God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

The Madman, Friedrich Nietzsche

The words of a group of Muslim students on campus might be ascribed to pure chance, the evolution of language, and mistranslations. But “Have you read the last testament of God” immediately opened with two possible interpretations when I saw the poster. On a mainly Christianised university campus, it’s a nice slogan to start a conversation. After the first and second testament, or the old and new testament, their was a last testament, the Koran. Or else, it could be interpreted as the testament of God, God’s will. Those are the last wishes of a dead God.
And Christians can also do this. They talk about the Bible as the final word of God. An unchanging document that needs to be followed to the letter. It’s like following the testament of a dead man, to the letter, since he is no longer available to talk about possible interpretations, or to continue to develop these words.
Maybe it’s not funny then how the exact same people who read the Bible as if it was a testament, as the last words that God ever spoke, as the testament of a dead God, tend to resurrect this God by forcing it into the realm of the supernatural experience. This way we tend to end up with a God who spoke his last will, his last testament, 1400, or 1900, or 2300 years ago, but at times gets resurrected to speak a new final word to the receiver, words that may not be questioned, interpreted, or worked out in relationship with the other.
It would seem like any talk of a “final word” of God causes from its inception that this God is fated to die. To become silent. Subsequently, attempts at resurrecting God in the supernatural experience, when absolutised as the new final word of God, has, apart from the same problems, the added problem that new gods have the tendency to appear using the names of an existing god.
How else should we read the words of a creator God than by engaging, interpreting, criticising, reinterpreting, and listening to the noise, attempting to hear the continuing voice of God?

The words of a group of Muslim students on campus might be ascribed to pure chance, the evolution of language, and mistranslations. But “Have you read the last testament of God” immediately opened with two possible interpretations when I saw the poster. On a mainly Christianised university campus, it’s a nice slogan to start a conversation. After the first and second testament, or the old and new testament, their was a last testament, the Qur’an. Or else, it could be interpreted as the testament of God, God’s will. Those are the last wishes of a dead God.

And Christians can also do this. They talk about the Bible as the final word of God. An unchanging document that needs to be followed to the letter. It’s like following the testament of a dead man, to the letter, since he is no longer available to talk about possible interpretations, or to continue to develop these words.

Maybe it’s not funny then how the exact same people who read the Bible as if it was a testament, as the last words that God ever spoke, as the testament of a dead God, tend to resurrect this God by forcing it into the realm of the supernatural experience. This way we tend to end up with a God who spoke his last will, his last testament, 1400, or 1900, or 2300 years ago, but at times gets resurrected to speak a new final word to the receiver, words that may not be questioned, interpreted, or worked out in relationship with the other.

It would seem like any talk of a “final word” of God causes from its inception that this God is fated to die. To become silent. Subsequently, attempts at resurrecting God in the supernatural experience, when absolutised as the new final word of God, has, apart from the same problems, the added problem that new gods have the tendency to appear using the names of an existing god.

How else should we read the words of a creator God than by engaging, interpreting, criticizing, reinterpreting, and listening to the noise, attempting to hear the continuing voice of God?

I pointed to some of the things I believe to be key in understanding Transforming Mission by David Bosch in a previous post a few days ago. Flowing from my conversation with Tom Smith last week, I want to point to my new favorite Bosch quotes, and how they help us in understanding Transforming Mission.

Although it is Hans Küng whose theory Bosch use in pointing to paradigm changes in the church, on the phenomenon of paradigm changes, Bosch uses especially the work of Thomas Kuhn. In describing the current paradigm change, which Bosch calls postmodernism. In describing postmodernism Bosch recognizes it as appearing first in the natural sciences:

The first fundamental assault on it (it refers to rationalism from the previous paragraph on this page) did not (as one might have expected) come from the side of the human sciences. It came, quite surprisingly, from the very disciplines where the Cartesian and Newtonian canons appeared totally inviolable: the field of physics. (:350)

Using especially the work of Fritjof Capra and Micheal Polanyi, both who were initially specializing in the natural sciences before writing works of importance to philosophy, he then describes the emerging “model or theoretical structure, or a new “paradigm”” (:184). Although this is a topic for another day, I believe his strong reliance on those in the natural sciences provided for a more robust understanding of postmodernism.

It is the following quotes that I’d like to point to:

Rationality has to be expanded. One way of expanding it is to recognize that language cannot be absolutely accurate, that it is impossible finally to “define” either scientific laws or theological truths. To speak with Gregory Bateson, neither science nor theology “proves”; rather, they “probe”. This recognition has led to a reevaluation of the role of metaphor, myth, analogy, and the like, and to the rediscovery of the sese of mystery and enchantment. (:353)

… the authentic Christian position in this respect is one of humility and self-criticism. After the Enlightenment it would be irresponsible not to subject our “fudiciary framework” to severe criticism, or not to continue pondering the possibility that Truth may indeed differ from what we have thought it to be” (:360)

And yet, even as we are “humbly acknowledging the uncertainty of our own conclusions”, for a “fudiciary philosophy does not eliminate doubt”, the Christian continues to hold on to unproven beliefs. It is precisely such a self-critical posture of faith which may protect us against the “blind and deceptive” nature of a “creed inverted into a science”. A post-Enlightenment self-critical Christian stance may, in the modern world, be the only means of neutralizing the ideologies; it is the only vehicle that can save us from self-deception and free us from dependence on utopian dreams. (:361)

Within Bosch’s argument, it would seem to me that the pages from which the above quotes come is key to understanding his hermeneutical presuppositions. Missing these thoughts might lead us into literilizing a theological concept such as the “Missio Dei”, which within the postmodern approach of Bosch must be understood as metaphor. Missing these thoughts can also cause us to misuse Bosch to create another triumphant Missiology that make claims of providing the final and only possible solution for humankind, whether in this world or outside of it.

From Bosch we must construct a Missiology which self-critically holds to unproven beliefs, and recognize them as such, always holding to the possibility that Truth may indeed differ from what we have thought it to be…

the lion that ruled the world

September 2, 2009

“Alexander the Great was a lion”, my matric teacher told our class. For the average reader, with a general understanding of language and rhetoric, and who know enough about history that the name “Alexander the Great” is familiar, and who know what a lion is, this statement would be pretty easy to understand. But what if I were to meet someone who did not understand this type of saying?

“Alexander the Great was a lion, and he ruled the world”. The obvious question would then be: “How could a lion rule the world”? And lets say that over time the consensus in society would move to the point where no one would consider the fact that the saying “Alexander the Great was a lion” is a metaphor, some interesting ideas might ne the result. Maybe we would then start a myth to explain that there was a time when lions could talk, when they could mobilize armies, and where one of them, who happened to be born in Greece, became the ruler of the world.

If a historian might then discover a scroll saying that Alexander was a man, the child of a king, who fought many battles. This historian might over time realize that we have a metaphor that was literalized. In his reading of this man Alexander, he might after time decide that indeed, “Alexander was a lion”.

However, when he would try to explain to his friends what he discover, he would have to say that “Alexander the Great was not a lion”, since they have a literal understanding of the saying. Only in a community that understand metaphors, and the metaphorical language, and the history, that gave rize to the idea that “Alexander the Great was a lion” would the historian be able to proclaim tha amazing discovery he made when he read the stories of Alexander. In this community, while telling his friends about Alexander, he would be able to say: “Indeed, Alexander the Great was a lion”.