There may be some who are not aware of something that has just happened on the internet. To my mind, it seems to be a moment signaling a potentially significant shift in the way internet theology is done: Nathan R. Kerr, Ry O. Siggelkow, and Halden Doerge recently composed a set of theses concerning what they feel are some troubling tendencies in contemporary theology to ‘prioritize’ the Church, presumably ‘over’ the ‘Gospel’ though this doesn’t quite come out explicitly…at least it hasn’t yet.
There have of course been internet blog symposiums and substantive engagement that has happened on the internet before. This is why I hesitate to say that this was itself a paradigm shifting kind of thing; nonetheless it seems to have generated a massive amount of fury and energy the likes I’ve yet to see in these kind of internet self-published theological debate. And it makes sense when theological journals can run over $150 bucks annually for a personal subscription, that the easy use, free cost and infinite availability of blogs can be, maybe, potentially, a viable site of exciting theological engagement.
People write controversial stuff on the internet all the time, but these theses went a step further by publishing simultaneously on The Other Journal, an online theological journal run by the Mars Hill Graduate School and one of the greatest things to happen to theological publishing since the advent of the internet. This meant at the very least that the Theses writers did not intend for their work to be merely a blog piece, however academic and engaging it was. *update* Over some confusion by readers the piece, which was never intended to be an edited academic piece, has been moved to the blog section of The Other Journal.
And so readers took it more seriously than a blog entry leading to nearly 250 comments, most of which were substantive as well as full fledged engagement from several other blogs. (The Other Journal, An Und Fur Sich – here, here and here, Church and Pomo – here and here, The Fire and the Rose…there may be others I don’t know about, if so please link in the comments)
The extreme posititions represented by the theses even garnered some charges of herterodoxy and the dialogue went too far in many cases, as most such blog comments are prone to do.
Thankfully I refrained, for once in my frickin life, from also saying things that I would regret later. I already have too many of those kinds of comments floating around the internet, plus I know one of the writers and enjoy having coffee with him. Indeed most of the concerns I have with the theses were addressed by more thoughtful and competent writers than me so I was not going to say anything.
But a recent comment struck me as so incredibly erroneous that I could no longer not at least enter the fray even though the conversation has settled down. I offer this in the spirit of gentleness and grace, in friendship and as a fellow brother in Christ. Nonetheless I doubt that my own concerns will sound so gentle in the phrasing so I can only ask that if Ry, Halden and Nate take the time to read them they will interpret me with the same generosity that I gave them on their site even if it’s the first time I’ve acted in such a way 🙂
If you’ve not read the theses, nor all the comments, nor the other blog posts as I have, some of this might not make sense. I apologize in advance to these readers.
My own points will themselves be ‘theses,’ that is, they will not be systematic expostitions, rather they are concise and at-this-point-unargued notes made in order to contribute to the discerning work of the Spirit through the Church.
- I cannot abide the meta-critique of “Religion” vs “Gospel.” I find it to be as crude as Luther’s own Law vs Grace dichotomy and it utterly flattens out any hope of Scriptures multi-valent testimony to Christ from being heard in it’s proper complexity. It is an artificial dialectical abstraction that, rather than being formed by Scripture’s own plenitudinous testimony to Christ’s significance, takes too much authority from Karl Barth and is used to impose a theoretical structure as ultimate judge over the Spirit’s showing-forth of Christ who has “spoken through the prophets” in more than a single form.
- This is why if followed through, this kind of theology does not seem to me capable of attending to the Old Testament scriptures in any consistent christological sense.
- For instance the missional narrative of “exile” is by no means the only Scriptural way to speak about the Church in the world and it even misses that “Exile” in Scripture is punishment for apostacy and that the apostolic sending of the Paraclete in the Church is not judgement but joy. The properly Isaiahonic “Good News” is about return from exile, not it’s extension.
- The dissolving of any difference between Church and World (Thesis 3) is actually to voice the total non-existence of the Church at all.
- By so dissolving the Church, any “site” for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit seems also to slip by
- This may in fact explain the paltry attention payed to the Spirit in the theses and this lack of serious reflection on the Spirit helps to make clear some other inherent weaknesses in the theses
- For instance, by calling worship “a perpetual factory of idols,” and “the site of our deepest estrangement” and even to go so far in another comment as to say that any and all forms of worship are inherently idolatrous fails to account for the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the baptized for the ministry and building up of the Church. Paul encourages the exercise of these gifts and exhorts us to praise God by the composing of hymns and spiritual songs.
- The reason that worship is a site for reconciliation and not estrangement is because the Spirit proceeds through the Church back to the godhead and Herself returns the song of worship. This is why the etymology of the word “liturgy” is such a pointless thing to bring up. Liturgy as the Church knows it is where the Spirit worships through the Church by word, sacrament and the exercise of her unique gifts.
- This is of course not to say that any and all acts of worship are purely of the Spirit…we are still ever being perfected, but it is exactly in worship that we are continually perfected.
- The lack of attention to the Spirit also explains why the ad hoc and obligatory mention of the Sacraments make absolutely no sense. Or at least they make perfect Zwingilian sense. How could they make any other sense when it is “Jesus Christ alone [who] is constituitive of the church’s sacramental existence.” In worship we are included in the very life of the eternal and Holy Trinity; not the Word alone.
- Also lacking is any substantive interaction with theology that is older than 100 years minus a passing nod to Aquinas in solidarity with Barth. Inasmuch as Christ has never been in want of a witness to His Holy Gospel this is an unfortunate fact about the theses. To name but an obvious example, where is any mention of the work of John of Damascus on holy Icons? Indeed what of the entire clash between iconodoules and iconoclasts? Is the testimony to Christ in the past of such little worth as to be ignored in favor of those whom are blind to the weaknesses of our own age?
- One cannot miss that most of the Apocalyptic vocabulary is rather masculine and violent.
And this brings us back full circle. This is a very Protestant and modern and some might say even, given it’s anti-“ecclesiastical” polemic, reactionary document. (I seem to remember a certain theses writer writing against “reactionary ecclesiology”) This is something that not even the many pious phrases uttered can fully conceal. It would be my hope that the naivety of saying that “we only testify to the Gospel” (emphasis added) can be politely passed over into more ‘epistemologically humble’ phraseology.
There is of course much to commend in these theses and I level no charges against their authors other than those I wrote here. Thank you Ry, Halden and Nate for taking the time to witness to the reconciliation of Jesus Christ and for sharing it with us.