Liberal Theology Makes Me Want to Go Catholic: A Review of Kissing Fish for Speakeasy Bloggers

Kissing Fish: Christianity for People who Don’t Like Christianity

by Roger Wolsey

393 pp. Xlibris.  $19.99

Certain books stand out in my mind less as conversation partners and more as moments for anthropological reflection.  Such books give me a decent picture of how people whose outlooks differ from my own see the world, but I don’t come away from reading them feeling compelled to incorporate that picture of things into my own active imagination.  Off the top of my head Richard Dawkins, James Dobson, Bart Ehrman, and Rick Warren are among the living authors whose texts I’ve read recently but whose ideas haven’t really challenged mine so much as given me occasion to say, “Nope.  That’s not me.”  This month (and it took me dang near a whole month to read this book), Roger Wolsey joined that list.

I know that my reviews tend to pick nits with people’s missteps citing historically important texts, and I’m afraid that I couldn’t suppress that tendency as I read Wolsey.  As the world looks to Wolsey, ancient and medieval people thought the earth was flat (78; anyone who’s read Dante could tell him otherwise), literal readings of the Bible did not become standard practice until after the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species (102; apparently Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana doesn’t count), Abelard invented the idea of personal/individual salvation (again, I have to point to Augustine), and Quakers are Anabaptists (159; granted, some Quaker groups eventually adopted water baptism for converts, but the core of the Quaker tradition rejects bodily sacraments in favor of spiritual communion).  I know that to some this must look like “Gotcha!” review-writing, but as with other cases, I must insist that people who want readers to take their points seriously must research seriously, and the historical blunders in the book (I limited myself to three early ones) tell me, as a reader, that Wolsey doesn’t take the subject matter seriously enough to do basic fact-checking.

Beyond matters of sloppiness in isolated points, the book tends to set up binaries between “conservative Christianity” and “progressive Christianity” that do not do much to point beyond themselves towards greater complexity.  Granted, periodically through the book Wolsey takes time to offer a proviso to the tune of “there are some progressives who believe this,” but on the level of organization, just about every chapter begins with a rather flat caricature of conservative evangelicals, one that might capture the worst of the pack but certainly doesn’t account for the diversity within that camp, and proceeds to a longer description of what progressive Christians might have to say about the question at hand.  As Wolsey goes into each topic, the footnotes might offer somebody’s blog URL, the title of a magazine article, or one of Wolsey’s own sarcastic comments that didn’t fit into the flow of the book.  Periodically the typesetting changes for a “Break it Down” section that either follows a tangent that came up or quotes somebody else’s text at length, often addressing the question at hand but rarely integrating it into the larger argument.  So it goes through chapters on God, Jesus, sin, salvation, the afterlife, the Bible, the problem of evil, and eschatology, and rarely in those chapters does the book indicate that evangelicals disagree among themselves about how best to articulate answers to the questions, much less that there might be Christian writers like N.T. Wright or Will Willimon who call into question the paucity of Christian imagination instead of answering those questions in that order. Instead, if the structure of the book even in part constitutes the argument (or, if you prefer, if the medium is even partly the message), then that part of the argument seems to hold the binaries as relatively uncomplicated and unworthy of even structuring the book as anything but a series of binaries.

I should admit that Wolsey got on my bad side early when he reproduced the classic “blind men and the elephant” riff early in the book (67).  Once I see someone use that unironically (after all, if someone can see the blind men and the elephant, doesn’t that person claim an objective perspective on God that the parable seems to be warning against?) as an argument against doctrinal assertions, I lose respect for that person’s thought processes.  Beyond that, the book makes assertions about contemporary evangelicals that do not at all ring true to my own experiences.  He pushed me further towards the Dark Side when he accused conservatives of denying that the Spirit was operative in the world before Pentecost (93), apparently accusing conservatives of never reading the gospel of Luke.  He offers a positively screwy etymology of the Hebrew ha-‘adam, reading the initial aleph as the first-person imperfect stem of a becoming-verb (165) and seems to ignore the fact that the Sermon on the Mount Olivet Discourse is spoken to people already willing to follow Jesus up a… wait for it… mountain who are already following Jesus right up to the Last Supper scene, noting with some sense of triumph that very little of the sermon is dedicated to convincing people to follow Jesus (181).

