Sunday, September 14, 2014

The 10 Books that Have "Stayed With Me"

I can't resist participating in this recent Facebook meme, so here are ten books that have stayed with me over the years and have changed me in significant ways. One thing you'll notice is that there is a lack of fiction in my list. Unfortunately, while I read many works of classic literature in high school (quite a bit of Dickins, Tolkien, and Hemmingway, although my favorite was Moby Dick and I loved most of Chuck Palauniuk's novels), I have read very little fiction since. I hope to return to it in the future, but philosophy and theology have dominated my thinking for the last 20 years. The books are roughly in chronological order

1.     C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: My parents read this series to me when I was very young and, while I loved the story and characters, it was the theology that I was most struck by. Lewis' inclusivism and atonement theory pushed me to rethink my inherited conservative evangelicalism.
2.     Clark Pinnock, The Openness of God: My first serious theology book, which I encountered at 15. Pinnock's open theism rescued me from my view of God as a timeless, Unmoved Mover and prepared me for process theology in college. 
3.   Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: A classic text that gave me new language and concepts for sin, evil, and violence.
4.     Philip Clayton, Adventures in the Spirit: The reason I went to graduate school and became deeply interested in science, religion and process thought. Clayton continues to be a significant influence on my thinking
5.     Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: This is Moltmann at his best, in my opinion, and through it I became interested in ecological and political theology.  
6.     John Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology: Convinced me to take process philosophy seriously and that Cobb belongs on the short list of all-time greatest Christian theologians.
7.   Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: The first genuinely difficult philosophical text that I ever read. But Whitehead made great sense to me, and still does. His relational cosmology and theopoetic divinity have profoundly shaped me.
8.     Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: Finally, a woman on my list! Johnson forever changed the way that I think and talk about God. I had encountered other feminist theology before, but this one clicked with me.
9.     John Caputo, The Weakness of God: Not my first introduction to Derrida and deconstruction, but this is where it all started to make a bit of sense to me. In many ways, Caputo is like a postmodern Paul Tillich, although he writes like nobody - playful, funny, insightful, and challenging.
10. Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: This brilliant, deeply poetic text is the one that ultimately lured me to Drew for doctoral work with her. Keller's thinking weaves together so many of the important strands of theology that I was impacted by earlier on.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Faber's Critique of Caputo: Give Metaphysics Another Chance!

While reading through a few sections of Roland Faber's recently published book, The Divine Manifold, I came across an important section on pages 498-504. The section is titled "Gift and Theft" and is Faber's sympathetic but very serious critique of John Caputo's Derridean "theology of the event" (specifically as he articulates this in The Weakness of God). There is much to consider in these pages, but I wanted to share a few passages that I found provocative. For those who are unfamiliar with Faber, he is a professor of philosophy and theology at Claremont and has been a pioneer in bringing post-structuralism and Whiteheadian process thought together, along with developing a unique form of process theopoetics. He was also one of my professors during my masters program at CST. His brand new book (which checks in at almost 600 pages, including bibliography and index) has been praised by Clayton Crockett as "an extraordinary achievement" due to its impressive readings of Whitehead and Deleuze, while my current professor Robert Corrington even suggested to me that it just might be a new Process and Reality for the 21st century (perhaps).

Faber begins this section with a close reading of Caputo's Weakness and outlines its basic argument that "God" names an event, a "weak force," rather than an entity or Being. Caputo is, as is well-known, totally opposed to metaphysics and, as such, his theopoetics is "phenomenological, not metaphysical" (Weakness, 123). Although Faber notes that Caputo is "as close to my own project...as possible without sharing background and philosophical leanings...his reading of the philosophical and theological traditions through the lens of a 'hermeneutical phenomenological reduction' hinders [him] from engaging Whitehead and Deleuze, which he accuses of that which must be avoided at all costs - metaphysics. Hence, his 'theology of the event' not only cut itself off from a certain connectivity that would help to justify many of its phenomenological claims, which in themselves often seem unwarranted, but from a hermeneutics of intermezzo that would allow its poetics to situate itself within an eco-chaosmos. Since Caputo identifies metaphysics with the forces that hinder the kingdom to come, his seemingly innocent phenomenological reduction has already lost, or a priori excluded, the feeling and thinking of a chaosmos and its eco-bodying relevent beyond our individual human phenomenological 'presence'...In its radical 'phenomenological reduction' of the 'name of God' into 'the structure of the event' and 'the world' into the 'forces that conspire to prevent the event' (13), this 'theology of the event' is in danger of involuntarily repeating a Manichaean dualism...it forces us to choose between the event and things, God and the world, evil and the kingdom. Its 'hyper-event' of salvation replaces the world."(Manifold, 500-501).

The critique is obviously rather complex and to get at the details of Faber's argument with Caputo, one would need to read more than what I've quoted above. But hopefully this provides a glimpse into an important discussion that I think is worth considering. I am inclined to agree with Faber as I continue to find Caputo's dismissal of all metaphysics to be a bit too quick. As Faber concludes, perhaps "Caputo would need to think the possibility of the impossible in terms of a metaphysics of multiplicity" (503) as in the thought of both Whitehead and Deleuze.