I’m in no way an expert on this field (radical theology). I’ve only just recently been exposed to its existence (thanks, Homebrewed Christianity!), and I’m not sure I fully understand it myself. All the same, let me try to explain what I’m encountering as I read through John Caputo’s book The Weakness of God.
Radical theology is a movement in theological academia associated closely with continental and postmodern philosophy. Radical theologians (such as the aforementioned Caputo and Peter Rollins) draw heavily from philosophical traditions such as deconstruction and apply them to current institutions within theology (in Caputo’s case, the idea that God is an overwhelming and metaphysical force that directly affects creation), while articulating new ways of understanding what postmodern philosophers like Jacques Derrida call “manifestations of the undeconstructable.” For Caputo, God is not an omnipotent being who directly impacts creation, but rather a “weak force” that is invoked in the very name of God, acting through beckoning and calling humanity to a better way of living.
No doubt my more conservative readers will attempt to apply a very systematic critique to Caputo’s thought (as I tend to as I’m reading his book), but before they do, I need to point out one of the hallmarks of radical theology, and that is a summary rejection of all metaphysics. For men like Caputo and other postmodern philosophers and theologians, metaphysics are completely deconstructible, not articulating actual aspects of the character and nature of God, but only betraying ones own presuppositions about God. Because of this, systematic attempts to explain God really carry no merit to a radical theologian, as they’re only articulations of an institutions own bias (Peter Rollins demonstrates this in many of his writings, most recently his book The Idolatry of God, which I haven’t read yet).
Instead, what many radical theologians prefer to use is theopoetics, which is a more poetic attempt to articulate one’s experience of the manifestation of the undeconstructible. From what I can tell, the event of “God” is not deconstructible because it is something that does indeed occur; what is deconstrucible is the name attached to those events. Radical theologians (and other postmodern theologians associated with theopoetics) keep this understanding when they listen to theopoetic dialogue, making for a more fluent tradition in the way that human beings understand God.
I’m intrigued by this movement for two reasons:
- For its critiques of the existing church, particularly its accusations of idolatry. I’ve probably talked about making God in my image on here before (though I can’t remember when), and that’s what I’m primarily drawing from this movement (more so Rollins than Caputo). Christians are apt to make God conform to their image, their ideas, and their prejudices, and radical theology is quick to call them out.
- The idea of God as a name for an event is rather intriguing to me. I’m a pretty dyed-in-the-wool evangelical; God is trinitarian, Jesus is fully God and fully man, etc., but Caputo is articulating aspects of God often left ignored in evangelical circles. We like to think of God as all-powerful, all knowing, and everywhere at once, and when He’s there (we also still feel the need to assign God a gender), it’s powerful. What’s become apparent to me even prior to picking up Caputo’s book is how often God operates in silence and secret, seductively (yay, alliteration!) beckoning us to God’s love and beauty. True to his tradition, Caputo is very poetic in his descriptions of the event occuring in God.
You’re welcome to make critiques and objections to this thinking, but do remember that this is a 600-word blog post describing a movement in theology, not an original treatise defending it. To get the full articulation, go buy Caputo’s book.
Anyway, see you guys Friday!