So this Easter Monday radio rant of Rush Limbaugh would be funny if it wasn’t so disturbing. It seems that filled with the Easter spirit, Limbaugh went on the air and rejected the question What Would Jesus Do in order to ask What Would Jesus Take? Placing Jesus Christ in the place of some sort of pseudo-libertarian or conservative economist. The taking, Limbaugh explains, has to do with what, if it were up to the Jesus, would the tax rate be? Yes, a very important theological question that is always on the minds of systematic theologians and scripture scholars around the globe.
Limbaugh’s belief is that “the left claims Jesus Christ is good for promoting liberalism.” Instead, he asserts, “what would Jesus take? That’s the question people need to ask…the answer: nothing!”
It’s curious that this ridiculous statement is made this week, because I happen to be discussing with my theology students precisely this question — WWJD? — through the work of John D. Caputo. Caputo’s masterful little text, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (Baker, 2007), is the way I’ve selected to wrap up the semester.
I wanted my students to read some very contemporary theological efforts that reflect the notion of fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding) that offers an engagement with postmodern continental philosophy. The idea is that after studying the rudimentary elements of Christian systematic theology for a semester, the students should be able to approach a contemporary text with the basic tools for comprehension and analysis.
Caputo uses WWJD? as the starting point, tracing the history of this largely evangelical slogan back to its roots in a 19th-Century book, In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon. The primary theme that emerges from Sheldon’s book, which originated as a series of sermons, was to highlight the Gospel call to social justice. That’s right, WWJD? has radical implications and is, in a sense, a very subversive question. That it has, in recent decades, become domesticated and diluted to fit the personal and subjective needs of certain populations does the question and its origin a disservice.
Captuo, engaging in deconstructive performance á la Jacques Derrida and with the grammatical and literary stylings typical of the brilliant Caputo, opens up for us a renewed way of looking at the meaning of that question, while identifying themes (Christology, Ecclesiology, Revelation, etc.) that benefit from such analysis. The end result is not the destruction, as many mistakenly associate with deconstruction, but the acknowledgement of that which is always already there — what does Jesus do? what did He do? A form of deconstruction that announced and enacted the Kingdom of God, not offering the (il)logic of the world.
Back to Rush. This little video clip below highlights a rather reasonable response that an MSNBC commentator offered to Rush Limbaugh’s horrendous theological claim. Take a listen to Limbaugh and to the response — I think the segment speaks for itself. In the meantime, if you are interested in a serious and enlightening elucidation of the WWJD? phenomenon and its theological implications for our time, check out Caputo’s What Would Jesus Deconstruct?