Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Empire and the Christian Tradition--Thoughts

I had the opportunity today to read through Dr. J. Rieger's introductory chapter in Empire and the Christian Tradition: New Readings of Classical Theologians (Fortress Press, 2007). I think it provides an insightful and cursory introduction into the book's content for one, but also the trajectories within the "Empire" discussion. Rieger skillfully set forth the parameters of the discussion of Empire in a theological context. Moreover, he introduced "ambivalence" technically speaking, but in such a way that virtually anyone could grasp it. While I feel much more could have been said, this would be a helpful chapter in discussing the topic with someone who simply doesn't understand what all the hub-bub about empire is. This latter point is something I have been dealing with in my own context. I've had several days now to reflect on my last "encounter" of sorts in which, by seminary students, I was asked to describe postcolonialism to individuals who had never heard the term. I realized in those few moments, that my own grasp and interest in the subject, and indeed aspirations for future research were better situated in the interior recesses of my psyche than packaged and ready for export (to borrow readily available capitalist lingo).

While I think that I accurately described the study, as a biblical criticism, I also was confronted by the reality of how radical, to the average conservative Christian such critical ideas posed to the reigning presuppositions whether conscious or unconscious of the average evangelical situated in an American context. What does it mean when your thinking, reasoning, and critical reflection make others nervous?

I will be posting much more frequently in the coming days, as finals ease their seeming strangle-hold and my limp mind falls upon the floor. :)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Jeremiah Wright is Right!

Hopefully, my title is as catchy and as controversial as what I am now "compelled by the spirit" to share. I commute to grad school approximately 40 minutes both ways everyday. As filler I frequently listen to podcast lectures from universities available through various institutional websites or through itunes. Also, in the moments when I simply can't bear another lecture, I listen to talk radio. The prominent stations I know of are very conservative and holistically republican (neither of which I personally identify with, but I have to admit it is fun to listen). I enjoy staying up on current events, the day's news, and politics. Well, I have heard the banter for some time concerning the infamous Rev. Wright (not to be confused with N.T. Wright who I'm moderately sympathetic with). Nevertheless, I was fairly critical of the media portrayals of Wright and his sermons. I've thought several times about blogging on it, but it has either slipped my mind, or I felt it had become old news.

Today, however, I was confronted yet again with clips of his sermons. In recent weeks, as the blackballing of Wright in the media has taken place, I have pondered my own thoughts concerning him and his ministry. My first intuitions were that the notion being kicked around in the media that somehow what goes on in a Sunday morning worship service is disconnected from politics is absolutely fascinating. How is it that people can be so naive about Jesus, the Bible, and what it means to follow Jesus? Moreover, to what should we attribute the conception that politics is unrelated to faith, or vice versa? Is that not insanity? Do the convictions I hold about the nature of the world, humanity, and the future not relate to the way in which I live and indeed the way in which I view the socio-political sphere in which I dwell?

What necessitates my present rant is that not only does Jeremiah Wright have a duty to critique the social structures of the day in light of the gospel, he would be failing Jesus not to do so! At the outset I will say, the ONLY thing(s) I think that Wright is wrong about are his statements concerning the notion of a government conspiracy to manufacture aids in order to kill African-Americans. That is patently absurd, but that is peripheral to the main issue. The main issue is that following Jesus is a POLITIC.

As an aside, I was at an academic event at a very conservative theological institution the other night, and a fellow I didn't know inquired about a book I was reading (which happened to be Tat-Siong Benny Liew's Politics of Parousia [his Ph.D. diss. from Vanderbilt]). He was unfamiliar with "postcolonialism" and asked me to explain in brief what it was. A few sentences into my description he said, "Oh, that type of criticism is Marxist and Marxism is inherently unbiblical." I responded, kindly, that some within the postcolonial conversation employ Marxism as an analytic tool, etc. At that point, he became noticeably disgruntled and issued several argumentative comments (and ironically all I was doing was trying to explain the theory!). Yet, the moment of glory came when he made another comment about Marxism and that ideology being so anti-biblical to which I responded "So you think capitalism is biblical?" And then I had a revelation, or an epiphany---this individual's understanding of the Christian message has been so filtered through Western Imperialism that the very nature of the biblical text is only permitted to be read through an Imperial lens---other lenses and other readings are dangerous to the necessary presuppositions of sustaining the Imperial Weltanschauung that to even entertain other notions is inherently dangerous (and in religious rhetoric heterodox).

