The Speech and Practice of Christianity, Part II
E-mail Correspondence with Catherine Keller (April 1, 2009)
Cullen-Meyer: I recently finished your book Face of the Deep and appreciated it greatly. I was wondering if you might elucidate for me your approach to ecclesiology and theodicy. As for the first, even though the book is of a different topic, I had trouble mustering a reason to go to church. The church in my experience is rarely politically provocative or creative but conservative and patriarchal. Do you believe the church holds the possibility to begin again in a tehomic plethora of possibilities and transgress dominant discourses as well as Western social orders? Secondly, I sense that a theology of becoming is pregnant with an alternative response to suffering and evil that goes beyond the common responses given by standard philosophy of religion courses that explain evil away and make us indifferent to material suffering. For one, process theology ostensibly does not fix a binary oppositionalism between Creator and created. The point being, individual agency is therefore not in competition with God. Furthermore, suffering caused by nature and suffering caused by civilization do not seem to be as isolated as typically viewed. Our world can also not be said to be the best of all possible worlds within a tehomic framework it seems to me. From my perspective a theology of becoming at the very least does not get God or ourselves off the hook in wrestling with particular horrendous evils. That is about as far as I get. I would love your help in wrestling with some of these questions or point me in a good direction. Since this is the only book of yours I have read, and granting that I may have missed things in Face of the Deep, forgive me if my questions have already been answered by you here or elsewhere.
Keller: Thank you for such an intelligent response. And of course a searching one—as the churches are pretty much as you say. But I find many exceptional congregations (often Episcopalian or UCC, occasionally even my denom of UMC), and they are real centers of community and activism. As to the questions of suffering, evil and what is called theodicy—I draw deeply from process theology. On this matter (and a bit on the church) I think you will find my more readable recent book On the Mystery quite germane. And the references in it to process theologians (Cobb, Griffin, their joint book; also Griffin’s God, Power, and Evil, technical but thorough; both drawing on AN Whitehead) may also be key.
Blessings of the Deep in your search!
Cullen-Meyer: Thank you for the help. I will definitely check out the references you mentioned. I had not yet read your chapter on Job when I sent the email but finished it today. That was helpful in itself. Would you say a good ‘pastoral’ response to particular sufferings would be to ‘change the subject’ due to the limits of answering theodicy theologically? In other words, would a good response be to expose our theologies of control in favor of a doxological respect for creation? As you put it, the answer to Job’s question still seems to be blowin’ in the wind.
Keller: A doxological respect, amen! Inasmuch as it inspires action on behalf of the earth and its vulnearble critters!
I do think On Mystery will be friendly for you.