Theopoetics is the theory and practice of making God known,
particularly through language.
I believe that how we express our experiences of the Divine
may change our experiences of the Divine.
Way to Water has two primary intentions:
(i) to trace the development of the nascent field of theological inquiry known as theopoetics and,
(ii) to make an argument that theopoetics provides both theological and practical resources for contemporary people of faith who seek to maintain a confessional Christian life that is also intellectually critical.
Beginning with the work of Stanley Hopper in the late 1960s, and addressing the early scholarship of key theopoetics authors like Rubem Alves and Amos Wilder, this text explores how theopoetics was originally developed as a response to the American death-of-God movement, and has since grown into a method for engaging in theological thought in a way that more fully honors embodiment and aesthetic dimensions of human experience. Most of the extant literature in the field is addressed to allow for a cumulative and comprehensive articulation of the nature and function of theopoetics.
The text includes an exploration of how theopoetic insights might aid in the development of tangible church practices, and concludes with a series of theopoetic reflections.
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Wikipedia - Theopoetics
Theopoetics suggests that instead of trying to develop a “scientific” theory of God, as Systematic Theology attempts, theologians should instead try to find God through poetic articulations of their lived (“embodied”) experiences.
It asks theologians to accept reality as a legitimate source of divine revelation and suggests that both the divine and the real are mysterious — that is, irreducible to literalist dogmas or scientific proofs.
Theopoetics makes significant use of “radical” and “ontological” metaphor to create a more fluid and less stringent referent for the Divine. One of the functions of theopoetics is to recalibrate theological perspectives, suggesting that theology can be more akin to poetry than physics.
It belies the logical assertion of the Principle of Bivalence and stands in contrast to some rigid Biblical hermeneutics that suggest that each passage of scripture has only one, usually teleological, interpretation.
Whereas those who utilize a strict, historical-grammatical approach believe scripture and theology possess inerrant factual meaning and pay attention to historicity, a theopoetic approach takes an allegorical position on faith statements that can be continuously reinterpreted.
Theopoetics suggest that just as a poem can take on new meaning depending on the context in which the reader interprets it, texts and experiences of the Divine can and should take on new meaning depending on the changing situation of the individual.
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What is Theopoetics? the answer in book form
by Tripp Fuller
October 11, 2014
For years (many more than you might think) this “thing” called theopoetics has been happening, occuring, bubbling-up, in various places, writings, and presentations. Those who have called their work by the title of theopoetics come from diverse backgrounds including Biblical criticism, death of God theology, postmodern thought, and process theology. Such a wealth of fields and interests encourages broad interest but at the the same time can result in students, practicioners, laypeople, and theopoets themselves lacking a connection to the wider body. Callid Keefe-Perry’s book, Way to Water, remedies this by mapping a path through the sundry strands of theopoetics past and present, all the while working to demonstrate just what theopoetics is or aims to be.
Callid skillfully summarizes the positions of early theopoetic thinkers Stanley Hopper, Amos Wilder, and Rubem Alves before moving in subsequent chapters to more contemporary versions of theopoetic thought. He works his way through the contributions of Melanie Duguid-May and Scott Holland, process theologians Roland Faber and Catherine Keller, radical theologians Peter Rollins and John Caputo, and the work of Richard Kearney and Karmen MacKendrick.
As the title suggests, Callid provides a path on the journey toward theopoetics (or a theopoetic) by gathering together some theopoetic events, examining their moments of resonance and pointing out their places of dissonance. He is careful not to coorindate theopoetic “schools” into fixed positions in relation to each other, which would be antithetical to the theopoetic project in general, but rather he treats the various thinkers/writers as bodies that might collid, slip over each other, or dance together, in the on-going effort to name and describe that which we call God.
Additionally, and importantly, the last two chapters of Way to Water indicate practical applications of theopoetics for churches and pastors. I would expect nothing less from a practical theologian, and again Callid proves wonderfully adept at parsing out how an embodied theopoetics might (and does) take shape through preaching, pastoral care, and liturgy.
Since Callid is well aware that there can be no conclusion to the infinite movement of divine rhythms, for me the end of the book unfolded into new beginnings in two significant ways:
First, Callid suggests three definitions for the term theopoetics, each textured by what Callid has gleaned from the theologians he addresses in the book. These definitions struck me as deeply personal and intimately situated in various ways, which I believe only further demonstrates an important point Callid makes in the book: the symbolic, prerational, and sensuous modes of theological discourse are not to be ignored.
