Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Theological Confessions Meme

As started here, there is now a theological confessions meme. I confess that I hesitated to play because, just as some of the others have phrased their “confessions” in ways that might make some folk angry, so my own contribution is likely to ruffle feathers–and I do that enough anyway.  But, here goes anyway.

I confess that Dispensationalists in general, and “Christian Zionists” in particular, get on my LAST nerve! In the interests of fraternal correction and Middle East peacemaking, I should strive gently to show disciples of Hagee & Co. where they have misunderstood the Election of Israel in God’s economy. Instead,  what I want to do is throw something at them–and I have to restrain myself with great exertion!

I confess, despite the above, that I believe the “parting of the ways” (J.D.G. Dunn’s phrase) between synagogue and church was the greatest tragedy in church history, dwarfing even the Constantinian warping of the church into the chaplain of imperial power.  Any theology, and any ecclesiology, which fails to reckon thoroughly with God’s continued covenant loyalty to the Jewish people is deeply, deeply, flawed.

I confess, though I have learned many things from the late Hans Frei, I find him to have one of the most turgid writing styles in late modern theology. He constantly puts me to sleep.

I confess that before last year, I never heard of John Piper, Rick Warren, or Max Lucado.  Now that I have, I don’t think I was missing anything.

 I confess that if double predestination turns out to be true, and some people have been “elected to damnation” from eternity, I will be very, very angry with God.

I confess that I often prefer to read science fiction and detective novels when I should be reading biblical studies, ethics, and theology.

I confess I think my aesthetic sensitivities are underdeveloped (my eyes glaze over when someone mentions “theology and the arts”) and this is one of the reasons I find it difficult to grasp people like Hans Urs von Balthasar.

I confess that, after wrestling with the issues and my own homophobia for over a decade and a half, I stand with the revisionists on the church’s sexual theology, vis-a-vis sexual minorities.  Although I am still strongly committed to an ethic of either celibacy or monogamy, I now(for several years, actually) support monogamous marriages for same-sex couples, too. Lifelong celibacy is a spiritual gift and I see no evidence that it is automatically granted to all gay or lesbian Christians and LESS evidence that sexual orientation can be “cured.”  If this leads to charges of “depravity” by Jim West or wider charges of defection from biblical authority, and if it leads (as I have evidence it already has) to lost job opportunities in church-related posts–so be it. My gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers have to endure far more just to be given permission to live without hiding.

I confess to being extremely tired of hearing Christian theologians (usually male; often, but not always, evangelical) dismiss all feminist theology by flippantly referring to Mary Daly or Rosemary Radford Reuther (and I have learned from the latter), without ever seriously wrestling with or even reading the likes of Letty Russell, Elizabeth A. Johnson, Sarah Coakely, Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel, Phyllis Trible, Mercy Amba Odoyuye, Elsa Tamez, etc.  No one of either gender is beyond critique, but the major currents of feminist (womanist, mujerista, etc.) theologies should be important dialogue partners to all serious theologians, today.

I confess that I find it very disheartening that so many theological bloggers, often with excellent theological educations, are so dismissive of, or even ignorant of, the thought of major liberation theologians–from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and from marginalized populations in Europe and North America. 

I confess that although I know that correcting heresy is an important task of theology, I fear authoritarian heretic hunters far more than I fear liberals and heretics.

I confess that I have weak electronic skills. I never owned a computer until it was time to write my Ph.D. dissertation (making do on an electric typewriter before then) and used it only as a glorified wordprocessor until the dissertation was finished. I have never owned a cell phone, blackberry, video game, etc.  I don’t know what a “podcast” is.  But the new i-phone looks so cool, it may awaken the long-buried techno-geek within.

Many of the people I love and trust the most from my church are enamored of communal living on a subsistence farm.  People I admire like Wendell Berry, Dorothy Day, and Clarence Jordan, shared this utopian dream of small farms as ideal church communities.  I confess that this sounds like hell to me. I am a confirmed urbanite.[NOTE: This is not to disrespect either farmers or my friends with dreams of communal farming. I worked my grandparents’ farm in summers. I have great respect for farmers–I just don’t want to BE one.  I do think that peak oil and global warming will spell the end of SUBURBS–and good riddance.]

I confess that despite my love for the liturgical richness of Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican worship, my abhorrence for authoritarian heirarchies would keep from ever joining those communions even if I did not feel the commitment I do toward Free Church ecclesiology.

I confess that although I agree with Barth in preferring Mozart to Bach, I love jazz, blues, and Southern rock even more.  The Reign of God had better have some place to get funky.

