Saturday, April 11, 2015

Funding Postmodernity One Text at a Time?

Walter Brueggemann is the master of drawing out the imaginative depth of the individual text and in that he offers much potentially both to hungry liberals and conservatives seeking a fresh word of truth in a land that may be very dry.  In his wrestling with the text WB is a consummate preacher and expositor.  I take no issue with that, which I view moreover, as his primary gift to the modern/postmodern church.  What I do find troubling is an almost dogmatic-like aversion to the “grand narrative” of the canon as a whole, from Alpha and Omega to various points between.  While I agree with you that the biblical text can be domesticated, it not need be so and does not have to be to the extent that preachers, teachers, and other communicators of the Word honor both the text and the context in which the Word and people are situated.  Of course, this is what WB seeks to do, but I think we do have to look closely at his core project of “funding” postmodernity, which he views as kairotically integral to the times in which we (in the west) live.

I, for one, do not dismiss the potency of this moment; this off-centered (geographically defined) Christianity in which marginality rather than Christ the center defines the primary space of where so many people who are willing to hear the Word, live.  That has defined my own space for a very long time, one that I know quite well, which has its own allures and appeals, and who am I to say that it is not authentic space.  This Christ at the margins is a very real space where many who sit in oour pews, and perhaps more than a few pastors, as well, live.  What WB does is to give them voice and in that he is making a substantial contribution to mainline identity and in the process he re-introduces the legitimacy of the Bible.  This is no small achievement.  His “angular” interpretation speaks to this mode.

I want to keep this angularity and the imaginative construals that fresh interpretations evoke.  I want to do this, however in a way that honors the biblical canon in its entirety; the grand narrative as well as the many little stories that comprise the Bible’s constructed text.  This, I believe, Brueggemann has not adequately grappled with, and, in fact, exercises a profound hermeneutics of suspicion against any such project, as indicative in his ongoing canon criticism of biblical theologian, Brevard Childs.  The question that I pose is what do we do with the grand narrative?  Is the biblical text, as ultimately a coherent story simply part of a mythopoetic legend that speaks an idiom of an ancient world, but has no applicability today?  Be clear, I, too, want to separate the wheat from the chaff of critical historiography and modern scientific understanding, and the allures of obscurantism have no appeal to me. 

That said, we still have to deal not only with the matter of interpretation, but the standards upon which interpretation is based; the standards upon which our faith is grounded; particularly the relationship between the text and the world.  What I find in serious evangelicals like Bloesch, Fackre, Erickson and others is a profound grappling with the challenges of modernity/ postmodernity, while at the same time, when push comes to shove, viewing the Bible as interpreting the world rather than the world setting the context in and through which the Bible is interpreted.  Obviously, the relationship is more complex in that there is considerable interplay between these two—complexity always leaking out against our best construals.  This I grant.  Nonetheless, we do have to decide at some level below having complete or perfect knowledge, in which our decisions are invariably based on where our ultimate vocabularies and commitments reside.  At his best moments, Brueggemann is nothing short of prophetic in his electrifying imaginative construals, which, in the very act of his speaking (writing) it is as if God’s revelation is piercing into postmodernity at the very moment of reading his electrifying essays.  That’s how it seemed to me, a least at one point in my faith journey. Such an engagement is very powerful, which to lose is to lose much.

This is where I want to raise a very big issue:  to what extent does Brueggemann see funding postmodernity, as he describes it in Texts Under Negotiation, as THE kairotic moment of our times?  For if how he sees it is, in fact, the way it really is with us, then Brueggemann’s evocative vision can be nothing short of the will of God for our times, in which we can only fund postmodernity one text, one miracle, one revelation at a time.  However, if he is holding onto this vision in a more tightly construed way than God may intend, then perhaps there are some problems lurking in his insistence that marginalization, is in fact the key characteristic state of our times, or that even if it is, there is only one way to play it in light of the many cultural realities that overwhelm a sustained and coherent Christian identity—acceptance of our marginalization rather than any frontal confrontation with the secular society, itself.   

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