Skip to content

Doing Theology with/as Caiaphas

Its hard to find a more scandalizing bunch of people than theologians, and not in the good way. One would think that among a guild of professionals dedicated to getting to know God as well as possible you’d see less infidelity, churlishness, affluence, and apathy towards injustice than in other professions. However this hardly seems to be the case. As I look at my own shelves of favorite theologians, I see at least a few adulterers, more than a couple of which were rather predatory towards the women they pursued. Likewise I’m hard pressed to find very many theologians who took the intentional practice of the Christian faith with much seriousness. Indeed, even going to church seems too much to ask from many theologians. Here a story comes to mind about how Jürgen Moltmann lies in a hammock every Sunday and thinks about ecclesiology — I don’t know if its true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I won’t even touch the degree to which most theologians do everything they can to avoid contact with, exposure to, or even having to see the poor.

Anyways, the question sometimes comes up — and Dan has pressed this question very well — as to how we can take this sorry lot seriously when they try to tell us about God. Somehow, pondering this question led me back to this particular story from the gospel of John which details the beginnings of the Jewish clerisy’s plot against Jesus:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death. (John 11:47-53)

It would be hard to imagine a person more opposed to the gospel of Jesus than Caiaphas and those plotting to put him to death. But what we see here is a sort of ironic twist in that the speech of Caiaphas ends up bearing witness to some aspect of the truth of Jesus’s mission.

This, I think, is what happens all the time in the work of theologians. Rebellious, untruthful, flawed, and even malicious people are seized by the Spirit in ways that bear witness to the truth of who God is. Certainly we should not resign ourselves to this state of affairs, but at the very least we may benefit from such a hermeneutic for reading theological works. Like Caiaphas, many theologians, including ourselves, often end up “not speaking on our own” when we say something true about God.

Another biblical account that seems to illustrate this may be the story of Baalam and his ass.

76 Comments

  1. Brian LePort wrote:

    So true. Good thought!

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Some theologians don’t disappoint in that way, but martyrdom is a high bar

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  3. Geoff wrote:

    Just lectured on that text in a gospel of John class…good point.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  4. Brad E. wrote:

    This is a great post. Working through historical classes and texts recently, it struck me that just about every major theologian until the Reformation was part of a religious order, celibate as a vow to God, who lived in community with others in daily practices like prayer, speaking the Psalms, silence, hospitality, and toiling the earth. It seems the ugliest legacy we’ve received from the Reformation (after rampant disunity…okay, and a lot more) is the notion that we can do theology outside of the life, faith, and practices of the Christian community.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    True, but I don’t want to romanticize the pre-Reformation church either. There was pretty rampant concubinage among priests for centuries among all sorts of other pretty awful abuses, sexual, economic and otherwise on the part of the clergy.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  6. Hill wrote:

    True, but you don’t really see many Thomas Aquinas like figures. Put otherwise… there are fewer theologians that one might also consider saints, according to the traditional Catholic understanding, at least ones in whom erudition and holiness were manifested in equally intense ways.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Do you mean there are fewer today? I don’t really think there were ever all that many at once at any time.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  8. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    This is exactly what we need — more criticism of theologians as a class! Awesome! May the churches ignore us all the more!

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  9. Hill wrote:

    Maybe if you weren’t such a hedonist, we could take you seriously.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  10. Aquinas was a scab. You know, like a union buster. Most of the other mendicants were. So, by my pro-labour standards, he’s a bastard too.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    There are fewer opportunities, and likely fewer. It’s just hard to imagine something like that happening. The possibility of pursuing theology at the highest level in the context of monastic discipline (or similarly radical vocation) seems virtually nonexistent. In someone like Aquinas, you have a person who was simultaneously a semi-public intellectual of the absolute highest order while also pursuing a life utterly devoted to spiritual discipline, etc. to the point of having visions, etc. Hard to find anyone like that in recent memory (although they may exist).

