Of Descriptions

To this point, we have traced the postmodern turn in a number of different areas: architecture, art, society, philosophy, and literary theory. Is

18 Derrida, "Afterword," in Limited Inc. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 136.

there anything that can be said about the postmodern condition in general? I believe there is.

A new Copernican revolution

Copernicus decentered human vanity when he demonstrated that the sun did not revolve around the earth. Further decentering occurred when it became clear that our solar system is only one of many. The postmodern variation of this Copernican revolution is just as far-reaching: instead of history and culture revolving around reason, reason is now seen to orbit particular cultures and particular times in distinctive ways. The result is a further decentering of the human subject - a revolution not in cosmology, but in consciousness.

Other commentators go further, arguing that postmodernity affects not simply how we think about the world, but how we actually experience it. According to David Harvey, the postmodern condition refers to "a particular way of experiencing, interpreting, and being in the world."19 Paul Lakeland agrees: postmodernity is a breakdown in the "givens" of modernity: "time, space, and order."20 According to Kant, space and time are the two basic conditions for human experience, the environment for thinking, feeling, and doing. If the postmodern condition does indeed provoke a change in how we live space and time, it follows that the postmodern is nothing less than a revolution in human experience simpliciter.

Harvey views the postmodern condition "not so much as a set of ideas but as a historical condition," a new way of being-in-time/space, as it were.21 For time and space have been flattened out. Time lacks the density of history; it has been compressed and accelerated in a post-industrial age whereby goods and services may be had twenty-four hours every day thanks to global communications and the internet. The internet and telecommunications have similarly compressed space, making distance of no consequence.22 The first major consequence of this cultural acceleration has been "to accentuate volatility and ephemerality of fashions, products... ideas and ideologies, values and established practices."23 Such a mode of experience is conducive to consumerism, less so to conservation. How can a culture where goods are disposable and services are instantaneous preserve anything of value? It is perhaps no coincidence that one of the key metaphors for what it is to be

19 Harvey, Condition of Postmodernity, p. 53. 70 Lakeland, Postmodernity, p. 2.

Harvey, Condition of Postmodernity, p. viii. See ch. 15 for Harvey's analysis of time and space in the Enlightenment project of modernity.

22 Graham Ward observes that "Surfing the net is the ultimate postmodern experience" ( "Introduction, or, A Guide to Theological Thinking in Cyberspace," in Ward, ed., The Postmodern God (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), p. xv).

23 Harvey, Condition of Postmodernity, p. 285.

postmodern is the nomad. Heidegger got it only partially right when he said, "In language man dwells." Nomads do not dwell, but only pass through.

A protest against the "natural"

Postmoderns are latter-day philosophical "protestants" who resist the category of the natural, as in the "natural order," "natural law," or "natural sense." For "natural," postmoderns read "historical" or "political." Take, for example, something as apparently uncontroversial as a scheme of biological classification. Foucault cites a Borges story in which a Chinese encyclopaedia classifies animals according to the following categories: belonging to the Emperor, embalmed, tame, strays, having just broken the water pitcher, that from a long way off look like flies.24 Well, why not? Why is this classification any less arbitrary than the Western convention of distinguishing creatures on the basis of whether they have backbones or not, or whether they reproduce by laying eggs or by giving birth? Foucault's point is that all classificatory schemes have their origin in specific historical "discourses" or formations of power-truth, and are as such culturally relative. The politics behind the "natural" may not be apparent in zoology, but it quickly comes to the fore in discussions about the nature of human sexuality or, for that matter, the family. The postmodern condition is one of "incredulity toward 'the natural/ " for the "natural" is but a historical narrative whose origins in narrative have been forgotten.

An iconoclastic purge

"Thou shalt not believe in absolutes." This postmodern imperative is allied to an iconoclastic urge. Lyotard not only finds it impossible to believe in metanarratives but accuses metanarratives of being "crimes against humanity."25 Why? Because metanarratives - absolute truths - fund various forms of totalitarianism. "The ideology you shall always have with you." What is going on today - in religion, art, philosophy, and thinking in general - is a cleansing of the temples of knowledge of the last vestiges of conceptual idolatry.26 The postmodern condition is one of life among the ruins of cast down idols, especially in the ruins of cast down -isms (for example, existentialism, structuralism, Marxism).27 For postmodern iconoclasts do not abandon reason; they merely remove it from its pedestal and situate

24 Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), p. xv.

25 In Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained to Children: Correspondence 1982-1985 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992).

2 Cf. [ean-Luc Marion on the difference between the idol and the icon in God without Being, trans. Thomas Carlson (University of Chicago Press, 1991).

