Joerg Rieger is fast becoming my favorite contemporary theological travel companion. In his book, Remember the Poor: the Challenge to Theology in the 21st Century (1999), he altered my thinking in important ways and helped give some shape to my recent life-altering encounters in Latin America. I’ve just finished reading his, God & the Excluded: Visions & Blindspots in Contemporary Theology (2001). And, I have on my desk two more of his to read: Christ & Empire: from Paul to Post-colonial Times (2007) and No Rising Tide: Theology, Economics, and the Future (2009).
In God & the Excluded, he challenges various theological “turns to the self” and “turns to the text/community” which enable the perpetuation of privilege and the continued marginalization of the excluded. Thus, his challenge is both to liberalism and to postliberalism. At every point he raises the question of who benefits from the perpetuation of privilege in market capitalism and who benefits from unchallenged assumptions. Reiger takes seriously Frederick Herzog dictum that “the church cannot be built from within.” Even in the waning of western Christendom, the Christian church is a sometimes-(un)willing sometimes (un)conscious co-conspirator in an oppressive social order. Thus, the church itself stands always in need of self-critique in relation to the Other and the marginalized other.
And the critique is crucial at all levels of theology. Reiger cites approvingly Uncle Karl who stated that there must always be “a theological warning against theology, a warning against the idea that its propositions or principles are certain in themselves…” (CD I/1, 165) Theology, thus, “no longer offers a critique from a secure position but needs to include itself into the critique” (194)–including, the theologians offering the critique!!
Additionally, there is a never-ending need to consider how doctrines function (and I will add, not only in the sense articulated by Lindbeck in, Nature of Doctrine–a book with which I am generally in sympathy): “which doctrines actually end up supporting the structures of exclusion and which provide resistance and alternatives? … Which doctrines speak most clearly against the gods of the global economy?” (184-185)
“Meeting God at the margins can change one’s life” (190) which is, of course, one of the reasons so much effort is expended ignoring or romanticizing the other into non-existence. However, if theology can…and if the church can get over itself, then perhaps there can be more room to see the other, without whom we cannot see the Other.