I confess that one reason I am so very adamant in insisting on a BODILY resurrection (for both Christ and believers) is that I find it quite impossible to believe in disembodied souls.  The Christian Hope is not for “spiritual afterlife” or “heaven when we die,” but for Resurrection, for the New/Renewed heavens and earth in the fullness of God’s Revolution. One reason I simply cannot get behind “spiritual resurrection” views (Bultmann’s or Willie Marxen’s, Crossan’s or Borg’s, etc.) is that I find that HARDER to believe than bodily resurrection (though the latter is also a difficult conviction to sustain in a world where “what’s dead stays that way”). If all I were offered was a spiritual resurrection, I couldn’t be a Christian at all.

I confess that I am a personalist and existentialist (but preferring Kierkegaard, Dostoyevski, and Camus to Sartre or Heidegger or Tillich). If there is any major heresy to which I am constantly tempted, it is humanism.

I confess I find Cornel West more helpful than John Milbank, Jeff Stout more helpful than Stanley Hauerwas, Paul Ricoeur more helpful than Hans Frei or George Lindbeck, Seyla Benhabib, Iris Marion Young, and Michael Walzer, more helpful than John Rawls on the one hand or Mary Ann Glendon on the other.

I confess I hope the universalists are right and eventually all are saved and all is redeemed.  But I cannot bring myself to actually commit to such a view because my sense of impending JUDGMENT is so real. Thomas Jefferson once remarked (thinking of slavery–including his own inability to free his slaves on his own) that he trembled for his nation when he remembered that God is just.  I feel that way not only about my nation, but about the Church, especially the evangelical churches of the U.S.–many of whom are still cheerleading war and torture, have rejected the Sermon on the Mount, could care less about the poor, neglect God’s good Creation, foster hatred for Muslims, etc.  I think on these things and I hear God saying in the voice of Amos, “the Day of the Lord will be for you darkness and not light.”

I confess that I have heard Carl F. H. Henry preach twice and both times I was “underwhelmed.”

I confess to being clueless as to what the “Emerging Church” movement is about.  Every time I read an explanation, it seems fuzzier than before.  I fear that it is “rootless,” but I don’t want to pass judgment without understanding.  But the “Friends of Emerging” take the prize for vague descriptions.

I confess I am sometimes envious of the success of other theologians when my own “career” has only resulted in a few small publications and the loss of teaching posts.  This envy is sinful, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t exist.

I confess that I think far too many people read John Howard Yoder through the lenses provided by Stanley Hauerwas and I believe this to be a mistake.  Hauerwas is important, but he differs with Yoder on many points and, at each of those points, I think Yoder was right and Hauerwas is wrong.

I confess that, despite my commitment to pacifism, I love martial arts movies and the James Bond films–despite their thorough participation in the “myth of redemptive violence.”

Well, this could go on forever, so I’ll stop now.


June 26, 2007 - Posted by | theology


  1. I am a confirmed urbanite.
    amen. Christianity has flourished in cities and the original meaning of pagan is hillbilly.

    I confess that I often prefer to read science fiction and detective novels when I should be reading biblical studies, ethics, and theology.

    I confess I think my aesthetic sensitivities are underdeveloped (my eyes glaze over when someone mentions “theology and the arts”) and this is one of the reasons I find it difficult to grasp people like Hans van Balthasar.
    Baloney. What’s underdeveloped is your appreciation for the European roots of American culture. So what? Now, the question is: do you keep your love of sci fi/ detective novels hermetically sealed off from theology, or does the humanity of those genres impact your theology (and theological anthropology)?

    I confess that I am a personalist and existentialist (but preferring Kierkegaard, Dostoyevski, and Camus to Sartre or Heidegger or Tillich). If there is any major heresy to which I am constantly tempted, it is humanism.
    As for humanism, it was Irenaeus who said that the glory of God is a man [person] fully alive. Speaking of personalism, have you read Mounier? I haven’t, but I read many who have: D.Day, Maurin, Giussani, JP2, etc.

    And speaking of universalism, I think the most beautiful and Christian (even Biblical) expression of universalist sentiment is Charles Peguy’s The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, in which God is said to hope in the sinner.


    Comment by Fred | June 26, 2007

  2. Great confessions, Michael!

    I so agree on the problem of reading JHY through Hauerwas. It’s also becomming popular to read Yoder through more progressive Mennonites like Denny Weaver. Both are a mistake, I think.

    I understand you on the Martial Arts films (have you seen “Hero”?), but must object to James Bond. However, that’s less to do with the violence and more to do with them just being crap!

