Thursday, September 22, 2005

Choice Words

Unleashing the Scripture by Stanley Hauerwas

Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No Task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eight-grade comencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.


TheBlueRaja said...

Nice. How's that for a slap in the face for indivdualism and democracy?

metalepsis said...

The three most influential articles on Paul that I have read have to be Wright’s People of God, Dunn’s New Perspective, and Stendhal’s Introspective Conscience. I don’t think Hauerwas was influenced by Stendhal but the ramifications are very similar.

TheBlueRaja said...

Have you read any J.C. Beker? You should pick up his Triumph of God: The Essence of Paul's Thought . It's very helpful in thinking about the relationship between a theological center which anchors the Gospel and circumstantial adaptation which applies it.

metalepsis said...

I have read large chunks of it, and found it very helpful, just not the same impact.

The impact has much more to do with my personal journey than anything else. I read Dunn and Stendahl around the same time, back in seminary. I read Wright early in my postgrad days, and while I have moved away from critical realism, it was what I needed at the time to shake free from the shackles of positivism.

TheBlueRaja said...

I'm unfortunately still in bondage to critical realism, though I'm under no false pretenses about the rigor of my commitments - I'm not sure I've got a very throroughgoing analytical understanding of it as a full-fledged epistemology. I like the idea that knowledge is public, and that approaching reality (though not entirely possessing it as God does) involves the dialectical process described in Wright's prolegomena. But I couldn't offer very convincing arguments for these things as of yet. Likewise I see the problems with classical foundationalism - but not necessarily with the kind of modified foundationalism of reliablists and externalists in general.

What have you moved to (from critical realism) and why? Oh, and will you go the dance with me? Check YES or NO.

metalepsis said...

I don’t view critical realism as bondage, but for some critical realism is just masked positivism; in fact much of what I do is no different than what the critical realist does, so to speak. I don't know that I have moved to a new tangible position, but rather am enjoying the moving.

I have been impressed with literary readings of the biblical text, whether this be from the likes of Robert Polzin, Michael Fishbane, David Clines, or Hugh Piper; namely because they read texts very carefully and imaginatively. However, not too many people read the New Testament in this provocative way.

I have been influenced by the ‘linguistic turn’ through studying intertextuality, and am happy with a non-foundational epistemology, although I am less happy to ‘prove’ it, and have no qualms with those who hold a modified foundationalism (I would even dance with them).

But then there is this socio-rhetorical critical part of me that seeks to position my reading within the ancient horizon, a part of me that sees the imperial context as very important for my readings of the New Testament.

And then there is the ‘theological’ side of me that gravitates with the post-liberalism of Frei, Milbank, and Hauerwas (if it is any consequence this is your doing). And I absolutely love what Brueggemann does too with his hermeneutic of apocalyptic re-imagination.

In the end texts are crazy little things that resist being confined into the boxes we like to put them in. Understanding this I refuse to stand over a text and imagine that I know what it means, I do the best I can, with what I have, but I follow Radiohead in their anthem, “I might be wrong.”

Who will lead?

TheBlueRaja said...

I know you weren't saying critical realism is bondage, i'ze just bein' salty. My own reading has followed that line, with the exception of the literary stuff (I read Echoes of Scripture by Hays, which I loved, and I've read some volumes in the Scripture and Hermeneutics series and Vanhoozer's "Is There A Meaning in This Text" as well as several articles and such; but I haven't made a concerted effort to read big boy books by major proponents); I'm especially looking forward to reading some Horsley and Tanner on the political context (there's also a volume in the Scripture and Hermeneutics series that dialogues with Oliver O'Donnovan which was great) - and as you've said, I've enjoyed reading some of the Radical Orthodoxy stuff as well.

But my problem in all of these pursuits is that often times when these (amazingly helpful) texts build their platforms and arguments on anything related to postmodernist ideologies, there are more pronouncements than arguments. So its tough to know how to evaluate the warrant for some of the moves they make. Insofar as they make me more sensitive to texts, stretch my theological categories and challenge my assumptions I find them invigorating. But in trying to evaluate the truth and knowledge claims they're making, and it's frustrating for me to know how to find the right criteria. Words like foundationalism, positivism, and critical realism are part of a larger philosophical discourse of which I'm a chaste virgin - and sometimes the use of these concepts by particular authors to drive their theological projects looks like some clumsy lovin'!

metalepsis said...

