Carl Raschke on Incarnational “Ecclesiology”

Carl Raschke, author of The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity recently put up pretty good post over at the church and postmodern culture blog. I first came across Raschke via his fore-mentioned book. It was one the first pieces of theological exegesis concerning postmodernity that I found articulating well the transition in equitable terms; namely those terms which enabled evangelicals to be evangelical postmoderns.
Make sure to check out the comments being added by Jason Clark and others.
Here is the original post:
Incarnational “Ecclesiology” – From Third Space to Smooth Space
Much of the conversation in this location concerns theology and ecclesiology. By the latter I have in mind not the doctrine, but the theory of the church. Increasingly the theory of the church has outstripped the ensemble of faith-articulations that we know as the “theological” enterprise. A recent post by Jason Clark on this blog called for a revival of ecclesiology and offered the prospect of a “third space” as an alternative to the familiar private and public spaces that serve as the axis of tension in the postmodern world. Clark also makes the telling point (in a general manner of speaking) that so much of today’s “conversation” about the church, including what is “emerging” or “emergent”, or old-style “modern” versus revolutionary “postmodern”, has grown threadbare because it amounts to little more than an entropic process of making ever more rarefied distinctions within this specific axis of tension and articulation.
The design of this axis, which generates endless cultural and intellectual styles of signification, arises from the clash between Medieval corporatism and Lutheran cum Cartesian subjectivism at the time of the Reformation and the dawn of the modern era. “Public” and “private” represent interlocking and reciprocal protestations – hence the term Protestant – against the epistemic (in Foucault’s sense) configurations of the other. The collectivisms of the modern era from French republicanism to fascism to Marxism to Maoism culminating in Hardt and Negri’s “multitudinism” are but forms of ongoing “counterreformationism”, or effort s to reinscribe the sovereignty of the corporate – that is, in terms of a totalized symbology of the dynamic power of the collective – in increasingly this-worldly or immanent terms.
Both reformationism and counterreformationism (terminology I myself have minted here), which express themselves in the ever more sophisticated ideologies of what Foucault named the “biopolitical”, define a never-ending metaphysical struggle within the realm of Western thought. Borrowing from Heidegger, we might term it the true “gigantomachy”, or titanic battle, within the metapolitics of the West. Mark C. Taylor in his most recent book After God (University of Chicago Press, 2007) characterizes such a struggle as the engine of secularization, the trajectory through the “death of God” to an ill-characterized age that comes “after God.” It is no accident that so-called “postmodern” theology has swung back and forth in an increasingly volatile manner between the radical reformationism of the early emergent church thinkers to the “left”-leaning counterreformationism (socialism with a sacramentalist heart and soul) of radical orthodoxy.
Źiźek’s observation that postmodernism amounts to little more than “late modernism” may be apt in this instance. It was Nietzsche’s implicit rhetorical point in his later writings – and it is the most telling ramification of the poignant parable of the madman – that a Christianity that needs to justify God really has lost God. In its effort to justify God what it is really seeking to legitimate is its own priestly, or “ecclesiastical”, Wille zur Macht. So is a “third space” simply the dialectical resolution of the conflict between assertions of these two congenitally modern spatialities? Or is it a space like no space we have yet envisioned? Theologies and ecclesiologies are nothing more, and nothing less, than elaborations or articulations of certain epochal “topologies,” the semiotic version of the Foucaultian episteme. These topologies can be characterized as “epochal” because they belong not to an era but to a vast range of time in which art, architecture, language, and modes of social and cultural organization are developed and go through their own life cycles in ways that express certain underlying, or indigenous, tendencies. Let us refer to such a topology as an inherent typology or “logic” of historical space. The space of Christendom and its secularized counterpart is both differential and dialectical.
