Risking Idolatry?: Theopoetics and the Promise of Embodiment

Jeffrey S. Hocking


John Caputo recently remarked that deconstructionism has not taken hold in the church as he had hoped. The "good news of post-modernism" is not generating the kind of buzz that a gospel should. Is this perhaps because deconstruction is unable to fully embody an alternative, life-giving picture to traditional ways of theologizing? Poetics, etymologically, is about the creation of something new. Despite its ability to break apart ossified ground in order to open up fertile earth for new possibilities, is deconstructionism unable to provide the newness which the church seeks? This essay suggests, with theopoet Rubem Alves, that we do not simply wait for God's promised future. Instead, we make (or fail to make) God bodily present to our fellow human beings and to creation as a whole. To answer this calling means practicing Luther's imperative to "sin boldly" in pursuit of justice (hence "risking idolatry"). Caputo writes that "deconstruction saves us from idolatry," but what this results in is a paralysis which prevents us from embodying the presence of God in the world? What if our calling is such that it brings us right up against the brink of idolatry? Theopoetics, in a Wittgensteinian sort of therapy, might be able to offer a different picture that both resists the ossification of language, and is able to better handle the church's calling to function as the body of Christ, a Nazarene who claimed to be God. 

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