Proposal deadline extended: “Reclaiming the Pastor as Theologian”

Partially because of the United Church of Christ’s General Synod gearing up, we’re extending the deadline to submit proposals to JULY 20 for the UCC theological summit, with special guest facilitator Jeffrey Robbins.  Here’s the updated CFP:

LIVING THEOLOGY:

reclaiming the pastor as theologian

the theological summit of the UCC 2030 Clergy Network

September 13, 2013, York County, PA

PROPOSAL EXTENSION

Description / Rationale:  Theologian Thomas Altizer asks the progressive church, “Is a Jonathan Edwards possible in the church today?” This question is especially stunning, provocative, and condemning for mainline churches, especially the United Church of Christ, who claims Edwards as one of our own.  In the UCC, we may ask:  Where are our theological voices today?  Who validates or invalidates them?  Who promotes them?  Who is their audience?  Do they reflect the “ground” of the church? Read the rest of this entry »

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Liturgical Ground of Radical Theology

As readers of AUFS know, we are friends with Thomas J. J. Altizer. We don’t always agree with him. Sometimes, dammit, we might even dislike him. But, so it goes with friendships, no? Today, I sent him a review I recently submitted to a journal of David Jasper’s recently published The Sacred Community: Art, Sacrament and the People of God. The review was not without its negative comments, some of them quite substantial. But David, too, is both a friend — of mine, anyway, if not the blog as a whole — and an adult, so I think he can handle it. Altizer’s emailed response, however, was of a different order, and I think a fine exhortation for others to read more (or any) of Jasper’s work.

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Friends,

I have just read an excellent review by Brad Johnson of David Jasper’s concluding volume of his trilogy on the Sacred and am moved to all too briefly respond. For many years I have been following Jasper’s work with great admiration and what most fascinates me is that he is a genuinely radical Church theologian and perhaps unique as such. Indeed, he is the only theologian who now gives me hope in the Church, and who might even lead me back to the Church. I suspect that a fundamental source of his power is that he is the only contemporary or even modern theologian of the Eucharist, and of a Eucharistic consecration that is apocalypse itself, as originally understood by Paul, and then lost in that profound transformation of the Church occurring after Paul. I am truly fascinated that Jasper so fully embodies both the modern imagination and a genuine and even original liturgical thinking, the latter apparently inherited from his father, and the former wholly his own, but here they truly coincide. I have a taste of this myself in my attempt to understand Finnegans Wake as our only purely and fully literary enactment of the Eucharist, and I have myself sought in vain for a liturgical ground of my own theology, even if it might well be present here.

Of course, Jasper is an Anglican priest, and I sense very lonely as a radical Anglican theologian, certainly I reached a dead end in attempting to become a radical Anglican theologian, and was perhaps justly rejected in my attempt to become an Episcopalian priest on the grounds of mental illness. Moreover, I have never wholly been able to escape the judgment that the only genuine theology is a Church or ecclesiastical theology, surely we non-Church theologians are very lonely even if we can give witness to a powerful theology wholly outside of the Church. Already this begins with Milton, in my judgment our most powerful Protestant theologian, who created a non-Church theology, as most powerfully embodied in Paradise Lost, but explicitly theologically enacted in his Doctrina, even if the latter is wholly ignored. Here, is an interesting and revealing fact. Milton, universally accepted as one of the greatest of all poets, wrote a full systematic theology, perhaps our only systematic theology that is a fully Biblical theology, and yet it is wholly ignored by all but Milton scholars. I understand Jasper as being in continuity with Milton, and I deeply share that with him, and if Milton was the greatest theologian of the Radical Reformation, I can thereby understand Jasper in the perspective of the Radical Reformation, a perspective that might even enlighten his liturgical theology.

I often wonder if there is any genuinely contemporary liturgical theology apart from Jasper, just as I also wonder if anyone else has even attempted an in depth liturgical theology, notice how absent this is from Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy, and yet how primal it apparently is in Eastern Orthodoxy. Is it possible that Jasper is creating a wholly new Church theology, one not only genuinely liturgical and genuinely radical at once, but one in which the truly liturgical and the truly radical are inseparable? Perhaps his theological situation is far more lonely than is mine, and for just this reason, even if potentially it might have enormous power. Perhaps what we most need is a truly revolutionary Church theology, one seemingly forever made impossible by Barth, and by all of the neo-orthodoxies, both Catholic and Protestant, and here there is a deep continuity between Catholic and Protestant neo-orthodoxy.

Perhaps only a truly radical liturgical theology will deliver us from neo-orthodoxy, if so let us bless David Jasper, who may well be at this point our only theological hope.

