Thought for the Day: Paul Griffiths on Intellectual Appetite

I have just made a start on Paul Griffith's Intellectual Appetite: A Theological Grammar (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2009). It contains this pithy little summary of why the academic (by which I mean disciplined and appropriately critical) study of theology is necessary:

" … the extent to which any particular account … seems obviously or uncontroversially true to you is exactly the extent to which you have not thought about it." (p.3)

Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth

This is the title of a recent little book by John Franke who teaches at the Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. As someone who has argued for a similar construal of the nature of biblical interpretation, I was interested to read Franke's theological defense of notions of plurality. The book is easy to read, and Franke is a good theologian. I guess, however, that it is written to help those whose own cultural or ecclesial location already tilts them in the directions that he lays out. My own experience in speaking about interpretative pluralism among Baptists in the UK suggested that for many people, there needs to be a much more extensive and rigorous demonstration of why many of the inherited and assumed epistemological models are problematic. (Incidentally, it is his concern to do this kind of ground clearing work that makes Douglas Campbell's book on Justification Theory in Paul 200 pages longer than it might have been – and all the better for it). Franke's book therefore provides a starting point – but the questions raised here require deeper levels of engagement with the tradition, the traditional views of truth, and with the contemporary implications for ecclesial life, biblical interpretation and theological method than we find here.

Here is an excerpt from Franke's conclusion:

'Plurality in the Christian community is not a problem to be overcome but is instead the very intention and blessing of God who invites all people to participate in the liberating and reconciling ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. the plurality of the church constitutes the manifold witness to the plurality of truth lived out in the eternal life of God, made known in the revelation of the Word of God, and exemplified in the pages of Scripture. We cannot bear this witness alone. we were never intensed to do so. we need each other. It cannot be otherwise.'

John R. Franke, Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth, Living Theology. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009. pp.136-137)

One might compare this view with that expressed in the quotation from Timothy Ward in his book on Scripture and God which I mention here. Mark Thompson also has a lengthy review of the book in which he argues for the kind of direct, unmediated form of divine revelation that Ward also endorses.

Getting My Attention: Carter on Race

Good books often have you hooked within a page or so.  Something novel, exciting, bold, imaginative, grabs the attention and whets your appetite for what follows.  I have just started J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account.  How about this as a discussion starter:

'My fundamental contention is that modernity's racial imagination has its genesis in the theological problem of Christianity's quest to sever itself from its Jewish roots.  This severance was carried out in two distinct but integrated steps.  First, Jews were cast as a race group in contrast to Western Christians, who with the important assistance of the discourses of Christian theology and philosophy, were also subtly and simultaneously case as a race group.  The Jews were the mirror in which the European and eventually the Euro-American Occident could religiously and thus racially conceive itself through the difference of Orientalism.  In this way, Western culture began to articulate itself as Christian culture (and vice-versa), but now – and this is the new moment – through the medium of a racial imagination.  Second, having racialized Jews as a people of the Orient and Judaism as a "religion" of the East, Jews were then deemed inferior to Christians of the Occident or the West.  Hence, the racial imagination (the first step) proved as well to be a racist imagination of white supremacy (the second step).  Within the gulf enacted between Christianity and the Jews, the racial, which proved to be a racist, imagination was forged.' (p.4)


Airport Reading

 Although I always have good intentions of reading theology when I am in airports, I usually end up with my head in a novel.  A recommendation, then, and a quotation.

The recommendation is Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men.  You may have seen the film, but if you have or haven’t then let this be your introduction to, in my view, the best living American novelist.  No Country is a chilling thriller, written in the pared down, stark but still beautiful prose that is McCarthy’s trademark.  His recent writing (cf. The Road) has become more explicitly apocalyptic and religious in force (in the sense that McCarthy’s work seems to me to be an attempt to articulate the consequences of God’s absence).  If you enjoy it then go back to All the Pretty Horses, which is the one that got me hooked.

