Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Three Questions for Philip Clayton

[This post is about Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp's "The Predicament of Belief", which I previously blogged about in order to outline some of the main arguments: the book's preface here and first two chapters here and here.]

Here are some questions that I have for Clayton's theo-nerd book party that is being organized by Homebrewed Christianity this Thursday to celebrate his new (and excellent) book "The Predicament of Belief" that is co-written with Steven Knapp.  They are questions that have come up for me while reading the book at the end of last year and also while listening to his presentation of the book's major themes at the Emergent Village conference on process theology last month.  I don't think that any of these questions are necessarily "going to make Phil sweat", but I believe they are still quite relevant.  Perhaps one or more of them can be brought into the discussion on Thursday.

1) Realism?: Clayton stated in his Emergent Village presentation that he and Knapp originally wrote 1,000 pages of this project from an "anti/non-realist" perspective (post-structuralist? post-liberal?). This is somewhat surprising because of Clayton's critical realist commitments he has written about throughout his career as a philosophical theologian. Was the anti-realist draft of the book just a thought experiment of sorts, or has Clayton changed his mind from time to time, swinging between his post-foundationalist commitments and post-structuralism or post-liberalism? What were the main factors that pushed C&K away from ultimately taking the anti-realist route that they tried out early on in writing this book?

2) Pluralism?: Clayton and Knapp address religious pluralism at the epistemic level (something I also wrote about in a post last month) in chapter 4, but I also wonder if they see any possibility of there being multiple ultimates, as in Griffin's Deep Religious Pluralism, or religious ends, as in S. Mark Heim's Salvations?  Perhaps an even more interesting question would be to ask whether Clayton as a comparative theologian has undergone any significant theological transformations through his studies of other religions, such as Hinduism?  Here I am thinking of comparative theologians like Francis Clooney and John Thatamanil whose theologies have been deeply changed through their comparative work with Hinduism.  I suspect that he has, but this was not reflected in the book because of its primary goal of arguing for the reasonableness of Christian faith.

3) Miracles?: In the light of Clayton's more limited perspective on divine action, what does he make of the half-billion Pentecostals around the world today, virtually all of whom believe in and many who also claim to experience miracles, physical healings, or the 'supernatural'?  This seems to be an important issue to address since, as Harvey Cox has also noted, sociologists are calling Pentecostalism the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world today - especially in the global south - that will likely reach a billion (mostly non-white) adherents by 2050.  For those who agree with the "not-even-once" principle proposed in the book, how are claims of supernatural miracles and healings from Pentecostals to be explained? A naturalistic explanation of some sort?  Just leave it to mystery?

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