Discipleship and Metanoetics: Reading Bonhoeffer through Caputo

The kingdom… has to do with the call that the kingdom issues, the call to be of a new mind, a new heart, metanoia… a transforming event on the level of meaning and existential significance. The kingdom belongs to the order of the event, to the eventive dynamics of a metanoetics, of making all things new, of transforming the face of the earth. (Caputo, The Weakness of God, 206-207)

CaputoMetanoetics have to do, not surprisingly, with metanoia. With that turning-changing-renewing of heart and person; with that rather archaic term ‘repentance.’ The metanoetics of the kingdom name and outline the structure and demeanour of Jesus of Nazareth’s life and work. It is, for John D. Caputo, calling upon and providing an expression of that ancient, primordial seventh day; that original (poetic) Elohimic pronouncement-come-ongoing-affirmation of ‘good, good… very good,’ that reverberates throughout
time and creation.

Metanoetics, then, stand in the tradition of the event, that (poetic) event, from time out of mind, when newness was solicited from the tohu wa-bohu. The metanoetics of the kingdom, then, have to do we the reaffirmation and repetition of that ‘very good,’ that ancient transformative solicitation of newness, and the call for its being made manifest, now. It has to do with drawing attention to the transformability and renewability of our life-world and the world’s life, now. Life to and in the kingdom, then, passes through existentially, and materially resides in, this metanoetic field.

Accordingly, when considering this ‘passing through’ – which we may call (the call to) discipleship – we will microcosmically and situationally something of a metanoetic moment taking place. I want to briefly discuss this with reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s rendering of discipleship.

[The] call to discipleship immediately creates a new situation… [and] because Jesus is the Christ… his word is not a doctrine. Instead, it creates existence anew. (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 62)

For Bonhoeffer, the call to discipleship makes one a ‘single individual.’ It is something of an event. An unexpected, irreducible, novelty-eliciting happening – perhaps; one must always answer. In the call, with the confrontation with metanoia, a disciple suffers a(n) (absolute, existential) break with all that was once experienced as natural and immediate – there is only the call and the calling-Christ. This situation – this new situation – opens up the potential for faith, for the following that allows belief to begin. In it, then, we should rightly say, obtains the call to the kingdom; the call of the new (we should say this because Bonhoeffer doesn’t make this kingdom connection) – for this is a central feature of discipleship’s character.

Here then, I suggest a reading of Bonhoeffer discipleship with and through Caputo’s metanoetics. Now, Bonhoeffer, of course, carries certain commitments and convictions that Caputo does not; but both are (minimally) agreed upon the novelty elicited by the (poetic) call to metanoia and discipleship – neither of which do anything other than create the conditions for what is to come.

The (non-doctrinal) call to metanoic-discipleship – the call of new, the call of/to the impossible, the event of the kingdom/discipleship – then, is the moment of a person’s encounter with the invitation into a new order of, and register with, the world, as such. It is an invitation to be the site of the hyper-real’s unfolding. In metanoia, for Bonhoeffer, one is faced only and ever with Christ and his situating, and novelty eliciting, call. While for Caputo, this metanoic confrontation may be said to carry with(in) it an encounter with that primordial, reverberating, Elohimic “very good” that desires a(n) (re)affirmation to do its transformative, renewing, work.

The kingdom is quite mad – madder than any hatter’s party – the in are out, the out are in; the first are last, the last are first; the enemies are loved; crosses are carried; forgiveness is given endlessly, or at least seventy times seven. It is on these terms that it is a ‘poetics‘ and not a logic, arche, doctrine, or dogma. It is the mad, confounding – by all standards dismissible – poetics (i.e. the pictures, parables, visionary prophetic critique) of the Christ and his God. It is not real (i.e. not what is) – it is hyper-real. The hyper-real has to do with the might be; with the to come; with the the what might just come/happen; with the impossible – none of which has to do with the illogical and irrational, but, in good Derridean fashion, with the unexpected; with that which is unimaginable given the current contours of our/the real. The hyper-reality of the kingdom has to do with what just might be possible; with what calls to be made true; what longs to make itself real.

What, then, if discipleship is read in these terms? As an existential confrontation with the metanoetic’s hyper-reality. As the opening of a self – the single individual – to what wants to be made real in/through that self. And thus the openness to being the concrete embodiment of that (poetic) new – the new of the “good… very good” that longs to (re)shape, transform, and (re)affirm, the world.

Thus, might the confrontation of the ‘single individual’ with the call to discipleship, with metanoia, in/to the kingdom be an expression, even the (ongoing) calling, of this ever-persistent metanoetic (weak-)force working itself out in microcosm.