James K. Smith on Caputo's Deconstruction

Since I recently posted on Caputo’s “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” I thought it would be helpful to point out this article a friend emailed me by one of my favorite contemporary theologians, James K. Smith.

Smith, sounding a lot like Žižek (especially in chapter 2 ofThe Puppet and the Dwarf), argues that “orthodoxy” is in fact the most radical stance of all when he says:

 

My claim is relatively simple: that despite all the bad press and caricatures from supposedly enlightened liberals, it is in fact orthodoxy that constitutes the most radical appreciation of “deconstructibility.??? To put it a little more stridently and provocatively, I would suggest that the Jesus of Pope Benedict XVI represents a more radical hermeneutic than the Jesus we get from Schillibeeckx, that the church of Francis Cardinal George is a more radical institution than the sort of church you’d get from Gary Wills, and that the Gospel according to Stanley Hauerwas is more radical than the Gospel according to Jim Wallis.

(From
Global Spiral :: Article
)

I think Smith’s article is critical of Caputo’s book in all the right places. He criticizes the binary between deconstruction and the undeconstructables, and the crippling vulnerability that the book has to its own critical method. He also makes the impressive point that the one thing lacking from Caputo’s book, the incarnation, is in fact the most radical point of all: that God inhabits the deconstructable spaces of our

world. He says,

The Trinitarian God of Catholic faith is not scared off by contingency, particularity or deconstructibility. Unlike the Wholly Other of the Derridean Gospel, the Incarnate God exhibits no allergy to the deconstructible. Indeed, this is the very distinctive logic of incarnation7: God does not call for the deconstruction and dismantling of the deconstructible on the basis of or with a view to some undeconstructible and impossible kingdom; rather, God condescends to inhabit the deconstructible. If we want to ask ourselves what Jesus would do, we might consider what Jesus did. The Incarnation is the mad story of the undeconstructible…

Smith also picks up on the point (albeit far more articulate) I made in my post: that method of deconstruction, when used in the way employed by Caputo, lands us back in the same place of the modern liberalism and individualism of R.Neibuhr and others.

The deconstructed church turns out to be a church that desperately wants you to voluntarily care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger, but promises not to interfere with your body or to press you about your voluntary almsgiving. In short, this vision of the so-called kingdom sure feels a lot like Locke or Rousseau, beginning from a (still) atomistic conception of community where the basic unit is the individual; the church (or any other community) is at best a collection of consenting adults.5 That sounds like a solidly modern gospel to me. (Indeed, just where does this deconstructive gospel ever disagree with the Declaration of Independence?) What’s never entertained here is the possibility that Jesus’ Gospel actually articulates a fundamentally communitarian and anti-liberal conception of persons and community, where the “body??? (1 Cor. 12) precedes and takes precedence over the individual, and where the community specifies the shape of the good life rather than leaving it up to the whims of individual pursuits of life, liberty, and happiness. Wouldn’t that be a more radical critique of modernity?

Before I go and just quote the entire article, you might as well read it.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

2 thoughts on “James K. Smith on Caputo's Deconstruction”

  1. Wess,

    I agree with you, this is an excellent article by James K Smith. It reinforces the true scandal of the Gospel (The Incarnation) and places the emphasis not on what “we should do” but rather on what Christ “has (already) done”. The church at large is being suffocated by attempting to live out a social gospel without being transformed by the Incarnation of Christ.

    Thanks for posting this article.

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