Back to Wright, when I heard Wright's sermons on the airwaves again tonight as some sort of evidence of him being anti-American, the only way I know how to describe it is to say the existentially I had a "god moment." I realized that not only do I affirm Wright's freedom of speech and critique of Empire, after hearing his statements tonight, I'm positive there is no difference ideologically between Wright and the ways in which I understand Jesus, his message, and the call for those who choose to follow him. What is more, the clip which was played evidenced Wright doing and excellent job of Second Temple historiography evidencing a thorough and honest assessment of the socio-political location in which the crucifixion was carried out, and contextualizing that history into modern terms and events. He made statements to the effect that (quoting from memory) "There is no such thing as 'A war for peace.'" And, "War can no more bring about peace than raping someone can bring about virginity." When I heard these words, my worst fears were confirmed in that instant---this Wright who has been vilified in the media has said nothing that I would not say myself, including his rant taken out of context about God damning America! If ministers cannot offer a political critique predicated on the politic of Jesus, then they are not ministers, and the truth is not in them. How absurd is it to fuel the outrageous idea that humans live in differentiated, neatly separated, compartments of interest (e.g. on Sunday I worship [spiritual], on Monday I vote [political], on Tuesday I work [vocational]). Is that any different than the husband who loves his wife when he is "home" and has his "home life" and then lives an alternative life on "business trips" with his mistress? Can Christians be americans?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Horsley, "Scribes, Visionaries, and Politics of 2nd Temple Judea"

In the darkness that is the present--an inkling of light, ever so bleakly, has penetrated the atmosphere and yes, I can finally see the end of the tunnel which is this semester---suicide Hebrew, Advanced Greek Grammar, Academic internship, History of Philosophy, Evangelism (a rather ironic, but required course), and a NT Backgrounds course is a formidable load. And yet, it appears I will survive and actually do well grade wise also.

I'm working through, in the midst of the end of semester woes, Richard A. Horsley's new Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007). Chiefly, he argues that the events espoused in Ezra and Nehemiah are imperial propaganda (I'm distilling the subtleties quite a bit here). To that end, he argues that the Jewish elite were primarily the one's taken in the deportation, and now (or rather then!) the Persian empire in sanctioning the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple were in effect establishing an indigenous imperial tool, namely, the Temple-state through which to maintain power over the territory, but through local and therefore indigenous (at least ethically) peoples. Again, I haven't worked through the whole text, and likely spent far too much time identifying and wrestling with his presuppositions and methodology, but this appears prima facie to be the gist of his argument. It will be interesting to see how he traces it. While I think Horsley proposes several interesting and tenable ideas in his historical reconstruction, I wonder whether he deals even handedly with the data. That is, his rhetoric appears at times a little over confident that it all fits into his imperial-paradigm. I suppose having just mulled over Moore's work, substantiates much of my reticence to imbibe uncritically Horsley's historical reconstruction.

I long to blog more, but the urgency of the moment necessitate that I refrain...for tonight.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Moore's Empire and Apocalypse -"Mimicry" and "Catachresis"

I just finished my (co-authored) book review of Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament. In The Bible in the Modern World Series. Vol. 12. By Stephen D. Moore. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006. This slim monograph was truly a riveting read, especially to a newbie to formal "postcolonial studies." I have found myself for sometime within the conversation of Horsley, Carter, and others regarding the excavation of the anti-imperial sentiment replete in the New Testament texts. Of late I have become increasingly interested in postcolonialism because it provides several conceptual tools that I think are necessary; indeed, what Moore presents in this text is challenging and unfortunately far off the radar at the institution I study at currently, but I hope to remedy that in the future.

