every so often i look at the pile of books i have been sent and think i must review them for the blog. occasionally i actually buy a book!
by far the most stimulating book i have read on mission in postmodern times for quite some time is john caputo's what would jesus deconstruct? and yes, i paid good money for it...
there are a couple of things that struck me about the book. the first is that he knows what he is talking about. i don't mean this flippantly. it made me think that this book is the result of years of work - it has a mature feel about it, which isn't the case with all the books around in this area. it made me think that if i were to try and write a weighty kind of book i should wait at least another 10 years!! (by the way i'm not so don't worry). the second is that it is so refreshing to have such a positive engagement with postmodern theory. so many people are so suspicious and critical of it and i suspect a lot of those people haven't even read the likes of derrida but tend to just refer to the well known soundbites (and yes that is exactly what i do too!). third it made me realise how influential caputo (and derrida?) is on pete rollins!
the book is part of series, the church and postmodern culture, published by baker academic and edited by jamie smith. the aim of the series is to feature high profile theorists in philosophy and theology but getting them to write for a non-specialist broad audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church. this book does that perfectly - it has real weight and depth but is very readable, in fact delightful to read, and is accessible whlst not being too dumbed down. the first book in the series also did this very well.
the crux of caputo's argument is that deconstruction is the hermeneutics of the kingdom of god, i.e it helps us get at the prophetic spirit of jesus. invariably jesus radical vision of the kingdom of god gets domesticated by the church, by us, by politicians, by leaders. after all which of us can cope with the sermon on the mount really? but encountering jesus in the scriptures invariably calls us to a vision beyond what we have - i.e. it deconstructs in order to pursue the vision of the kingdom which is bigger and more radical. jamie smith suggests in his intro
the church doesn't need jacques derrida in order to be deconstructed because it's got jesus!
caputo kicks off by playfully engaging with the book in his steps from which the question (and bumper stickers) wwjd - what would jesus do? emerged. he does suggest that the first thing jesus would deconstruct is WWJD itself, the whole money making enterprise! but the interesting stuff is when he gets into jesus and deconstruction. i don't know what you know or think about deconstruction but here are a few samples of the choice ways in which caputo talks about it and its themes...
deconstruction is a theory of truth in which truth spells trouble. as jesus does. the truth will make you free but it does so by turnng your life upside down.
deconstruction is memory... it helps us sketch a portrait of an alternative Christianity, one that is as ancient as it is new, one in which the dangerous memory of Jesus is still alive, deconstruction being as i conceive it a work of memory and imagination, of dangerous memories as well as daring ways to imagine the future, and as such good news for the church.
among the many names under which deconstruction travels I number justice, the gift, forgiveness, hospitality as the most important of our present purposes.
he weaves elaborately with words so it's quite hard to just pull out quotes, but it gives a flavour. the church is always going to be deconstructed because it is a construct and the kingdom of god beckons us to move beyond it, to remake it where we have domesticated jesus and his message. caputo doesn't quite say this but the current shifts around emerging church and so on at best are part of this beckoning to recover truth and the dangerous memory of jesus (i hope).
one further thing to mention that i love and need to mull over a bit more is the way caputo describes the scriptures. he wants to get away from systematics or dogmatics as a way of reading. so he suggests that the new testament is an archive, a deposit of memories, which presents a certain way to be. this is a "poetics of the kingdom" which then calls us to translate it into reality. i think this is a very rich way of thinking about how scriptures can function as a fund for imagination (to use a brueggemann phrase). and to give caputo credit he does (as becky garrison described it to me recently) land the plane - i.e. he tackles directly some issues head on - abortion, homosexuality, racism and power so this does get earthed. it won't surprise you to know that the christian right in the US are not going to like this book!!! but it is an absolute gem, deilghtful, as the subtitle of the book says - the good news of postmodernism for the church.
if you are really keen and can cope with long blog posts (something i confess i'm not good at - somehow the internet doesn't suit as a medium long pieces or maybe i don't have enough time or attention?) churchandpomo had a whole series of engagements with the book including a very long response from caputo -
btw these are the other books on my pile that i hope to review/mention in the next few weeks/months -
the primal vision - john taylor
mission in the 21st century: exploring the 5 marks of mission - cathy ross et al
the fidelity of betrayal - pete rollins
the new conspirators - tom sine
ancient future worship - webber
a christlike ministry - steve griffiths
mission shaped questions - steve croft et al
a whack on the side of the head 25th anniversary edition - roger von oech
the new spirituality - gordon lynch
a community called atonement - mcknight
enough - john naish
exilio - mike frost's missional course based on exiles
and i think tony jones new christians is on its way...