The Poetics of the Kingdom versus the ‘Logic’ of the World

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am a rather big fan of the philosopher and theologian John D. Caputo, whom I believe may likely be one of the most significant contributors to theology in this age — even if others haven’t realized it yet. As I continue to work on a forthcoming conference paper, I find myself again returning to some of his already-classic texts like his celebrated 2006 book, The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event (Indiana University Press).

To quote from Caputo is to do the scholar’s work a disservice because it really deserves to be read in its entirety. One of the things I most admire about Caputo is the way in which he conveys his insight and analysis. His style is unique and captivating, oftentimes flowing in and out of both colloquial and academic language. In one of my courses last semester a student of mine, after reading two chapters of a Caputo book, asked me if all contemporary theologians wrote like this — unfortunately, I informed him, most don’t, Caputo is special.

In any event, I want to share a little selection from The Weakness of God that, I believe, speaks to our time and world. Something that we need to keep in mind as we all strive to live the Gospel life, the life modeled by Christ, the life that announces the Kingdom of God.

In the New Testament, the “world” and the kingdom are antagonists because the logic of the world is a calculus, an economy, a heartless system of accounting or of balanced payments, where scores are always being settled. In the logic of the world, nothing is for free and nobody gets off scot-free. By the same token, in the logic of the world, everything is for sale, everything has a price, and nothing is sacred. The world will stop at nothing to get even, to settle or even a score; the world is pomp and power and ruthless reckoning. In the world, offenders are made to pay for their offense and every investor expects a return…

The kingdom comes to contradict the world and contest the world’s ways, and it always looks like foolishness to the world’s good sense, moving as it does between logic and passion, truth and justice, concepts and desire, strategies and prayers, astute points and mad stories, for it can never be merely or simply the one or the other…The kingdom comes to put the world in question, to put it on the spot, to put it into question…

There is much more to say and upon which to reflect, but for now I think these two passages from Caputo offer us a little destabilizing meditation that, in a helpful way, redirects out focus on the challenge of Christian living in the face of “logical” behavior as the world or intuition suggests.

As Caputo says elsewhere, the Kingdom of God is an experience of the turning-upside-down of reality, where the weak are the strong and the poor become rich. It is the experience or recognition of God’s rule (malkuth YHWH, as we say in Hebrew) that announces freedom to the captives, sight to the blind, justice for the oppressed and bad news for the wealthy, greedy, powerful, unjust and the like.

The poetics of the Kingdom, and poetic has to be the shape of its discourse because logic does not apply by conventional standards, is the call for more authentic Gospel life. It seems foolish and unreasonable, but isn’t that what we see in a God who becomes weakly human and suffers at the hands of the powerful for unjust reasons? It seems illogical and short-sighted, but isn’t that what we see in Jesus’s rejection of the worldly temptations in the desert? ┬áIt seems stupid and unrewarding, but isn’t that why Jesus tells us in his paradigmatic Sermon on the Mount (or Plain) that the reward is not of earthly origin, but eternal and for those the world would ostensibly not reward?

Like St. Francis of Assisi, whose self-referential title was “God’s fool,” it is time for us to become foolish in the sight of the world and abandon the logic of its injustice for the poetic experience of God’s kingdom. After all, nobody said it would be easy… in fact, there’s a lot of talk about crosses and suffering along the way, not exactly the world’s idea of accomplishment.

 

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3 Responses to “The Poetics of the Kingdom versus the ‘Logic’ of the World”

  1. Ken Lovasik Says:

    Thanks so much, Dan, for this beautiful reflection via John Caputo. I’ve been studying Theology for over 40 years, and teaching it for more than 30 years, and I am increasingly drawn to appreciate the ‘poetics’ of God’s Word, in both the Hebrew and Christian traditions. Caputo, among others, does us a great service in pointing out what seems like ‘illogic’ in the Scriptures (certainly from the point of view of those who see ‘reason’ as the only way to truth) is really the true wisdom of God. To miss this is to miss the message of the Word of God!

  2. Thanks for this interesting post! I’ve been curious about Caputo’s thought for a long time, but I’ve only known of him as a scholar of Derrida. Would you recommend _The Weakness of God_ as a good introduction to his work, or are there better places to start? (I’ve got one of those 40% off coupons from Borders, and I want to put it to good use.)

  3. Hi Sonja,

    Yes, Caputo is a Derridean par excellence and his theology is highly shaped and informed by deconstruction, which is partly why it’s so appealing (to me at least). I totally recommend “The Weakness of God” it is indeed a ‘must read,’ but if you’re looking for a less time consuming, more entertaining and powerfully relevant book to get started with Caputo (and I believe after finishing this book, you’ll want more…) I also recommend his popular “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” (Baker, 2007). It rocks, but then again all of his books due (I’m clearly biased). Hope that helps!

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