Monday, 10 September 2007

Programmatic Statement No.# 2 (Amos 5)


A result of Derrida's deconstruction is the radicalization of the the Christian dictum that theology is “faith seeking knowledge” so that it applies to all intellectual endeavour. As members of interpretive communities we are forever caught up in the interconnected webs of significance which these communities have spun. Truth is relational, and as such we must constantly take account of our neighbours when claiming to speak of the truth. If that is true for the 'others' in our world who are our neighbours, then how much more the Other who is our maker and redeemer. The modernist dream of unmediated access to truth is a lie, so that even those who believe in their own objectivity will have to give account to the One who judges all our thoughts.

This brings us back to the ancient wisdom of the sages: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1.7a). The question of whether this statement is theological (LORD) or philosophical (knowledge) misses the point that all thinking about a world that matters is subject to the judgement of God.

It is thus appropriate that the words of Karl Barth's variation on Amos 5.21-23 should accompany us as we start our journey (see comments for German original):

“I hate, I despise your lectures and seminars, your sermons, papers and retreats. For when you display your hermeneutical, dogmatic, ethical and pastoral wisdom before one another and before me – these offerings of yours I will not accept, this offering of your fattened calves I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise which is made by you old people with your thick books and you young people with your dissertations!” (Verabschiedsvorlesung WS 1961/62)

10 comments:

Phil Sumpter said...

"Ich hasse, ich verschmähe eure Vorlesungen und Seminare, eure Predigten, Vorträge und Freizeiten. Denn wenn ihr da eure hermeneutischen, dogmatischen, ethischen und pastoralen Weisheiten voreinander und vor mir ausbreitet - an diesen euren Opfern habe ich kein Gefallen, und das Opfer dieser eurer Mastkälber sehe ich nicht an. Hinweg von mir das Geplärre, das ihr Alten mit euren dicken Büchern und ihr Jungen schon mit euren Dissertationen veranstaltet!"

Rob said...

Hey, I found your blog through Chris Tilling. Keep up the great blogging! God bless. =D

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks Rob. Little comments like that make my day.

Jon Bartlett said...

Hi Philip,

Good to see you entering the blogsphere. I may just comment here and there.....

Cheers, Jon

Scott Roberts said...

As it happens, I just finished John Caputo's On Religion, who makes a similar use of this Amos reference. And I think it is a mistake. God is Love AND God is Logos. Love and reason are both paths to God, and I think it is misleading to elevate one at the expense of the other.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Jon, just about every book I want to read is on your shelf, so your comments will be much appreciated!

Scott, I'm not sure Caputo's using Amos the way I intend to here, though I haven't read him. Does he argue that grounding truth in reason alone is a form of conceptual idolatry, so that such 'offerings' are repugnant to God? That may well be right, but I quoted Barth on Amos to highlight the ethical dimension in all human knowledge production, including theology. We can't 'wash our hands' and say, “I was just dealing with the facts”. All our truth statements have, for example, political and social implications due to the fact that it is communities that help us to know in the first place. God being the God he is, that matters and so fear and trembling are appropriate to all study. My Programmatic Statement No. # 1 was intended to claim that knowledge is socially constructed, my Programmatic Statement No. # 2 was meant to show the practical implications of that, interpreted theologically.

Does that make sense (I ask myself nervously)?

As for God: God as love is fine, though I've never heard God described as logos. Just Jesus, but as one member of the Trinity I thought that had something to do with his creative role in relation to the Father then a description of God per se. Though I'm out of my depth here. Feel fry to correct me!

Scott Roberts said...

Phil,

(Consider this also a response in the #1 thread). I think, and I think this is what Milbank thinks but don't trust me on that, is that Barth, and pretty much all modern intellectuals, have, by treating reason solely in epistemological terms, ceased thinking of it in ontological, and hence, spiritual terms. This was not the case until nominalism came to dominate modern thinking, starting in the 14th century. Contrast this with Eckhart, who put intellectus higher than being, or Aquinas who referred to natural objects as being "between two intellects". So here are a couple of voices for whom describing God as logos was not unusual. A more recent voice was Coleridge. Whether one wants to distinguish Logos as Jesus versus Logos as God, doesn't seem to me to make any practical difference.

Knowledge, for us fallen beings, is, as you say, largely a social construction, but it is reason that tells us that, and it is reason that allows us to -- not come up with some absolute propositional answers, but encourages us to keep our relative answers in relative perspective, precisely because we know we are fallen. However, I would say that there is an absolute in all this, and that is reason itself as a creative power, as long as one bears in mind that our fallible human reason (which we can exercise in the absence of love) is not God's (which cannot be). So I am agreeing with you with respect to the cautionary tone as to the practical effects (what our reason produces may well be wrong, socially constructed, etc.), but another practical effect is that just by going through the exercise, we are doing spiritual work.

Phil Sumpter said...

Wow, blogging is already paying dividends! Thanks for your thoughts Scott, you've just introduced a whole bunch of helpful distinctions which I shall chew upon as I try and get my head around these issues. Reason as something which envelopes both “how I know something” and “what I know” is interesting, I need to think about that. The absolute that reason is creative power is intriguing. I think my problem at this stage is that for me the concept of 'reason' is so abstract that I find it hard to conceptualize, so that imagining that reason is part of the structure of things and is also a power which opens these things up to me takes effort. But it's effort that's worth it, for as you say it's also spiritual work. Your last statement helps put my Barth quote in perspective: we'll be held accountable for what we do with the Bible, but the Bible's of such significance that we must engage with it anyway. Please keep contributing!

dave b said...

Hi Phil, love the posts and the discussions so far--keep it up! From what I see so far, it seems we have a lot in common (love the reference to Bartholomew in the last post by the way) and I will be sure to stop in from time to time.

Phil Sumpter said...

Based on comments elsewhere, I should point out that the implications of my Barth quote were not intended to disadvise the study of academic theology! The academy needs people who take this 'on your knees' approach to study. It's a call for renewal, not rejection.