter day islamism, with it’s emphasis on sha’ria as a fixed body of law applicable to the ruling of a state is something without precedent in Islamic theology, and tell you why. I can do all this without ever having been to a Mosque or taken part in Islamic religious practice. I can also tell you that most interpretations of karma are mistaken in the west and often in religious practice (ie marginalising of the disabled etc., which is contrary to dependent origination). Sure, there might be the question ‘why bother’ but unless you are defining theology as always prayerful, even when discussing other religions, this is more than possible – it is done daily even with confessional theologians.

  44. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Scott, I realize my claim might sit oddly with Body Politics, and I’ve explained repeatedly that I’m taking one part of his argument and extending it in a way Yoder would not have. (Also, I understand the need to vent, but I prefer not to enter into the black hole of analyzing how charitable or not my comments or anyone’s comments are. I was frustrated by what seemed to be a repetitive line of questioning, and I was too harsh — it’s not really worth talking about, though.)

    Personally, I understand the need to reflect on the scriptures more than I understand the need for liturgical practice. More or less informal gatherings of like-minded people to discuss the scriptures seem to do the job of “remembrance.” Discussing Christian (or even heretical) texts other than the canonical scriptures also seems pertinent, as do the texts of Judaism. Someone giving a longer, more formal reflection might be good, but the standard “preacher and audience” format doesn’t seem necessary, or at least not every week. I’d be comfortable with people doing “Sunday School” without the “service,” basically, and I’d like to see an argument in favor of the “service” (it being postulated that keeping the scriptures around is desirable).

  45. scott Says:


    (Okay — all ‘uncharity’ aside.) That’s helpful.

    I’m still interested in my question’s connection to the original post: whether you think the Christians’ own sense of the ‘secular’ work they are to do is dependent upon (someone’s) attention to the scriptures, or not?

    I actually think ‘remembrance’ has got to be inadequate for capturing the tradition’s sense of what’s going on when people gather to ‘hear’ or ‘meditate’ (as the Psalms put it, with the Hebrew conveying more a sense of ‘chewing’ upon the Law verbally) upon the Word. But I see no immediate reason that couldn’t be done ‘informally’, as you suggest. And that can be a topic for another day, if this one’s been exhausted.

  46. Adam Kotsko Says:

    What if instead of remembrance we were to chew the cud of tradition?

  47. scott Says:

    Interesting; I hadn’t made that connection with Nietzsche.

  48. Julia Says:

    Love the linked post on Nietzsche and rumination. A passage I have long admired.

  49. Some Thoughts on the Apocalyptic Theses « theophiliacs Says:

    [...] as full fledged engagement from several other blogs. (The Other Journal, An Und Fur Sich – here, here and here, Church and Pomo – here and here, The Fire and the Rose…there may be [...]

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