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The End of Critique

There seems to be no end of critique in the theological blogosphere. From criticism of worship (screeds usually, of contemporary worship from traditional worship lovers, AND complaints that traditional worship is irrelevant from modern worship advocates–both of which miss too many points) to negative assessments of millennials and how they will be the downfall of us all (or alternatively, how the boomers ruined everything and the millennials and paying the price), critique is everywhere. Dig deeper in the academic side of the blogosphere and you can find more. Critiques of political theological perspectives, such as on topics concerning religious freedom (think Hobby Lobby), marriage, and more are often intellectual grenades lobed into a room while the writer walks away. Granted, there is some interaction in the “comments.” But seriously, who actually has to look anyone in the eye anymore to have a conversation? Who ever has to know the deep-seated position from which one is trying to argue his or her point? Getting to know another, especially if it’s a perspective that is disagreeable does not seem to matter all that much. What matters is making a statement and getting some attention. And then perhaps getting a following, getting your statement shared on Facebook, Twitter, and beyond. There is no end to critique.

But what about an end to critique? I’m not, in saying such a thing, calling for an end to critique. Hear me clearly. I’m concerned rather, about the telos of critique–the point, the purpose, the goal of it all. Criticism is good, as far as it goes. But often criticism simply ends at criticism. It seems fairly easy to see what’s wrong with the world. But not particularly easy to see what’s possible after critique. De(con)struction seems to be a fairly easy task to accomplish. But what about imagining the possibility of something new in the place of whatever has just been blown up? Thus, concerning the telos of critique, I’m essentially asking, what’s the point if something cannot rise from the ashes of what has been taken apart. And that something is not going to arise on it’s own. It needs to be suggested, evoked, imagined, provoked, made possible by the positive creative energies of those who have such abundant energy to criticize. For inevitably, criticism itself arises from the perspective that there must be something better, that the situation which is being evaluated negatively is not measuring up to the more ideal situation which is known or imagined to be possible. And this is especially the case in the theological conversation, since it is inherently eschatological, waiting for a “not yet” that is to come that manifests in glimpses in the here and now.

So where are the poetic imaginations that ought to be part and parcel of critique? Where are the alternative narratives of what could be, especially if what is is what should not be? Where are the images, the pictures, the symbols, the maps, the stories, the hopeful dreams, the idealizations, and, even more, trust in the eternal God to bring about through his chosen instruments works of greater things than this? Granted, let’s not get utopic. But let us also not allow mere criticism to be an end in itself. For critique inherently assumes a standard of something better. The end of critique then ought to include imagination and the concrete suggestion of possibilities for arriving there.

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While my activity here has slowed to a crawl, I’ve been busy with my coordination at the Church and Postmodern Culture blog this summer. We ran a Book Symposium on Bruce Ellis Benson’s Liturgy As A Way of Life, which I highly recommend. And just today, I posted some reflections on Vocation and Cultural Capital. So head on over there for some interesting reads. Various other contributions are worth your time as well, including a review from a few weeks back of James K. A. Smith’s incredible book Imagining the Kingdom. And look for an exciting guest post on Kierkegaard and Preaching coming up soon! All over at churchandpomo.

Here’s a link to my post again on Vocation and Cultural Capital: http://bit.ly/150BAW2

Thanks for reading.

A Return

I used to be an atheist. For part of my life I doubted God’s existence.

Every now and again, when I haven’t seen someone around for a while and I start to miss them not knowing where they’ve gone off to, the next time I see them, I might jokingly tell them I was beginning to doubt their existence. Perhaps, if I have any readers left, you were feeling the same–doubting my existence. I made a promise last April to get back to this blog that I didn’t keep. Sorry. Things happened. Big things.

I got a new job. I now serve as Assistant Professor of Theology at Concordia University, Portland, OR. In order to accommodate performing the duties of this job, I had to move. So pretty much as soon as I wrote that last post…it was over. I was suddenly overcome with things to do to get ready to be here. Then, not long after arriving, my wife and I had our first child. Our daughter came 1 week before I began teaching my first term. Additionally, I finished my doctoral dissertation just before the holidays.

So, sorry about not writing. But some important things took me away from here for a while. I’m hoping to truly get back to it. And I’ve got some things brewing.

Mostly, I’m hoping to share some of the material I use in my classes. I’m reflecting with my students on some current books that deal with religion in America, as well as on the topic of how Christianity and culture shape (and counter-shape) each other. Some challenging stuff that has emerged from my teaching is a little bit of cultural exegesis. I’m glad to share it, not only because I find it interesting, but also cuz it’s kinda fun.

Additionally, I’ve still been active in coordinating the Church and Postmodern Culture blog. I’ll be posting there as well, and things are kicking back up over there now that the holidays are over and all of the contributors are back to the grind. So if you’re interested in that sort of thing, check it out.

