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God And The Excluuded

God And The Excluuded

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From the Preface

 

Doing theology in the tension between God and people who are excluded goes against the grain. For centuries theology has assumed that connections to people who are excluded from the mainstream on the grounds of class, race, gender, and other marks of difference are optional. In the contemporary North American context, middle-class theology continues to act as if interaction with impoverished people is optional; white theology acts as if interaction with African Americans and other ethnic minorities is optional; male theology assumes that interaction with women is optional; and similar attitudes are perpetuated in many other places of privilege around the globe. Why should theology as a whole be reconsidered in relation to God and people at the margins now? In this book I take up four major modes of contemporary theology and develop this question into a new constructive theological vision.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, more so than ever before, it seems that we have managed to render invisible both people at the margins and the powers that hold them there. Although the boom of the economy and other recent success stories may have passed many of us by, most mainline theologians and church people are not forced to face the recesses of suffering at the margins of the global economy and in the ghettoes of our cities. My position as a tenured theologian at a major theological school, as well as the fact that I am male, white, middle class, and from a European background, seems to ensure that I can avoid seeing—let alone being among—the excluded. It also seems to entitle me to continue to do theology as usual.

But what if the growing pain and suffering of large parts of humanity, both at home and around the globe, affect all of us, including the way we do theology? What if we are already located somewhere between God and the excluded, even though we may never realize it? And—and this is the crucial question for the theological task—what if our blindness toward other people also produces a tragic blindness toward God, the Other? If this is the case, reconnecting with people who are excluded, as well as resisting the powers of exclusion, is no longer optional. Rather, it becomes key for developing more adequate theological guidelines and for reconnecting and reshaping the various theological camps. At this point, trying to reactivate theology simply out of the goodness of our own hearts or the beauties of the tradition, roads frequently taken in contemporary theology, are easily coopted. Unless we begin to engage our blind spots, no new vision can emerge.

In this book I deal with exclusion at various levels, beginning with economics. Exclusion based on gender (and in this context extended to issues of race) is another major concern, discussed in chapter 4. Like the study of the economy and class from the perspective of the non-poor, the study of gender from the perspective of the dominant male is done not strictly from the outside but from the other side. We need to understand not only what oppression along gender and class lines does to women and impoverished people but also what it does to men and the non-poor. Participating in the lives of my twin daughters, Helen and Annika, and my wife, Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger, reminds me daily of the subtle and often barely visible persistence of patriarchal structures that distort my own life and work. Likewise, my experiences in West Dallas and other places of economic and racial oppression continuously remind me of the equally barely visible persistence of exploitation and prejudice. In all these settings theology becomes truly a matter of life and death.

This book aims at developing a new constructive theological vision. Readers interested in this vision might start with the introduction and then read chapter 6. Chapter 5, which lays the theoretical foundations and takes a closer look at the blind spots of contemporary theology, is a must-read for anyone looking for a deeper grasp of the new ways of theological thinking introduced here, but less theoretically inclined readers might save it for last. The structure of the book displays certain parallels to the four elements combined in the so-called quadrilateral of Bible, tradition, experience, and reason, developed out of the Methodist tradition but now also used in other contexts. In various parts of this book I deal with French and German authors. I have used their texts in English translation where possible. Where I refer to the French and German originals, translations are mine.

Let me add a word of thanks to those colleagues and friends who have been important dialogue partners at various stages in the process of writing: Teresa Berger, Rebecca S. Chopp, Danna Nolan Fewell, Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Kristin Herzog, M. Douglas Meeks, Charles M. Wood, and Michael West of Fortress Press. Conversations with many students at Perkins, with Gabriel Castilleja and his family, with other residents of West Dallas, and with my wife Rosemarie have also contributed to keeping me grounded. This project has been supported by a sabbatical and two grants: a Junior Scholar of the Year Award of the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies of the American Academy of Religion, and an Academic Outreach Award of Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

 

Theology is fracturing along tension lines once hidden by the great modern consensus that reigned from Schleiermacher's day till our own. Now, all of it is in dispute: its starting point, its self-awareness, its claim to truth, its method and interaction with other disciplines and institutions in church, academy, and society.

 

Rieger offers an enlightening way to understand the chief strands or options in theology today and a valuable proposal for resituating theology around the crucial issue of inclusion. He sees four competing vectors at work in today's Christian theology: Theology of Identity (liberal theology, represented by Schleiermacher and founded in the self), Theology of Difference (dialectical theology, represented by Barth and founded in the Wholly Other), Theology and the Postmodern (postcritical theology, represented by Lindbeck and founded on the text), and Theology and the Underside (liberation theology, represented by Gutierrez and others and founded in the interests of the other person).

 

Further, Rieger goes on to propose that each of these is in some way exclusionary and elitist; the mass of humanity and the globe's most pressing problems do not invade this cathedral, and in some ways the market itself has replaced God. Religious thought can remain viable only when it is grounded in an openness that reaches beyond the global market and postmodern squabbles, critiques its own complicity in the situation, and resituates itself in express commitment to those left out of today's "gated community".


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