Of the content of the book I won’t say much more beyond the observation that this is a catalog of early-twenty-first-century tendencies of thought among Protestant liberals and not much else.  They’re not Calvinists and they’re not Catholics and they’re not Fundamentalists, but they’re not saying much about why they’re not.  There’s very little sense that Wolsey seeks to convince any conservatives to become otherwise; they’re mainly there in the book for a sense of contrast and so that to demonstrate, over and over, that Wolsey ain’t them.  After two hundred fifty pages of this they-say-we-say pattern, the final run of the book is a list of spiritual practices that liberal Christians tend to undertake, from versions of lectio divina to listening to rock and roll albums to public advocacy for New-Left causes, nothing that surprised me but also nothing that runs against my sense of what liberal Christians are about.  At the end of this (very long) book, I’m no more convinced than I was at the beginning to become a progressive, and I haven’t learned much about progressives, but I have seen a decade’s worth of web reading compiled in a book, just in case someone wants to see all of the places where liberal Protestants differ from (something like) conservative evangelicals.

Ultimately, a book like this reminds me that, when I’m tempted to say that my more-conservative sostren and brethren that they’re stereotyping liberal Christians, sometimes there are people to whom they (the conservative siblings) could point and say, “Look!  That’s just what I was talking about!”  Indeed there are people who say that the forgiveness of sins isn’t at the core of the gospel because , in human conflicts, the main fact that both sides ignore is that “we’re both fine–just as we are” (269) and that there’s really nothing beyond a “mess-up” or two to forgive anyway.  And there are people who think that “literal” is the opposite of “nuanced” (193) rather than literal sense being one component of a (medieval) nuanced reading that also encompasses other things.  And yes, there are people who quote the incendiary blog of an angry evangelical and assume that said blog post represents and encapsulates a theology of “Divine child abuse” (155) which in turn represents most evangelicals.  All of those stereotypes do have roots in the real world (I have a book in my hand that proves it), and likely the stereotypes that people heap on me do as well.  Mercifully, there are certain books out there that might well begin with stereotypes but eventually articulate arguments powerful enough to take seriously in spite of their genesis.

This book just ain’t it.

*A note to the reader: As Roger Wolsey notes in a comment below, I did refer to a section of his book treating Matthew 25, part of Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, as the Sermon on the Mount.  That was a careless oversight on my part, and the text above that’s stricken through reflect my retractions and corrections.

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Liberal Theology Makes Me Want to Go Catholic: A Review of Kissing Fish for Speakeasy Bloggers

  1. It sounds like this book is addressed to the same ex-evangelical community that Rob Bell’s Love Wins was directed to (such as formerly homeschooled kids from the fundamentalist ghetto who finally get from under their parents’ tentacles and say f*** all of that).

    De Doctrina Christiana is one of my favorite texts precisely because Augustine lays down the rule that whatever in the Bible is not directed to loving God or loving your neighbor should NOT be taken literally. I don’t have the citation for that particular passage right in front of me (it’s toward the end of book 1), but the form of “literalism” that we have today is a completely different animal than pre-modern Biblical hermeneutics. Augustine has a completely different understanding of 2 Timothy 3:16 than literalists do in our day, because he was operating under a sacramental framework in which the symbolic is actually more real than the empirical. Thus it’s not a problem for Methusalah’s age to contain a mysterious profound theological truth rather than being a number we should take literally. Whether or not Noah crammed 2 million species of animals into a ship with four decks a little larger than a football field was not a relevant question for Augustine because he was more interested in what divine mystery the number of cubits was expressing.

    It sounds like Wolsey is oversimplifying a more nuanced reality, but don’t you inherently have to do that with a popular audience? It sounds like it’s polemic, not church history scholarship. I guess the question is how much you’re allowed to caricature in polemic. Obviously for readers like you, it’s a big turn-off, but how many readers like you are there realistically speaking?