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  12. Hill wrote:

    I’m sympathetic to concerns regarding mendicant friars and the emergence of the profit economy.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  13. Hey Adam: isn’t it possible that churches ignore theologians because, in a way, theologians have ignored the church? Christian intellectuals are often guilty (I’m saying this as a self-identifying intellectual) of ignoring the deep gifts that come from the life of the church. If a theologian theologizes in a way divorced from the ongoing life of a real flesh-and-blood congregation or an ethicist pontificates out of a place disconnected from the oppression of the people, should they really be expected to care what the theologian or ethicist has to say?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  14. Halden, a serious question for you. Now, I’m not a Christian. Let’s say I’m a fellow traveler of sorts, like Sartre was with the French Communist Party, but certainly not in a Christian community (and I must admit I don’t really even know what that is outside of some woolly sense of communitarian quasi-attention to the “least of these”). Yet, the situation as I understand it in the Christian churches (and there is no “the Church” in this sense), is far from good. By the standards that to me are self-evidently good (equality, justice, peace, fraternity, a certain kind of creative freedom) the Christian churches fail on all counts, except for pockets here and there. Why, for those interested in theology, those interested in the highest within thought, Divine love, the redemption of all people, etc., why would they want to do that work amongst such a failure? Setting aside your moral condemnation of your favorite theologians (how do you know these things?!), what is it about the poor that somehow gets past that? I mean, I’m from the poor, we know how to fuck around and get in trouble. Poverty isn’t sanctity, even if there is a kind of holiness to it (but one that must not be fetishsized). I guess, my question really is, why should theologians listen to the Christian communities?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  15. What are those deep gifts? And can you differentiate them from the deep gifts one has from a dinner club or a book club or, if we’re going to pay lip service to progressive politics, a political action group (but probably not pro-gay, probably something having to do with a really far away problem)?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  16. Brad Johnson wrote:

    Do church leaders really have such a better track record as theologians? For every moral-failure of a theologian superstar, I would think there are dozens of upstandingly pious theologians — this would seem to hold true, as well, for church leadership.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  17. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    Exactly how “often”? Over half the time? The majority of theologians I know are dedicated church members. Those who aren’t have reasons that are almost always based in their theological convictions. And does the academic community somehow not count as a community? Where are these theologian jobs where you lock yourself in a room alone and pontificate without ever taking anyone else into account — because I’d love to appply!

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    Well, that depends on what we mean by theologian, I suppose. Certainly there’s no reason why all those who are in various ways interested in theology as an academic discipline should want to serve the church.

    However, historically being a Christian theologian has named a role that always exists within and serves the churches in some significant sense. For people that understand themselves as theologians in this sense the need for them to listen to and serve the churches is definitional. They don’t need to be given a reason any more than, say an elected official needs to be given a reason to care about what the people who elected him think of him.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  19. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    I’ll also add that what never comes up in discussions like this is what theologians have to offer to the church — which is considerable, and is, I would venture to say, much more often ignored than what the church has to offer theologians. In short, the church’s attitude toward theologians is much, much more problematic than vice versa — yet somehow all we ever hear about is how arrogant and disconnected theologians are. Why?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  20. I don’t understand how the last 50% of your comment ties into what I said, so I’m going to kinda ignore it for now until it, somehow, makes sense to me.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  21. Wow, that is really at Bill Clinton-esque levels of unsatisfying. I apologize for asking a serious question.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  22. It was snark because I was thinking of a political action group that had a close analogous relationship with a Church group. By all means, go ahead answer the 50% of the comment that you do understand tying into what you said.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  23. Halden wrote:

    Also, if there’s some broad confusion on this point, I’ve re-read my post and I don’t find anything here that would suggest what some people seem to be somehow finding here, namely that I’m saying that theologians are a bunch of fuck-ups and the church is just awesome. Nothing here even mentions the issue of how professional theologians should be understood vis a vis the church. All I’m talking about here is how some theologians’ lives tend to be out of step with their own theological projects.

    Certainly theologians should be critical of the church, but that just wasn’t what I was talking about . . . like at all.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  24. No, by “often” I don’t mean “over half the time.” I suppose I was trying to open the door to the following ideas:

    1) There are all sorts of examples, as Halden suggests, of theologians whose way of life is profoundly incongruous with their intellectual convictions. We’re all hypocrites in some way. But if I established my career on writing theology with the goal of “solidarity with the poor” while I myself lived disconnected from the poor in an affluent suburb, it would be valid for people to challenge my theology.

