Sunday, 9 September 2007

Programmatic Statement No.# 1

Considering that these will be my first few posts, it's appropriate that I write something programmatic, something to set the tone for my approach to come.

Where do I start, philosophy or theology? Derrida or Barth? This question has bugged the church since early days. Some say that they should have nothing to do with each other (à la Tertullian, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?”). Others think they're either talking about different things or the same thing in different ways (e.g. Jean Paul II, “faith and reason are the two wings of a bird”). Liberal Protestants such as Kant and de Wette felt that theology was subservient to philosophy.

Perhaps that's the wrong way of framing the question ... I quote Derrida:

"In all the other disciplines you mention, there is philosophy. To say to oneself that one is going to study something that is not philosophy is to deceive oneself. It is not difficult to show that in political economy, for example, there is a philosophical discourse in operation. And the same applies to mathematics and the other sciences. Philosophy, as logocentrism, is present in every scientific discipline and the only justification for transforming philosophy into a specialized discipline is the necessity to render explicit and thematic the philosophical subtext in every discourse. The principle function which the teaching of philosophy serves is to enable people to become 'conscious', to become aware of what exactly they are saying, what kind of discourse they are engaged in when they do mathematics, physics, political economy, [biblical studies,] and so on. There is no system of teaching or transmitting knowledge which can retain its coherence without, at one moment or another, interrogating itself philosophically, that is, without acknowledging its subtextual premises; and this may even include an interrogation of unspoken political interests or traditional values.” (in Kearney, 1984: 4)

Clearly 'philosophy' of a special kind is being envisioned here. This is not an intellectual discipline to be arranged alongside others but a kind of river flowing beneath our feet, depriving us of a solid foundation to stand on. 'Philosophy' as discipline is a pragmatic decision to reveal the river which threatens to tear away all our pretensions to intellectual certainty.

So where do we begin? C. Bartholomew (2000) suggests that both theology and philosophy are academic disciplines which are traditioned. The starting point is Christ as the clue to both disciplines.


Anonymous said...

I find the comments by Deridda to be interesting, however IMHO I find the suggestion that one can place philosophy over theology to be as arbitrary as placing theology in judgement on philosophy. Or the option is one "unfounded story in place of another one", the acceptance of an ontology based on violence or one based on participation.
What do you think about Milbank, Westphal, Et al. who attempt to get beyond modern and "post"modern philosophy?
I only ask because I have recently started to read the Radical Orthodox group. Currently James K.A. Smith's "Introducing Radical Orthodoxy" and Graham Ward's "Theology and Contemporary Crticial Theory".

In Christ,
Blake Reas

J. B. Hood said...

wow, anyone who quotes Craig Bartholomew straight out of the gate is sure to get a return visit from this visitor...well done.

Timothy Goering said...

Hey, someone who reads Derrida and theology! Sounds good to me. Looking forward to reading more!

Danny said...

Hey, freue mich auf deine nächsten Posts.


Phil Sumpter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Sumpter said...

Hey, it's great to have some philosophical experts on here! Please feel free to correct me, guide me and deconstruct me on such issues. I have a lot to learn.

Blake - thanks for your thoughts. We're in agreement concerning the 'storied' nature of both disciplines (an ontology based on participation sounds juicy). Concerning Westphal, et al: I had an intellectual 'turn' while hanging out in Paris for a year in '03/4. I was a conservative Evangelical who had just finished a BA in Cultural Anthropology in department heavily influenced by postmodernism and feminism (I don't think you can ignore that kind of stuff when your job is to 'represent' other living cultures). Theologically I was constantly on the defensive and although I'm grateful to my faith for keeping me on the right path, I had a lot of questions. In Paris I hung about with a bunch of Christians obsessed with NT Wright and interested in postmodern philosophy. I read articles by Westphal, and books by Grenz, J. Smith and Bruce Ellis Benson. These approaches opened up a whole can of worms and yet they also helped me refocus my vision. I'm still trying to work out the implications of their work for my doctorate today. So, yes "Radical Orthodoxy" sounds like it'll be right up my street. I have books by the "Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar" aching to be read, which I think you would also find extremely interesting. What's your exact field, by the way?

Which brings me to Mr. Hood: glad to meet a like-minded enthusiast. You're from Aberdeen! Man, so much cool stuff seems to go on up there (such as the "Offence of Beauty" seminar). I adore Seitz, though I hear he's in Vancouver. I'm in Gloucestershire under G. McConville. I hope to hear more from you. What's your area?

Herr Goering - your blog is one of those blogs where I wish I could take a day off just to read all you've written (kinda like J. Hobbin's "Ancient Hebrew Poetry"). You live just down the road from me. Pop in for some Kölsch the next time you're in Bonn! Again, I hope that you will bless me with your superior knowledge in all things Foucaultian.

Phil Sumpter said...

Could someone decode this cryptic statement by Milbank. It's cited in Bartholomew (2000), looks tantalizingly relevant, but somehow won't let me fully grasp what he's on about:

"Hence there can be no reason/revelation duality: true reason anticipates revelation, while revelation is simply of true reason which must ceaselessly arrive, as an event, such that what Christ shows supremely is the world as really world, as creation" (in "Knowledge: The Theological Critique of Philosophy in Haman and Jacobi, 1999: 24).

Scott Roberts said...

I'm no expert on Milbank, but isn't what he is saying here implicit in John 1:1-3?

Phil Sumpter said...

Danke Danny.

Thanks Scott,

Good point, Jn. 1.1-3 is a similar kind of 'ontological' statement (along with Col.1.15; Rev.13.8). But then I find Jn.1.1-3 as mysterious as this statement. No doubt there are hundreds of articles written on the epistemological implications of these verses, I just haven't read 'em. Can you recommend any? I just don't get what the second two clauses mean: “ true reason anticipates revelation, while revelation is simply of true reason which must ceaselessly arrive, as an event”, and I don't get how they result in seeing Christ as the clue to all creation.

Anonymous said...

I do not have much of a field at the moment. I am mostly interested in Hebrew and Greek. I try to be some what eclectic :). I hope to get a Ph.D someday in New Testament, Old Testament, or Systematic Theology. What the hell, maybe all three.

Phil Sumpter said...

love's work (or Blake, what do you prefer?),

I highly recommend all three. In fact, I feel that the future usefulness of academic theology for the church lies in overcoming the intense specialization that's taken place over the past 200 years. Although I'm in OT, I'm interested in 'theological exegesis', which means I can't ignore the NT or Systematics. In fact, I hope to be able to integrate all three legitimately into my doctorate. I find B.S. Childs extremely helpful (though challenging) in this respect. A new book by the name of "Metaphysics and the God of Israel" also looks particularly interesting.