by Ken Howard
A few days ago I received a comment from Stephen Clark in response to my blog post about our survey on clergy preparedness for dealing with theological diversity. He said that he loved the article, but found fault with my hermaneutical analysis, what he saw as “incomprehensible theological language,” and the use of business terminology to describe the calling of clergy. I thought his questions important enough that I decided to leave my response as a public post rather than a comment on a comment. Here is my response:
I am sympathetic to your criticism of the terms “deployment” and “hiring,” and generally use of the terms “vocation” and “calling” when I have time to explain them (as applying to everyone, not just clergy).
However, in this case, because the survey is going to multiple denominations and because it includes those called as school chaplains (whose supervisors usually do think of them as hired), we decided to use plain English terms.
As to your deeper criticism, permit me to respond with a small amount of “cheekiness” by noting that your criticism itself is an example of paradoxy, in that you are both correct in your surface analysis but miss the mark when it comes to the heart of the matter.
For example, you are correct in saying that Paradoxy is not a word, at least not in common English usage. In one sense, it is a made up word, in that I use it in my book “Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them” to describe a radical middle way of thinking about orthodoxy, which transcends the seemingly opposing connotations attached to it by conservative and liberal Christians. Yet it is an existing English word (see Merriam-Webster Dictionary) and a Biblical one, as well, from the Greek word παραδοζοζ (see NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon). It is taken from the people’s response to Jesus’ pronouncing himself the Son of Man and claiming and demonstrating the power to both forgive and heal:
They were all taken–beside themselves [Grk: ελαβαν] with ecstasy–fear–wonderment [Grk: εκστασι] and began praising–honoring–glorifying–worshiping God [Grk: εδοξαςον]; and they were burning–filled to bursting–overflowing [επληθησαν] with fear–terror–overwhelming awe [φοβου], saying, “We have witnessed–perceived–experienced [ειδoμεν] things beyond human understanding [παραδοξα] today.” (Luke 5:26)
The point of Paradoxy (the book and the term) is that both the conservative and liberal paradigms of orthodoxy are incomplete, unbiblical, and ultimately unworkable. The conservative Christian paradigm of orthodoxy, grounded in assent to presumably objective doctrinal propositions, tends to treat as irrelevant the ethical teachings of Jesus. The liberal Christian paradigm of orthodoxy (i.e., orthopraxy), grounded in the practice of the presumably universal ethical teachings of Jesus, tends to treat as irrelevant doctrinal considerations.
Meanwhile, neither the conservative or liberal paradigms of orthodoxy reflect its original and literal Biblical meaning: “a fitting response of praise.” This is of critical importance, I think, because both paradigms place the locus of control of orthodoxy within control of the individual – to give cognitive ascent to doctrinal propositions or behavioral ascent to ethical practices – either of which remove grace from the equation.
I share your longing to call people to be attentive to what God is trying to communicate with us here and now in the twentieth century. And a large part of me would prefer to do plainly, without made-up words. Unfortunately, many people are so stuck in conceptual boxes of their own making, that direct approaches result in resistance. In such cases, made-up words, playful parables, and paradoxical propositions may be the only way to get through.