I guess that is the start of it for me, if I don’t buy into Cartesian thinking (not saying I am not guilty of it), then do I really need a criteria for truth. That has been the epiphany for me, I read Foucault and dig what he says about power, though that doesn’t make me think less of the bible, it just makes me really wary of the ideological power of interpretations. Derrida shows me ways to deconstruct those interpretations, and offers me a model of sorts for deconstructing my own interpretations to see it the ramifications of those interpretations are really worthy of a cruciform, renunciation of status, love of neighbor ethic. For me it is less about truth and more about being faithful, I have narrative examples of faithfulness all throughout the bible, least of all Jesus, and I have a community that calls my actions, even deconstructs my actions, in order to encourage me to be faithful. But it is a journey, and I have found truth to be a piece of baggage that I don’t really need, but that is not the whole story…

If truth is a person, nothing more nothing less, I can dig that. But that is not how we speak in metaphysics. I need to do some more reading on onto-theology, but that will have to wait until I get this onus of my back!

TheBlueRaja said...

I totally hear you, dude. I'm just talking about some philosophical criteria by which to evaluate assertions of any kind - because it seems to me when we say we don't have any, or say that we don't need any is when the politics of power come into play. I'm all for this account of warrant being theological, but it seems like we've got to have one if we're going to reject some constructs over others. That's not a criticism of any kind, it just seems an unavoidable question for me as I evaluate piles of contravening theological proposals that all vie for my acceptance. If all that were involved in choosing some over others is the degree to which they promote cruciformity I still am not sure whether I should follow Carl Henry or Hans Frei -- do you know what I mean?

metalepsis said...

I dig ya. And I guess I would respond with interpretive communities (Stanley Fish, although see Cullers’ critique), as the criteria. This works for academe as well as the ekklesia. I did not want to insinuate that we don’t have any criteria by which we evaluate assertions, we all do, of course, and you are right if we think that we are without criteria there is usually some unknown power structure holding the strings. But I think there is a danger in thinking that we may ever find the elixir that we so desperately search, but this does not mean we stop searching. God is wholly other, but we still long for understanding. Of course I don’t have a good answer, but I would look into what in these proposals would force you to make a distinctive choice. I could argue why Frei does it for me over Henry, but if Henry causes you to renounce status, love your neighbor, and live a Cruciformed life then by all means support Arsenal (Sorry, I miss Thierry Henry).

TheBlueRaja said...

I feel you, B-Money. I don't necessarily prefer Henry over Frei, incidentally - I was just trying to pick some polar opposites in their approach to Scripture in order to illustrate my point. I just think that all of the characterizations of the bankrupcy of "modernist" epistemologies and the death of foundationalism are critiquing a sort of dated, Enlightement anchronism that is rarely followed and has no serious proponents. Classical foundationalism may be dead, but that doesn't really mean very much. Descartes isn't really the shiznit anymore. Moreover, it seems like you may have a disdain for a correspondence theory of truth, and that you might gravitate toward a coherence model (like Grenz and Franke seem to do), but all of this is sort of "under the radar" and without any serious argumentation. Again, that's not a criticism -- I'm in the same boat, and I feel as though a lot of contemporary theologians are there too - but I think we'd probbaly benefit from some interaction with analytic philosophy, especially given the names that we invoke to bolster our linguistic, epistemological nad metaphysical theories. Just thinking out loud there.

Sameer said...

Bryan -- so are you adovcating some kind of substitution of ethical criteria for epistemological criteria for evaluating the putative acceptability of beliefs? If so, are proposing that criteria as conditions constitutive of whatever epistemic virtue you intend to replace "truth-as-correspondence"? Or do you propose some other conception that replaces that notion? If the former, then wouldn't you think it problematic that the application of your criteria would render infelicitous equivalences in truth value? E.g. "The historical context of individual passages is secondary to the particular shape of the biblical narrative" (a Freisian sentiment) has the same truth value as "The particular shape of the biblical narrative is secondary to the historical context of individual passages" (a Henryan sentiment), since both meet your epistemological criteria for truthfulness. If rather it is the latter, and you rather propose some set of ethical virtues as criteria for epistemic *justification*, then what *is* the relevant epistemic virtue (if not truth-as-correspondence) that this concept of justification is conducive for showing? Meeting your criteria and thereby being certainly isn't sufficient to justify one's claims that her beliefs are *true-as-coherent*! Furthermore, whereas you may want to endorse truth-as-rationality, whereby rationality as essentially ethical, it still seems weird to me to boil down rationality to ethical concepts like self-emptying, neighbor-love, and cruciformity. For one thing, this gets you all kinds of wacky results, like the possibility of someone who is cruciform and therefore rational, who believes that his head is made entirely of bean curd and that every fifth person he sees is a ravenous vegan out to canibalize his face, but who in his self-emptying love presents his head submissively for the culinary pleasure of his neighbor.

sameer said...

