Before I get into this particular post, it seems that a couple of posts I wrote went astray, not sure what happened, they seem to have disappeared completely, so my lack of posting this past week was not intentional--and they were really, really good posts, haha!!!
Anyway, back to this post, which I will post immediately after writing it to avoid whatever issue took the last one. I teach at a fairly conservative evangelical theological seminary, and I don't think I would be too far off base to suggest that my particular theological positions, such as they are, are not the norm by any stretch of the imagination, but there are perhaps a surprising number of students who do not fit the imagined student constituency, and I manage, by nature of the kinds of classes I teach, to interact with many of them. I have been engaged in a long-term book reading group with a number of students over the years whose progressive and imaginative theologizing has surprised and informed my own again and again. That said, there are any number of students who are way more conservative and rigid than I and I get to interact with them as well. All of that means that my classes can be quite wild journeys--lots of back and forth, lots of provocations and occasional upsets.
My latest class is Theology and Culture, a broad syllabus looking at the relationship between theology and culture, followed by some cultural engagements, designed to introduce ideas about enagaging theologically with the world around us---something that comes as revelatory to some, but more often than not, is something that many of the students simply haven't been equipped for thus far.
I am interested in intersections, the places where any number of things meet, connect and diffuse, and the past couple of weeks we have been exploring the intersections of four things: theology, church, religion and christianity. Part of the process is examining where we are and what might have brought us to this place. With these four topics there is a lot of overlap which is why I clumped them together. yesterday we had a pretty lengthy conversation about religion versus spirituality (cue eye-rolling? yes, but I actually think it is an under-evaluated continuum in terms of exegeting where people are at and going--lots of simplistic interpretations--like most things today it is complex), and we wound up discussing that viral video of the spoken word about hating religion and loving Jesus. There were any number of reactions in the room, ranging from non-plussed to excited. I have to admit that it was my responses that elicited the most reaction. I said that while I could acknowledge the frustratons and legitimate concerns voiced in the video, my real issue was that he had not broken free of his own conceptual horizons and the latter part of the video collapsed for me into a typical understanding of the cross/jesus/sin/god/etc. and that it wasn't religion per se that was his problem, it was his theological grid. This of course, led to discussions about the work of Jesus on the cross--the place of sin/forgiveness etc.
As you may know, I'm a bit of a death-of-god type, so for me the cross means something other than what it might mean for someone else. The conversation didnt get heated at all--it was just surprising to me, no it wasn't, it was affirming once again, that the real work that needs to be done is on the theological--we spend an inordinate amount of time examining forms--what works what doesn't--but theology? It's secondary, even tertiary at times it seems, when it comes to really thinking through that state of things.
It seems to me that we are witnessing the disintegration of the concept of religion in the West, and it is morphing and transforming beneath our feet. The response I think is stronger theological self-definition, a rigorous examination of all aspects of our 'believing' and the avoidance of what Graham Ward names as fetishization--which can only be accomplished by some serious theological reflection and reaction I think. The problem for me with that viral video is that he is unplugging from the wrong thing, or maybe only unplugging from half of the story--it's not just the structures of religion in and of themselves, its the god of those structures-what Bonhoeffer called deus ex machina. Our viral poet still seems lowering that god down into world and until that changes...