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Topic: New Theology

Reading Grace in History through a Black Lens
6/26/2016 6:45:33 PM

Let me distinguish between certain basic, "core beliefs" from other important but less basic beliefs. A core belief may be "life is worth living." There are lots of negative consequences if a person doesn't share this belief. I have a core belief that the "grace of God" underlies all of nature and history and makes life possible for all. Sometimes it certainly doesn't seem so, and much today argues that human beings now are at the edge of destroying the world God has made.

I am thinking about this because I just read something almost shocking on a mailing list of black scholars. They were discussing Britain's recent decision to leave the Eurozone partly because of so much hostility to Polish workers and others who have moved into Britain to work. And one of the writers on the list talks about this in relation to the history of the United States, the civil war. This writer well knows all the hatred and wretchedness of racism in this country all through the years. And yet he has an underlying "core belief" about this country that I found amazing to be articulated by a black person.

And it seems to me to correspond to what I mean by "grace" in history. I'm not sure what it would mean to live without a sense of this underlying grace making life possible for all but it must be pretty bleak.

True. Polish immigrants were treated similarly to the Irish, Italian, and Jews from the Pale. The uniqueness of American culture of "lily white" coined by Benjamin Franklin, can not be overstated. However, America is the craziest place.

We hear too often, how racist and unfair the American experience has been for American born blacks. In fairness to America's whites, the United States, is the only nation in the history of the world who fought a civil war to set one group of people free. Then, made them citzens. Gave them the right to vote. Then, made her former slaves equal before the law. Finally, permitted their former slaves to live among their former owners.

NO other nation, tribe, civilization has ever done that.

Note: I looked up the reference to "the Pale". It means "The Pale (An Pháil in Irish) or the English Pale (An Pháil Shasanach or An Ghalltacht), was the part of Ireland that was directly under the control of the English government in the late Middle Ages."
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John Caputo On Divine Sovereignty and the Weakness of God
5/23/2016 11:02:12 AM

Sometimes it is helpful to contemplate new thoughts on political theology such as the following. Imagine the types of communities which would gather around different political rhetorics today in contrast to the community which may gather around these words:

"Divine sovereignty is a construction which reduces the unconditional to a particular historical condition of the world, to one of the powers and principalities that does combat in the world. It alienates the freedom of the people of God, reducing them to subjects of an inscrutable and often short-tempered tyrant, whose fits of temper go hand in hand with fits of love, which is the paradigm of a really bad and abusive marriage. It defaces what God's unconditional rule would look like and falls under the judgment of the unconditional which commands us not to put constructions before the unconditional. This idolatry reduces us to a situation in which we are not saved *by* the power of God; we need to be saved *from* the power of God. So it is in the best interests of theology to feel about for a way beyond theism and omnipotence, for a certain death of God, a certain crucified God, that will give the name (of) 'God' new life. That is why I will move from here to defend the weakness of God."

John D. Caputo, The Folly of God: A Theology of the Unconditional, 2015

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Did God Kill Jesus? Moltmann on Anticipated Terror and Joy
10/10/2014 6:39:35 PM

Tony Jones is a theologian who went to Fuller Seminary, the flagship of the evangelical movement, but he mostly strays far from the central themes of that movement. His thought is influenced particularly by Jurgen Moltmann. I have read most of Moltmann's works too. I gave my chapel sermon at the end of my senior year of seminary on Moltmann's Theology of Hope. His Trinity and the Kingdom helped me understand the Trinity more than anything I have ever read. When I went back into parish ministry in 1979 at Salem Lutheran in Chicago, after nine years in secular work, I used The Church in the Power of the Spirit as a kind of manual for ministry. But the most important Moltmann book for me was The Crucified God for similar reasons that Tony Jones mentions below.

Jones writes a regular blog which is where I learned he is writing a book called Did God Kill Jesus?, certainly a strange title, but related to the Moltmann book on the crucified Jesus, which is most important for these reasons:
For one thing, Moltmann followed up on his earlier Theology of Hope by continuing what today we’d call theopoetics. That is, Moltmann broke away from the staid German prose of theologians like Karl Barth and Wolfhart Pannenberg, choosing instead to write in a more freeform and experimental style. This, I think, set the stage for many Western theologians — particularly feminist theologians like Catherine Keller and Kathryn Tanner, who have written in even more open, experimental ways.