I'm not going to reproduce my book review here, nor offer a modified one. Rather I would like to articulate several conceptual-critical tools which Moore took advantage of and employed that I think are novel and worthy of further consideration. The first concept is the notion of colonial mimicry. This, as I understand it, Moore adapts from Homi Bhabha and subsequently Tat-siong Benny Liew's application of it throughout the Gospel of Mark. Clearly, my efforts now will be expended building my postcolonial conceptual toolbox through analyses of these and other materials. However, I find myself resonating deeply with the both/and internal struggle of the resistance discourse which stands against and yet participates ideologically in what Moore calls catachresis; I propose a new term in its place, with a similar notion, but more precise terminology: "perichoresis" (this being a term I am appropriating from trinitarian dialogue [from Gk. peri “around” + choreuo “dance in chorus”] typically denoting the notion of mutual indwelling and interpenetration without confusion of personal distinction). I find this a more helpful conceptual notion, though modified in my own use, than Spivak's catachresis (for his definition see the article by Mieke Bal, Semiotic Elements in Academic Practices [Critical Inquiry, Vol. 22, No. 3, (Spring, 1996), 583-4]. Yet, my modification takes the conceptual structure that Moore has employed. This notion of the mutual antipathy and allegiance internal to the colonized with reference to the colonizer and the ideological regime in which the colonized has been cognitively born into seems to be the greatest(?) or more promising conceptual tools offered in postcolonial analyses.

I would be very interested to know what others are thinking in this regard.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fears, Careers, and Ideological Openness

I plan to spend my life in the academic field. Thus, far I have attended rather conservative theological institutions, though of significantly differing core doctrinal commitments. However, recently in pondering the future, I have arrived at one conclusion: I have to get myself out of the theological vein I am in and into the artery of religious academics for several reasons (one of which I will share in this post): 1. I don't like the feel of confessional institutions. This first realization is one that came to me slowly. In my own theological journey, I (much like the general history of Christianity) have largely been reactionary in my development, at least up until this point. Admittedly, my story, of heroin addiction for the entirety of my adolescence and teenage years leading into my twenties, is rather out of the ordinary. Moreover, as I've stated previously at first I was enticed by the "American Jesus" that is the one touted by Kenneth Copeland and his band of cronies who teach prosperity and other absurd and completely antithetical notions to the real meaning and message of Jesus. When the scales fell from my eyes, the horror of what I had learned and believed precipitated my own violent reaction against such theological constructs--(and yet another ideology I would come to abandon)--reformed, covenant theology. Here I was courted by such thinkers as Gary North (Christian Reconstruction), Kenneth Gentry (Postmillennial, Partial Preterism, and Theonomy [not in a Tillich sense!]), Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and John Frame. Here I rested for several years, I call these my "heresy-hunter" days---where the primary role of the Christian theologian, in my understanding, was to defend orthodoxy (e.g. calvinism, etc.). Moreover, this was the age of the "fear-factor." Where ideas that pressed against the veil of "orthodoxy" were to be guarded against and feared. Thus, in reflecting on these two periods, they were both eras characterized by ideology driven by fear of some form or another. First, fear of academic theology (ala the "Word of Faith" crew) because we all know scholarly study of the Scripture causes people to lose their faith. Second, fear of heresy where certain ideas outside of the norm were taboo and therefore to be guarded against. In this latter mode, which seems to be the dominate mode still in evangelicalism (as it is eclipsed by the postmodern, poststructuralist, postchristian shift) ideas outside the norm are dangerous. Fortunately, I entered another era. One in which I could re-envision Jesus, religion, and theology. The primary paradigm shift came through listening and then reading N. T. Wright. I bet I've listened to his "Jesus and the Kingdom" four part series (free on 7 or 8 times each. Then I read his three massive volumes (New Testament and the People of God; Jesus and the Victory of God; The Resurrection of the Son of God) in a matter of two months, devouring every page. I don't think my own transformation was the result of Wright per se, rather I think it was my own Sitz im Leben coupled with challenging new ideas about Jesus, historiography, the historical trajectories within NT scholarship, and Jesus studies that cracked open my mind, something I am deeply grateful for. Also, contemporaneous with (maybe before/and definitely a little after) I have had crises of faith. I did get married (maybe a cause of crisis) and had a baby (also possible cause for alarm!), but in the moments of desperation, god-forsakenness, and genuine spiritual seeking, I found one theologian to rest in, one academic who I could turn to read---Jurgen Moltmann. Without Crucified God I think I might have left the faith all together [Parenthetically, I actually got the chance to shake his hand and tell him that at SPS this year]. I needed to find again the God whom I knew, but had lost in prosperity faith and orthodoxy defense. In light of where I've been and who I am, I no longer find it desirable to operate (in a future career context) in an environment which confines itself to a narrow, creedal ideology. One of my primary concerns is that, if all staff (e.g. professors) affirm the same creedal positions and believe the same things, then students are not truly challenged. Indeed, such an environment does not seem conducive to biblical studies in general. For what if study leads to other conclusions? What if, in fact, the creed is so narrow and explicit that virtually no one (on staff) affirms it in the way it is written, they all have a nuanced sense in which they understand various facets of it in order to be able to sign it? Finally, these creedal strictures create an ethos of "us vs. them" and one in which individuals who think for themselves (unless they have tenure) have to "watch what they say" on issues that after wrestling with the data no longer fit the creed. I realize there are normative responses to the issues I have suggested, but I am working through them from my own perspective as rationale for why I don't think in my future academic career I would want to work at a creedal institution, not necessarily because I don't believe in various things that might be creedalized, but that in terms of academics I don't think such fosters free-thinking scholarship.

