Q & R: Death of God
Here's the Q:
I was raised conservative evangelical, and A Generous Orthodoxy was one of the first books to truly push me into a whole new realm of how to think about my faith. Thank you. Since then, I have gone many directions, found a few dead ends, and am now retracing my steps to try to get on a worthwhile path again. One possible path I’ve recently discovered is lead by folks like Peter Rollins, and in another way John Shelby Spong, and perhaps originally, Paul Tillich. Their work has helped but also troubled me, and I am curious to get your thoughts on this school of theology and its attempt to grapple with the alleged “death of God.”
Here's the R:
Let me offer a less than ideal analogy, but the best I can come up with at the moment.
Imagine a woman has breast cancer. She needs immediate surgery, radiation, and chemo. These treatments are all painful and in a sense destructive. They are "troubling." But they are necessary to save her life.
After the surgery, she will need two things. First, she will need reconstructive surgery. At the same time, she will need ongoing health care to maximize her health and monitor for a possible relapse so it can be caught as early as possible.
It could be said that religions get malignancies. Racism, colonialism, sexism, a sense of supremacy and privilege and exceptionalism, a victim mentality, paranoia, xenophobia … all these can get a foothold in religious communities and threaten their health and even survival.
Some theologians do surgery. Some administer chemotherapy. They appear to make the patient worse, and if they're not careful, they can hasten the death of the patient. But they are also necessary to save her life.
Other theologians focus on reconstructive surgery, rebuild basic health, and monitor for relapse prevention.
So there are some theologians I would turn to in order to administer chemo, but I wouldn't turn to them for a steady diet to promote health. Each is important - all the more so if each can appreciate his or her specialty - both its strengths and its limitations, and do the same for others with different specialties.
I should also add that many important living theologians are in process. Their project takes twists and turns, goes through various phases. You might say they are more like a family doctor. They follow one patient (their denomination or tradition) through various phases, and so they may be involved with preventative medicine, and then help their patient go through chemo when a malignancy is found, and then help their patient recover, and then return to preventative medicine.
The analogy isn't perfect, but I think it makes the point. In evaluating theologians, it's important to understand what their project or specialty is … and what patient they are trying to help, and what diagnosis they are trying to treat, and how far along they are in the process.
Some people see writers like Tillich or Spong as terribly negative. But when you have cancer, you don't want your doctor to water down the chemo. People who think they're fine, of course, don't see any need for strong medicine at all. Jesus himself faced that problem with the religious establishment of his time.