    I don’t need people like Roger Wolsey or Rob Bell to convert me (back) to Christianity. I’m much more in the Erasmean world that you inhabit. But I’m glad these guys are out there because there’s a niche mission field that needs them.

    1. Morgan,

      First, thanks for reading and responding. Second, if Wolsey gave the nuanced reading of Augustine that you just did, then said how modern “literal” readings differ (as you did), I wouldn’t have this problem. My problem is that, in a mode that looked like a historical claim, he said that nobody read Biblical texts literally until Charles Darwin came along. You might be right that there are audiences who will eat that kind of stuff up, just as there are audiences who will take general relativity’s name and, ignoring the content of the astro-physical theory, talk about how “science” now supports “relativism,” but I don’t have to like either phenomenon, I don’t reckon. 🙂

      That said, you’re right that my particular sort of reader isn’t all that common, and perhaps that’s what makes my review skewed. But since that’s who I am, it’s how I review things.

  2. Nathan, Wow. I guess we did get off on the wrong foot and we appear to have talked past each other a fair bit. Some responses:

    1. You appear to have missed something that I stated in the Preface to the book: “I wanted to get this book out into the marketplace of ideas as soon as possible and didn’t want to wait until everything within it is in a perfected form. I’m hoping that the feedback from you all, the first wave of readers, will help with that perfecting process.” I thank you for being a part of that perfecting process by offering some helpful remarks and insights.

    2. That said, you also appear to have missed reading my numerous remarks where I state that progressive Christian theology is not the same thing as liberal theology. Progressive Christianity is a post-liberal phenomenon. Granted, there are certain similarities, but I’m dismayed that you’d title the review in such a misleading way.

    3. Re: my use of “the classic blind man and the elephant riff,” you stated: “after all, if someone can see the blind men and the elephant, doesn’t that person claim an objective perspective on God that the parable seems to be warning against.” No one sees any blind men or elephants in this metaphor, it’s a mental analogy. There aren’t any actual bind men feeling an actual elephant. Granted, all metaphors break down under rigid scrutiny (an apparent speciality of yours), but this one does provide a helpful function. I suppose I could have modified the classic metaphor by positing a group of blind men feeling a “zacdaefak” (an unidentified make-believe creature) … but that’d only bolster those who evangelize about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    4. Your remarks also give the false impression that I stated that progressive Christians aren’t Catholics. I stated that the “progressive” and “conservative” approaches to Christianity transcend denominations and that they occur in both the Protestant and Catholic traditions. I even quote several progressive Catholics.

    5. Your friend Morgan is correct about what I was referring to when I stated that literal readings of the Bible are a recent phenomenon. There is a big difference between modern day literalism and that of Augustine – and the audience I am primarily seeking to reach out to are not particularly aware of Augustine’s form of it, let alone Augustine. You already stated that my book is “really long.” Addressing this to the degree that you would have preferred, and providing all of the varying nuances within conservative Christianity, would’ve made it even longer. I made a choice not to do that.

    6. I looked on page 181 and see no reference to the sermon on the mount (one wonders if you “take seriously enough the subject matter to do basic fact checking”). That said, I’ve been to Israel and the various places that have been traditionally said to have been the place where Jesus preached that sermon are hardly “mountains,” they’re more like big hills and it wouldn’t have been any big deal for people to have followed Jesus up one of them. That said, Luke’s Gospel presents it as “the sermon on the plain.” And finally, you imply that I stated that Jesus didn’t want people to follow him. No where did I say that. Indeed, I stated that progressive Christianity emphasizes following Jesus more than it does “believing in him.”

    7. I never stated that conservative Christians “have never read Luke.” I did say that they tend to emphasize John’s Gospel over the others however. They do.

    8. It is the case that most evangelicals and conservative Christians subscribe to the substitutationary theory of the atonement – and that does imply the “divine child abuse” that I mentioned.

