Review of Peter Blum’s “For a Church to Come”

November 18, 2013 § 2 Comments

“Confessions of an Errant Postmodernist, ” a review of For a Church to Come by Peter Blum, Canadian Mennonite, Vol. 17, No. 22 (2013): 32.

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For a Church to Come, the newest addition to the Polyglossia series published by Herald Press, is a collection of essays full of gems for those who long to see authentic conversation occur between Anabaptism and postmodernity. Prefaced by theologian John D. Caputo, the book contains seven essays of diverse themes united by the confrontation between postmodern philosophy and Anabaptist Mennonite theology. While the essays themselves may not be accessible to readers without some philosophical and theological education, the introduction, interludes, and appendix may find a wider audience. Blum introduces the book with “Confessions of an Errant Postmodernist” and provides an interlude entitled “Boxes”, a poem entitled “Nine-Tenths of the Law”, and a very thought provoking appendix reflecting on John Howard Yoder. These meditations question common assumptions about absolute truth (in the introduction), offer meaningful reflections on the place of theory in theology (in an interlude), and provide very insightful thoughts on the relationship between the scholarly work and biography of John Howard Yoder.

Blum explains and problematizes the ambivalent and contradictory meaning(s) of the term “postmodern” and shows how the term names a suspicion of finality and closure. This suspicion of ultimate foundations means that, for those with postmodern convictions, nothing is beyond question. The experiments within For a Church to Come follow an attitude in which questions are more important than answers, and occasional interventions are perhaps more authentic than long systematic tomes. In his interlude entitled “Boxes” Blum illustrates the ways in which we theorize about reality (whether theologically or philosophically) by finding categories for our experiences. This is a theme that runs through the essays in the book, along with the very nonviolent and pacifist caution to avoid letting our categories be too totalizing.

The publication of these essays, edited and collected in one place, will be especially helpful for students in the humanities with an interest in both postmodern philosophy (Derrida, Heidegger, Levinas) and Anabaptist Mennonite Theology. In this way Blum joins other Mennonite scholars who are engaging in dialogue with postmodern thinkers, such as Chris Huebner (A Precarious Peace: Yoderian Explorations on Theology, Knowledge, and Identity) and Jamie Pitts (Principalities and Powers: Revising John Howard Yoder’s Sociological Theology). One can only hope that scholarly and popular work of this calibre continues to be published on the relationship between our Mennonite identity and our postmodern climate.

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