Sunday, April 01, 2007

revisiting James Smith

A while ago I posted about a book called Who's Afraid of Postmodernism and I had a favourable enough review of it to assign it for my Canadian Youth Culture class at Tyndale. My hope was that the next generation of Christian leaders who specialize in youth ministry will have enough integrity to know post modern philosophy before they go and try to create ministry within 'po-mo' culture. We will see at the end of the semester how successful the students think that project has been.

After a reread of the final chapter in preparation for class tomorrow, I noticed that Smith was tackling Derrida/Caputo in a more sustained way than I had remembered. He offers a thorough going critique of Caputo's "religion without religion" idea. I bring this up because I'm kicking myself for not going to Philadelphia in a couple of weeks when Caputo speaks on this very topic at the Emergent Theological Conversation. To be fair, I think the conversation is more about justice than "religion without religion" but one of the assigned readings (which I just picked up) is Caputo's On Religion and Smith singles that book out as a "lucid and entertaining" exposition of Caputo's views.

Besides being interested in this because some of my friends in the Emergent conversation are, I'm interested in it because Smith locates part of his argument in a debate about culture, a current topic buzzing around my head because of the culture class. Derrida/Caputo are co-relationists in the tradition of Bultmann (using Heidegger's ontology) and Tillich (using existentialism). In the words of Graham Ward (another member of the Radical Orthodoxy posse) in his review of Caputo's The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, "now the transcendental horizon does not open within the human condition (the existential hermeneutics
of Dasein), rather the transcendental idealism is opened and kept open by the semiotic (social and literary)." Smith goes on to critique Emergent folks (although he is not overly specific like he is when he critiques D.A. Carson) that they too are co-relationists when they follow the path blazed by Bultmann, Tillich, and Derrida/Caputo.

Radical Orthodoxy cleaves more closely to Barth's understanding of radical revelation, an understanding that I have an emotive connection to but one that doesn't play out well necessarily in the practica of ministry. At least not yet.

I guess I may need to reconsider whether I can go to Philadelphia or not so that I can ask Caputo himself what he makes of Smith's critique.

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