    9. Finally, again as your friend Morgan suggests, the intended audience for Kissing Fish is not conservative Christians and my motive is not to try to convince conservative ones to become progressive ones. If that had been my aim, the book would’ve clearly been very different. Instead, Kissing Fish is aimed at those who’ve been burned by the Church and/or only exposed to conservative strands of it. I’ve been hearing a lot of positive feedback from those populations and several of them have told me that they have become Christians (and/or returned to the faith) in response to Kissing Fish. Not bad for such a crappy book. ; )

    Humanly in Christ,

    Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

  3. First, Roger, thank you for reading and responding. I won’t answer your objections in the order you offered them, but I will number them to keep threads of thought somewhat separate:

    1) If you take my title to be part of the content of my review, then I’ll just reply that what I read in your book does not seem to differ much at all from what I know as liberal theology. As I wrote in Wednesday’s post, my own understanding of liberal thought and of liberal theology more particularly is that they’re both manifestations of historical-progressive ideas that get their most thorough (if not their most eloquent) articulation in the philosophy of Hegel. So what I read in your book did not differ enough from the liberal theology with which I’m most familiar for me to recant the title of the post.
    2) The blind-men-and-the-elephant poem (I first encountered it as a poem) does indeed name the critter that the blind men are groping, and that gives the poetic persona (or prose narrator) a privileged point of view superior to those of the blind men’s. Renaming the critter in question doesn’t negate the fact that the parable names the critter in definite terms and thus assumes a stance of superiority to “the blind men”: the narrator knows what the blind men get wrong. If you’re not willing to assume that stance of paternalistic sage, don’t use the parable.
    3) My point about Luke is that everyone who reads it, conservative or otherwise, sees that the Spirit is operative there. To say that conservatives locate the beginning of the Spirit’s activity in Acts is to imply that they have not read Luke.
    4) Regarding Augustine and literalism, this section of City of God seems to regard a literal reading as not only a possibility but integral even to arriving at an allegorical reading. Because Augustine wasn’t nearly as eager to ingratiate himself with his skeptical contemporaries as some are to ingratiate themselves with our own moment’s, he has no problem saying that history itself is a “text” of sorts, one that God has infused and does infuse with meaning just as easily as God has infused the Bible with meaning. (HT to David Grubbs for doing that legwork and helping me to note that City of God lays this out more clearly than does De Doctrina.)
    5) You’re right that, in my haste, I typed “Sermon on the Mount” when I should have typed “Olivet Discourse.” In the spirit of careful writing, I’ll go ahead and strike that out in the original post and correct it, with a note indicating that I should have been more careful. Thank you for helping me to be more careful.
    6) If indeed people have come to Christianity because of this book, your chapter on religious pluralism makes me wonder why you celebrate that at all. After all, if God operates in saving manners in all of those contexts, and if there’s not much to your own preference for Christian confession beyond “it works for me,” there’s little sense that somebody’s changing from one to another can be anything more than adiaphora and perhaps might be as bad as a bit of colonialism on your part. I take that objection basically to be in your terms, but if you object to a bit of deconstruction, you won’t be the first.

    I’ll say the same to you that I did to Brian McLaren a year and a half ago: being in a hurry and writing for an audience that’s not been to graduate school in the humanities are no excuses for sloppy writing. Even to the freshmen who take my writing courses I say that to write means to take responsibility for excellence in writing.

    That I’m not a liberal Protestant (or a Progressive, if you prefer that term) does not change the fact that the current draft of your book (if you plan to take more care with the edition that gets mass-marketed, great) takes liberties with theological texts; uses web sites as authoritative sources when the context calls for scientific polls or more representative source-texts; and paints (by its rhetorical form, not by an occasional disclaimer) the world of Christian discourse in reductionist, binary terms. I stand by all of those without claiming to be perfect myself. (If there were no standards, after all, everyone would be “alright just as they are.”) I do hope that you and others of our readers accept that I’m evaluating this book in good faith, but I’m also not interested in recanting for the sake of seeming like a nicer guy than I really am.

  4. Disclaimer: I’m a friend of Roger’s, and I periodically check to see if anyone has reviewed his book. I do this because I was somewhat involved in the revision process of the book before it went to press, and I’m curious to see what others think of it.