    2) It is a trend–perhaps not a large trend–for academics to ignore the way that “mundane” realities of the Church can contribute to theology. If we believe (as I do) that theology should be developed in a mutual, interdependent way (just as every spiritual gift in the Church should be developed in such a way) theologians need the church.

    3) No, I don’t believe the academic community is the same thing as a “congregation.” While many congregations are guilty of homogeneity too, it is difficult to find the poor in the halls of advanced theological learning.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  25. “Indeed, even going to church seems too much to ask from many theologians. Here a story comes to mind about how Jürgen Moltmann lies in a hammock every Sunday and thinks about ecclesiology — I don’t know if its true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”

    “Like Caiaphas, many theologians, including ourselves, often end up “not speaking on our own” when we say something true about God.”

    But sure, I take your point. I read your post in continuity with some comments that followed it. Mea culpa. You probably are really critical of other aspects of the Church that aren’t Driscoll. Like this shit: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0904259.htm (which gets the rightful commentary here http://thomaslynch.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/because-if-you-think-two-men-can-love-each-other/

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  26. I see your point, but disagree. You might want a more prominent place for theologians in the Church, but few roles or offices in the church are granted the lofty role that theologians are given in the Church.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  27. What do you mean by “the poor”? I mean, what criteria decides if you’re poor or not? And what powers are developed by being around the poor?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  28. Hill wrote:

    I think it has to do with whether or not one acknowledges the actual force of certain sacramental practices within a specific context. I would say that lots of Christians actually don’t, and your criticism of them in this sense is potent. However, at some point, any compelling version of Christianity must turn on some special revelation, the fullness of which is the person of Jesus Christ as God. He told us to do certain things, and there’s a sense in which they are beyond calculation. You are by definition not compelled by that sort of argument, which is totally fine, but it’s basically an empirical point. We essentially have it on hearsay (safeguarded by the Holy Spirit) that a guy showed up and “we beheld his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” If that ends up being wrong, then I wouldn’t be a Christian either.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  29. Hill wrote:

    The power to be come the sons of God.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  30. Ok. Here’s an example of what I was getting at: I believe that the regular struggles of the poor an the injustices they face MUST be factored into the doing of theology in much more than just a passing way. Their experience is a gift.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  31. So you instrumentalize the poor then?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  32. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    What you’re saying doesn’t match my experience at all — from what I’ve seen, theologians are lucky to be even tolerated.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  33. I’m still not sure what this means in a specifically Christian way. Or, more precisely, why one would need to be a Christian to “experience” this “gift” of the experience of struggle and injustice. Nor, for that matter, why this enigmatic entity you call “the poor” are the privileged site of struggle and injustice.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  34. It is probably unhelpful to talk about the “poor” as an abstraction, so thanks for asking to go deeper here. When I say “the poor” I am usually referring to those people who are dispossessed, without any real economic or political or social ability to change their environment. They are those whose lives are shaped inordinately by the choices of others. They aren’t people who merely “live below poverty level” since college students can sometimes find themselves there. This is an entirely too-basic telling of who “the poor” are, but let’s just use it as a definition for now.

    There is no magical powers given to the poor. But there are some things about God that cannot be grasped by someone who isn’t dispossessed. And there some things about justice and injustice that one must be oppressed in order to sufficiently name.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink
  35. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    Halden,

    Sorry, but it was over-optimistic to expect us to get “theologians are out of step with their own theological projects” out of what you wrote, mainly because you never make that connection explicit. You really seem to be judging theologians by extrinsic standards here — adultery, church attendance, and solidarity with the poor in specific — with absolutely no reference to the fact that the theologians in question have been talking about the necessity of fidelity in marriage or church attendence or solidarity with the poor. We can’t respond to what you were thinking when you wrote it, only what you actually wrote.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink
  36. Interesting. Where do you live? And what tradition do you come from? In Lutheran Minnesota, theologians may be seen as superfluous from time to time, but they are usually respected.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  37. Hill wrote:

    I was answering facetiously, in keeping with the idea of developing powers by hanging out with poor people. However, the power to become the sons of God is what Christ gave to men “that receive him.” Becoming poor, in a way that explodes the idea of “the poor over there” or simply “economically poor” is a fundamental aspect of this reception. I would even suggest that “poor” is a fundamental concept for Christian theology in which the economically poor participate analogically (and possibly in a special way, but one that can’t be fetishized like you say) but “poor” for Christian theology is a fundamental comportment of humility before the gratuity of God’s grace.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  38. And it doesn’t occur to you that the Church might be one of the main centres of abuse against this dispossessed poor?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  39. I think you might find Negri’s book on Job of interest here. Daniel Barber and I wrote an article that touches on this issue and, hopefully, it will be published one day. Though, who knows when that will be, because we pulled out of a volume after it came to light the editor had been scamming immigrants to the UK. Morality after all amongst the atheist theologians!

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  40. Why would you assume it doesn’t occur to me? Just because the Church has been oppressive, doesn’t mean that it cannot pursue liberation.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  41. I lack the existential ability to jump outside of my Christianity in order to engage your statement. I didn’t know we were arguing why Christianity is a prerequisite for anything. I thought we were talking about theologians doing their work in relation to the Church (which assumes that I’m only talking about Christian theologians).

    You don’t believe that the oppressed suffer injustice in a unique way? I know that oppressors need liberation from struggle and injustice too, but I’m going to go along with the general trajectory of Critical Pedagogy’s insistence that “the wealthy” need to move into solidarity with “the poor” in order to find that liberation.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  42. Hill wrote:

    Yeah I don’t want to come across as tone deaf to the issues you are raising. I’d like to think they are on my radar and that I consider them quite important. I just think there is a way to think through them within Christianity (I should probably make an even stronger claim than that, but I don’t feel like constructing it properly).

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  43. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    I do come from the Church of the Nazarene, which is perhaps uniquely bad as far as relentlessly abusing their theologians goes.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  44. Fair enough. I was converted to Christianity in my teens among charismatics and Pentecostals, so I understand the disregard people have for academics within some segments of Christianity. But, over all, I have found that theological education has given me more power, not less…more respect, not less.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  45. Sure, in the same sense that because the US government has been oppressive it doesn’t mean that it cannot pursue liberation. But this isn’t helping my confusion. I suppose what you’re saying is that you are starting from the decision that Christianity is somehow right, at its core or has a kernel of this rightness or something along these lines. Is that correct?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  46. It isn’t so much why Christianity is a prerequisite, but why Christian communities are a prerequisite.

    I don’t disagree with you on the Critical Pedagogy front. I am only resistant to the claim that somehow these oppressed people are found in “the Church” or constitute some focal point in “the Church”. It seems to me that one has to leave “the Church” in order to find this church-that-is-the-poor (though I don’t feel like we’ve really gotten to the heart of what this means yet).

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  47. I’m not sure things come down to making “decisions” like that. While I do believe there is something intrinsically liberative about Jesus Christ and the way of life into which he calls us, it isn’t just about “deciding that Christianity is right.” For a variety of reasons, Christianity shapes the world I live in. Even if I were to renounce my faith, it would still shape it–it has had a huge influence on the shape of the modern world and it also has a huge influence on how I perceive that world.