Sorry, the sentence in the middle should read,

"Meeting your criteria and thereby being epistemically justified certainly isn't sufficient..."

sameer said...

By the way, please don't take my comments as antagonistic or sarcastic -- I'm really just trying to figure out what kind of theory you're proposing. My comments have assumed only that you are rejecting a correspondence theory in favor of some manner of epistemic theory (a theory that makes truth dependent upon knowers). On another note, I'm also curious about whether you endorse some kind of antipathy to metaphysics, and if so, do you think that the metaphysical enterprise purports to engage in a task that you deem impossible, or do you adopt the metaphysical stance of global anti-realism? No real agenda here, just for giggles.

metalepsis said...

No I don’t intend what I have written as my epistemology in any or form, perhaps just an expression of how I feel, or rather how I try to live. The ‘truth’ of a Henryan position up against a Freisian position just doesn’t matter to me. Sure I like Frei better, but I would not try to insinuate that Frei has found the only relevant way to speak about the bible.

I find metaphysics to be fascinating, I have just been given a second rate mind. I don’t know that we will ever figure out epistemology, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I think this is what modified foundationalism accepts, and moves on.

Raja your right not many people are old school foundationalists in the philosophical guild, but there are a heck of a lot still in the ekklesia, who don’t realize the implications of old school foundationalism.

I don’t know that a vegan would eat bean curd with a body, it’s against the code!

Sameer said...

So, in practice, why is it that the truth of a Barthesian position as over agaist, say, a Saussurian position *does* seem to matter to you? It seems odd that you are more inclined to make definitive pronouncements about the second order content that describes the limits and methods appropriate to our cognitive and linguistic situation than you are to do the same for the first order content about the theological particularities that describe our identity and function in the world as Christians. If your reduction of epistemic endorsement of a belief to "what you like better" is funded by the epistemological implications of those second order beliefs (rather than their foundationalist competitors) then in practice you have insinuated that the non-foundationalist way ought to be accepted and the foundationalist way ought to be rejected. You've alreay stepped into "epistemic approval/disapproval land." Why not be willing to "go there" theologically as well?

TheBlueRaja said...

The thing is that I think a lot of people in the church who hold to a hardcore enlightenment positivism (like the entire TMS crowd) don't even know they do, and probably would say they don't. There's never any argumentation for it, or any sensible justification of this as a starting point over against your own view - and that's what I think causes some problems. It's advocacy without accountability, and it totally precludes any constructive criticism - and I think that this disposition is something to be avoided in favor of open admission of our approach with an ear open to the problems and pitfalls of it. So whether a person's disposition is "kill or be killed" (i.e. the adorable TMS and GCC posse) or "live and let live" (which is MUCH more likeable), all of this "under the radar" advocacy is troubling to me. The former is much worse than the latter, but both lower the ceiling on a person's theological development.

metalepsis said...

Sameer said:

So, in practice, why is it that the truth of a Barthesian position as over against, say, a Saussurian position *does* seem to matter to you?

I don’t know that a Barthesian position is antithetical to a Saussurian position, I understand Barthes to be a particular interpretation of Saussurian lingustics, even if it be channeled through a Kristevian medium.

Perhaps you could clarify for me how you see the relationship between Barthes and Saussure.

Oh, I have made up my mind in principle, both theologically and epistemologically, no doubt. But I would still say that I am open, and will continue to read; I used to be a positivist, and wore those hip positivist clothes, but I grew up and gained weight, and I had to take those clothes to the goodwill. I may do that with my postmodern garb too.

What I was trying to convey was that I don’t feel the need to justify my decision, in an apologetic way, to others. I read some things that people write about the emergent church (just an example) and it makes me cringe, and I really want to *convert* them, but the likelihood of me doing so is unlikely because we speak different languages. So what do you do… Hi Ho

I don’t know though, I can be a non-foundational follower of Frei’s narrative theology, or a modified foundationalist follower of Frei (I think?). So even if I insisted that people follow Frei, would it require me to force them to an epistemological position? I don’t know?

