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Essay

Subverting the Norm

By March 6, 2013 7 Comments
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The recent conversations in our household, and among my group of friends, have surrounded around the Subverting the Norm conference. Have any of you heard of it? Many of my friends are either presenting or attending the conference. The question that Subverting the Norm seeks to address is Can Postmodern Theology Live in the Churches? It is a two-day event that brings pastors, theologians, philosophers, church practitioners, researchers in religion and all those interested in exploring the relationship between postmodern theologies and the church. Some of the questions the conference will consider include:

Can the actually existing churches speak meaningfully and persuasively to those who aren’t so sure about the supernatural or the magical or the metaphysical, which includes the fastest growing religious demographic in North America, the “nones,” those with no formal religious affiliation?

Can the church retain a viable role in a world where God is often viewed as a relic of the past, or as a grand Santa Claus in the sky, or perhaps even as a narcotic or neurosis that we’d do well to get rid of?

And if the churches are to be faithful to the revolutionary event that gave birth to Christianity, or if they are to recover their theological voice in a compelling and transformative way, is it possible to do so by listening to voices on the margins of the church, or outside of the church, including even those who might rightly pass for atheists? And perhaps more to the point, why are voices on the fringes of the church, or outside of the church, becoming more influential on church leaders and practitioners than the traditionally “orthodox” voices inside the churches?

With tracks related to ministry, liturgy, worship, preaching, community organizing, art and much more, all who are interested in the future of the church won’t want to miss it.

I’ve been connecting with a few presenters on Twitter. A new voice that I have discovered is Katherine Sarah Moody. Her work examines the relationship between continental philosophy, radical theology and lived religion, and in particular between emerging Christianity and the work of John D. Caputo, Slavoj Žižek, Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley. She’s great to follow on Twitter and highly suggest checking out her blog

Phil Snider is one of the leaders of this event and he is also another voice I have been connecting with on Twitter. I am currently reading his book Preaching After God: Derrida, Caputo, and the Language of Postmodern Homiletics. Have any of you read it? I’ve just started it, so I am not able to write my expansive thoughts but let me offer a quote from his book:

I contend that if we wish to employ persuasive and compelling theological rhetoric in our sermons, then we have to shift the ways we imagine (and talk) about God, especially in terms of God’s transcendence, activity, and agency. If the task of postmodern theology is the overcoming of metaphysic, so too is the task of postmodern homiletics. 

It’s my plea that we take postmodernism seriously and faithfully reflect on the intersection of ecclesiology and postmodern thinking and Reformed thinking. I am sometimes misunderstood by some sections of the church on this blog. Instead of offering judgment may I encourage us to engage postmodern thinking. Don’t just offer a condemnation of postmodern thought without a rigorous engagement; that’s exactly what I’m trying to do to in my personal studies, too. Why? Because the future (current reality) of the church is worth it!

I am particularly interested in the intersection of postmodern thinking and our Reformed tradition. I hope to focus in on this intersection in my personal studies. I am looking for writers and scholars who are focusing on this so if you know of anyone, please let me know who I should be reading in the comments section.Thank you!

Update (12:45 PM 3/6/13): This is an informative piece that Phil wrote for Patheos about Subverting the Norm

Jes Kast

The Reverend Jes Kast is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament and serves West End Collegiate Church as their Associate Pastor.

7 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Jes, some of the essays in Hauerwas's "With the Grain of the Universe" are particularly good, even if I don't always come out where he does. And, believe it or not, some of Newbigin's later stuff.

  • Hey Daniel, thank you for your suggestions. I'm a bit surprised about Newbigin. What pieces of his later stuff would you recommend?

  • Maybe some of Jamie Smith's early stuff? Before, you know, he went all RO an' all. He approaches p/m from a Reformed position.

  • Paul Janssen says:

    Go for one of the earlier understandings of the whole matter…..Heiko Miskotte's "When the Gods are Silent" (Als de goden zwijgen)

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Paul Janssen is most definitely right. That's the source, the fountain, one of the great books, When the Gods Are Silent, by K H Miskotte, of Amsterdam, perhaps the greatest theological mind of the Dutch Reformed Church in Amsterdam in the Twentieth Century. There is a cult classic movie, The Fourth Man, by the director Rene Verhoeven (he of Robocop) which relates to this book. It is off-putting to some, because of its use of sex and homosexuality and gory death as religious images (a masturbation scene as an act of loving Jesus), but it explores visiually the life and world of the Fourth Man which Miskotte writes about, and to which, he claims, the Old Testament speaks the Gospel. Yes, the Old Testament speaks the Gospel. He does this by his use of great Jewish theologians. A book like no other. As for Newbigin, who always surprises, who is not a systematic theologian but a visionary and a creative critic, who has deep appreciation and understanding of other religions, and who, I discovered upon my own reading of him, is severely misrepresented by many evangelicals who appeal to him, let me recommend his last little book, only a 100 pages, called "Proper Confidence" which is on faith, doubt, uncertainty, and discipleship.

  • Josh Bode says:

    I too am trying to keep up with those subverting the norm people some. Can't make it to the conference though. His Whiteheadedness notwithstanding, I've been appreciating Tripp Fuller's podcasts. A couple books with some strong essays I'd recommend are like "God, the Gift, and Postmodernism" and "Questioning God." I think Caputo edited those. Also if you're reading Badiou there's two similar books on Paul by Jacob Taubes ("Political Theology of Paul") and Giorgio Agamben ("The Time That Remains"). I have this pet thesis that Derrida is useful to confessional Dutch Calvinists due to their shared hyper-kantianism– a term Derrida uses to describe himself in some essay in that Questioning God book I think.

  • Thank you for all your thoughtful suggestions!

    Josh, I too value Tripp Fuller's podcasts.

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