Let me explain my thinking further. This is, I think, something I could not have come to without my former and present academic experience, for which I am grateful. I'm not bitter (although I have several biting criticisms for my institution[s]), but I think most people, after several years in an institution, become keenly aware of its shortcomings. So what now?

My rationale is that I need to and must broaden my horizons in doctoral education at an institution conducive to my goals. Those goals consist of finding a vocational opportunity in an academic institution that is ideologically free, to read the text in new ways, to construct new theories, to test new hypotheses, all without fear of reprisal or retribution. I have witnessed in my undergraduate experience a conservative institution malign and severely devastate the lives of one of its professors (and his wife and children's lives) all because he taught students to take Jesus' teaching seriously and to practice social justice; they didn't mind his teaching until he called the administration on unethical business practices (even though he went to them privately for a period of almost two years, before making the discussion more public). I saw them publically lie, threaten students, and quietly try to sweep him under the rug. I realize academics is very political, but thinking, teaching, and writing freely is a necessity for me and my future development. I don't ever want to be run out of town, job, and school because I teach students, however controversially, to think---is not that the heart of education?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Apostolic Father and the Imperial Cult: Radical Faith, Imperial Games

For my advanced Greek grammar class each student has been assigned a portion of the Apostolic Fathers corpus to syntactically analyze. With the term paper looming on the horizon and suicide Hebrew a constant battle, I wasn't looking forward to cranking this out--and certainly not right now. However, as mundane as it sounds, something radical happened in the process. During the very moments in which I was pondering my God-forsakeness, I found myself entranced by the melodic and vivid imagery carrying along the narrative of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, my assigned passage. Granted the writers (and several likely interpolators) were certainly attempting to portray the Christian martyrs as heroes, I was struck by the Imperial rhetoric. When Polycarp himself came to the fore of the discussion, his mutual interactions with the Proconsul and others were amazing, there I was translating along and what do you know, the infamous Imperial Cult sprang from the page, wrenching my heart. Polycarp's inquisitor beckeoned, "There is no harm in saying, 'Caesar is Lord,' is there"? (MPoly 8:2). He was commanded, "Swear by the Genius [e.g. divinitus) of Caesar and repent saying, "Away with the athiests [Christians]!" I'm amazed by the faith of this old man to die in light of his faith and allegiance to Jesus; what is so profound is the issue, namely, allegiance. To swear by Caesar's genius was to profess loyal love for the socio-economic Savior of Humanity, the great Benefactor. Several thoughts come to mind in this regard: 1) I wonder in what ways this text evidences the oppression and tyranny of Empire, 2) in what ways is following Jesus counter-Imperial, 3) in what ways might the Christian message, even that of Polycarp, be fundamentally mimicking the Empire against which it asserts itself. I wonder how early it was the Christ-followers were ideologically high-jacked by empire? Was it before the time of Jesus? That is, were the threads of imperial ideology embedded so deeply in the religio-politic of the first century that even a nascent movement would pattern itself as the supra-empire of God, which transcends the earthly Empire, but yet and still looks very much like it, only deified?