    A few thoughts and observations:

    1) I think you should spend some more time researching the difference between liberal and progressive Christianity before digging your heels into the lack of distinction that you’ve invented here. I say that as an academic who initially had a hard time understanding what Roger meant by “postmodern” when referring to Christianity. It’s different from the way we use the term in literary criticism. This was in an early draft of the book, and he clarified the meaning to my satisfaction in the final version of the book. I suspect the same is true in the way you are conflating liberal and progressive Christianity. We do tend to view things through the lenses that we’ve been exposed to, and this seems pretty apparent to me in your critique here.

    2) Your reading of biblical texts is curious to me, especially with your comment about taking “liberties with theological texts.” I’m not quite sure what you mean here because any reading is, by its nature, informed by experience and previous encounters with other texts. Your comment suggests that you view theological texts as having a fixed meaning, which I find difficult to accept from the vantage point of having encountered intertextual approaches to texts from Bakhtin, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and others. Texts are open-ended, living, and breathing, and to suggest otherwise is to ignore 50-plus-something years of scholarship in literary criticism.

    3) I’m having a hard time understanding your fixation with Augustine. Yes, he is important historically, but that doesn’t mean his version of what you call “literalism” corresponds to the literalism of today (if nothing else, the concept of historicity is rather modern, so I don’t see why you are using Augustine as an authority for contemporary thought…any “literalism” on his part, as you read it, differs from what is meant by that concept today).

    4) I think you are missing the point about the target audience for Roger’s book. Obviously this isn’t the case for you, but many, many people have felt excluded and marginalized by the most predominant representation of Christianity in the US. This is why so many people identify as “spiritual but not religious,” even if they are following the Way of Jesus. Judgmental spokespeople have created a stigma for Christianity as a whole, and a lot of people don’t want to be associated with the stereotypes that are most prominent. If you read Roger’s book carefully, you would notice that he isn’t so much setting up a theological binary (implying that all who don’t identify as “progressive” are “conservatives” as he is distinguishing between the ways that Christianity is *represented* in public discourse. And if you are unaware of the way Christianity is represented in public discourse, then you don’t spend much time listening to politicians and other public figures who have “found God.” The disdain and disgust for the LGBTQI community comes to mind (see Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry for example).

    5) Your dismissal of websites as reference sources is an indication of your academic bias. But when it comes to living, breathing issues, the internet is full of “contemporary” source material, much more so than books that take years to get published (although, just to be clear, Roger does indeed quote books as well). When I’ve taught college courses, I’ve encouraged students to seek out journal articles in addition to books because academic books are dated as soon as (if not before) they are published. Journal articles tend to be published more quickly. And websites are even more “recent.” If they weren’t, then I would wonder why you even bother to maintain a presence on the web. That said, there is something almost spiritual about thumbing through a printed book, and it’s for this reason that I find value in delving into writings in various media, ranging from printed books to journal articles to blogs. Each serves a purpose.

    6) In reading your original review, one thing is really striking to me. You focus almost exclusively on what Roger would call “orthodoxy” (“I believe,” as in what we declare in creeds)) to the exclusion and dismissal of “orthopraxy” (“I do,” our actions, practices, and applications of our beliefs). Your words: “After two hundred fifty pages of this they-say-we-say pattern, the final run of the book is a list of spiritual practices that liberal Christians tend to undertake, from versions of lectio divina to listening to rock and roll albums to public advocacy for New-Left causes, nothing that surprised me but also nothing that runs against my sense of what liberal Christians are about. ” First of all, you imply that the “final section” is relatively short, when it’s in actuality over 100 pages long. You say nothing about the chapter on Love (you gloss over the subsequent chapter on spiritual practices), even though Roger identifies it as his most important chapter: “But I’m finally at this one and it occurs to me that *this* is the one that really matters….my discussion of how to put faith and love into action is what really matters. You see, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have to care more about what Jesus thinks than what Christians think.” What follows is a vulnerable statement that few would be willing to admit in print: “I’m forced to admit that I’m not very good at loving. However, at this point in my life, I have received and given enough love–and have failed to accept or give it–that I just might have some things to say about it.” (p. 250)