The quotation comes from a couldn’t-be-more-different-if-it-tried novel, Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, or rather from the introduction to the edition I am reading by the writer John Burnside.  He is discussing the human desire to withdraw and escape from the demands of living in the contemporary world:

For may of us, the only sphere of authenticity is the personal; the public realm, the political and social, appears to have become corrupted beyond redemption. The desire to withdraw, to be quiet, to stake out some limited, controllable space, is widespread, and the longing for authenticity is presented, not as a profound spiritual need, but as a form of treatable neurosis … Most important of all is the way in which we have been persuaded that what we need/want is parephernalia, rather than a path; entertainment, rather than thought; tidiness, rather then order.

John Burnside, ‘Introduction’ to Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea (London: Vintage, 1999), ix.


I spent a part of this morning looking again through Micheal O'Siadhail's recent collection Globe (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2007).  O'Siadhail's poetry has long been a part of my thinking and reflection about the (cliche alert) meaning of life, etc..  I have never been into Jazz that much, but the use of Jazz as a metaphor for the fragility and responsibility of human life and relationships (from the personal to the global) is in O'Siadhail's hands, almost endlessly suggestive.  It is no surprise that he has been a strong influence  on a number of theologians (David Ford and Dan Hardy to name but two).  In Globe, I have found again poems that resonate with some of my thinking and writing about interpretation and pluralism and that draw on the Babel story.  This poem is from the climactic sequence 'Angel of Change'.

Never to forget the towering dreams
Of heaven-hankers before their time,
Brick for stone, for mortar, slime

So many offered for madcap schemes.
Over and over again some other fable
Of perfection: Let us make a name.

Another skyscraper and still the same.
Fall and fall all spires of Babel
To lovely confusions of our gabble.

Scattered abroad on the face of the earth
As slowly we relearn each other's worth,
Difference and sameness incommensurable.

In all our babble birds of a feather –
Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile,
Beetle knows beetle – Qui se ressemble

S'assemble – all over flock together,
Skeins of hope, gleich und gleich
Like to like, kind calls fellow –

Rui wa tomo o yobu in Tokyo.
Around our globe, a netted Reich,
Of random trust, cross-ties of civility,

Farflung jumbles 0f non-violent voices
Argue our intertwining choices
To weave one planet's fragile city.

Micheal O'Siadhail, Globe (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2007), 112.

Radical Gospel Library

This site contains a number of interesting looking articles, some of which are unpublished, by the likes of Cavanaugh, Ellul, Hauerwas, Milbank,Yoder, Mccarthy-Matzko.  This is the blurb:

The library contains radical and subversive writings by several
prominent Christian theologians.The work here reflects the alien nature
of following Christ, and being a people in exile, "living out of
control". These theologians are challenging the standard reading of the
bible and Christ presented in todays mainstream establishments. Their
writings are uncompromising and threatening to the cheap theology
characteristic of the North American Church.

If you are interested in radical, political theology (and even if you aren’t but think you ought to be) then go and take a browse.  H/T Ben Myers.

Sabbatical Purchases

I am taking this week off, with no more than a passing thought for those who are spending parts of the week retreating (fellow staff and students) or researching (hope its going OK Catriona).  So I have been out on the spend, the results being:

The Box Set of Karl Richter’s recordings of Bach (Matthew and John Passions; B Minor Mass; Christmas Oratorio and Magnificat).  This is a bargain on Amazon at the moment (£3.00 per CD)

Apple keyboard.  There have been some comment recently in the blogosphere about the relative merits or demerits of Apple kit.  But tell me, what would you rather use – a cheap, nasty Dell keyboard, each key of which requires depressionMb110_125 to the depth of about half an inch, or a chrome and white streamlined wonder of engineering; not only beautiful but functional beyond any reasonable expectation (full numeric keyboard; 2 USB ports; one key to expose the desktop; full control of ITunes etc etc etc)?

Oh yes, and books, but not theology.

John Stubbs’ highly praised biography of John Donne (hardback, local Oxfam bookshop for a few quid)

51f5dxdr63l_ss500_Edward Said’s lectures on musical performance and interpretation.