Reading Caputo, Kearney, and what I consider to be helpful postmodern midrash has been helpful in imagining being church here in North America. A great discussion in preparation for the 2007 Emergent
Theological Philosophical Conversation is taking place over at the Church and Postmodern Culture site. Their work is within the vain of a sensibility called “deconstruction.” What we learn from Caputo, Kearney, et al. is that justice is deconstruction. As Tony Jones points out in this post regarding the effect of deconstruction in our context: deconstruction should lead to transgressive Christian practices and beliefs that would effect deep interrogation into our complicity with in-justice.
What Mr. Jennings has helped me with is to imagine a more robust understanding of justification by faith.
Traditionally passages like this:
1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a]have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we[c] also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
The sacrificial death of Christ brings about the decree of God towards sinners as justified or declared righteous in God’s sight. Theologians and really smart folks call it the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon the sinner. When God sees us, we are told, God sees Christ’s righteousness on us. Normally, in my experience, at the local church level, we tend to over-emphasize this over and above sanctification (being made holy by God’s Spirit).
Jennings points out (along with many others), in his reading of Paul with Derrida, that the challenge begins with the English use of the word righteousness for the greek word in the New Testament text. Which is dikaiosune (pronounced dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay). What is suggested is that the proper English word would be ‘justice’.
What’s the big deal? For me, the big deal seems to be that the word righteousness, in our North American culture, often means individual piety or morality. Righteousness doesn’t give us the larger meaning that the word justice seems to imply. So, in our sermons and conversations being made ‘righteous’ by faith in Christ simply becomes the individual sinner finding right-standing with God through the sacrificial death of Christ. This understanding of God and justification could easily bracket off salvation, justification, and sanctification from the larger issues of justice-making in God’s creation. Suppose justification by faith is about God infusing us, by the Spirit, with the capacity to give concrete (real life) expression to the Eschaton (or the final coming of God’s justice).
What if justification by faith was taught in our churches as more than the individual sinner finding some abstract imputation of righteousness by God and was invited to join in Christ’s death and resurrection to bring about the kingdom today? Anything less, to me, would mean that justification by faith, without participation in God’s justice in the world, could become, easily, in-justification by faith.