Second, and very much related to the definitions he offers, Callid’s epilogue consists of a series of aphorisms intended not just to describe theopoetic work, but to actually be theopoetic writing. Here he shows us through stories and poems that, while not entirely elusive, the divine is not within our grasp, cannot be pinned down. Rather the aphorisms open the reader to the continual progression, the unfolding process of naming God, of articulating our relationship to the divine.
Way to Water provides a helpful text for those teaching or studying theopoetics for the first time, and it is accessible to non-academic readers as well. I highly recommend this book to all my pastor-type friends, as I know it will spark conversation among you and in your churches. I also recommend it my friends who might consider teaching a course on theopoetics and taking up the task of training the next generation of theopoetic thinkers.
My buddy Jeremy wrote this review and I shared it because I love Jeremy and Callid.
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What is Theopoetics?
How are we to be intelligent, thinking creatures on the one hand, and faithful, trusting people on the other? One answer to this dilemma is theopoetics. Theopoetic arguments suggest that we are best served when we make room in our worldview for the beauty and mystery of life as an integral part of faith: our intelligent, rational minds certainly have a place in faithful living, but they are not sufficient in of themselves.
Asking powerful, critical questions can help in challenging ill-gotten authority, and yet to ever sink into any sense of deep joy there must be an acceptance of things we cannot understand. As we are reminded in Hebrews, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." And so, we encounter a seeming impasse… from which theopoetics may provide another path.
Theopoetics isn’t just about verse. When a text is acting theopoetically, it functions in opposing directions, simultaneously pulling the reader further into the world of the text and pushing the reader into a reconsideration of, and reconnection to, life in the world beyond it.
Greek Derivation of the word "theo-poetic"
- [Greek] noun poema - "a created thing"
- the verb poiein - “to make”
- Theo is Greek for "God"
The English author Samuel Johnson wrote, “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.”
Percy Shelley added, “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world.”
I work with the word theopoetics from the intersection of these ideas: theopoetics is the theory and practice of making God known, particularly through language. I believe that how we express our experiences of the Divine may change our experiences of the Divine.
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Amos Niven Wilder - A Hard Death
by Amos Niven Wilder
Many today have difficulty in relating to religious language. This can happen when we reduce religious meaning to a specific kind of spiritual experience or give undue importance to one aspect of human life. The reduction of life to human will or intellect is often accompanied by the turn to mystical practices and cults. Amos Wilder calls for a renewal of our deep religious imagination as we reflect on biblical faith and on the basic needs and longings of contemporary persons. This requires a new appreciation for mystery and for deep-speaking-to-deep.
Wilder assumes that the depths of biblical truth have scarcely begun to be plumbed and have untapped power to renew life even in our technological Western societies. This requires that we go beyond the objective, surface meaning to the deeper orientation: Before the message, the vision; before the sermon, the hymn; before the prose, the poem. --Amos Wilder
1.Theology and Theopoetic
2.The Recovery of the Sacred
3.Contemporary Mythologies and Theological Renewal
4.Traditional Pieties and the Religious Imagination
5.Ecstasy, Imagination, and Insight
6.Theopoetic and Mythopoetic
Sparks of wit and insight make Theopoetic a notable monument to the ongoing vitality of Wilder's lifelong determination to remain faithful both to the biblical witness and the imperatives of the imagination. - Journal of the American Academy of Religion
This is a wise and unpretentious book... it offers no fancy programs or catchy formulas. Its prescription for our spiritual illness, far from being some esoteric pilgrimage, is the long and unspectacular remedy of developing spiritual health. - The Christian Century
For most of his career, Amos Niven Wilder taught at Harvard Divinity School. A former president of the Society of Biblical Literature, his books remain influential in bringing together the disciplines of biblical studies, theology, literature, and mythical imagination. - Anon
Edited by Roland Faber and Jeremy Fackenthal
A Fordham University Press PublicationPerspectives in Continental Philosophy (FUP)
This volume pursues Whitehead's notion of a "theopoetics," or, a divine becoming and multiplicity held between the conversations of continental philosophy and process theology.
Major contributors: Laurel Schneider, John Caputo, Catherine Keller, Roland Faber, John Thatamanil.