Most significantly, CG emphasized the pathos of God. For Moltmann, the Trinity is a dialectical event, and the death of Jesus causes a rupture in the eternal relationality that defines the godhead. In turn, “we participate in the eschatological life of God by virtue of the death of Christ. God is, God is in us, God suffers in us, where love suffers.”

Moltmann goes on to say that just as we suffer with God and God suffers with us in the event of the crucifixion, so we and God experience joy with each other “wherever we love and pray and hope.” And in the video [below], he talks more about that resultant joy. He also answers [Miroslav] Volf’s question about the biblical notion of God’s wrath as the “wounded love of God,” which is a notion I’d like to ask him more about.

My book will, not surprisingly, be a development of some of these same themes that Moltmann introduced in CG. If you’ve never read it, I strongly urge you to.
The video below is a conversation between Moltmann and Miroslav Volf:

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Reagan's View of History Still Prevails
8/15/2014 2:54:38 PM

I have just placed an article on the website by Carl Raschke on the role of the spectacular in history. I encourage people to read it. It presents some basic ideas about how to understand how the media and violence work and how they affect how you and I think, that is, how we hear and react to what we are told is going on around us.

Unless we are part of alternative communities, what we might call "interpretive communities" with alternative ways to view history, we will be influenced only what we hear and see in modern media, and that "media" then has the power to determine how we actually think and feel about the world. Libertarians who claim individuals freely think as they want are so very wrong. Of course we can think as we want, but we human beings are nearly completely reliant upon what the media tells us is going on around the world and within our own cities. So, it has become extremely important, especially for Christians seeking to know God's will for the world, to have sources other than modern media to learn and evaluate what is going on around us.

I have just started to read a book by Rick Perlstein called The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. He says the political conceptual framework of Ronald Reagan continues to prevail in American political consciousness. I hate to admit that I think Perlstein is correct. The world view of Reagan was extremely violent: he wanted to kill and destroy his enemies. That is, that was his political rhetoric. He himself did not act significantly on this way of speaking. He helped end the Cold War by talking to Mikhail Gorbachev, for example. He pulled Marines out of Lebanon when they were challenged there. But the Bush presidents, father and son, followed through with big, spectacular wars. Clinton failed to change basic foreign policy assumptions in this country. And Obama, even though he was elected largely by people who rejected the Bush Iraq war, has simply continued to work within the Reagan assumptions in his actions. Obama and his advisers are most worried about what John McCain and other hawkish Republicans think of him. He has utterly failed to change much at all. The Norwegians made a big mistake giving him a prize for peace.

As I said in the editor's comments on the Raschke article, the Reagan view of history is extremely violent. It promotes holy war based as it is on the violent language of the end of the world of Christian revivalism. It assumes vilence works. It assumes guns are most important for security (not words or law). It assumes you need to kill the enemy rather than talk to him or her. Republicans now influenced by the so-called Tea Party will not even talk to Democrats, or include them in their policy discussions in congress. Republicans today don't believe in representative government, where you elect persons and these persons engage in discussion leading to policy. Republicans want to get elected and then talk only with themselves and force only the policy they want with no compromises. The Republican Party has become exactly that which Reagan himself articulated, a fierce war party ready to kill and destroy all opponents.

Liberals in general don't know what to do with people like this. Liberals believe in discussion. But what do you do when you have opponents who refuse to talk with you? Who believe you are of the devil? Who just want to kick and destroy you? Liberals don't know what to do. To the degree that pastors and members of ecumenical congregations understand themselves as liberal this is a real problem. This one of the reasons the so-called liberal church is dying. It is not just dying, it is being killed by true believers in both the conservative Catholic and revivalist churches. These are people who, on abortion for example, do not want to discuss things, they just want to destroy the opposition.

In our churches we need to start thinking differently about a "public theology" for our congregations and communities and then let people in the community know we are seeking a new and better way. We need to reject the holy war of this country, of revivalist Christianity. We need to be clear about our own commitments, not to an obsolete form of liberalism, but to the historic confessions of the Reformation church. This will put us against much of what both political parties are saying today.

The Reagan form of holy war rhetoric has become especially dangerous because in the end it will literally destroy this country. That's what always happens to people committed to violence.

