Tuesday, 11 September 2007

St Paul's journeys into philosophy

When Paul looked back on all his prior privileges and achievements, he could only exclaim: “I’ve lost all that now, like worthless shit, in order to gain Christ!” (Phil. 3:8).

Occasionally, one has moments like that in thought – when everything you had ever learned or known suddenly appears like mere “shit” (σκύβαλα) in the light of some new discovery, some unexpected gift or insight. That’s how I felt when, years ago, I first read Calvin; and I felt that way again when, a few years later, I picked up a dusty old book by someone named Karl Barth (it was his explosive early collection, The Word of God and the Word of Man). Suddenly and unexpectedly, everything I’d ever known was placed under judgment. As Bob Dylan puts it, “I got new eyes, everything looks far away.”

And I must admit, I felt a similar sense of shock and disruption and alienation – in a word, a profoundly disturbing awareness of theological σκύβαλα – when I recently read Alain Badiou’s astonishing little book on Saint Paul. My brain is completely submerged in Badiou’s works at the moment, and I’ll no doubt be posting more on him in future.

But for the time being, I was delighted to hear that Doug Harink – author of the brilliant study, Paul among the Postliberals – is organising a conference to explore the theological significance of the new readings of Paul by contemporary philosophers (e.g. Agamben, Badiou, Žižek) – and of Paul’s “readings” of them! The conference will be entitled “St Paul’s Journeys into Philosophy: Contemporary Engagements,” and it will be held in Vancouver, 4-6 June 2008.

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