    Comment by graham | June 26, 2007

  3. Let me add a hearty amen to the guilty pleasure of martial arts movies.

    Some of the best, I suspect, offer less a defense of violence and more an exposure of the futile tragedy of violence – this may be especially true in the case of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

    Comment by Sandalstraps | June 26, 2007

  4. Fred, most of my Personalism has been of the kind that once reigned supreme at Boston University, but also through Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Graham, I know the Bond movies are crap (some more so than others), but they are also fun! I’ve seen Hero, yes and Crouching Tiger, etc., but I even like the cheesy ones with Bruce Lee, etc.

    Graham, I think Denny Weaver is more on target than you think–and I heard John Yoder say that he liked Denny’s first book (I don’t think his book on culture had come out before John’s death)–though he tweaked him about thinking one form of pacifism was more “realistic” than another. 🙂

    BTW, I hope ya’ll play this meme game, too. Reading the various entries has been fun–even if we’ve stepped on each others’ toes sometimes.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 26, 2007

  5. Michael,

    I most appreciate that final statement. I may abhor war and violence, and yet I too like James Bond movies — and Star Wars movies — and you get the picture. I mean with out the Klingons, what would the Star Trek universe be like!!

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | June 26, 2007

  6. Thats a pretty good list, particularly on the feminists. However, to bring some clarity to what Emergent really is, I think this page – http://purgatorio1.blogspot.com/2005/11/you-might-be-emerging-if.html – has the best definition I’ve ever seen.

    Comment by d. w. horstkoetter | June 26, 2007

  7. Well said on all counts. I like this meme. It’s quite revelatory.

    Comment by Jim | June 26, 2007

  8. >

    Oh c’mon, I think your instincts are good here. God gave us a narrative, not a textbook. Jesus preferred to teach with story rather than lecture.

    Or as J.R.R. Tolkien might have said, “The kingdom of heaven is like two hobbits …”

    LOTR is more deeply Christian than many theology texts, despite the fact that theology texts keep talking about God as if they understood him.

    Comment by Weekend Fisher | June 26, 2007

  9. P.S. I foolishly used angle brackets to set off the part I quoted above and so it got eaten on the way to being posted; the part I quoted was: “I confess that I often prefer to read science fiction and detective novels when I should be reading biblical studies, ethics, and theology.”

    Comment by Weekend Fisher | June 26, 2007

  10. Michael, I certainly appreciate Weaver’s work and would be very pleased if anabaptists (and, particularly, Mennonites) followed his direction. However, I’ve just noticed that on a number of occasions he seems to explicitly imply that he is carrying on the Yoderian project and it is specifically at those points that I think he misreads Yoder.

    Yoder may point in the same direction as Weaver, but I think that Weaver goes further than Yoder (perhaps due to the latter’s ecumenical concerns).

    Comment by graham | June 27, 2007

  11. “But the new i-phone looks so cool, it may awaken the long-buried techno-geek within.”

    Don’t give in to the Dark Side, padwan…

    Comment by Dan Trabue | June 27, 2007

  12. Dan, my I-phone desire is temptation by the Dark Side? But isn’t my love of martial arts films and James Bond flicks evidence that I already went over to the Dark Side, my master? I always suspected that you considered consumerism a greater sin even than (pseudo) violence. 🙂

    Well, don’t worry. It is currently priced WAY out of my budget. Yes, my legendary cheapness–er, frugality, could be my salvation, yet. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 27, 2007

  13. Hey, Michael. I agree with you that reading Yoder through Hauerwas is a bad idea. I think there are some important differences, and I side with Yoder on the ones I can see. But I am still very interested in hearing from you what precisely you think those differences are. This will be relevant to my work in grad school. One of my projects will be to advance the retrieval of Yoder as a liberation theologian. So I’d love to get some direction from you on this subjection of reading Yoder through Hauerwas.

    Unrelated, have you read Cavanaugh at all?

    Comment by thomstark | June 27, 2007

  14. on this “subject”

    Comment by thomstark | June 27, 2007

  15. I was very much intrigued by your confession regarding universalism. While I am not quite ready to declare myself a universalist, I find it interesting that my objections to such a proposal are often at the need I feel for judgment upon those I feel have been less than graceful. What an interesting conundrum. I wish to extend less grace to those I believe have lacked grace.

    I think universalism finds its highest refrain when we realize that God’s grace is scandalous exactly because it is given even to those who lack grace themselves.

    Comment by Dustin | June 27, 2007

  16. […] Confessions Continue Earlier, I participated in the “Out of the Closet: Theological Confessions” meme started by […]

    Pingback by The Confessions Continue « Levellers | July 2, 2007

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