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Blog // Thoughts
August 15, 2006

The Theological Value Of Cynicism

Toni made an interesting comment on the “The Emerging Church Needs More‚Ķ” post, “I have a feeling that the emergent church – the church that was emerging – has now emergend and is moving elsewhere. I‚Äôm not quite sure how or why I feel this, but to me, the ‚ÄòEC‚Äô as it‚Äôs appeared on the […]

Toni made an interesting comment on the “The Emerging Church Needs More‚Ķ” post,

“I have a feeling that the emergent church – the church that was emerging – has now emergend and is moving elsewhere. I‚Äôm not quite sure how or why I feel this, but to me, the ‚ÄòEC‚Äô as it‚Äôs appeared on the net is what the methodists and Baptists and Anglicans and uncle Tom Cobbley et al created when they realised that more people came to church if you sang ‚Äòchoruses‚Äô and used coloured lights, sound systems and powerpoint.

That comes over as desperately cynical, but just as the EC apparently embraced POMO thinking, so I’m fairly sure that the pillar of cloud had already headed someplace else. Just a feeling, but I think the EC is already a dead end waiting to become a demonination while God is doing something new. Obviously He’s not abandonning His people that are working in there, but with some exceptions, I rather think it was window dressing, rather than substance.

Don‚Äôt ask me for proof – I‚Äôve none whatsoever.”

It’s not uncommon for Christians to be apologetic about being cynical and to some extent I agree with that impulse. Cynicism as a world-view, or hermeneutic stance is not fully compatible with an outlook built upon hope and grace.

Avoiding cynicism in all things doesn’t, however, mean there is no value in being cynical about some things. In fact, the more I ponder the question of theological method, the more I find that cynicism has a job to perform.

Cynicism is a form of doubt. Specifically, it is doubt concerning the underlying structures of a practice or the given-ness of claims concerning the structures that support or endorse that practice.

For example, if we express cynicism about a piece of journalism we are, not only, questioning the assumptions or claims of the work but also the practice and profession that brings it to us. Maybe the cynicism is rooted in suspicions about bias, accuracy or truthfulness, but all these call into question the practice, not just the product.

Cynicism arises from the suspicion or hunch that things are not as they seem; not as they are presented. There is an assumption that reality is being distorted or misrepresented. This is a vexed state because sometimes we lack the evidence to prove our suspicion but feel unable to move from the position of doubt. However, many reformations and re-imaginations in a variety of fields, including Christian Theology began with just such a moment of cynicism, that allowed concretised ideas to be questioned and rejected in favour of fresher and lighter concepts and practices.

The critical, questioning edge of the cynical moment is also at the heart of all things prophetic. But, the prophet is not content with cynicism and seeks to move towards action and reconilliation. Our cynicism should fuel our thinking and theologising, not be the result of it. Cynicism works best as a tool, not as a product.

This helps us evaluate the cynicism we hear in ourselves and in others. Really useful cynicism is always transitional, temporary and provisional. It is like the crunching of intellectual gears as we push forward to better understandings of our faith and the practices that should serve it.

[tags] Cynicism, Theological Method, Philosophical Theology [/tags]

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