My mind toils... the time is late and the hour is nigh... I must sleep to rest the syntactico-analytic machine....

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Loosed from the bonds of past theological commitments...

As most people of faith I gather that there is, in everyone, some sort of transformation in the process. That is, what I believed when I first associated myself with the Christian message and story has undergone tremendous re-evaluation, deconstruction, loss, mourning, faith, and reconstruction several times. I think the greatest thing that has ever happened to me is the loss of my faith, so to speak. For me to say "I have lost my faith" is not to be understood in traditional church lingo, for usually when one states "so-and-so lost their faith" it usually bears the connotation that they ceased to believe in Jesus, left their local community, and that is usually perceived as excruciatingly negative. However, when I use the phrase, I do not mean that "I have lost my faith" and therefore, do not believe; rather, I have lost my faith---that is, my faith reached a location in which it, in its construction relative to that time could no longer support itself with reference to that crucible in which existence, situation, rationality, and loyalty intersect. Thus, when I have gone through a period of "the dark night of the soul" in which I have been confronted with the apparent failure of my own theological convictions to support the history related to, and the person of the Savior himself as it has been passed down to us, I find myself at what people within the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous call "the jumping off place." This is lingo for the end of oneself in which the individual realizes that they can no longer continue to drink and use drugs successfully and yet they cannot stop---or to put it differently when one is confronted with the reality that what they hold dearest can neither be true or not be true. In the case of the addict, they cannot envision life either with or without the next drink/fix.

So also have my moments of crisis in faith taken place, at those moments in which I recognize that what I may have held dearest and labeled "fundamental" to Jesus and Christianity might actually be nothing more than the trappings of late-modernity's Imperial acquisition of and manipulation of the message of Jesus. Currently, I'm coining this (quite unaware of anyone who may well be of great academic prowess who has already pioneered this notion) as "the Imperial nightmare." This, of course, is my own reference to having awakened recently to the realization of my own entrenchment in, loyalty to, and antipathy toward Empire in my situatedness in the Western (North) Americas. How can I love Jesus and hate Empire, and yet be so situated in Empire that it is my very identity? This is precisely the point.

Now I have trudged through these wanderings all resultant of my experience today; when I first followed Jesus, I entered through the Pentecostal wing, most notably through the nutty and distinctly American prophets called "Word of Faith" preachers.... Yes, I admit it; I was attracted to the "american jesus" that is, the one who wants you rich, living in divine health (whatever that means), and basically a co-deity or "little god." How could I have been so naive, so stupid, and indeed so deceived? Well, when I first ventured into ministry to be a "world evangelist" I took with me all the tropes of the american gospel. It didn't take me nearly as long to renounce and move theologically away from such absurdities, but today I had to finally put the axe to some of the rhetoric still found at my website ( Since I have been in school for the last several years after starting "Rob Reid Ministries" (even the name I now regret), I haven't had any time (or the web skills) to change some of the verbiage on the site. Today, I have done it (at least I think I got it all. While I have been ideologically free of such naive faith for over 5 years, sadly my "face" to the world still bore all the accouterments of such a sloppy approach to faith.

It has been a long and winding road, from atheism to pentecostal faith. From there into the world of the "Word of Faith" nutters to the reaction of Covenantal Reformed faith, to conservative evangelicalism, to the broad place at which I now find myself. I am not "pentecostal" enough for the pentecostal, I am not conservative enough for the evangelicals, I am not calvinist or arminian, certaintly not Republican, but not Democrat... I'm a rogue thinker attempting to follow the Lord. I have embraced peace and not violence, a faith of praxis rather than mere words, and a life of critical scholarship regardless of how my faith might need to be deconstructed and reconstructed. And yet, when I have lost my faith, it was not final, nor a solitary experience, but I have lost my faith at several points, torn down the pillars supporting it, demolished the ground, started back with the person and my allegiance to Jesus and reimaged, reinvisioned, and reconstructed a faith worth having.