    It makes all kindsa sense for the tools for dismantling and transcending the injustices of my world to lie in the Christian tradition.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  48. And this is different from other traditions? Is it better? Can you say why?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  49. Sure, I can grant that to a point. But practically speaking, most poor people I engage either at home or abroad have been Christian. But to get to your point: I agree that most of what constitutes “the Church” is largely antithetical to what I believe Christ is ultimately doing in, around, and through the church that is the poor. Have you read much of Sobrino? I ask that question in hopes that he may serve as a sort of common connecting point for you to get where I’m coming from.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  50. That is a big big question that I really can meaningfully engage here. If you’re interested, I am engaging in a dialogue with an atheist friend where some of my answer to your question is likely to come up: http://www.jesusmanifesto.com/2009/10/a-letter-to-common-sense-atheist-part-1/

    The link leads to one letter in a continuing series of correspondences about why I believe what I believe.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  51. Certainly I am no expert, but I am familiar with his work and I respect it very much. I still have similar problems with it. The fact that most of the poor people you’ve met, or most of the poor people in South America, seems to me a matter of contingency, ideology, and a history of colonialism than anything inherent or essential to Christianity or Christian communities themselves. That’s something I want some attending to, though I think many liberation theologians, especially ones out of favor with Rome, do attend to.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink
  52. That said, I still don’t know that hitching one’s liberatory thought and practice to the Roman Church doesn’t get in the way more than help. This may be less true of other Christian traditions.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  53. You may be right. I’m a Mennonite (part of the “Radical Reformation”) so I’d be happy to concede that some traditions are better equipped to explore liberatory thought.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  54. Hill wrote:

    To be fair, though… what’s so great about liberatory thought? Why should we pursue this liberatory thought?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  55. To overcome suffering, to foster equality, to allow people to pursue the good. On this point I think liberation is its own self-revealing and so obviously I’m not against a bit of what you’ve been calling mystical experience.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
  56. justathought wrote:

    Adam and APS,
    If your wondering why the church ignores theologians it might be best to start with your own blog.
    1) Read the comment policy. I have an MDiv and I feel shut down from the conversation before I even join. And didn’t one of you ridicule a 15 year old? It comes across as pretentious and uppity.
    2) In the past couple of months you have written a positive review of a book about how Jesus was gay and that YHWH might be as well, Song of Songs is about an affair, and that violence is a good thing, and that we shouldn’t care about watching a extremely violent film (Note: I am not saying this exactly how it is worded/argued, but lacking an advanced degree that’s about as far as your going to get on your blog). If you don’t see how these things come across as the type of mental masturbation that academics get paid to do while they work I can’t help you.
    3) God is dead. One of you describes himself as an atheist-theologian and the other seems pretty convinced God isn’t alive. One makes no sense to the average church-goer and the other doesn’t seem like Christianity at all.
    4) Have either of you every published in Christian Century, Christianity Today, Geez, Relevant, etc.? I am not saying that these magazine are good, but it would require you to be at least be accessible for the average church-goer and in a publication they read.. (And if you thinking they wouldn’t publish you, you might be right. But you while your thinking its because your too radical, they are thinking it is just unconvincing.)
    5) On average a theologian gets the most influential person in a church as a pupil for three years. If they can’t bring any passion about the studies they did to their church maybe the problem is they don’t see how it connects to the actual life of someone who worships with them.
    In many experience many church-goers are open to theology and theologians, if not intrigued but it seems like what you want to bring to them is so foreign it is apparent why they should care. For two people who care about the oppressed so much, I am surprised how little of what you do reflects anything the oppressed I work with care about, or would even be capable of reading. The reason the church might ignore you is because your working for the academy (very well it seems) not for them.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  57. David wrote:

    Interesting how resoundingly your thoughts were ignored. Hell forbid that theologians (Christian or otherwise) should ascend to the level of that which is of concern to non-academic Christians!

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 3:17 am | Permalink
  58. I understand that having an MDiv, especially from some institutions, might make reading in general very difficult. Now, if the comment policy keeps you from asking the kind of idiotic questions you’re asking here (of course I fucking work for the academy! why should I feel bad about that?!), then it has done its job. As for the charge of being uppity and pretentious, whatever, I’m fine being smart and well-educated. I’m the first person in my family to go to a 4-year university and move on to graduate work, I’ve sacrificed a lot to do it, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done there. I think more people should work hard and actually think about things, rather than spending their time reading Christian Century on the toilet (a publication more suited for wiping one’s ass than reading).

