Resurrecting Christianities: Critical Theories and Constructive Postcolonial, Postmodern Christianities

Article excerpt

Anyone working in constructive theology surely knows the age of epistemological positivism is over, such that something more than qualifying our proofs positive of a historical Jesus is at stake in the teaching of Christology. As Christians we live within the public humiliation of Christianity-within the decades consequent to its imbrication with racism, sexism, colonialism, and (especially poignant for us in Western Canada) cultural genocide, while currently the public face of Christianity has been assumed as a front for North America's "war against terrorism." Given the ways in which each of these structures of exclusion pivoted upon a Christological conviction, critical theories, like the practice of confession, prevent us from simply burying our sins under the insecurities of our present time. Critical theories help us remediate the ways in which our Christologies, our sacred imaginais, have been imbricated with structural oppression and the ways in which, without remediation of our symbolic imaginai, we will, among other things, metabolize these Christologies of imperial-colonial power and oedipalized disconnection from sentience. For these reasons as well as for reasons of a theologian's own intellectual integrity and ethical responsibility, the Christological curriculum needs to be brought into conversation with critical theories.

But that said, the practice of critical theory can, in the theological classroom, be felt as yet one more, even the final and most vulnerable, challenge to any hope of religious entrustment to life. Theology students, if not Christians in the world at large, can-given the ingress of modernity and their own desire for ontological security-reach for a foundationalist approach to religion, for biblical positivism or literalism-as is verified by the turn to religious fundamentalisms, scripturally-based evangelicalism, and the insularity of narrative communities. So how can progressive Christianities attend to the psychic need of humans, given modernity's dis-embedding technologies so stressing our capacities of life entrustment, without giving up the credible intellectual critiques so important to disrupting the more destructive vectors, that is, those occasioning economic division and ecological decimation, of the globalizing of modernity? The temptation for the academic trained up in modernism may be to present students with various Jesus portraits and Christological propositions and then demonstrate how critical theories invalidate such proposals, or at least produce intellectual skepticism. Applied in this way, critical theories contribute to a modernist epistemological rationalism which elides the lived body in its social milieu and thereby undercut the confidence of the learner. But could there be a way to apply critical theories to what we teach and how we teach, such that these tools of reflection can help us not only ameliorate this age of insecurities, but resurrect Christianities?

In pursuit of that possibility, I here consider where biblical and theological colleagues, working in the dimensions of poststructuralism and other critical theories, suggest we plant or root postcolonial, post-modern conversations on Christology. When we relent our struggles for mastery over Jesus, so much a part of both liberalizing and conserving modern theologies, where does Christological discourse end up? What does the application of critical theories suggest about the shape and content of Christologies for a feminist, postmodern, post-colonial context? This is not to say that critical theories can do everything for us. The practice of theology makes claims on us-to posit value, to promote livable imaginais-which are not necessarily the responsibility of other critical theories. Critical theories can help us undertake ethical, analytic reflection on our practice and help us, through something like theological archaeology,1 to recuperate theological wisdom from various historical strata of Christian experience. …