The following quote by Craig Keen was recently posted on Facebook,
The mystery before which I am to give up all my intellectual possessions is the mystery of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
My initial (and internal) response to the quote was to call bullshit. The quote is written by an academic whose bread is buttered by an institution of intellectual possessions, posted on Facebook by an academic and will be read by those looking to secure such possessions. I admit that I became a little reactionary in my response and Craig did respond to some of my comments. The parallel he offered was that he was speaking to ‘thinkers’ in the manner that Jesus might have spoken of the wealth of the Rich Young Ruler. This parallel further begged the question for me. What might it look like to actually give away your intellectual possessions?
It seems to me that this sort of translation renders Jesus’ call overly subjective. There is no quantitative measure to evaluate the response. And of course the subjective is important, at least in my estimation. It is, however, not what should be figured into this particular appropriation of Jesus’ words. The reason Jesus’ words had impact was because of the evaluative position it put the Rich Young Ruler into. There is a time to speak of the method of living after such a decisive choice, but not before. So again, this leads me to ask whether there is any traction in claiming a parallel from Jesus’ words to the idea of giving up ‘intellectual’ possessions.
Sitting with this question for a time I began to reflect on my own trajectory in the past couple of years. In those years I was confronted by the question of whether my view of the world reflected a type of ‘pious theology’ that actually insulated me from the sort of engagement with the world that my theology apparently called me to. In other words, was the way I expressed or articulated my theology actually more significant then how my theology (intellectual possessions?) engaged the world? I came to the conclusion that in many ways this was true. I was more interested in preserving a theological form than engaging the world theologically. And so, at times explicitly and at time implicitly, I set about ‘giving up’ many of my theological possessions.
What has been the result of this dispossession? It has resulted in many theological statements (including the one above) coming across as more and more foreign or unintelligible. These statements required the now discarded theological lenses to have meaning for me.
I of course do not claim to now have a privileged perspective on the situation and I do continue to hold on to intellectual possessions. What is pressing remains the second half of the quote. Is my dispossession occurring before the mystery of the crucifixion? How would I know?
What has guided the last couple of years is the idea that the body of Christ is that which is gathered and formed in the spaces between the powers of death and those that suffer that power. I would call my approach a mixture of liberation/anabaptist/natural/existential theologies. So in many ways I would say that yes my approach has indeed been before the mystery of the crucifixion (though I may not always call it a mystery . . . sometimes it is far too blunt and pointed). So why do I continue to find this great rub with other active theological voices in the blogosphere (though more often on Facebook now) that articulate an ‘apocalyptic’ posture towards the crucifixion?
Reflecting on how some earlier exchanges occurred there appears to be a fundamental difference in theological resources (again, possessions?). I have discarded the primacy of orthodox doctrines (note I said discarded their primacy). In place I hope to have a much more reflexive or affected approach to theology. The claim of ‘natural theology’ has been leveled against this approach, and I suppose it is true as far as the label can go. However, it is the only method I currently have that has any integrity or congruence. And in this respect I do have a sense of and could articulate what it looks like for me to have discarded intellectual/theological possessions (and some days it is more than a little unnerving). But it draws me back to my initial question. How do one, particularly within a broadly ‘barthian’ posture, discard their intellectual possessions? How do they know when they are encountering the ‘mystery of the crucifixion’ if not for at least a taint of natural theology.
To be clear I am not saying such discarding does not happen. I am just not clear on what that could look like within the particular theological method I tend to encounter online. I have noticed that Halden has shifted away from a particular ecclesiology. I take it his theology was challenged at some point but what provides the criteria for a position to be ‘discarded’? How is one persuaded or, again, how does one recognize encountering the mystery of the crucifixion?