    As for your remarks, I for one have never claimed that the Christian churches should listen to theologians. On the whole I think that the churches are places that are riff with injustice and sin, the real meaning of sin, and so any theologian who is worth his salt is going to challenge that environment in a fundamental way that will cause resistance from the churches. You’re actually a perfect example. You’re suggesting that a theologian is there to tell people what they already know Christianity is. I’m suggesting that a theologian’s job is more critical than that.

    Our blog isn’t a magazine. I’m perfectly capable of writing simple sentences and communicating ideas to normal people, but that’s not what the blog is for. Not sure what you’re actually asking for here. Do you need someone to write for your church newsletter or something? You asking? What’s your point?

    What work do you do for “the oppressed”? I am getting the sense from you that you have a pretty imperialist, noble savage notion of what “the oppressed” care about.

    In short, you’re already stacking the deck here and I have no interest in telling Christians that what they’re doing with their lives matches up really nicely with the gospels. It doesn’t.

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 4:19 am | Permalink
  59. mike d wrote:

    Halden’s answer is completely satisfying from a Christian perspective. Theologian is an ecclesial term and vocation not merely an academic one. Of course a non-Christian won’t share that view of the theologian, so what?

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 4:39 am | Permalink
  60. Marvin wrote:

    Two thoughts:
    1. The Caiaphas metaphor is a bit off base. I think that Jesus’ words from Matt. 23 “Do what they say but not what they do” are more germane to the topic, and they do tend to nip in the bud all kinds of Donatisms out there, which is a good thing. A theologian who says we need to serve the poor is telling the truth and should be listened to, even if he/she lives an elite American upper class lifestyle. Given the choice between such hypocrisy, and a lay person of the same class and nationality who exhibits no such hypocrisy b/c his/her gospel doesn’t say jack about serving the poor, I’d say, Please, give me more hypocrisy.

    2. This post just confirms my suspicion that I need to get out of church history and into theology b/c that’s where all the chicks and booze are.

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 4:51 am | Permalink
  61. Right, but what you’ve just described is ideology and I’m not convinced that theology is reducible to ideology when it is done well. That’s cool though, be satisfied with that. I’m not so good with a “depends what the meaning of is is” answer though.

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  62. mike d wrote:

    These are questions of theological methodology (and perhaps epistemology) and I just don’t see a Christian (at least not this one) and a non-Christian agreeing on a definition of theology in the way I’m using the term. I have no reason to try to offer a definition of theology or a description of the practice of theology that is extrinsic to Jesus and the Church. You absolutely require one.

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 7:19 am | Permalink
  63. And I’m saying that that is ideology and further more it means that whatever you prescribe I will either have to assent to or deny based on nothing. How is this a good thing?

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 7:33 am | Permalink
  64. David wrote:

    You make some interesting points here, but your angry response is way out of proportion to the comments Justathought made. His comments suggest that he is making assumptions about you, but your assumptions (what you call ‘getting the sense’) provoke you to say his ideas of oppressed people are imperialist! How do you know that?
    To be honest, I would certainly value a critical analysis of the state of contemporary churches from a theologian such as yourself – especially since you have nothing to lose with regard to loving such sin-ridden individuals. I genuinely mean that; the clarity of your criticism would not be tainted by, well, charity. Is there no way you could be a bit more gentlemanly about it though?

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 7:36 am | Permalink
  65. Justathought said, “For two people who care about the oppressed so much, I am surprised how little of what you do reflects anything the oppressed I work with care about, or would even be capable of reading.”

    Poor people can read. They can even read difficult material. By saying that they are incapable of reading such material the suggestion is being made that there is something inherent to poverty that makes being intelligent difficult, rather than the problem being found in the material conditions, demands of the economic system, and lack of sustenance.

    I have no interest in being gentlemanly with people who suggest we’re not listened to because of a positive review of a book detailing homoerotic narratives in the Bible. I just don’t.

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  66. mike d wrote:

    Are the words Jesus and Church unintelligible to you?

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 8:03 am | Permalink
  67. In so far as you turn them into idols that one can’t talk about, yes. That’s exactly what they are for you to.

