I no longer live here. You can find me at p.ost.
Mike Morrell prompted me initially to respond to Kevin Beck’s This Book Will Change Your World, and has now posted some thought-provoking comments. Since they mainly have to do with the thesis of Re: Mission, a new post seems in order. His basic argument, if I have understood him correctly, is that while there is something appealing to the postmodern about the emphasis on the narrative particularity of biblical truth, there is still something that “points to a certain cosmic or larger scope of inclusion of all humanity in the blessings of God, not just a subset called ‘the people of God’”.
In ‘Postmodern illusions and performances’, the fourth essay in A Future for Africa, Emmanuel Katongole argues that postmodernism is unlikely to prove the blessing for Africa that many had hoped. He accepts that it continues to have some usefulness as an intellectual style that casts suspicions on ‘classical notions of truth, reason, identity, and objectivity; of the idea of universal progress or emancipation, of single frameworks, grand narratives, or ultimate grounds of explanation’ (Eagleton). But in its various cultural expressions it barely constitutes an advance on the crudest forms of modern western self-interest as most starkly illustrated by Kurtz’s ‘final solution to the problem of difference’ in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: ‘exterminate all the brutes’ (74-75).
William Cheriegate asked me to expand on the following remark in my post on Transmillennialism – not least for the benefit of those who ‘grew up in the midst of a conquering American “christian” empire’:
To my mind, the Bible has lower expectations about the nature of the impact of the people of God on the world around it.
The expansion has become something of a story in its own right, a summary of how I think the biblical narrative situates us in the world, shapes our calling as a distinct people of God, and sets the scope of our expectations and ambitions.
In the second essay in A Future for Africa Emmanuel Katongole searches for a theological perspective on the AIDS crisis in Africa that moves beyond the usual polarization of the debate between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ positions. The problem is that both camps ‘share the same narrow view of ethics as primarily a prescriptive discipline’ and fail to consider the ‘narrative’ context that constrains the options available. Ethics must be narrative, he believes, ‘not just in the plain sense of telling stories, but in the critical sense of offering interpretive frameworks and descriptions that help us to understand and critically assess the sort of people we are becoming as we live with and try to negotiate the challenges we face’ (30). But the AIDS pandemic also highlights the acute need beyond description to ‘provide alternative symbols, images, and practices to those currently available’.
I read Kevin Beck’s This Book Will Change Your World in response to some gentle and persistent prompting from Mike Morrell. As Mike observes, there are some interesting similarities and some distinct differences between Kevin’s exposition of Transmillenialism and the thesis of The Coming of the Son of Man and of Re: Mission. Some of the issues raised were addressed a few years ago in a post on Transmillennialism™ on Open Source Theology. I won’t go into great detail here but will list some of the thoughts that came to mind as I read the book, which hopefully will help to clarify the main points of agreement and disagreement.
In the first essay, ‘Remembering Idi Amin’, Katongole explores his own childhood memories of Idi Amin in an attempt to understand how the present condition of Africa has been shaped by memories of colonial and post-colonial brutality. He notices that his ‘happy’ memories of the early period of Amin’s rule are much more vivid than his memories of the troubles that ensued and concludes from this that a ‘constructive conversation about memory… must move beyond a focus on recollections in our mind, to an examination of concrete habits and patterns of life’ (10). He adopts the phrase ‘geographies of memories’ to denote the broad socially embodied nature of memory.
I have started reading Emmanuel Katongole’s A Future for Africa: Critical Essays in Christian Social Imagination as preparation for the Amahoro conference in Johannesburg in a couple of weeks. Katongole is a Catholic priest from Uganda who is now associate professor of theology at Duke Divinity School and co-director of its Center of Reconciliation.
His broad argument, as stated in the introduction, is that what Africa needs to overcome its various intractable social problems – ‘poverty, violence, instability, tribalism, and so forth’ – is not more good advice, not ‘abstract principles and recommendations’, but a new imagination. Christian ethics for Africa has been so preoccupied – understandably – with the ‘search for realistic and pragmatic considerations and solutions’ that it has failed to grasp the fact that the problems are ‘wired within the imaginative landscape of Africa’.
Mike Morrell has articulated
a good question about the thesis of The
Coming of the Son of Man and Re: Mission. It comes down to this: Given the metaphorical potential of biblical
language, what keeps us from deflating all
apparently final language to historical proportions? Or more crudely:
Why not ‘go the full preterist route’? By what criteria do we decide
that in some contexts the language of cosmic transformation is
figurative and in other contexts literal? This is how he sums it up…
I’ve just been listening to what strikes me as an excellent introductory podcast on eschatology by Martin Scott - a nice example of how a rethinking of eschatology along narrative-historical lines has the potential for generating good new theological syntheses. It caught my eye because Martin lists The Coming of the Son of Man as a ‘provocative’ influence on his thinking alongside NT Wright and Open Theology. But he rather spoils the effect, from my point of view, by concluding that I have presented ‘such a strong fulfilment in the events of AD 70 that you’re left wondering if he proposes an actual parousia at all’.