From Progressive Orthodoxy to Radical Theology

Radical Theology2John Caputo seems to write with a pen in one hand a scalpel in the other, striking at the underbelly of my dysfunctional theology. In my attempt to provide a more enlightened and progressive Christian narrative, I was trying to deconstruct God / Christ / Kingdom / Salvation / Resurrection / … using the conceptual framework that I was trying to replace. It is indeed a ruse to posit God’s weakness as a strength. Metaphorically that might be possible, but it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

In the past year, I have found myself moving from a “more enlightened and progressive version of Orthodoxy” to the beginnings of a Radical Theology. Elizabeth Boyden Howes, Walter Wink, Herman Waetjen, Peter Rollins, and especially John Caputo have been my guides.

“[A] more enlightened and progressive version of Orthodoxy, …[i]n order to show solidarity with the weak, [posits that] God voluntarily empties Godself of power, freely chooses not to exercise this power, and this divine kenosis does not contradict omnipotence but manifests it. I do not travel down that path because it smacks of a ruse, a kind of docetism, in which the weakness is an even more profound demonstration of power and because it re-implicates God in evil..” (Caputo, The Weakness of God, p. 303, note 24.)

Caputo is correct that saying “God voluntarily empties Godself” is a manifestation of power, dependent upon God as a Super-Being. But, how can such a super-being choose not to intervene contra evil? It is no wonder that it didn’t ‘fit’ for me. In part, the ruse was acting the power-broker by trying to redefine God as a benevolent power. Perhaps, I might have reminded myself of Lord Acton’s axiom about power and corruption.

Kenosis, at best, is an attempt to preserve God’s ultimate power by seeming to limit it, but not really. Fortunately or unfortunately most Christians, when confronted with kenosis in a sermon or a Bible study class, really didn’t believe it. It just doesn’t make sense. Of course, I would argue, that’s the point. I suppose it only makes sense theo-logically! (And at this time, eyes would start to glaze over and thoughts would start to relocate themselves to some place more important.)

I was on the right track, but I didn’t go far enough. In order to talk about the weakness of God, you can’t hold up the image of the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe as the model. To talk about weakness as the primary attribute of God confounds the expectations of just about everyone. And why not? We have been telling them for generation after generation that God is the Ultimate Being who wields ultimate power.

No matter how hard I tried, as long as I continued to use the vocabulary and logic of power, trying to translate traditional theological concepts into a more modern, progressive understanding, I was doomed to failure. Re-filling the old categories, concepts, and understandings with new content wasn’t enough. Instead, it has become necessary to begin thinking in new ways and use new linguistic constructs.

Perhaps we can retain the old, familiar words — e.g., God / Christ / Kingdom / Salvation / Resurrection / … What we can’t do is to assume that there is a physical reality behind those terms. Each time we use one of these words / names we are naming a present construct of our experience — individually and collectively. As an example, in the place of that which the New Testament calls the Kingdom of God, Caputo uses the term “spiritual anarchy” — a force field where the term “God” is what we use to refer to the disruption to our expectations, opening to us the possibility of the impossible — peace instead of war, forgiveness instead of judgment and punishment, agenda set by the 99% on the bottom instead of the 1% on top, justice as a distribution of love instead of a retribution to keep us all is our pre-determined places and roles…

Caputo is right. To the strong theology of a powerful God, all this is as crazy / mad as the Mad Hatter’s party, divine madness! I set before you this day, two ways — the way of the event, which beckons you onward but has no power to compel you to respond or to determine the outcome of your response OR the way of power which always seems to devolve into violence, injustice, or death. As for me and my house, I choose the madness of the weak way that promises the possibility of the impossible — namely, abundant life when we simply abide in the present moment.

Does this make me mad? I hope so!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email