I can't wait for doctoral studies, in which I hope to lose my faith yet again; to change, to learn, to reimaging, and to establish myself yet again with a faith purifed by the crucible of criticism, cognizant of the epistemic limitations of humanity, existentially connected through allegiance to Jesus, and genuinely embodying the Jesus of first century Palestine, the true Kurios and yet the true doulos.


Well, in reading my inaugural post I thought I was reading David Hume suddenly! I might have over stated my skepticism, for I do think knowledge is possible, even religious knowledge; but in regards to what and how much...those are the issues that are of present concern. Nevertheless I press on...

Currently, among other things I have been working through Stephen D. Moore's Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006). It is simply fascinating, like stumbling into an underground club and when you become cognizant of the character of individuals who are in here, you realize you are more at home among them than any you have known before. While admittedly only having my toe in the pond as it were at this point, the edge it seems to me is as follows.

Whereas anti-Imperial studies has been my heart's cry for a time, I have always been away of the somewhat forced dealing with the data. That is, to argue that NT author's were "anti-Empire" is one thing, but usually to do so virtually requires that the author be completely averse to Imperial rhetoric, etc. A feature that is not as clear, at least consistently through virtually all the NT authors. That is, I think my case for Luke's birth narrative as polemic of the Imperial cult is virtually cut and dry; however, the problem is showing that Luke is consistently against Empire (many contend that he is sympathetic to Rome). This, for me, is a real problem. [[ N.B. just for the record, my argument is pertaining to how the Gospel text would have been heard by specific audiences in various locales in Asia Minor, I'm definitely not arguing for authorial intention, as though that were accessible (fodder for another post)]]. What Moore seems to be setting forth, however, and not just Moore, but Postcolonial studies is that the NT documents reflect not a "thoroughgoing" {to quote N.T. Wright's phrase} Imperialistic sympathy nor a thoroughgoing anti-Imperial emphasis... rather, the colonized (e.g. the shivering Jewish denizens) is so immersed, oppressed, and affected in terms of the Imperial grip reaching into the fabric of their Weltanschauung and thereby even their offensive against Empire, itself is embodied in Imperial mimicry, whereas the colonized mimic the colonizer rhetorically and possibly even methodologically in their resistance discourse. This to me, seems to forge a way through the conundrum at least in so far as I am thinking through it presently. These are my thoughts for the day...

I plan to write something soon concerning my thoughts on cosmology, God, and world; these thoughts have been "impeding my work" {-Stewie, the Family Guy} for weeks now.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Inaugural Post

Well the day has dawned where I fearfully and wonderfully begin to publicly explore and expose those thoughts which dance in the crevices of my mind. For better or worse I now venture out, as I should have several years ago to interact theologically in the blogosphere.

At the outset I would like to state several things, both for the sake of clarity of mind (that is my own) and for those, if any, who will choose to read the musings found here. The only thing I know is that I am uncertain about most things. Increasingly as I attempt to trace the various trajectories of interests, thoughts, considerations, and research ideas that swirl ever faster in the small mind I inhabit, they each seem, in the final analysis, to converge into issues of religious epistemology. This gives rise to a new and devastating tentativeness in many theological areas within the character of my religious being. Further, as I have studied the New Testament with more detail historico-critically, literarily, and otherwise I have been confronted with a Jesus that I have not been taught about in church. Indeed, as I continue to read, study, and search what I am finding is alarming. The cause for concern is not a mere "burden" of some sort or other for some so-called orthodox concern of the faith...rather the problem starts much closer---in the very nature of my understanding of Christianity and the church. My eyes see a Christianity unilaterally across denominational affiliation that is utterly a tool of the Empire, her Imperial propaganda, and her Imperator.

In what follows I hope to think out loud, with the world, critically, concerning colonialism, postcolonialism (as I am learning more about it), my own wrestlings with all matters related to the development of my religious person and the theology that entails. So we venture onwards....