Raja: I totally agree, and that is why I am open about where I stand. I also enjoy the criticism especially the thoughtful criticisms of you and Sameer, because it causes me to think through my position. I try to be critical about why I hold a position, but I guess I am not so convinced that I have to convert others, and I am not at all sure how much success I would have at it. It would take an extraordinary figure, perhaps, Don Quixote himself.

I am not advocating an ‘under the radar’ policy, at least I am not trying to, but if it comes to ‘kill or be killed’ or a ‘live and let live’ policy; which I think it inevitably does when you talk to some, then I will always let live (I hope).


TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks, Bryan. Hope I didn't come off as "evangelistic" - just making conversation! I certainly agree with what you said about the approach of emergent critics - Christians can be obnoxious bastards sometimes - but that's why we need Jesus!

Love your body!

sameer said...

I certainly don’t want to say that Barthes’ literary theory was antithetical to the language theory outlined by Saussure – only that the later Barthes appears to be a development beyond earlier the earlier structuralist program which saw itself as a science that could discover deep structure foundations for sign systems. He also advanced beyond the Saussrean line by analyzing the phenomenon of linguistic meaning in broader terms of language use than merely formal ones. So I guess I was setting the two in contradistinction as representative of structuralism and poststructuralism, respectively. To embrace primary components of the Saussurean program today, for example, is compatible with the analysis of natural languages in terms of generative grammar, whereas the poststructuralist development would clearly object.

Although I am right there with you in wanting to be theologically and epistemologically open to dialogue, I’m not sure in what way positivism as a philosophical movement is particularly marked by a lack of that quality (if you are referring to the legacy of Carnap, Schlick, and their buddies in the Vienna Circle). Is that the positivism you are referring to? In any case, I can understand the frustration that comes from attempting to engage in meaningful dialogue with someone and just end up bloodying your head by ramming it into the brick wall until you lay unconscious and thoroughly concussed. I just think that the appeal to some kind of radical incommensurability between your linguistic habits and theirs is too facile a motivation to not roll up your sleeves and attempt to really understand and challenge proponents of the emergent movement. What do you make of the dialogue represented by, say, the Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank, where, empirically at least, there appears to be fruitful and irenic discussion along these lines?

At the end of the day, no one wants you to *insist* that they subscribe to this or that tenet proposed by Frei, (or Barthes!) but only to have some manner of public accountability for your beliefs, or some way to work them out communally even among those who don’t understand or accept them. After all, wouldn’t the more fundamental distinction between “languages” reside at the level of our participation in the Christian community, rather than regarding as fundamental an individual’s subscription to an epistemological theory? As a basis for intelligibility or meaningful dialogue, isn’t the shared language of mutual edification, accountability and humble dialogue among brethren sufficient to overcome the unshared language of our conflicting epistemological convictions?

We share a mutual distaste for "kill or be killed," which I am sure is partially shaped by our prior experiences in theological education... I just want you to be open to "iron sharpening iron," and it seems to me that to the extent that your theological convictions are important to you, and you find them epistemically virtuous (however you spell that out), I want to hear them and be challenged by them, so that if by our dialogue you can help me to see their virtue, I can share in the blessing of those convictions. And as a consequence of holding the above perspective as *my own conviction*, naturally I'd think it a blessing for you if you came to hold it as well!

sameer said...

I re-read your post, and now I get it. The "comments about Emergent" that make you cringe are CRITICS of it, now PROPONENTS! See, I'm learning from listening already! We DO speak the same language!

As a fun exercise to render my previous comments inteligible, go ahead and replace references to "proponents of the emergent" with "detractors of the emergent"!

Ted Gossard said...

This (the original post) makes an important point which needs to be heeded. But carries it too far.

Supplementing by attempting to read and think Scripture in community is needed, but not taking away Scripture from children or others.

The posts remind me of philosophy in general or my acqaintance with it. Very good. But in analyzing things to death, like the pie I am about to eat, I can fail to simply enjoy the pie for what it is without having to describe and analyze and understand that experience.

But the value lies, I would think, in helping us see how we are affected unknowingly by philosophies, and how we can be more faithful to a better reading of Scripture (something like that).

metalepsis said...

Thanks for the comment Ted.

Hauerwas is getting at more than merely reading the bible in community; for him it has to be the right kind of community. What he is stressing is that it is harder and harder to read scripture in the west faithfully, because our commitments are first and foremost the commitments of the west. His desire (I reckon) is not to take the bible away from children, but rather (I suppose) to rid the children of there individualistic consumeristic upbringing through the right reading of the bible.