Two weeks ago I put up a post built around Tripp’s notes for his High Gravity talks with Pete Rollins for the Summer Reading Group they were hosting online around the subject of Radical Theology.
Little did I know that this would be so poorly received. The main critisim came from 2 divergent camps:

  1. Those who are really into Radical Theology (RT) and feel both territorial about the subject and indignant that their favored father was left off of Caputo’s genealogy (and thus the Rushmore poster promoting the Subverting the Norm 2 conference)
  2. Those who are frustrated and flustered by the subject all together

I could literally write an entire post about how intriguing the juxtaposition of those two groups are. However, here is a letter from Patrick F. that gets to the heart of the matter. His words will be in black. My jovial responses will be in green.


Forgive me for chiming in a few days late…

  • No worries mate! It happens on every blog post and I was out of town on a Middle School Work Week so the timing worked out.

I wrote a blog post last week ( a day after this came out) about how I felt the need to shelve Caputo’s The Weakness of God.

  • OK. TWOG is not easy reading… admittedly. BUT let’s not shelve it entirely just yet … being as it is the best book on the subject that I have read in the last decade.

Most of it is far beyond my reach as an armchair scholar (I’m not in seminary at this time). 3/4 of the time I have no damn clue who the heck he’s referencing, and a quick search to find out about those folks is clear as mud (Derrida being the big example).

  • Maybe a different Caputo text would be more appropriate to start with. He has several amazing volumes that are not as … ‘technical’ as TWOG.

I know I can’t read EVERYTHING (thanks, Tony Jones!) but I feel like I need to have read SOMETHING prior to tackling that book (or much else of what Caputo writes).  Here’s that post, if you’re interested:

  • I will look forward to checking that out. I have enjoyed your writing in the past.

This post, however, hasn’t made things much clearer.  I realize these are notes on a text, but looking at your definitions only makes me more confused.

  • Hmmmm…. I am surprised by this. I had hoped to make things more clear by boiling it down. Rest in the confidence that you were not the only one who objected. Just keep in mind that those who most objected that I made it TOO clear and that I should have let people wrestle with it themselves because the struggle is what produces any good at all.

For example:
Your definition of radical theology is really broad.  To say it’s a theology that isn’t tied to a denomination or sanctioning body really doesn’t say much; there’s plenty of theologians out there who theologize without working in the context of a church.   If we’re simply talking about people who talk about God, you could call Donald Miller a radical theologian by this definition.

  • Wrong. Donald Miller is accountable to both his home church in Portland’s pastoral staff and to his publisher (and subsequently their readership at Christian Book Stores)
  • I don’t want to be mean, but that fact that you even think that Donald Miller could be in this category let’s me know that you have not gotten this concept.  Radical Theologians are OUT THERE. They do not report to the church and are not accountable to the ecclesiastic structure or to its history. I can not overstate this.

Listen: Tripp and I are both pastors at Mainline churches. We do not do Radical Theology – we are only hosting this conversation because it provides a much needed critique of the existent structure. Homebrewed is outside of most people’s outer boundary… and we are not Radical…. we are only in conversation with the Radical tradition. Just think about that. 

If I go on to your definition of Confessional theology, things do a get a little clearer in that you tie any approach to theology that looks to classical thinking to its definition (which would lump Miller in here).  Couple that with Tripp’s notes that radical theology is parasitic to confessional theology, it leads me to think that radical theology has to reject any theology at all that might attempt to articulate anything metaphysical.

  • On this account your are 100% accurate. Now I feel bad about being so hard on you about that last point 😉

And for all its antagonism toward confessional theology, many confessional theologians are coming around to the kind of thinking (or at least attitudes) that radical theology champions without radical theology’s help.

  • I would contest that it is without RT’s help. Ever since the Death of God movement and that famous Time Magazine cover in 1966, RT has had an influence on all of us.

I’m kinda annoyed at Tripp’s note that “radical theology reserves the right to ask any question.” OK, fine, but why do they spend so much time asking questions and little to no time attempting to answer them?

  • AH HA! We find the crux of the problem: Constructive Theology attempts to answer the questions. That is not what RT is up to! You are asking a Bulldozer to be a Comero. Look … it’s just never going to do that. I don’t know what else to say … those are unrealistic expectations.

I love Peter Rollins, and many of his writings have impacted me, but listening to Tripp interview him is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever heard.  I feel like Caputo makes more attempts to answer questions posed to him, but does so almost in a way as to say, “There is no question.”

  • Good one! Yes, Pete does not like to answer’s Tripp’s brand of questions (and for good reason). Whereas Caputo just says “that’s not a real question”. Caputo is a living legend. He gets to decide what questions to answer and which not to. Rollins is a friend of the podcast and has to make himself available and be somewhat approachable for the interrogation that Tripp puts him under. No other author subjects themselves to that level of vulnerability. So while it can be infuriating … it is only because Pete agrees to a level of hand-to-hand combat that almost no one else would even dream of. Most authors would not even consider letting Tripp ask them real questions.

One thing I don’t get is how subbing metaphysics for theo-poetics actually helps radical thinking.  When I was reading the Weakness of God, Caputo seemed to make the claim that, by doing away with metaphysics, he was solving the problem.  It sound more like avoiding the question to me (see point above). If we’re going to affirm an event, but otherwise not talk about it except with poetic language that has little concrete meaning (thinking about what Tony Jones said at the Cornhole match), why should I believe there’s an event to begin with?

  • THIS is a great point!!! And …. if this had been your only point …. we could have done an entire post on this subject alone!
  • You let me know if you want to chase this rabbit down the hole because … I love this subject. (By love … I mean that it is all I think about every day of the week that ends in a ‘Y’)

Oddly enough, looking back over what I just wrote, maybe I get it better than I thought.

  • That makes sense.

I really like some of the things posed and pushed for by radical theology,

  • For sure! It is a much needed critique.

but I feel like if I look deeper into it, I’m left very wanting.

  • That may be rectified by accepting the nature of the project.

Also, like Micky was saying, I feel like I need to wear a dunce cap while I’m reading it sometimes.  It’s articulation is way, way over my head.

  • Fair enough. Admittedly, RT is not for everyone. Of the 50,000 IP addresses that downloaded from HBC in the past months, 146 were even interested enough to sign up for High Gravity. It is a niche market. 

Everyone feel free to chime in with your thoughts and concerns. All we ask is that you please let us know if you are in a PhD program in Chicago.