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David W. Congdon @dwcongdon
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1. 🎶 On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to Twitter thread! 🎶 Walter Moberly's latest response to me in JTI demands a reply, and this seems like as good a time as any. (If you want the article, DM me.)
2. First off, a word of thanks to Moberly for humoring me over the past several years. It's been an illuminating dialogue. This exchange began in 2012 when he published an article on Bultmann and Augustine on the role of the church in theological interpretation.
3. I responded in 2014 with an article clarifying and correcting Moberly on RB's actual position on the church. Moberly had overlooked RB's explicit acknowledgment of the church's role in exegesis & had grossly misread RB's position on the German Christians.
4. Moberly responded by claiming I had ignored the main point of his original article by sidestepping Augustine and the necessity of the church. I replied in 2017 with an article interrogating the definition and role of the church in theological interpretation of scripture (TIS).
5. My argument in the 2017 article was that Moberly's articles (and TIS more generally) lack clarity about they mean by "church" and what role the church should have in interpretation. This ambiguity opens the door to serious theological and political problems.
6. I began by contrasting two roles of the church: the church as context and the church as norm. I pointed out that Bultmann agrees with Moberly & Augustine on the context: exegesis assumes that one stands within the "tradition of the word."
7. The question is the normative role that the church plays in interpretation. Bultmann does not reject this outright (in a way he even accepts it), but he demands that we clarify what we mean by the church, which means we need to clarify the norm for biblical interpretation.
8. I argued that Moberly/TIS presuppose an account of the church as its own culture and that this church-as-culture model bears striking similarities to the church-as-Volk model that was held by the German Christians. Both models identify the norm with a specific culture.
9. I then observed that Bultmann's model of the church as an eschatological community was developed in contrast to the German Christian position and avoids the colonialist problems with the Volk and culture positions—explicit in the former and implicit in the latter.
10. This brings us finally to Moberly's latest article. He begins by summarizing my argument, which begins almost immediately on the wrong foot when he says that "Congdon’s concern is not really to define 'church' as such" because we all know what the church is.
11. On the contrary, this is precisely my concern! I stated this clearly in my previous article: "If we are going to make the church a hermeneutical presupposition, we need to investigate what exactly we mean by 'church.'"
12. Moberly thinks my argument is over whether the church is a context or a norm, even though this was merely a framing device in the introduction. Moberly says that the context/norm is "a fundamental distinction, which structures [my] whole argument."
13. But Moberly misreads my article. We can see the mistake here: "The church as uncontroversial (and Bultmann recognizes the need for the church in this sense as much as anyone else). The church as norm is the problem."
14. He continues: "This is the notion that the church is to be identified as a 'distinct culture.'" There it is. Moberly thinks I'm saying context is good & norm is bad, but that's bc he thinks I've identified "norm" w/ "culture." To critique the latter is to critique the former.
15. That is very telling in itself! But it completely misses the fact that my article is an exploration of **three different accounts** of the church-as-norm: culture, Volk, and eschatological community. If you miss this you miss everything.
16. To be fair, I have a misleading line on p. 104 of my article where I say that Moberly wants both context & norm, while Bultmann only accepts the context. But this is in the section on "church as culture" and I was referring to this particular account of the norm.
17. In any case, Moberly spends the rest of his article referring to and trying to understand my rejection of the church-as-norm. The result is a massive swing-and-a-miss. Some key examples follow:
18. "One can compile an indicative list of key words with which Congdon portrays the nature of the church-as-norm: antagonistic, imperialist, colonialist, separatist, and (prone to) ideological distortion."
19. "Congdon’s reading and use of the specifics of what I say, so as to establish his point about church-as-norm in the first place, is distinctly infelicitous." "I am inclined to regard his account of the church-as-norm as a problem for mission to be some way off-target."
20. The problem is that I nowhere say any of these things about the "church-as-norm." What I talk about instead is the "church-as-culture," which I do criticize in very strong terms. But Moberly responds as if the problem is not culture but normativity as such.
21. Moberly completely sidesteps the issue of culture, which he doesn't seem to understand. He spends his time clarifying the idea of the church as a plausibility structure (esp. in dialogue with Lesslie Newbigin) without once touching on the cultural, colonialist issues.
22. The disconnect is most plain when it comes to the concept of plausibility structure. In my article I observe that "To call the church a 'plausibility structure' to identify the church as a culture, because Peter Berger uses the term as a synonym for 'cultural world.'"
23. But in Moberly's response he asks "Why Does Church-as-Plausibility-Structure Become Church-as-Norm?" Except I nowhere make this connection. Moberly is arguing against a phantom, all while missing the real issue: TIS's embrace of cultural Christianity.
24. Now it seems from Moberly's article that all he really cares about is the rather anodyne idea of the church as the context in which exegesis takes place, a context that makes the scriptural text meaningful for the person engaged in the task of interpretation.
