The Will to Action: Why are we afraid to act?


This is a new post up at Deep Church, that I originally wrote for the Church and Post Modern Culture blog. I've posted the text below, comments are closed here, but open at the Deep Church blog here. ----------

Why is the Emerging Church drawn to de-constructive theology?

I am at the early stages of my Ph.D research and my thoughts are those of the theological/philosophical neophyte, trying to see the 'wood for the trees', so please excuse my crude conclusion and suggestions. I'll approach this topic from two perspectives, in terms of 'best' and 'worst'.

If deconstructive theology teaches us anything it's that our new theologies, and concomitant ecclesiologies will embody some wonderful new things, as well as drifting into some dire productions (which in any event locates the emerging church in the continuing nature of the historical church).

'At it's Best'

De-constructive theology enables us to be open to the 'other', and to take a position of epistemic humility. Whilst deconstructive philosophy has enabled us to unmask the a priori commitments of the church to modernity, theologians like John Milbank (in a non nihilistic and non Heideggerian/Nietzschean way) have so ably shown and unmasked the a priori commitments of secularism to liberal protestant ideals.


Christians are called to search for others not like us, not in aggression (as that destroys our openness and theirs to us) but so that we might hear and assess ourselves in light of others and they may in turn learn from us. This is so unlike pluralism, where consensus is the goal, or as in exclusivism with the crushing of the other into submission.

Within all this openness to the other, and epistemic humility, many of us have been discovering that the church is not the embodiment of truth (as Jesus is the truth and not a possession) but that it is the unique place that embodies the seeking of truth, of Jesus, by the Spirit.

Alongside Lyotard's diagnosis of suspicion towards meta-narratives, we realise there has never been a pure Christian meta-narrative, Christians have always borrowed from the culture around them and constructed a meta-narrative from the things at hand, the knowing of Jesus in the particular (at least that is my conviction). Yet it is this claim which highlights a problem of deconstruction.

At it's worst

Deconstruction has a major flaw, inherent in it's makeup. Whilst Christians confess the particular of following the historical Jesus within changing historical contexts/horizons and traditions, the post-modern philosophers, or maybe more specifically within the neo-Nietzschean of deconstructive hermeneutics, there is little to no possibility that anyone can make any truth claims as a person, institution and organisation.

In the process of deconstruction debate often ends (and the need for ongoing discussion) once the false construction of what we are examining is revealed.There is no 'will to act; at all, with a ‘surface consumption’ of what we have deconstructed, that Baudrillard mapped out so ably in his writing. (I posted some thoughts on this here)

The deconstructive view seems to have no room for conflict and debate between claims. Yet whilst using their tools, it's discourse can help theologians remember that we cannot rely too heavily on our systems of thought. With an awareness that our theological constructions are inherent with sin, maybe deconstruction enables us to tread with caution with our assertions.

But the power of sin is not just in the systems that are deconstructed but in the people who try to deconstruct!Deconstructive theology can help us see the 'other', but is often so sceptical that it ends up having no responsibility to act to others, and can appear at best as the playful behaviours of the indulgent middle class, or something far more sinister at worst.

The deconstructive theology can become more about the 'subject' showing off their skills at subversion of the 'object', and their right to do so, than any desire to close of discussion and take action, as agents of the Kingdom for the mission of Jesus.

There is a responsibility to deconstruct, of openness to the other, but also of closing off, to be able to act. Whilst the emerging church finds an openness to the other, and humility in it’s beliefs, it must also learn the process of 'closing off', of moving from abstraction to the concrete, of the nature of action from within this new deconstructive freedom it has found.

And in trying to find a way to do that we might turn to some French philosophers, from the meaningful agency of Bourdieu with his notion of 'tatics' (compared to the nihilism of Baudrillard), and the strengthening of this agency through the actions of 'bricolage' outlined by de Certeau, but that's a topic for another post.