After listening to John D Caputo’s interview by Luke Mulenhauser on commonsenseatheism.com (mp3) I decided to get John’s book, What Would Jesus Deconstruct, and see what sort of case he could build for postmodern Christianity that would compel emergent pastors like Brian McLaren to endorse it.
I first encountered JackCaputo’s writings in the introduction to God, the gift, and Postmodernism, which he edited with Michael Scanlon (Indiana University Press, 1999). Since I’m not a professional philosopher, a number of the book’s chapters (sur)passed the reading comprehension capacities of my bald layman’s head, but not the introduction. There Caputo and Scanlon spoke in down-to-earth terms of our need to become “enlightened about the Enlightenment” (meaning, for my fellow less-philosophical laypeople, the eighteenth-century movement that eventually reduced reality to phenomena that could be measured and dissected by “objective” human reason).
-Brain McLaren, pg 9
McLaren goes on to provide a very brief outline of the book which I find rather helpful,
First you’ll notice that Jack flies you into a “zone of intertextuality,” meaning that he is going to suspend you between several texts, notably Sheldon’s In His Steps (the unlikely inspiration of the WWJD craze), the writings of Jacques Derrida, and the New Testament. This may strike you as an unlikely combination, but it will make perfect sense by the time you’re halfway to the last page.
John does rely heavily on Sheldon’s book to, ironically, provide some structure for his book which deals mostly with deconstructionalism. In fact, if you haven’t read Sheldon’s book you might find it worthwhile to put John’s book down and read Sheldon’s work before returning.
John’s book can be broadly divided into two sections. The first being a crash course in deconstructionalism. And the second being what John sees as the practical implications of deconstructionalism when applied to Christianity.
In the first section John does an excellent job providing the reader a cogent and easily digestible overview of what deconstructionalism is. John uses many analogies and weaves in quotes from the founders of deconstructionalsim (Jaques Derrida, Martain Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, etc.) in seamlessly. It is evident here that John is a skilled teacher who is able to convey an otherwise complex topic.
In this section John makes the claim that certain concepts like love, justice, and “the kingdom of God” are not deconstructible. John never explains exactly why or how he comes to this conclusion, but based on his aversion to objective truth I suppose even expecting a well-reasoned argument is asking too much.
John also makes the claim that since the church is not the same as the Kingdom of God (again, the reader is apparently asked to take this assertion on blind faith alone), the church is the first and foremost thing that is ripe for deconstruction.
By way of example John uses several stories from the New Testament where Jesus apparently turned the tables and did the unexpected. John subsumes these as evidence that Jesus would always do the unexpected in the name of “love” (which, defined existentially, appears to be merely a subjective concept).
From here John launches into the second major section of his book which deals with the practical implications of what he just described.
In the second section we are given, without much analysis (which, given John’s adherence to continental philosophy is not very surprising), a steady stream of assertions that Jesus would be a full-blown liberal supporting all the fashionable liberal causes of our day from gay marriage to abortion on demand. John does balk a bit at the concept of abortion but ultimately comes down on the side of the woman has a right to do whatever she wants with her body, which is consistent with John’s deconstructionalism which makes objective judgement not only impossible but wholly undesirable.
In the end, I can see why emergent pastors like Brian McLaren would find John’s work appealing. Deconstructionalism allows the reader to place any meaning they want onto a text and thus co-opt for whatever means they desire. It also makes judgement verboten which means they are absolved from the responsibility of ever taking a real stand on anything. Further, it provides a handy platform for them to support all the fashionable causes without fear of being challenged since any and all challenges to their assertions would, themselves, be deconstructed and rendered harmless.
I highly recommend John’s book for anyone who is looking to understand the emergent church movement. John provides well articulated and frank answers to anyone who wants to understand the thought-process of the postmodern Christian/church.
Even though his work is quite old, older than Caputo’s, an excellent rebuttal to this book would be Francis Schaeffer’s lecture Modern Man & Epistemology.