What Would Jesus… Deconstruct?: Excursions in Postmodern Theology

I’m currently undergoing/becoming very aware of (what I assume is) a postmodern turn in my life, as I (think I) engage more and more in deconstruction and hermeneutics in appreciation of the highly narrative tenor of our lives and the needed critique those concepts and actions bring to facets (economic, political, social, militant, religious, ethnic etc.) of it. This narrative dynamic underscores the particularity, provisionality, contextuality and limitation of our identities, words and world, and highlights the constant risk of totalization and universalization faced by storied people and societies. This is expressing itself, perhaps acutely, as I continue to be drawn toward evermore emergent forms of Christian faith, theology and practice.

Perhaps to emphasize this for me, or for you, or for God, I dunno, I finally capitulated to myself and purchased ‘What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church‘ by John D. Caputo.

I’m properly excited about getting it – almost solely because I’m fascinated to read about Caputo’s concept of ‘theo-poetics’ (does that not just sound like an amazing, as well as beautiful, idea?) and how this is connected to Jesus’ proclaiming of God’s kingdom.

In anticipation I was reading a book review for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (here). In it Caputo drops some fascinating lines that highlight the good in postmodern thinking and its consequences for religion and theology, as he reviews a very expensive number, Difficult Atheism, by Christopher Watkins.

But why [for Watkins’] is “post-secular” theology not “good?” It belongs to a progressive wing of theology eager to absorb the insights of radical thinkers from Nietzsche to Žižek in order to engage in serious self-criticism and to undermine the demonization of atheism by theology. If we criticize theologians for not reading such writers, are we then to criticize them when they do? Postmodern theology results in a searching criticism of the violence and fundamentalism of religion from within theology itself, which is vastly more effective than any external criticism of theology. If we test the idea on Watkin’s terms, by its pay-off in terms of justice, post-secular theology enacts an auto-deconstruction of theological imperialism, militarism, patriarchy, racism, and homophobia, drawing upon a theology of peace and justice stretching from Amos to Martin Luther King (which is why religious people are so regularly found working among the most destitute people on earth) and calling down upon itself the fire of conservative religious authorities. If such theological thinking were the coin of the realm in religion today, religious violence would not be in the headlines.

Faith has to do with a deep-set affirmation or desire of something we desire with a desire beyond desire, a desire that overtakes us all, theists, atheists or still trying to decide.

[Derrida’s] eccentric restaging of Augustine’s Confessions is a deeply nuanced deconstruction of Christianity and even more so of his own Judaism, “haunting” the religious beliefs it repeats, making them tremble while also suggesting they contain something they cannot contain. Deconstruction is not “critique” but an oblique affirmation. Derrida does not try to “occupy” the Confessions like a conquering colonial army but to “repeat” religion “without religion…” Deconstruction is not “occupying;” it is reading, slowly and meticulously.

I find much of this helpful and instructive in conceptualizing a generous, perhaps even minimalistic, orthodoxy; as well as offering great help for how denominations and local churches do theology as they develop a theology rooted in peace, justice and love that challenges “theological imperialism, militarism, patriarchy, racism, and homophobia.”

The above is a profound and necessary activity – and it’s why I’m psyched about reading Caputo, that it might help me to better engage the Scriptures and inform a desire for “reading, slowly and meticulously” as I explore how my own theology might be more engaged, sustained and faithful to (the deconstructive nature of?) the Christ event.