Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thanks for the review and a rejoinder

Dr. Lucy Lind Hogan has reviewed my book, Groans of the Spiritin the 2011 issue of Homiletic. First of all, let me say how much I appreciate her doing so. Book reviews require a serious investment of time, care, and consideration of someone's thought, and Dr. Hogan has given me a gift by simply reading and reviewing the book. This is no small task in light of the demands of the times and the "elliptical" nature of my prose (as Walter Brueggemann once gently described it, trying to edge me toward greater clarity, or at least that is how I took his comment).

Second, I also appreciate the sense in which she is willing to validate my concern, at least up to a point, namely, that we live in an age of confusion in which the ideology and rhetoric of inclusion has run amok, to the extent that the church has lost sight of many essential texts and doctrines that lend coherence to the Christian gospel. 

A couple of points Dr. Hogan makes invite a modest rejoinder. First, she says, "Slemmons overlooks the legitimate difference between philosophical and theological enterprises and ignores the fact that Gadamer was engaged in the former not the latter." On the contrary, I do not in any way wish to attack Gadamer's philosophical enterprise, but to simply draw attention to precisely the difference Dr. Hogan says I ignore, and to do so by way of the critical distinction between, on the one hand, scriptural interpretation as a matter of pneumatology and, on the other, the field of hermeneutics, whether of a general or postmodern variety. In asking homiletics to do its theologically interpretive work properly, the defense and legitimizing of philosophy does not fall to me, but to those who wish to draw lessons for Christian preaching from it directly, as rhetoric does habitually, without any expectation that it be adapted to the terms of theological revelation. 

Second, as Dr. Hogan reflects on my essay, "Enter through the Narrow Gate," she owns, "I was challenged to reflect upon how a 'both/and' preacher would reject the vacuity that is his concern," but she objects, "as one who is grounded in the tradition of the sacramental/analogical imagination, I can only visit Slemmons’ world. Reading Prof. Slemmons [sic] approach did not encourage me to reside in that narrow world." While I am glad that my concern has registered with the reviewer, I cannot help but think that the suggestion this concern entails or expects that the reader must "reside" in a narrow "world" misses several points, namely, that the narrow gate is an entrance to something far larger and broader, not a residence or a world in which one is to remain indefinitely or become stuck permanently. Jesus said, "Enter through the narrow gate." The act of entering something is essentially transitional and temporary. Further, as I believe the essay and the sermons at the end (to which Dr. Hogan makes no reference) make clear, I am not arguing for narrowness per se, but for a broad/narrow dialectic. While broadness is undoubtedly an important aspect of theology, eschatology, ecclesiology, and Christology (i.e., the Spirit ushers us baptismally into the crucified Christ by way of the narrow gate of the cross in order to permanently join in his broad, encompassing fellowship and his recapitulating mission as "participants in the divine nature"), its misapplication to the prospect of entering the kingdom of God is disastrous and destructive (Matt 7:13-14). That is not merely my argument, or Barth's or Kierkegaard's. It is the word of the Christ preaching the Sermon on the Mount. Thus, I do not think our listeners can afford for preachers to make that a matter of personal preference, depending on whether we style ourselves dialecticians, rhetoricians, or ana-logicians.

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