The great “theologian” of secular Christendom, as Taylor observes, is Hegel. Hegelian dialectics are anchored in Chalcedonian metaphysics or ontology, where the paradox of two “natures” (physes) is held permanently in tension but ultimately “taken up” into a third space that reconciled rationality with reality. This third space Hegel calls the state. The Hegelian state is the secularized version of God on the cross. Hence Protestant reformationism comes to be manifested as the “spirit of capitalism”, embodied in Western liberal democracy and in the phase of late capitalism as Hardt and Negri’s “empire.” Corporatist counterreformationism undertakes a systematic critique of capitalism (the Hegelian “rational”) under the sign of a theory of fully productive labor and autonomous human desire (the Hegelian “real”) in quest of a new universal solidarity that expresses what is supposed to be truly human. But the secret of Chalcedonism is the “church visible”, while the secret of Hegelianism is the state, whether capitalist or collectivist.
Thus the third space of much contemporary ecclesiology, derived from dialectical theology, turns out to be either the imperial or territorial church where authority resides in its own magisterium which in turn has drawn its legitimacy ever since Constantine from the sovereignty of state, or it is the “voluntary association” of the Christian faithful – Luther’s priesthood of all believers – who act according to their own “sovereign” consciences, which is the basis of Madison’s “right” to the free exercise of religion. Both “spaces” in their own way sacralize the secular. The first sacralizes the earthly regime, or the communitarian political regime of social engineers and “experts”; the second sacralizes the Lockean “natural man” who pursues his or her own happiness. The Chalcedonian-Hegelian dialectic, which ultimately becomes a secular dialectic, finds its moment of incarnation in the state collective, which masquerades as “liberation” from previous regimes, but establishes its own regime and institutes a new form of the state apparatus.
But on a global scale we are witnessing the beginnings of a new kind of “incarnationalism” that is neither Chalcedonian nor Hegelian , but Antiochene. By “Antiochene” I refer not only to those arcane disputes of the fifth century in which the question of how the divine and the human were conjoined in Christ (the Antiochenes against what later became the “orthodox” position stressed the human as the “complete” expression of the divine), but also the post-Pentacost and “missional” dynamism of the early church, as idealized in Acts. Antiochene space was not a tertiary space, but a proto-space of incarnational and relational reality. To turn Hegel on his “ear,” the real is not rational but relational, and the relational is real. The living Spirit of the fast-growing body of Christians was the animating force of Pentacost.
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The space of the church is not yet “Roman” or ecclesiastical with its hierarchies, sacramental solemnities, enclosed basilicas, and doctrinal dicta, but “ecclesial” in the original sense of ekklesia, the “calling” together of those who empowered by the Spirit and responsive to Jesus’ “sending” (the Great Commission) of the spirit-led and spirit-driven to the ends of the earth It is the space of what Hugh Halter, with whom I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet and partner with in the past few weeks, calls “the tangible kingdom” (cf. Hugh Halter, The Tangible Kingdom, Leadership Network Publications, 2008). The tangible kingdom is the incarnational kingdom of those who are involved in mission, whose “being” is both being-sent and being-in-relation. Halter is not a theologian. Nor is he an “ecclesiologian.” He is a true Antiochene church theorist who see “churches” not as places or communities, but as relational networks.
The tangible kingdom is the ongoing and global incarnation of God in the mundus, the world. It does not represent the secularization of the church, but the Christification – not to be confused with the Christianization or “churchification”of the saeculum. He calls the congealing of these relational networks into effective nerve centers of outreach and benevolence as “communities of blessing.” They are not a “third space”, which is still an institutional space, but the spatialization and semiotic articulation on its myriad planes of the soma Christou. As Deleuze would say, such a soma is not codified into the mutual Platonic reflectivity of eternity and time, or of heaven and earth, but emerges as the “rhizomic” spreading and sending forth of intensities that radiate in all directions, what I in my new book call the GloboChrist.
The rhizomic community of blessing therefore constitutes the radicalization of the incarnate Christ in the relational and immanent reality of de-territorialized humanity we know as “globalization.” It is not a third space, but (again citing Deleuze) the “smooth space” of the new global and local (“glocal”) Christianity. Theology must not become anthropology, as Feuerbach sketching the secularist project once proclaimed. Theology must become a Deleuzian Christian nomadology, the nomadology that the Letter to the Hebrews foreshadows. It is the postmodern turn that the Great Commission is now taking.