Still (sort of) A Friend Of
There was a time when I thought of myself as “Emergent.” Indeed, as I have posted before, I have certain significant sympathies with some “Emergent” ideas and thinkers; I’m no Mark Driscoll’ian re-verter to a pre-emergent state. But I’ve most certainly become strongly convinced of Catholic Christianity as received in the patristic horizon and find the unconsumated Derridean “trace” and “never-being” of the Church in some Emergent thought to be rhetorically violent.
Indeed I’ve seen some recent examples of anti-intellectualism that have rather frustrated me. Rather than “naming names” and contributing to the endless use of the internet to anonymously defame people I’m going to stick to the concepts and explain why I think they constitute in some cases a will-to-power and in others a nascent anti-intellectualism.
There have been some using an old narrative to provide a critique of the Church which is quite overused. In regards to how the Church uses and abuses power is very relevant and incisive, but with regards to how the Church reflects theologically, is fundamentally flawed. This old narrative is the one about the “Greek Fall” of the church. The story goes like this: Once upon a time the church was a tiny band of common and egalitarian followers of Jesus who thought “biblically.” Then Nicaea and Constantine happened (yes, the narrative is this simplistic-hence why it is too easy) which “Constantinianized” the church, who lost the “real” “biblical” story and transformed it’s thought into foreign and evil “Greek” “metaphysical” categories of thought. This “Greek Fall” of the church has continued to this day and is finally becoming overthrown by the grassroots emergence thinkers most of whom read a lot of Caputo and Moltmann.
Now I will certainly allow that the way in which the legalization and officialization of Christianity occured gave space for long historical abuses of power. But anyone who thinks that churches and bishops and Christians never abused authority before Constantine is someone who just hasn’t taken any time to read patristic (or New Testament!!!) literature. Similarly, so-called “Greek” thought is used all throughout the New Testament. There are those who use the “GF” narrative sometimes and easily to move from “Greek” ideas in the early church are bad to “Greek” ideas in the New Testament are bad.
There are many problems with this but I’ll keep to one in particular that has me riled up. Cultural mediation goes all the way down. Before NT authors were “using” Greek “ideas” OT authors were using Greek “ideas,” and before that they were using a whole slew of Ancient Near Eastern “ideas.” There is no pure Hebrew narrative and there is no single “biblical” narrative outside of the traditioning communities. We cannot reach back, peel off Greek, or Akkadian, or Babylonian layers and reach some “biblical” “un-philosophical” and “pure” narrative. The logic and the argument fails to convince. People; Narratives; Scriptures; Educations – none of them come in a vacuum.
…Now to another recent incident. There is a longstanding allergy to “systematic theology” in some Emergent thought. At one time I shared such an allergy. I would still reject any presumption to create a systematic theology that sought to close off and totalize it’s narrative but what I’ve come to believe is that what initially may have been a judicious use of Lyotard has turned to a misunderstanding of what he was getting at; or at least how I take Lyotard.
The problem with a “meta-narrative” is not the size and scope of the story being told but the manner in which its truth claims are presented as authoritative. The problem with “modern” narratives is that they laid claim to authority by use of a second story, that of “reason,” to substantiate all knowledge claims. In post-foundational epistemologies to which I am sympathetic, there is no way to reach outside of a narrative to justify and lend authority to the narrative. It’s truthfulness is judged by how well it explains all phenomena that it claims to comprehend and how widely and deeply it’s claims are assumed by authoritative story-telling communities. Such stories can be as large as they can manage and still not be “systematics” in a “modern” fashion provided they allow for critique, for dialectic, for growth and resist totalization and oppression of other voices on a priori grounds.
Now not everybody needs to systematize their theology. But the refusal to dialogue with those who draw out seemingly logical strains implicit in ones own theology, be it “systematic” or not, is to hide behind an anti-intellectual screen at best and if ones own theology constitutes a critique then at worst it constitutes a will-to-power. It hides ones foundations beyond critique while secretly using those same foundations to critique others. It is especially evil when one uses a philosopher such as Derrida or Caputo to critique other philosophies and theologies and then when asked to defend ones beliefs to hide behind anti-systematics.
These problems seem to repeat themselves over and over again in different ways to me as I keep in touch with some “emergent” thinkers. This is the inevitable rhetorical violence of using significantly “academic” insights to create and sustain a “populist” movement. I guess we’re all still waiting for emergence to grow up, as indeed the whole of creation is waiting for all the church to “grow up,” so I don’t say this as self-righteous gloat but as a goad, part of the dialectical pruning and salvation of the Church and the whole world.