    7) You also say nothing on the chapter entitled Peace and Justice (on social justice). This is incredibly revealing to me because it indicates that you are far more concerned with textual readings (with an emphasis on the medieval Augustine) than you are with how we can live our Jesus’ teachings in today’s world. This really shouldn’t surprise me, as I read your bio and have learned that you are primarily interested in literary studies. But, in a way, it still surprises me because you have dismissed what, to me, is the most important offering in Roger’s book: how to apply a progressive (read: *different* from liberal) approach to Christianity to daily life. This is relevant for the last three chapters, which Roger distinguishes as “Section 2” of his book. I am curious as to why you don’t find that the last 100+ pages of the book deserve much attention in your review. Are you uncomfortable with attempting to convey Jesus’ teachings on love in your daily life? Do you not put much emphasis on your daily practice (prayer, meditation, reaching out to others) of Christianity? What are your thoughts on social justice? (a topic that Jesus had a lot to say about.)

    7) I think it’s important, when anyone who claims academic expertise in a field outside of theology, that one’s academic viewpoint be clarified. I have a hard time figuring out exactly where you are coming from. I sense that you have an agenda, but as far as I can tell, your agenda consists of criticizing anything that diverges from your own theological viewpoint (which you have not defined clearly). You are mixing literary criticism (and not very rigorous literary criticism) with theological criticism, and the end product is blurry to me. You obviously hold Augustine in high esteem, but you don’t really explain why. And the fact that you consider Augustine to be analogous to your own 21st-century literary criticism speaks volumes to me. You seem to be engaging in ahistorical constructs in order to advance your own personal agenda and biases.

    8) I hope for your sake that you will attempt to take more nuanced approaches in the future. It would serve you well in your academic pursuits.

    Breathe peace,
    Cynthia

  5. I don’t see where Nathan is “fixated” on Augustine. He mentions him twice, briefly and parenthetically, in his review, both as an example of someone who espoused views the author says didn’t exist until the last two centuries–and then he clarifies in a comment when the author asks for proof.

    I’m also not sure if you think Nathan is too academic or too naive in his reading of the book; if he has the great academic literary critical bias you claim, it’s pretty patronizing to suggest he’s not familiar with the most basic and elementary literary critics (one encounters Gates in high school and Bakhtin as an undergraduate). And if he’s too naive to have understood these two critics, how can he have a serious literary critical/academic bias?

    I’ll also suggest that we’re capable of maintaining a web presence without thinking of it as an appropriate academic source. If one of my students cited it in a paper, I’d tell them to find something more rigorous that made a similar point. As it turns out, it’s possible to believe there’s a difference between sonething’s being worthwhile and its being academically appropriate.

    I’m glad you tell your students to cite journals, though–I’d never thought of that! Surely you recognize that the difference between journals and websites is that the former are peer-reviewed.

    I haven’t read the book–and the more you talk about it, the less I want to–so I’ll have to let Nathan respond to your other points, if he’s so inclined.

  6. Michial, “fixation” was a bad word choice on my part, caused by my tiredness when I commented last night. I should have said something along the lines of “argument.”

    I’m confused as to why you see a duality between “academic” on the one hand and “naïve” on the other. This seems like a false dichotomy to me. But to the point about literary criticism, I wasn’t suggesting that he isn’t familiar with those sources but, rather, that his apparent view that texts are “fixed” diverges from more recent views on how texts operate. (And where in the world are these high school students who read The Signifying Monkey? Really? Certainly not in the schools in my area.)