Beginning Again

It’s been more than a year since I’ve offered any sort of substantial post here. Today is no different, but that’s because I’ve offered something more substantial over at The Church and Postmodern Culture blog. I’ve been thinking about the use of social media lately, for various reasons (I’ll post something here on the topic soon), so I wrote something over there that engages a stream of thought within postmodern philosophy that helps me think about “What Facebook Makes Us.”

My intent is to slowly become more active here. While I’m still doing edits on my dissertation, I’m also teaching as an adjunct at Concordia Seminary, so things are busy enough. To add yet more to work on, I’ve officially accepted a Call to be Assistant Professor of Theology at Concordia University in Portland, OR. We’ll be moving out there in June and all the preparations for that have brought plenty of additional things to do.

In light of being involved in a job search for more than the past year, I’ve kept my distance from blogging and other social media outlets on the advice of other academics I know who participate in faculty search committees. Apparently some committees are sharp enough to investigate potential candidates’ social media presence. While I didn’t take the site down during my job hunt, I didn’t write much new either.

All the changes in life are exciting. Moving to the Pacific Northwest should be fantastic–my initial visit was phenomenal. Getting back into blogging will be fun. I’ve got a handful of drafted things sitting on my hard drive. So you can expect some more activity here. My next post will be slides from a presentation I made a while back on Using Social Media for Evangelism.

I haven’t posted much here in the past year. Maybe once every 2 or 3 months. That’s because I’m trying to be diligent at finishing my doctoral dissertation by December. In the meantime, I’ve been asked to help coordinate the Church and Postmodern Culture Conversation, now hosted over @theotherjournal. I’m excited and privileged to work with James K. A. Smith (editor of Baker’s book series of the same name) and the long-time coordinator of the site, Geoff Holsclaw. The site just went up this week, and things look great. There’s an exciting lineup of posts over the next couple of months. I’ll have some things to offer there, and I’ll be sure to alert you here about when those are happening. In the meantime, consider creating a bookmark to churchandpomo or adding it to your RSS feed.

On Being Wrong

I’ve written a good amount here about the provisionality of knowledge, a key assumption of post- or non-foundationalism. Check out this video by Kathryn Schulz, entitled “On Being Wrong.” It’s gold.

End of the Hiatus?

The wait is over, at least for one more post. My apologies for those who may have thought I’ve fallen off the planet, or gave up on the blog, or abandoned the series on Truth and foundationalisms. None of those things has happened. I’ve simply been busy teaching courses this summer, writing curriculum for one of them, and then writing and traveling to present conference papers. All of that was a great adventure, but now I’m staying put for a while. And I’ve been thinking about the next post in the series for a bit. Forgive me for the long wait. I can’t predict how often I’ll write, but I hope it won’t be another 4 months until the next one!

Here is a radio program from Australian National Radio that discusses the divide between Continental and Analytical Philoosophy. Well, it actually spends most of the time discussing Continental Philosophy.

Since I recently delivered a paper at a conference on Continental Philosophy of Religion, people have been asking me what Continental Philosophy is. I’ve done the best I can to answer, but it’s certainly hard to explain when people don’t encounter much Continental Philosophy. I usually try to compare it to Analytical Philosophy. In the States, most of us run into Analytical Philosophy regularly. It’s that kind of philosophy that is abstract and sounds a great deal like a type of scientific argumentation. I’f you’re interested in knowing a little better about what is happening in Continental Philosophy, check out this program from the beginning of July. You can download the audio or a transcript (but the transcript has some typos in it, sometimes on key words).

The Philosophers Zone, ABC Radio

A break

Sorry about the lack of posts. I’ve been helping my brother move – he lives in TN. I have also been coordinating a move for my boss, Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto. The Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life will no longer be located on the campus of Concordia Seminary. The economy is hurting everyone these days. We’re hopeful however that some of our future plans will be taken up again at the Center’s new location in Irvine, CA.

I’ve also been preparing to depart for the UK where I will be delivering a paper. See the conference website here. My paper is entitled “Challenging the Cultural Imaginary: Josef Pieper on How Life Might Live.” I will probably have a post or two about the conference, the experience, and more on the topic of the paper itself when I return – so probably no posts until the first week of July.

Blessings on your summer.

Worth a Look

  • This Friday, I’m travelling to Chicago with another PhD student to hear a public lecture by Charles Taylor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. In anticipation for the lecture, I’ve been reading his book A Secular Age again. (I’ve read parts of it before…it’s huge…he is an amazing thinker)
  • Davey Henreckson has an interesting post over at Theopolitical on economic politics, favoring localism over globalism. It’s worth a look just to see a different take on the idea of globalism, which can be construed in various ways.