Theological outlaws

If postmodernism is a disposition (and a dis/position), it is a disposition that is more instinctively comfortable for some than others. I want to give a picture for the former, but perhaps it is a picture that’s inviting – an invitation to join the “we” mentioned in the forthcoming passage. It’s a passage by Gavin Hyman in the book The Predicament of Postmodern Theology; the ‘predicament’ being the simultaneous necessity and impossibility of a Christian metanarrative. If there is a way to live in this paradox (and I’m convinced there is), what is it and where does it leave us? Hyman writes: “Neither city dwellers [theologians, believers, theists] nor desert nomads [a/theologists, unbelievers, atheists], “we are exiled to an intermediate zone.” Hyman writes:

Carl Raschke has characterized such a zone as an “Indian Territory.” Following [John] Caputo, he says that we are “outlaws”: “The outlaw moves routinely and undetected, within the ‘territory’ from which he or she is a fugitive. Whereas the nomad has no ‘home’, no territory to signify as place, the outlaw knows his, or her, ‘site’. The terrain is familiar. The postmodernist is like the habiru of ancient Egypt, an outlaw that ‘displaces’ the topos of imperial signification to the desert. Yet the desert is always a place from which to stage raids on the empire, to wander in and wander out, to settle and rule, then return.” So the outlaw “wanders in and wanders out” of (or “moves through”) theology. Theology is the “familiar” terrain from which we are fugitives. It is a terrain that can be “accessed, disrupted, and called to the bar.” But if theology is the terrain through we move, it is not our territory: “as a house is not a home, a terrain is not a territory.” …To dwell within Indian Territory is to dwell in a condition of suspension, as we find ourselves suspended in and between opposites… Faced with these opposites, we are confronted with a decision that must necessarily be left unmade. Deprived of a place where this undecidability may be unproblematically expressed, we must necessarily resort to tactics… But what will it mean to enact such tactics? We have seen that we cannot avoid the terrain of theology, and yet it is a terrain from which we are simultaneously exiled. Consequently, our tactics will be to move through theology, intellectually, ethically, and ecclesiastically…

I have bastardized Hyman’s conclusion in the name of simplicity, of presentation — the picture is key here, not the particulars. But I suspect the objections are already percolating, a suspicion supported by knowing that the majority of my readers are Evangelicals; indeed, no doubt my “site” is Evangelicalism, my “terrain” that of Protestantism. I suspect we (I, too, when within your city walls) cringe at “condition of suspension.” Don’t we, we (hyper)moderns, resist such tensions (“either/or, please sir!”) — yet isn’t this at the heart of the Christian message? Scripture is rife with paradox and tension, and more than a few sects have arisen simply by crafting a narrative that excludes the other. Was it Abraham’s faith, or God’s grace, that lead to the provision of a lamb? Is it not both? Is this not carried into the New Testament, where our salvation is both act and process, both because of works and in spite of them? A savior (both God and man) who is crucified at Golgoltha, yet also crucified once eternally for all saints? Do we not preach of a Kingdom of God that is both present and absent, one that is here and to come?

There is more to unpack here, another story that I’m emotionally and intellectually unprepared to tell presently. It is of a ragged, wandering Christ who is pursuing and being pursued, appearing and disappearing, always close and always far. It is both the “not that, not that” of Hyman and nihilism, and the “viens, oui, oui” of Derrida and deconstruction. Come, yes, yes. Beautiful vision, stay with me all the time; beautiful vision, stay ever on my mind.

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