    I don’t think of Roger’s book as being primarily academic in tone, style, or target audience, so I am not bothered by him referencing websites. The folks who are interested in reading his book are those who have had bad experiences with churches that marginalized and judged them or otherwise made them feel that Christianity was not a very loving religion. I have friends who have found the book to be an important part of healing from the painful wounds caused by those experiences, and they aren’t looking for an academic treatment of the subject but, rather, a new way to experience Christianity. As far as graded assignments go, I discourage students from citing websites in many (but not all) instances because a number of them were allowed to write research papers that cited nothing other than Wikipedia articles in high school, and I want them to learn about different types of sources. But quite honestly, there are some really important websites out there that I would choose over a printed source, depending on the situation. For instance, the Vatican has posted a vast repository of historically important speeches by various popes. Libraries are digitizing rare materials (often along with critical apparatus) that most of us would never have access to if it weren’t for the internet. And some eco-conscious journals are doing away with printed volumes (I could say a lot more about the future of journals, but that’s really another discussion). Beyond that, blogs and other interactive websites allow for dialogues to occur in much quicker time than was traditionally possible, and it’s nice to be able to reference some of those discussions. I don’t see why we would want to discourage readers from following up on those websites. That said, I would still argue that the degree to which an author references websites depends on the situation, topic, audience, tone, style, and so many other issues. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to whether an author should cite websites.

  7. Cynthia,

    Forgive my slow response, but your comments took a while to read. I do thank you for reading and responding, and I beg your forgiveness in advance for the relatively brief response that I’m giving to a comment that took some time on your part.

    As with my response to Roger, I’ll number my thoughts for the sake of keeping them separate.

    1. With regards to my neglect of the final chapters of the book, I’ll admit that, since I felt that my review was running long already, I did treat the last third of the book somewhat cursorily. I did so not because I find practice unimportant (a brief read through some of my posts on this site will reveal otherwise) but because, for our readership, a response to the theological content seemed more interesting than a catalog of Roger Wolsey’s spiritual practices. Since mine is not the only review of the book on the Internet, I figured that doing my review from my own theological perspective (which I think, again, is fairly evident from a year’s worth of lectionary posts) would be a more valuable contribution than a “review from nowhere.”
    2. This was a book review, not an intellectual autobiography. I could tell the story of how I came to hold Augustine in high esteem (or, better, how I didn’t see any good reason to reject a millennium and a half of the “living tradition” on that score), but this review didn’t seem to be the time or the place to do so. I brought up Augustine to counter a specific claim, and I believe that citation served its purpose, so after that, I moved on.
    3. How one invents a “lack of a distinction” I’m not sure, but my assessment of Roger’s book is based on a few years of reading liberal theology, being familiar with the postliberal tradition in theology (see my post from August 31), and seeing Roger’s project as more similar to the former than to the latter. If I saw a difference, I’d name a difference, but I assure you that I did not set out to invent a “lack of difference.”
    4. I don’t think that I said that literary, biblical, or other texts had singular, univocal meanings or that to differ from their singular, univocal meanings was possible, much less bad. When I say that liberal theology takes liberties, I mean that it tends to ignore the first 1800 years or so of the “living tradition” that we both value in favor of what’s contemporary. As someone who prefers a more robust sense of “living tradition,” I tend to favor the longer-lasting readings except in cases when there are good reasons to prefer otherwise. And for what it’s worth, a healthy respect for Augustine is a part of that “living tradition” that persists.
    5. With regards to websites, I’ll tell a story rather than articulate a theory of research. A few years ago, a pair of young Reformed writers wrote a book chapter criticizing Tony Jones for his theology. In a panel at a conference a few months after the book’s publication, Tony objected that, although his literary output was significant (at least six books plus a handful of articles), they had picked one post from his blog and set it up as representative of the whole of his work. That’s a bad use of an unrepresentative web source, and if you return to the actual text of my review, you’ll see that my critique has to do with such unrepresentative citation. Your points about web research are valid but irrelevant to the review at hand.
    6. You’re probably right that I’m largely ignorant of literary criticism and Biblical hermeneutics–they’re terribly difficult to read, with all their big words and such. Just don’t let my dissertation committee or my college’s promotional committee know before I defend my dissertation and apply for Associate Professor rank, alright? On the other hand, you could let the folks with whom I worship on Sundays know that I’m also a terrible person who doesn’t really care how the love of Jesus affects the way that I live my weaselly wretched life, void of concern for justice as I am. Perhaps I could get out of a few committees if it becomes public knowledge that Jesus is entirely a textual construct for me and has no bearing on how I live and move in the world.

    Thanks again for your time and response.

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