27 See, in this regard, Bruce Ellis Benson, Graven Ideologies: Nietzsche, Derrida & Marion on Modern Idolatry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002).

it. To locate an ideology or conceptual system in the rough and tumble of human history, culture, and politics is, of course, to demystify it. Henceforth there are "only human, all too human" -isms. Iconoclastic suspicion is a radicalization of Kant's attempt to determine the limits of reason. The result: a postmodern critique of impure reason.

A return of the repressed

The postmodern condition consists of more than negative gestures, more than shakes of the head and shrugs of the shoulder. In contrast with modernity, it also motions for the return of the repressed and for the embrace of the "other." Modern systems can only master reality by excluding what does not fit. That which falls outside our conceptual systems is thus deemed irrational or unscientific. This was the great paradox of the modern desire for mastery, "that in its quest for universal and totalizing comprehension, its system was obliged to exclude or repress that which lay outside it, thereby calling its universal and total comprehensiveness into question."28 Common to several currents of postmodern thought is an anti-systematic impulse, "a predilection for the plural, the multiple, a valorization of everything that had been suppressed by earlier systematicity, everything that had been left out or relegated to the margins."29

Concern for the other is the major theme in the work of Emmanuel Levinas, for whom ethics - an infinite respect for the irreplaceable other -replaces epistemology as "first philosophy." Whereas modern systems tend violently to absorb the other - ideas or persons - into comprehensive schemes, Levinas contends that one's first responsibility is to let the other be rather than to cast the other in one's own image. One's obligations toward the other cannot be calculated. "Ethics" is not about moral systems or following rules; it is rather about respecting particularity and difference.

A recovery of "messianic" religion

One candidate for "most repressed other" in modernity is religion. At the very least, a strident secularism has kept religion out of the public square. The so-called fact-value distinction relegated faith to the margins of private preferences. Postmoderns have played Hamlet to modernity's Horatio, insisting: "There are more things in heaven and earth...than are dreamt of in our philosophy" (Hamlet, Act I, v). Postmoderns gesture not only in the direction of the other, but also toward the "beyond." In Graham Ward's words: "The emergence of the postmodern has fostered

28 Hyman, Predicament of Postmodern Theology, p. 12.

29 Robert Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction (Blackwell, 2000), p. 299.

post-secular thinking."30 In particular, the postmodern condition has enabled the recovery of two neglected forms of religious discourse - the prophetic and the mystical - that seek, in different ways, to invoke the beyond: justice, the gift.

Even Derrida, in his later work, has begun to speak of something that is "beyond" deconstruction. Better: deconstructive analysis "is undertaken in the name of something, something affirmatively un-deconstructible."31 This something, it turns out, is justice. Indeed, Derrida goes so far as to say that deconstruction is justice.32 Everything depends, however, on his distinction between justice and law. "Law" refers to the formulas and structures that make up some judicial system. The law is deconstructible because it is constructed in the first place, historically instituted and constituted. In short, law is always situated, and hence prone to partiality. One deconstructs the law in the name of a justice to come, a justice beyond present human formulations. "Justice is what the deconstruction of the law means to bring about."33 This is not to say that Derrida knows exactly what justice looks like. Indeed, justice for Derrida is the impossible, in the sense that it is incalculable on the basis of factors that are already present. Nevertheless, deconstruction is the desire that justice is "to come" (d venir).

Another religious theme that has received much attention of late is that of the gift. For Derrida, the gift is as "impossible" as justice. As soon as we give something to someone, we put that person in our debt, thus taking, not giving. The gift disappears in a web of calculation, interest, and measure. Such is the aporia of the gift, according to Derrida. It cannot be given without creating an economy - a system of calculation and exchange - of debt and gratitude. "It is reintroduced into the circle of an exchange and destroyed as a gift."34 Can a gift be given in modern societies ruled by various forms of exchange? Morality and other forms of social convention work with a logic of equivalence; however, the true gift is always extravagant, exceeding what is strictly required. Can the gift be thought? Only an "expenditure without reserve," a giving that expects no reciprocity, a giving that forgets a gift has been given, would seem to measure up to Derrida's requirements for a true gift. Neither justice nor the gift is, strictly speaking, of this world; yet both are that for which postmoderns hope.

30 Ward, "Introduction," p. xxii.

31 John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), p. 128.

32 Derrida, "The Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority,'" in Drucilla Cornell, Michel Rosenfield, and David G. Carlson, eds., Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 68-91.

33 Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 131.

34 Derrida, from "On the Gift: A Discussion between Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion,' in Caputo and Scanlon, eds., God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, p. 59.