Faithfully,

Tom

‘His Dark Materials’ and Radical Theology

The A. V. Club‘s Noah Cruickshank responded to their “AVQ&A” feature, this week asking what popular culture artifacts pull a bait-and-switch on their audiences, answering with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.  I’ve been meaning to go back and re-read these books this summer, so I’ve been thinking a little bit about the books’ connections to Milton and others.  Here’s what Cruickshank wrote:

I don’t think anyone who finished The Golden Compass thought that the next two books in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy were going to lead to the death of God (or The Authority, as he’s called in the series). The first book is a beautifully written, classic piece of fantasy, with witches, talking polar bears, and a hefty dose of world-building. But what began as a story about a young girl in a single magical world became an epic story about destroying the corrupt power of a single deity over all worlds (including our own). It’s heavy stuff, but Pullman wasn’t interested in just telling a story for young readers; he had a theological point to make. Pullman is a noted atheist, and His Dark Materials isn’t a religious work, but a humanist one. Plenty of fantasy series have religious overtones (The Chronicles Of Narnia is my favorite example, but Twilight is chock full of allusions to Mormonism), but usually they’re pretty obvious from the get-go, not themes that dawn on the reader halfway through. The three books work beautifully in tandem, and His Dark Materials is one of my favorite series in any genre. But I do feel like I got hoodwinked. I don’t mind that the books are a kind of counter-allegory to Paradise Lost, but it seems to me Pullman was a little coy about his intentions.

One of the things I really appreciated about His Dark Materials is its quite the opposite, that it was pretty clear that the book was moving in somewhat Nietzschean directions from the outset with its critique of the church, and that these directions made the meshing together of Milton, with elements of Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell and The Everlasting Gospel in the final book even more stunning.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Self-Saving of God

I just rediscovered this strange document [below the fold] which is an abbreviation of the most important chapter of perhaps my best book, Godhead and the Nothing. Why did I do it? I have forgotten, and even though apocalypse is absent here, this motif of the Self-Saving of God may be my most vital one. This also unveils the ultimate challenge of Gnosticism which we so commonly evade, for Jonas maintains that the Self-Saving of God was created by Gnosticism and may well be its most ultimate challenge.

Even if my original studies of Blake and Hegel mute or disguise this motif, I can now recognize their dominance for Hegel and Blake, and perhaps for all of our most radical vision.

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Read the rest of this entry »

Lent 1 Sermon: “Why I Should Be Pope!”

The following is my draft of this Sunday’s sermon, which is using the lectionary readings of Romans 10:8b-13 and Luke 4:1-13.  I will preach it this coming Sunday at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Dallastown, PA.  Thanks as always to the Girardian Commentary on the Lectionary for some helpful starting points and ideas, and I was also led to this sermon by a chapter in Altizer’s new book, The Apocalyptic Trinity, on the nature of tragedy and trinitarian thought.

In our scripture reading, Jesus heads out into the wilderness, and there is tempted by the devil, who tempts him to perform a magic trick of turning a rock into bread.  When Jesus refuses, the devil, the scripture says, “led him up” (it doesn’t say, up where, but the devil leads him up, I assume to a high point on a mountain, or high in the sky) and offers him all of the kingdoms of the world, if he is to simply worship the devil, and Jesus again refuses.

Then the devil tempts Jesus again, taking him to the pinnacle of the temple and again demands a miracle, that he throw himself from the top and command the angels to save him from death.  The devil famously quotes scripture here, and after Jesus resists the temptations of the devil, the devil departs from him until a more “opportune time.”

Among the things very interesting about this story is that there is an assumption that the devil owns all of the kingdoms, and Jesus does not say to the devil, “these are not your kingdoms to give.”  There is no indication that the devil is lying to Jesus.  And it is not just that some of the kingdoms are his to give, or only those within immediate view, the Bible instructs that it is “all of the kingdoms.”  None of the kingdoms or governments escape control of the devil, none of them are holy. Read the rest of this entry »

Altizer as the third rail of academic theology

Last night, I was in a strange mood that led me to look up reviews of my work on library databases. Reviews of Zizek and Theology happened to be most easily accessible — with reviews of Politics of Redemption, the vagaries of Shimer’s subscriptions meant that I could generally verify that the reviewer had faithfully summarized the goals and approach, but the limited preview meant I was left in suspense as to how and whether the other shoe dropped… — and I noticed an interesting pattern among theological readers: a deep, visceral response to my comparison of Zizek with Altizer. The basic move is visible in Ben Myers’ review, which is not behind any kind of academic paywall and which blames me for daring to associate Zizek with a theologian he would later publicly and enthusiastically embrace. (Milbank later took it a step further in his public denunciation of me — surely my proudest achievement as a theologian — claiming that I am little more than an Altizerian.)

I don’t want to dig up old debates about my book in specific or Zizek’s relationship to Altizer — at this point, I believe it could not be any clearer that Zizek is in fact a “death of God” theologian (and a huge admirer of Altizer’s work!) and that the attempted Radical Orthodox appropriation of Zizek was based on a huge misunderstanding. What is interesting to me is this visceral revulsion against Altizer on the part of traditional theologians.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Synaptic Gospel: Pre-orders

My Book, The Synaptic Gospel, is now available to pre-order directly from me.  I am attempting to sell a limited number of books before it goes to press to keep the price as low as possible and keep it out of library market-only pricing.

The book is scheduled to be published in March.

The Synaptic Gospel is a book that examines the nature of religious communities from phenomenological and neurological perspectives.  While not a “neuro-theology,” I attempt to use what we know from science about plasticity to make conclusions about faith communities.  Read the rest of this entry »

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