25. The bulk of his article is devoted to making this point, which seems like a waste of space given that I've repeatedly supported this role of the church, which Moberly already acknowledged to be "uncontroversial" (see above).
26. He says: "Congdon seems to suppose that when I say that the church 'gives content to' the biblical witness I mean that it dogmatically pronounces what the text can, and cannot, mean." But no, this isn't what I'm talking about when I raise issues about the norm.
27. He continues: "Yet my point is that the way in which Christian people give content to the biblical witness is by showing the kind of thing that it means...and by showing how it can make sense for others too to enter into and sustain this way of life."
28. Moberly is oblivious to the issues here. When he says the community's "way of life"—which is simply another way of talking about culture—shows what the text means, he is repeating the very position I am interrogating. Whose way of life? What meaning?
29. In my last article I expressly pointed out that the church-as-culture model "presupposes that becoming a Christian means becoming enculturated within a particular way of life." Moberly repeats this idea as if it's unproblematic, completely ignoring my argument.
30. He is additionally oblivious when it comes to the topic of mission and doesn't seem to understand why I raised this topic. This goes hand-in-hand with his overlooking the topic of culture. The problem of the church is the problem of culture is the problem of mission.
31. Moberly writes: "Congdon’s own concern explicitly and repeatedly relates to mission and the church’s missionary calling....My own stated concern is not mission as such, but rather issues of epistemology, in particular the significance of the social nature of knowledge."
32. He then tries to connect to the topic of mission by talking more about Newbigin, who was "an on-the-ground practitioner of Christian mission." Moberly seems to think that mission is in view only when discussing the *practice* of evangelism.
33. To say Moberly has missed the point would be an understatement. I have no interest whatsoever in evangelism. For me mission refers to the relation between the Christian norm (the gospel) and culture; it concerns every attempt to express religious norms in history.
34. Moberly seems to think mission is a merely practical matter of spreading Christianity to others, which only exemplifies the Christendom assumptions guiding his entire way of thinking about church and theological interpretation. It confirms my entire critique.
35. In my previous article I pointed out the Christendom assumptions behind Moberly's claim that New Testament Christian commitments were "substantially embodied in Western culture as a whole until recent times."
36. This is a critique of the church as context as well, which Moberly seems to have missed. He seems completely untroubled by the claim that "Western culture embodies Christianity." He doesn't notice I am criticizing both the context and norm operative in his position.
37. By the end of the article Moberly is back to repeating the contention from his very first article, namely, that Augustine was right to say that "I would not believe the gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me" and wonders what I think of this claim.
38. It's astonishing to me that he still does not know after I've tried twice now to explain it. In the hope that third time's the charm, let me try one final time.
39. I do not accept it, NOT because I reject the social nature of knowledge, as if anyone could still maintain such a position. Of course our social context plays a role in what and how we know. This much is, as I've said repeatedly, uncontroversial.
40. What I do not accept are the notions:

(a) that the traditional, ecclesiastical context in which we read these texts is actually the church


(b) that this ecclesiastical context should play a normative role in how we interpret these texts.
41. IOW, it's a fact that many of us only care about these texts because we were raised within a Christian community. I was raised within conservative US #evangelicalism, so I know my Bible very, very well. But the "is" of this context does not necessitate an "ought."
42. Just because the institutions and practices we generally identify as the "church" have played a normative role does not mean they *should* be normative. At least not this particular understanding of church, which is a specific cultural-historical formation.
43. As I argued in my previous article, Bultmann thinks the NT points to another idea of the church—not the culturally distinctive sociological entity of Christendom but the eschatological entity that is at best paradoxically identical with historical communities.
44. The church for Bultmann names the eschatological horizon of God's reign that is paradoxically present throughout the world and has no regard for confessional or religious boundaries. It is a community without borders, without doctrines, without denominations.
45. THIS 👆 is the church that Bultmann believes should be normative for the interpretation of scripture. It's not a plausibility structure but rather the interruption of all such structures, the irruption of what is implausible and uncontrollable into the world.
46. Moberly and the other leading figures of TIS shackle the Bible to the institutions of Christendom and confine the meaning of the text to the cultural assumptions and practices of an imperialist, colonialist Christianity. TIS is a theological hermeneutic of whiteness.
47. When I, following Bultmann, redefine the church eschatologically and embrace a radical demythologizing that frees the text for new interpretive possibilities, I am not denying a social epistemology; I am simply relocating the social context outside the walls of Christendom.
48. In this sense I actually agree with Augustine that "I would not believe the gospel if the authority of the church did not move me." But I believe we must redefine the church to mean the marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed persons on the underside of history.
49. They are the "true church," and we must read scripture with their situation and plight as our normative criterion. I agree with Moberly on the "epistemological significance of the church." I simply deny that the ecclesial institutions of Western Christianity are the church.
50. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody! END THREAD
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