As with gifts, so with sacrifices. Abraham had to sacrifice his son, to give Isaac to God, without expecting anything back. Derrida writes that "God decides to give back, to give back life, to give back the beloved son, once he is assured that a gift outside of any economy, the gift of death... has been accomplished without any hope of exchange, reward, circulation, or communication."35 Being responsible to the other involves a kind of death to self. Again, there are no rules for calculating responsibility, because I, and the other, and the situation are not anonymous variables in a moral equation but particular persons in singular situations. There are no logarithms for determining one's obligations. "Every other is wholly other" (tout autre est tout autre). This Derridean maxim effectively closes the gap between the ethical and the religious.

According to Caputo, Derrida's affirmation of the impossibility of justice, and the gift, is a gesture not of nihilistic despair but rather of faith: the desire for something other than what obtains in the present world order. Some such expectation of "the other to come" is inscribed in the very structure of deconstruction and what gives it its "messianic turn."36 Postmodernity abolishes conceptual idolatry, one might say, in order to make room for faith. However, Derrida distinguishes the "messianic" from "messianism," where the latter stands for the belief that a particular Messiah has already come. The messianic, by contrast, has to do with what cannot (at present) be determined. The messianic is a structure of experience, apparently universal, that opens us to an unknown future. The faith of deconstruction is "through and through a messianic affirmation of the coming of the impossible."37 The messianic is the unforeseeable, the beyond that is always desired but never attained. On this view, the postmodern condition is essentially, that is, structurally, messianic: constitutionally open to the coming of the other and the different. Faith, not reason - faith in a religionless (viz., messianic) religion - is thus endemic to the postmodern condition.

A refusal of Christian orthodoxy

There is a sixth possible construal which I will mention here but defer further discussion of it until we consider an alternative genealogy of modernity below. It amounts to the suggestion that the postmodern celebration of faith, not a historic faith but faith as a general condition, stems from a refusal of orthodox Christian doctrine.

35 Derrida, The Gift of Death (University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 96.

36 Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 159.

37 Caputo, "Apostles of the Impossible: On God and the Gift in Derrida and Marion," in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, p. 197.


What, then, is the condition of postmodern theology? Again, the best way to answer this is to contrast it with its modern counterpart.

Modern theology: correlationism

David Tracy states that modern theologies "were principally determined not by the reality of God but by the logos of modernity."38 Hans Frei's diagnosis is similar: modern interpretative schemes eclipse the specificity of biblical narrative, and with it, the singular mythos of Jesus Christ. In so doing, thought Frei, modern theologians gain the whole world - the world of academic respectability and cultural plausibility, in a word: legitimation -yet lose their own souls. Paul Tillich's method of correlation, for instance, let modern culture and thought forms set the agenda by asking the questions which theology then answered. In Tillich's own work, the questions were posed within an existentialist framework that predisposed him to interpret the Bible in symbolic rather than historical terms. Tillich is illustrative of the modern tendency to let some logos or other swallow up the biblical mythos. Modern theological systems, like other -isms, are able only to think "more of the same"; they leave the "other" unthought. In Tracy's words: "Theology will never again be tameable by a system... For theology does not bespeak a totality. Christian theology, at its best is the voice of the Other through all those others who have tasted... the Infinity disclosed in the kenotic reality of Jesus Christ."39

Postmodern typologies

The present work aims to describe various types of postmodern theology (Part one) and to give specific examples of these theologies at work (Part two). Two previous studies have worked with fourfold typologies. In Varieties of Postmodern Theology the four types, and their key representatives, are:

1 deconstructive or eliminative (Mark C. Taylor, Carl Raschke, Charles Winquist)

2 constructive or revisionary (David Ray Griffin)

3 liberationist (Harvey Cox, Cornel West)

4 conservative or restorationist (John Paul 11).40

38 David Tracy, On Naming the Present: God, Hermeneutics and Church (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), p. 41.

39 Tracy, "Theology and the Many Faces of Postmodernity," Theology Today 51 (1994), 114.

40 Ed. by David Ray Griffin, William A. Beardslee, and Joe Holland (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989).

Postmodern Theologies: The Challenge of Religious Diversity is organized similarly:

1 constructive (David Ray Griffin, David Tracy)

2 a/theological dissolutions (Thomas Altizer, Mark C. Taylor)

3 postliberal (George Lindbeck)

4 communal praxis (Gustavo GutiƩrrez, James W. McClendon).41

By and large, the two lists overlap, with the exception that the "conservative" option in the first book becomes the "postliberal" in the second, and the "liberationist" type is expanded into "communal praxis." The present work substitutes feminist for liberationist, preserves communal praxis as a distinct type, and adds two new ones - radical orthodoxy and postmetaphysical theology - for a total of seven.