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A False Gospel: Corporate Christianity
3/27/2014 7:09:50 PM

In Nazi Germany in the 1930s Hitler made every effort to take control of the Christian church to make it serve his own ends. He was quite successful but received opposition from those who became known as the "Confessing Church," confessing faith in Jesus Christ not the political program of Hitler.

Today in this country the same kind of thing has happened. This time it is corporations and their wealthy owners who have taken over large parts of institutional Christianity, those parts known as the "religious" or "Christian right." Especially since 1980 when the Republican Party adopted the conservative social positions of the religious right wealthy individuals and corporations have contributed massive amounts of money to right wing religion. This has in turn provided the resources for this type of Christianity to succeed in a capitalist economy, so dependent on money. And this means that large numbers of Christians are urged by their pastors to vote for politicians who then promote policies helpful to big business even when those policies are against the interests of those very Christians.

This is all coming to a head now in the Hobby Lobby case at the Supreme Court. In this article on this site you will find information about substantial funding by Hobby Lobby of right wing religious political projects. Now, in this country it is normal to consider it proper for people to financially support projects they believe in. But think a little more about that now. Think about all the billions and billions of dollars that have been given by wealthy individuals and businesses to conservative religious causes. This helps to actually define what is acceptable (and successful) Christian activity in the world today.

The Christian faith is thus not determined by its own generic truth based on its own theology and sacred texts, it is based rather on which so-called "Christian" groups receive money from wealthy individuals. The wealthy guy who always sits up front in church gets to determine what the pastor says. A false gospel is now being preached in pulpits throughout this country, bought and paid for by wealthy corporations.

It is certainly time for another confessing church.

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Kathyrn Tanner: The Social Trinity and Politics
5/26/2013 3:23:41 AM

In every age it is necessary for the church through its theologians to rethink and re-articulate the historic content of Christian faith. One of the most difficult to understand doctrines is the concept of God as Trinity. Regular visitors to this website may have noticed I added to the site a sermon I preached recently called God as Community. This way of viewing God is known as the social doctrine of the Trinity. It is "social" because the three persons of the Trinity are understood as having relations with one another. I was exposed to this thinking by Jurgen Moltmann in his 1981 book The Trinity and the Kingdom.

So it was with interest that I listened to a YouTube lecture on the social Trinity by the theologian Kathyrn Tanner who taught at the University of Chicago for many years before going to Yale Divinity School. There are four links at the end of this post if you want to listen to the lecture.

Tanner is critical of this way of viewing the Trinity if it is suggested that the way the persons of the Trinity relate to one another is put forward as the model for the way human beings should relate to one another. She notes that human beings are not God, God is other than human beings, so because they are finite they cannot relate to one another in the same way as the members of the godhead. What she does say is that the way human beings are to relate to one another is modeled by the way the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, relates to human beings. Jesus is the way of being human to others, doing what the Father wants full of the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate this way of thinking especially because it is not based on "law". That is, usually we human beings tend to think that how we act should be based on formal law, as in the ten commandments. The image of God is primarily as a law-giver. But God is most clearly revealed not in law but in a real human being, and the way of being in the world desired by God is not law through the power of the state or any other authority, but in the life and activity of Jesus Christ, the one who offers his life for others.

Tanner does not spend much time in the lecture on what following Jesus means, but the lecture is an excellent introduction to the church's reflection on the Trinity since the classic era when the doctrine was formulated.

I would have liked if she had spent a bit more time talking about one reason the social doctrine of the Trinity was formulated, as I understand it. The original use of the term "political theology" refers to the German legal theorist Carl Schmitt who claimed political concepts simply occupy the space left over from theological concepts. The idea of God as the one sovereign was used by Schmitt to justify the idea of one absolute world ruler. In the 1930s in Germany this one ruler was Hitler. So a notion of God was used to justify a particular political system. Moltmann argues against this by speaking of God not as one powerful individual person, but three persons in loving relations with one another.

Still, I think Tanner is right that the social doctrine of the Trinity does not provide human beings a model of how to act in the world. For that we need to look to Jesus.


The Faculty of Theology at Huron University College hosted theologian Dr. Kathryn E. Tanner on March 9, 2011. Dr. Tanner, Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School, spoke on the subject, "The Trinity and Politics: Is the Trinity really the best guide to the proper way to live together?"

Lecture 1

Lecture 2

Lecture 3

Lecture 4

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