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 8:16 am | Permalink
  68. mike d wrote:

    I don’t really know what you mean there (to not be an idol you must be translatable into some sort of universal grammar?) but it seems to me that the way you’re using the term ideology makes everyone an ideologue (except you, of course).

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  69. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

    Friday, October 9, 2009 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  70. Mark wrote:

    APS –
    You are trying to issue a call for seriousness, but just from reading your comments you are fundamentally unserious. You are attacking a working minister who has actually read you. He actually cared enough to give you some feedback. He thinks what you have to say might be worthwhile. And your response is scatalogical and misses the point.

    I know you guys are much smarter than me and have advanced pretty far beyond such simple notions as going to the source material. Something like James 3:1ff (which was read in churches a couple of weeks ago) or 1 Tim 3. [The horror at actually looking at the pseudo-pauline book that very smart guys have already deconstructed.] That type of moral behavior is a pre-requisite for the office of teacher. Recognizing our own poverty, even in the midst of being proud of acievements, is a precursor to the gospel.

    Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. For all your learning you guys are far from the kingdom.

    Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 7:31 am | Permalink
  71. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    Dude, David — you seem to be jumping to conclusions in terms of us “ignoring” this comment. The original comment was posted in the evening in the US, when most people look at blogs during working hours. What’s more, due to the comment system here, it appeared in the middle of the thread, which made it less likely that we would see it (I normally look for new comments at the end of the thread — not that he was wrong to post it here, just saying it’s not what I’m used to and I bet I’m not alone). And Anthony, who is in the UK, answered basically first thing in the morning.

    As for the comment itself, it is weirdly hostile. There’s a simple solution when you find a blog off-putting or alienating — don’t read it. If you find the ideas laughable, don’t read it. It’s very clear from the comment policy what the goals for our blog are, and they don’t include catering to people like JustaThought or to the “people in the pews.” Why should we be attacked for acting in accordance with our stated goals?

    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  72. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    His whole post is about how what we have to say is worthless! The only hint I could find that our ideas could potentially be useful was when he suggested we publish in a mainstream magazine — and then proceeded to say that those magazines would likely find our stuff useless as well. Responding by saying that we don’t value his opinion seems perfectly fair in that context.

    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink
  73. Adam Kotsko wrote:

    To set the record straight: The supposed “15-year-old” is actually a 30-year-old man, older than me. Someone said that he was voicing opinions worthy of a 15-year-old, and one of the other commenters got confused and thought he really was 15 — but no, he is a full-grown adult.

    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink
  74. As an avid church-goer for my whole life, I have found that theologians are most often ignored because they challenge the bourgeois ethos of conservative congregations (most of the congregations I have observed are like this, so I am not saying anything about challenges to non-conservative groups) and because they take loving God with their mind so serious as to suggest that others do it as well. I am unaware of any theologians being ignored because of their lifestyle.

    Also, I find it interesting that Halden was actually ascribing (possible) validity to the work of “sinner”-theologians, even if the post has been read to be detracting from the value of their work. Any other position seems to be dangerously close to Donatism.

    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  75. justathought wrote:

    Sorry about this but this comment was a over zealous piece that was a poor characterization of what goes on at there blog. I actual thought it would be largely ignored and maybe chuckled at out for how outrageous and sarcastic it was.I didn’t think it would spark this kind of conversation or be taken the way it was. I have been a long time reader of their blog, and while I have my disagreements, I do think their project is worthwhile for those of us still left in the church to hear. My main point was that I wished they were expressed (sometimes) more accessibly for the layman in a way were many people wouldn’t dismiss them for some of their other projects, but that was an unrealistic proposition on my part.
    So here is my apology for being a wise-ass in a way that was just unhelpful and was disrespectful to the gifts to the guys at AUFS. Sorry. I hope that my poor characterization of their work doesn’t stick.

    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  76. John wrote:

    Of course theologians, especially those of a right-wing persuasion. are really all clones of, and secret agents for, Agent Smith in The Matrix Trilogy.
    They all conspire to keep the entire false/fake charade in place, and also actively prevent any and every one from taking the Red Pill.
    But then again they would not even know where to find the Red Pill.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 1:49 am | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site