Does not even an expanded typology represent a singularly inappropriate way to present postmodern theology? Is not classification a modern obsession? A postmodern typology will acknowledge both its non-necessary character and its rough edges. There are indeed many different ways that one could classify the contemporary theological scene (here we may recall the Borges story): theologians who prefer tweed to wool jackets; theologians who prefer jacket potatoes to wearing a coat and tie; theologians who live in California; theologians who wished they lived in California; theologians who live in California but wish they lived elsewhere, etc. In the final analysis, the typology presented herein must be considered both provisional and fallible. Yet, while it is less than absolute, it is not entirely arbitrary, for the positions were chosen on the basis of two leading criteria: first, that each type represents, if not a "school," than at least an approach of more than an individual theologian; second, that each approach believes itself to be responding to, rejecting, or passing through modernity, not inhabiting it

The seven types represent various ways that theologians are negotiating the conditions of postmodernity. On some points, the seven are far apart. Some, for example, like reconstructive theology, believe that there is still room for metaphysics in postmodernity, though of a holistic rather than atomistic variety. Others, like postmetaphysical theology, contend that all forms of ontotheology must be left behind. Perhaps the most significant question concerns the nature of the postmodern condition: is it a stipula-tive condition, a requirement that must be met before theology can speak of God? Is postmodernity simply the latest extratextual framework into which theology must translate its discourse in order to be considered legitimate?

41 Terrence W. Tilley, Postmodern Theologies: The Challenge of Religious Diversity {Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995).

In exorcising the demon of individual rational autonomy from the subject of theology, how can we avoid other demons, some of them postmodern, from taking their place? Is postmodern theology simply a matter of exchanging one philosophical master for another, so that one now correlates with postmodern interests and concerns rather than modern ones? Or, alternatively, does doing theology under the conditions of postmodernity mean that philosophy and culture no longer set the agenda, that one need no longer correlate? in short: does postmodernity represent a new bondage or does it set the captives free?

Deconstructing postmodernity? An alternative genealogy

To consider types of postmodern theology is to focus on the postmodern as the condition of theology. There is, however, another way to construe the relation. For the return of the repressed includes the return of theology as a metadiscourse, as a "form of reflection that situates all other forms of reflection."42 Theology returns, not as a modern science, but as a theo-drama that situates the human within the narrative of God's creative and redemptive activity. The suggestion, therefore, is to situate modernity and postmodernity alike within the story of what relates both what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and what the world is doing in response. Postmodernity here appears as a properly theological condition.

Hans Urs von Balthasar provides an alternate genealogical account of modernity and, by implication, the postmodern. He locates the genesis of the "error" that was modernity in Duns Scotus' fateful departure from Aquinas' ontology. Scotus was the first theologian to adopt the Averroist reading of Aristotle that treated philosophy as the comprehensive science of being, where "being" is a univocal concept which applies both to the created and the uncreated.43 The result of this move is twofold: ontologically, it denies God's transcendence; "being" is what the creature and the Creator now have in common. Epistemologically, it provides a magna carta for reason to undertake an independent study of all that has being without having recourse to revelation; the metaphysical project - the attempt to gain knowledge of being, including God, through reason - here achieves legitimacy.44 The "God" thus known, however, is only a conceptual idol manufactured by human reason; and the "God" proclaimed dead or unbelievable by Nietzsche is,

42 Nicholas M. Healy, Church, World and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology (Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 67.

43 The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. 5 The Realm of Metaphysics in the Modern Age (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991).

44 See Gavin Hyman, The Predicament of Postmodern Theology, ch. 2 for a fuller treatment of these themes.

likewise, only the construction of modern "ontotheology." On this account, then, the deconstructive or nihilist versions of postmodernity are actually the logical culmination of basically modern tendencies.

In reacting to modernity, postmodernity risks being defined, albeit negatively, by the same set of categories. For example, deconstructive postmod-erns speak of "the death of God put into writing," yet the "God" they have in mind is the modern metaphysical construct. Christian orthodoxy, oriented toward God's revelation in Christ, tells a different story: "the triune life of God put into Word and writing." Some, though not all, of the chapters in Part two are exercises in such a counter-narration: they begin from Scripture and theology and go on to examine postmodernity in light of Christian doctrine rather than the other way around. Other chapters accept certain aspects of the postmodern condition, then go on to work out their significance for an understanding of a particular doctrine. Accordingly, the chapters in Part two display both the postmodern condition of theology and the theological condition of postmodernity.

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